This is to introduce guest blogger, Kenny Hill Sr, CADC II, Certified Brainspotting Therapist. Kenny has a private practice called Recovery Hill in Sacramento, Ca, where he works with people experiencing substance abuse and trauma. Kenny is a combat veteran and recovering addict, who has a passion for empowering people.
This feature describes in great detail how when a child is experiencing extreme behavioral health issues, like drug and alcohol addiction, parents can be convinced to exercise caution with hope. It is easy to hold back hope when we see our children suffer. This courageous mother shared an incredibly valuable insight about responding to a suffering child who died by suicide: to avoid regret, recognize that you have a choice as a parent to hold back your fear and be generous with your hope.
Cautiously Optimistic, by Kenny Hill
Some time back, I had the pleasure of working with an outgoing young man in his early 20’s. For his confidentiality, we’ll call him Mike. Mike’s main purpose in life seemed to be his desire for experience and enjoyment. His source for entertainment was often his time with others. He had an appetite for fun that came by way of more extreme measures: amateur parkour, befriending strangers in allies, dangerous drug mixing, and jumping off bridges. He had a smile and charisma that could get enemies to trust him and family to once more be manipulated by him. In the past few years Mike already had an extensive history of drug treatment programs. He came to me because of typical legal consequences from substance addiction-related issues.
Mike’s highly impulsive nature, combined with his heavy drug and alcohol use had taken a toll on his parents and loved ones. His parents bore witness to his seemingly unlimited potential being taken away because of his uncontrolled substance use. Mike’s dad did his best to disconnect emotionally from his son, and his mom did her best to steer Mike in a healthier direction. This was a defense mechanism from the parents because of their ultimate fear of losing their son to addiction. Over time, Mike’s mom began separating herself from hopeful expectations because of the constant disappointment that came with addiction-related incidents. When I began seeing Mike, I quickly realized his persona was a mask for deep insecurity. I recognized his gifting was his capacity to love and care for others. However, his fear of not being accepted and not wanting to be alone led him into loyal relationships with people that co-authored his poor choices. Prior to our weekly visits, every time I would go out into the lobby to bring Mike in for our session, I always noticed his mom brought him (one of his consequences of substance use was no license). I would genuinely ask her, “How are you doing this week?” Mike’s mom would always answer the same way, with a forced uncomfortable smile, she’d reply, “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
I wasn’t sure of Mike’s commitment to sobriety because of his history in treatment centers and the light in his eyes when he spoke about drugs and alcohol. It was as if he was talking about an old best friend. Though, as a recovering addict myself, I understood that relationship with substances. Like most people, he also clearly had a chemical bias, thinking some drugs aren’t as bad as others, but Mike insisted he was going to get sober because he had legal ramifications for not staying clean. I thought, “I can work with that.” Mike had one hiccup early on in treatment, but overall was doing very well.
He began doing the things that are foundational in recovery: maintaining abstinence from all mind-altering substances, connecting with sober people in support groups, digging into his character defects in counseling, exercise, etc. Quickly Mike was able to get employment, showed surprising insight, and was attempting to rebuild the broken trust with his parents. Mike was proud of himself with each week’s clean urine test and a job he was excelling in. As the weeks passed, Mike’s mom’s “I’m cautiously optimistic” response never changed, even though Mike’s life had made the positive strides that come with embracing sobriety. The fear of treatment failing was written on her face. When I received a call one morning from a colleague, the news of Mike’s passing stunned me. Working in this field, Mike was not the first client I have had die, and he won’t be the last. Addiction humbles even the seemingly most invincible. But what stunned me was the fact that Mike was doing so well, and the report was a suicide. The news that came later was less stunning, and made the whole thing make much more sense. Mike’s chemical bias had come back to haunt him. His belief that “natural” drugs are different cost him his life. Mike had a bad trip on shrooms. For the sake of the family I won’t go into any further detail about his death, except to say that it was not a suicide of clear cognition.
The Balance Between Boundaries and Grace
Mike had a beautiful funeral. Over a hundred people had to stand in the back because the church was at max capacity with every seat filled. In a way that he would have thought was awesome, System of a Down blared on the speakers inside the large church sanctuary, as pictures of his bright smile montaged on the large video screen. Witnessing the strength of his family as they spoke about Mike gave me goosebumps. But what his mom had to say will forever leave an impression on me. She stated, “Many of you, who have asked how I am doing in the past months, may have heard me say “’I’m cautiously optimistic.’” Mike’s mom paused, cried, and regathered herself. “I really regret the ‘cautiously’ part. Because it kept me from fully embracing my relationship with my son in the last months of his life.”
To learn more about non-codependent, unwavering love, contact Kenny 916.995.8635 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a parent’s guide on responding to a suffering child, go to: The Role of a Parent in Healing a Suffering Child: Insights about love and suffering in the family by Joanna.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.
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