Things You Can Let Go Of When Your Child Is Misusing Drugs or Alcohol with Brenda Zane

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Things You Can Let Go Of When Your Child Is Misusing Drugs or Alcohol with Brenda Zane

Parents who are trying to help a child misusing drugs or alcohol are usually overwhelmed, stressed out and frazzled from trying to keep up with their normal life and deal with the chaos and uncertainty that's invaded their home. Add a global health pandemic, massive social unrest and an election of historic proportions and it can feel like a tidal wave has crashed over your world and you're about to slip under.

This episode will be helpful if you're looking for ways to offload some of "life" while you focus on helping your child and yourself. Sometimes we just need to hear from someone who's been through it before that we have permission to let go of certain things, and what a few of those things might be.

You'll get some grounding from the latest study on how many families are being impacted by substance use disorder (to confirm you are not alone!) and then we'll dive into specific mindsets and practical things you may want to consider letting go of – for now – or ever, as you work on adding some sanity and control to your days. 

In this succinct, 30-minute episode I cover a lot, including:

  • the most recent data from SAMSHA that shows over 16 million young people are struggling with a substance use disorder 
  • how hanging onto things like guilt, shame, the past, and negative self-talk can hinder our efforts at helping our kids
  • and why letting go of comparison, saying yes, extreme diets and clutter can actually free up vital space in your brain and life


