December 19, 2023
Q: How do I stop worrying about my child using drugs again?
A: As parents, we have that tape running in our heads 24/7. It’s constant. It’s also normal. Before I get into a few strategies for coping with these fears, I want to emphasize that I never expect someone to stop worrying about their child completely. That’s part of being a parent. However, I also don’t want those worries to take over everything.
I often hear from parents who think if they’re not constantly worrying about their child, it means they don’t love them. That’s just not true. It’s all about loving yourself enough to give yourself a break. The non-stop worrying is raising your anxiety, blood pressure, cortisol, endocrine system – all aspects of your health are going to be impacted. For your own self-preservation, finding a balance is helpful.
When I first meet with a parent who’s constantly worrying about their child and wondering if they’re using, I invite them to reflect on their thoughts. Are those thoughts rational? Are you catastrophizing (only thinking about the worst-case scenario)? As hard as it is to change your thought patterns, it can be done. It takes work and practice.
The fact is, your child may be using drugs. As hard of a reality as that is to accept, it’s also important to remember what you can and can’t control. You are the only person you can control. You can influence your child, but you can’t control them. This work is also difficult and ongoing.
It may be helpful to introduce a mantra to replace some of your anxious thoughts. When you catch yourself thinking about something you can’t control, try intentionally thinking something else. You might say,
- “I don’t have control over that situation.”
- “Worrying isn’t going to make this better.”
- “I have control over myself and my thoughts.”
These won’t change everything at once, but they’re simple facts that can help ground you in reality. In my experience, trying to sugarcoat the situation isn’t helpful. That’s why I start with straightforward statements, rather than overly positive ones. The fact is, we have these negative thoughts for a reason. Our minds are trying to protect us by imagining the worst possible scenarios.
Another tactic to stop that running tape is choosing a time when you’re not going to think about your child or the situation. For example, you could set a goal of not thinking about your child’s drug use from 4 to 5 p.m. Your first attempt probably won’t go well. You’ll find yourself thinking about it at 4:03, and again at 4:07 – keep shifting your focus during the hour. Eventually, you’ll be able to get to the end of the hour and eventually longer. Members are amazed once they can go a whole day without thinking about it.
On the other side of the spectrum, you could try focusing on your negative thoughts while you tap. Tapping (or Emotional Freedom Technique) can help you take charge of the situation and release stress. I’ve found it to be very helpful with loved ones. It’s something you can learn to do without others noticing, like under your desk at work. Do some research or find a practitioner who can help walk you through the technique.
Taking care of your needs and doing things that bring you joy is another important piece of this conversation. Even if you just feel like you’re going through the motions initially, try to do something that’s just for you. I know some of us roll our eyes when we hear the phrase “self-care,” but whatever you call it, never underestimate the power of keeping yourself well. When your head is completely filled with worries, you don’t have space for clarity or ease. You’re not responsive; you’re reactive. You’re not being good to yourself. Caring for yourself means many different things, like how you talk to yourself. Check out my previous blog on self-care to learn more.
The last outlet I’ll mention is one I practice every day as a peer coach. The relief I see in people’s eyes when I say, “I’ve been there” is amazing. That connection is powerful. As you’re navigating this difficult season of life, find others you can lean on, whether it be a peer coach, therapist or support group. You can learn from the experiences of others and get help in retraining your thinking patterns. Remember, you’re not alone. TOGETHER, we can face it better.