You Get What You Tolerate

Dr. MacAfee, my son’s beloved addiction therapist, told me: You get what you tolerateWhatever behavior you accept will continue.”

As I reflect on the 14 years of my son’s addiction, there are many situations in which I tolerated his lies, manipulations, and deep hurts. This constant barrage of problem after problem beat me down. I continued to enable because I was afraid of what would happen to him if I didn’t. However, I learned, in time, that I was powerless. Only he could fix his addiction. 

My daily journal entries provide a written record of his journey. Below is one excerpt that highlights my recognition of the roller-coaster we were on, my desperate desire to get off, but my inability to do so. 

Journal entry, August 4, 2003, 8:43 a.m. 
I don’t know what to do, what to say, so I repeat the mantras from Al-Anon, “One day at a time,” “Let go and let God.” These words are the only threads on which to holdI wonder when I just lock up my heart and leave Jeff out? When do I live my life without adapting it for my son? He’s not grateful, and I can do nothing that will change his behavior. I must realize that what I choose to do, I do for myself. Part of me wants to run away, to escape it all; part of me stays, hoping to support his recovery. Enough is enough. I’m exhausted, but I need to go forward. 

Outside I hear the kids laugh, a pure innocent laughter. I ache to hear Jeff laugh again. I ache for him to find his soul, free and clear of the demons.

Jeremy, my younger son, just left a voice mail, “Momma, this shit is breaking my heart.”

My reflection: As my son’s addiction took over his life, his lies, manipulation, and destructive behavior became more pervasive. With every low, I thought, “This is his bottom,” and I rushed in to save him from the consequences of his actions. The more chaos I allowed myself to be subjected to, the worse things got. 

Today’s promise to consider: We, parents of addicts, sacrifice our own well-being as we adjust to the chaos of addiction within our families. The consequences of the addict’s behavior must be his to bear. We reach out in love and stay close, but we need to keep ourselves safe too. For me, firm boundaries were imperative, as was being a part of a support group that understood what I was going through and held me accountable. We cannot continue to tolerate the intolerable.

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  1. I know what you are saying I live it also,I have not seen him in two years I will see him next week he says he is back but I’m scared but talking to him on the phone I heard a iota of my son is it just manipulation I dont know I hope I have been on antidepressor for 2years because I would crumble I made a wall I work in palliative care I see death everyday from cancer my son too has a form of cancer its drugs dam drugs..ty for your article.

    • Dear Roxanne, You’ll see your son next week, and I understand that you are anxious – excited, but nervous at the same time. Addicts are expert manipulators, but you heard a bit of your ‘real’ son in his voice. I join you in prayer that your meeting goes well and that he is truly sober. Trust your instincts and your higher power. I’ll stay close in love and prayer.

  2. Wow that could have been my journal entry 12 years ago and beyond..I still ache to hear my son laugh. He barely smiles. He’s not using and on probation for an incident during a relapse. I thank God I am out of state where I am forced to set boundaries and work on myself. Hard work to feel joy for him or with him but I’m working on myself right now. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Dear Rose Marie, I know that feeling when you write, “I still ache to hear my son laugh.” It is hard work to feel joy when we have suffered and our children have suffered. The good news is that you’re working on yourself. Good for you. It’s what we need to do to be good for ourselves and those we love. I join you in prayer and strength. Libby

  3. I am starting to decide that I am worth taking care of. And not catering to my daughters caos. The lies, deception, are so heartbreaking. I have her child since January. The disease has progressed to where she doesnt even care about him any more. Its really hard to look at your own child and not know who they are any more. But God is good and I am starting to stop the enabling and put those boundaries up and firm. This group has helped me alot. Its so good to hear someone else who has a child with addiction. We are not alone

  4. You ladies are telling my story. I hear myself in your words. I admire your courage. I too am a work in progress. One day at a time .

    • Dear Mary, We walk together. Sometimes we’re courageous and, other times, we’re not so strong. What defines us is that we keep trying, keep learning, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’re right – it’s one day at a time. Prayers for good days. xo

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