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Welcome. I want to start today by reading a review that was shared by a listener Dahlia, and it means so much to me. She writes, “I cannot begin to tell you how helpful your podcast has been for me, I have a daughter who’s struggling in many ways in your podcast has been such a resource. I feel like I’m listening to a non judgmental friend who has been through it and gives me hope, even though I’m still in the thick of it. Thank you.” So thank you, Dahlia, for your kind words, I am sending you so much love, so much positivity and prayers, both for you and for your daughter right now. And thank you for sharing your thoughts about hopestream, it really means a lot to me, keeps me going. 
And I’m glad you’re here listening to this today, because it means you’re working on getting some sense of sanity into your life. And that is really, really good. It’s pretty much universal, that the moms I work with and the moms who are in our online community, The Stream are really overwhelmed. And they feel like they’re not doing anything right in life. And this is such a frustrating place to be. And because I see and hear this all the time, I wanted to talk about it today and see if I can help give you some perspective on what you’re going through. And also a few ways to potentially lighten your load. 
First, I’m going to ground us in some facts about how many young people between the age of 12 and 25, which is pretty much I feel most of most of you who are listening, have kids in that range. I’m going to talk about how many of those young people are dealing with substance use disorder because I think it’s really important for you to know, to give you the context for what you’re going through. So just bear with me for a minute while I lay some groundwork for this information. I think this is really important because if I was giving you statistics about heart disease, or diabetes, or cancer, you would want to know where that data came from. And so I anticipate that you’re also going to want to know about the source of my information. And I always try to give sources for my information, so that you can be really confident in trust what I’m sharing with you. 
SAMHSA is an acronym that you may hear from time to time as you get more involved in the world of substance use and addiction and treatment. It’s S-A-M-H-S-A, and that stands for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And it provides leadership and a federal focus for our nation’s mental health and substance use treatment programs and prevention. And they conduct, every year SAMHSA conducts a survey and it’s called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, NSDUH, every year they do this and it looks at the US, civilian, non institutionalized population of people who are 12 years and older, and I have a copy of the 2018 results from this study in the show notes so you can download that from there, if you’re interested is actually fascinating. If you’re kind of a data nerd like me, you can learn a lot from that. So that’s in the show notes for you, if you want that the most current edition is the 2018 report that I’ve put there. And so these numbers don’t account for COVID, which is a little sad, because I think they’re probably going to be up for next year for 2020. But but they’re what we have right now. 
And in 2018, 18.7%, of the young people, that’s almost 20% of young people between the age of 12 and 25, have a substance use disorder, that is 16,016,000 individual people, all of whom have a mother, who are struggling with misusing drugs or alcohol. So I want to say that, again, almost 20% of the people between the age of 12 and 25 are struggling with misusing drugs or alcohol. That is massive. And I just want you to know that as much as you might feel alone, you are not alone, by a longshot, just in your neighborhood, think about your neighborhood, out of every 20 houses with a teenager, young adult, three to four of those will be struggling with this issue. It just doesn’t get talked about. So you don’t know it. 
So this is why I do this podcast. This is why I speak out for moms and for people with substance use disorder because it is 20% of a population of young people struggling with a very, very serious, potentially life threatening disease. And it’s hushed up. And I just think that is wrong. So now that hopefully, you know you’re not alone in this fight. Let’s talk about how you can find some ways to cope with the tension and the fear that you live with day to day. I can tell you that what you’re going through and the way that you’re living is very different than that other 80%, who don’t understand. And so we need to be extra gentle on ourselves and make sure that we’re not comparing our coping skills to the 80% of the people who have kids, not in a situation like ours. And actually, you don’t need to compare your coping skills to anyone or anything other than just whether or not they’re working for you. 
What I find in working with lots of parents and moms in particular is that we try to continue on with our lives as if one of our kids doesn’t have a potentially life threatening illness. Somehow, we just believe that we should be able to cope and deal with life like we did when our kids were healthy. And that is just not possible. So today, I want to offer a few ideas of things that you can let go have for now. Or maybe forever, that might give you more ability just to cope and reserve your energy for the really important things like helping your son or daughter. And for you to stay healthy. Some of these are going to be more emotionally based and some are going to be very literal and practical. And so I’ll start with the emotional and sort of mental things that you can let go of and then we’ll move on to the more practical. 
And the first one is shame. And I’m sure you’re all probably familiar with Dr. Brene’ Brown, and the work that she does around shame. She defines it as an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Carrying shame around makes us feel unworthy, and unlovable. It’s the equivalent of wearing a scarlet letter every day that announces to the world, our kid is sick. When we carry shame about having a child who’s struggling with substances we hold ourselves back from being able to move forward in a positive way. And ultimately, shame can hold us back from being fully present to help our kids. Holding shame threatens our connection to others. And connection is what you really need the most right now. You might be feeling less than other parents that you know, comparing your family situation with theirs and believing that you failed at what they’ve done successfully. But just please let the shame go. It’s a way in both you and your child down. And I know it is much easier said than done. I know you can’t just tell yourself, don’t have shame around this thing. But there are some things that you can do to self correct and move past this issue.
One is to start connecting with other people who have or are experiencing the same thing and just even knowing the statistics that I shared can help you stop from feeling that shame – if 20% of people between the age of 12 and 24 have this issue, how can you feel ashamed of that? It’s also so important to connect with your child around shame, as they really feel a tremendous amount of it, especially when they’re living in active addiction. And shame can build a wall between you but honest words, and deliberate communication around this topic, can start to deconstruct that wall. And it is hard sometimes to have that conversation. But start small and start with words that you can manage and work your way into conversation where you can really share from your heart how you feel with your child. And if you want a great book to dive deeper into shame, and how we can try to use that to our advantage. You might want to read Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown, I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. But you can obviously find that anywhere that books are sold. So letting go of the shame really important. 

The next thing to let go of is negative self talk and image. And shame can certainly be a part of negative self talk and image. But what I’m referring to here is a little bit more general conversations that go on in your head that sound like, “I’m so stupid, I can’t believe I let that happen.” Or, “I’m the worst mom, it’s going to be my fault if he or she ends up in…XYZ.” Or, “why even bother working out or eating healthy, I’m such a mess, it doesn’t even matter.” And this kind of conversation in your head also keeps you in that downward spiral and it fuels negativity. And it can kill any kind of motivation that you might have at attempting to turn things in a positive direction. And this kind of self talk, this kind of talk track running around in our head can become so normalized that we don’t even realize it’s happening. So if these phrases or words are on repeat in your head, it’s really important to first of all, recognize that they’re there. And then be really intentional about changing them. And this takes a bit of work, and it takes some focus, but actively work to catch yourself when one of those thoughts is playing through your mind. And ask yourself, Is that really true? like really? Is that really true? And also ask yourself, “Is this making me more able or less able to deal with my life and help my child?” and my guess is that these thoughts are holding you back from making the important phone calls, seeking out a community of other people who are also going through this, it could be keeping you in some unhealthy habits or relationships that you need to let go of. And so I want you to find a way that works for you to recognize them, and then delete those thoughts. And that might be meditation, it might be working with a therapist, or it could be talking with a friend or your spouse or partner, to have them help you be accountable to yourself with this. But whatever you need to do, just put those pieces in place so that you can let that go. 
The next thing to look at letting go of is the past and everything that happened in it. So yes, a lot has happened. And the most important thing about that is it happened. It’s in the past tense, it’s done, it’s gone. It’s not changeable. And if you’re spending time ruminating about the past, things that you or your child did or didn’t do, it robs you of the opportunity now to be doing something about it. You cannot be in two places at the same time. That’s just a fact of life. So if you’re in the past, you’re not able to be doing anything in the present moment to change your situation. Things like, “I should have known, I didn’t do X, Y, or Z, or my son or daughter did this thing or didn’t do that thing,” Even right now, just those 15 seconds that I was saying those things, we haven’t been able to focus on moving forward, finding solutions holding each other up, because we’re still on yesterday, or we’re still on last week or three years ago.
Give yourself the gift of the present. If there are things from the past that have taught you and that you’ve been able to use as constructive elements and by all means keep those and if there are things in the past that you need to deal with, maybe things that are causing you PTSD, definitely find a therapist or counselor who can help you work through that. Those aren’t the types of things of the past that I’m referencing. The problem comes in when the focus is on the negative the unchangeable the proverbial water under the bridge. Just give yourself the gift of now, and leave the past where it is. 
The fourth thing that I’d like to have you think about leaving behind is this idea that someone has a perfect life and you don’t. This is a big one. It can be so easy to scroll through on Instagram or Facebook or Pinterest and see everything that we don’t have -the perfectly orchestrated family photo shoot at the beach at sunset or the sourdough starter that’s been in the family for 15 years, or the college acceptance letters that are being held up by 18 year olds who have it all together. But I promise, I pinky-swear promise that they have hard and crappy and painful things in their life too. A perfect example of this is my podcast guest from Episode 33. Danielle Shaffer, who is a mom and an entrepreneur, she’s beautiful. She has four poster-worthy kids who dance and they act and she’s got a gorgeous dentist husband and they go on epic family vacations, they have a big, gorgeous house with all the interior design that you can imagine, she receives dozens of boxes of stuff at her door every day from brands and companies who want her to represent them. It is crazy. It’s like the dream life. But she grew up with an alcoholic mom who neglected her and her younger brother got into drugs very young, and he died of an overdose two years ago. 
But you don’t see that from the exterior view. Because people don’t generally share the ugly side of their lives or the parts that they really struggle with. So if you struggle with this, first listen to episode 33. It’s very powerful, and it might help you have some perspective. And then just really watch what you are sort of letting into your life. So for now, if you’re feeling like your life is subpar, or not photogenic enough, or organized, or creative, or cultured enough, limit what you keep near to you, and limit who you follow. And just know that you are seeing the fun, beautiful orchestrated snippets and outtakes of people’s lives, you are not seeing their whole life. It’s not that they don’t also have pains and dark sides, you just don’t see it. So letting this idea go is really a powerful way. And it also can slow that stream of negative self talk, because they tend to go hand in hand.
Another thing to let go of a mindset, kind of emotional mental thing is this guilt that you caused this. Guilt can live in close quarters with shame, but it’s a little bit different. So guilt is saying “I did something bad or wrong,” where shame says “I am bad, or I am wrong.” So it’s a slight shift from shame. But it’s an almost universal thing that we moms have to get over. And if you don’t, you will carry this unnecessary burden around with you that again prevents you from living the life that you’re meant to have. forming the relationships that you need and deserve and being fully present and available for your son or daughter. 
I think what gets confusing about guilt, and parents of kids with substance use disorder is that we surgically dissect the past. It’s amazing how detailed and thorough we can be at this. We look for moments or days or events and experiences that didn’t go well, or opportunities that we didn’t take. And we say there, that’s it. If I had done that differently, things would be different for my child. And it is so tempting to do this. But I really want you to avoid the temptation, because you will make yourself crazy, and you’ll be wrong anyway. 
I thought for years that if my son’s dad and I hadn’t gotten divorced, he wouldn’t have gone into the spiral that he did. And he wouldn’t have ended up in the lifestyle and addiction that tore through our family. My therapist helped me realize that I had another son who also lived through the exact same divorce. Yet he didn’t go down this unhealthy path. So my rationalization didn’t hold up. She also helped me realize that if I was going to take credit for my older son’s addiction and lifestyle, that I also needed to take credit for my younger son’s successes and lack of addiction. If I caused one I must have caused the other, right? 
Of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t say that my younger son’s successes were the direct result of my parenting and my influence – that just wasn’t logical. So where we can go wrong as parents is to recognize that there’s substance use or emotional or behavioral problem, and then bury our heads in the sand hoping that it’ll go away, hoping that our child with a brain that is not fully developed yet will magically self correct their way out of this problem that needs professional attention. Attention that is beyond our ability, which brings me full circle to the last four points. 
If you are spending time ruminating in the past and swallowed in shame and negativity, and comparing your life to an unattainable and imaginary existence, it may cause you to delay or drag your feed on making that first call or connecting with an empathetic community and getting your child the help that they need. 
I know that’s a lot of info. So just think about which of those things made you say, Yeah, I do that. And then just focus there. Just be gentle with yourself and give yourself huge credit, just for even listening to this episode. And for any small steps that you take to change, give yourself credit, give yourself some grace. 

Now there are also some pretty practical things that you can let go of that will free up time and space in your life and in your brain to focus on what’s really important. One is letting go of saying yes to everything that is asked of you. And I am giving you full permission to stop saying yes to everything. Period. You’re dealing with a child who has a life threatening illness, and you don’t have the brain space, the physical capacity or the time to do all the things people will ask of you, even during a pandemic. Also, you don’t have to explain why you’re saying no, this is something women in particular are really bad at, we feel like we have to explain ourselves if we’re not going along with the flow. And I’m telling you it is not necessary. Right now we’re in the midst of the COVID pandemic. And there’s a historic election in progress. And your child is hurting. So say, no. You can say it in a really lovely voice with lots of compassion. But you can say no. If I was a doctor, and I could prescribe something to you, it would be sleep as much as possible, and say no to anything that doesn’t help you or your child right now, you’ll have many years to say yes to all of the things. But that’s not now. So just let it go. 
And another thing to let go of is trying to start any sort of new and complicated diet or exercise routine. I’ll keep this one short. Do not try to go keto or vegan or Whole 30 or anything complicated right now, unless it is something that you’re truly passionate about and it helps distract you from negative thoughts. Right now your body needs only four things, water, real food, sleep, and some basic movement, like walking or working in the yard. So move your body 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week, and put real stuff in it and sleep. And if you’ve gained weight, and you are ready and can feel good about trying to lose it right now then go for it. But if the thought of that stresses you out, just go with the harm reduction philosophy, think about eating less bad stuff, and more good stuff, and move your body more. Just don’t make it complicated. Let go of the idea that you need to be or do something new right now. Again, there will be time for that. 

Another thing that you can physically let go of are unhealthy habits. And we all have our ways of coping when life gets crazy. And since this is 2020, when I’m recording this, I don’t have to define crazy because we’re all living in. But if our coping strategies are harmful, we stay stuck in a cycle that prevents us from changing ourselves and they can also reduce our ability to help our kids. If there’s a coping mechanism in your life that you know is holding you back, find a way to just start making small changes. It might be an external thing like overeating, over shopping, drinking too much. Or it may be more internal like allowing that negative voice to keep chattering or wallowing in past events or decisions that eat you up inside. You already know what it is. It nags at you and you wonder what would it be like if that wasn’t there. So reach out to someone, look to your therapist or find an online community where you can openly share and get support. Just like we don’t want our kids to feel shame about their unhealthy coping mechanisms. We need to give ourselves the same grace and just realize that we’re human, let something go that’s weighing you down. It doesn’t have to be overnight. But take a baby step today, and another one tomorrow, and you’ll start to see some change and progress. And if you can share that progress, and that process with somebody who cares about you and wants to see you succeed, you’re a lot more likely to stick with it. 

Another thing that’s really important to let go of is clutter and things that don’t make you happy. And I’m wondering if you ever have that kind of icky feeling where there’s just this feeling of agitation or anxiousness, but you don’t really know why. And one area that we often overlook when life goes into crisis mode is our physical environment. And you might be shaking your head wondering what in the world I’m talking about right now. But stick with me here for a minute. Our environment, especially now, when most of us are home more than ever before is so important to our mental well being. And if you’ve been on this journey with your child, for a while, there is a good chance that your home, your bedroom, kitchen and bathroom yard may have been neglected, which makes total sense because you are trying to save your child’s life. 
But what happens when we don’t have a space where we feel calm and safe, is that this underlying level of anxiety can build and we then turn to other coping mechanisms to find calm, it’s a basic human need that we have to feel safe in your home, or at least a place in your home should be that. Now I’m not going to say that you should go out and remodel or even redecorate. But it is really important for you to have a space where you can go where you feel comfortable and love where you are. And I’m guessing that a whole house redo isn’t an option. And it’s probably not even necessary. So just find a place in your home that you can make your go to space where you can exhale, and curl up or stretch out, or whatever it is that makes you feel good. 
Try to set aside part of a day for this project and be ruthless in order to create your little cocoon. Let go of anything that’s been sitting around bugging you things that don’t have a home or use, or things that have negative memories, and start to replace those with just small simple things that you love. Maybe it’s a new candle, or a soft blanket or frame those pictures that you’ve been meaning to hang for the last year. Just give yourself the gift of this beautiful space and then protect it so that it stays your calm and safe zone. 
There you have it, my friends, it can be so freeing to let stuff go. We spend a lot of time in life thinking about what we can get what we don’t have. So it’s really important to reframe our thinking, and dive deep to look at what we’re dragging around that isn’t serving us anymore. If we just keep adding and adding and adding we don’t get rid of some of the baggage and then life can start to feel really unbearable. So quick recap of the things to consider letting go starting today. 
negative self talk and image 
the past
the idea that someone has a perfect life and you don’t 
guilt that you’ve caused this 
saying yes to everything 
a radical or complicated eating or exercise plan 
unhealthy habits 
and clutter and things that are taking up your space 
I’d love to hear what you do, what you try and how hopestream may be impacting your life. So, like Dalia did, you can leave a review, I would love to share that with the listeners, I only use first names or whatever name you put in so don’t worry about confidentiality. But I would love to get some feedback and hear how you’re doing on this. It’s so important for your own health, your own sanity, and being in the best possible condition to take care of your child.
If you’re a mom listening to this and thinking hmm, there must be other moms out there listening to I can tell you that there are thousands of other moms that are searching for this same information. And for a more personal connection. You can find me and a bunch of these moms by going to my website Brenda Zane calm and there you will get lots of information about a really special online community of moms called The Stream. We have regular calls and chat sessions. We do a monthly yoga class for stress and anxiety. And it’s all positively focused. It is not on Facebook and it’s completely confidential membership is on a pay what you can model. So if you want to join this community and you need the support, you’re in. 
You might also want to download my free ebook called “HINDSIGHT, Three Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Addicted To Drugs.” It is packed with information that I truly wish I had known back in the darker years with my son. And so I share it now in case it might be helpful to you in your journey. You can get that at, and I will put a link to both of these resources in the show notes as well. 
Thank you so much for listening. I’ll meet you right back here next week.

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