Getting the support we need – while taking a breath before we respond

Addiction is a family disease and, as such, affects everyone who has a relationship with the addict or alcoholic.

Woman breathing deep (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Woman breathing deep
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
No one seems to know the origin of the well-known Serenity Prayer, but as a parent I can’t think of a better credo for raising kids.
Add to this “Choose your battles wisely,” and you have the perfect approach.
The Serenity Prayer has been used by 12-step programs since they began, helping addicts and their parents focus on the achievable.
In my last article I focused on the Alcoholics Anonymous program, merely mentioning Al-Anon, Alateen and similar support groups whose purpose is to support those dealing with loved ones suffering from the disease of addiction.
These, too, are 12-step programs.
As I have written before, addiction is a family disease and, as such, affects everyone who has a relationship with the addict or alcoholic.
Al-Anon Family Group meetings welcome anyone who believes his life has been affected by someone else’s drinking and/or substance abuse, either today or in the past. The purpose of this fellowship is to offer support in overcoming the frustration and helplessness caused by close association with alcoholism or addiction.
Though there are Narcotics Anonymous meetings for drug addicts and Nar-Anon groups for their families, there are often more years of sobriety among AA members. Consequently, drug addicts often opt for AA meetings, where they will find people with more experience who will be able to help them, and where they are welcome as long as they have a desire to stop drinking and using any mood-altering chemicals.
An “open” Al-Anon meeting also allows attendance by people who are not family and friends of alcoholics but who have in some way been affected by the disease or want to help others who have been.
Generally, Al-Anon group meetings are “closed” – limited to members and prospective members, who are free to share and listen to the experience, strength and hope of one another on a confidential and anonymous basis.
Anonymity is a cornerstone of the Al-Anon program; anyone attending a meeting is asked to keep confidential the identities of individuals seen and experiences shared. “Who you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here” is a phrase repeated at the meetings, to make everyone in attendance aware of the confidentiality of the experiences shared.
In Al-Anon/Alateen, members do not give direction or advice to other members; instead, they share their personal stories and invite other members to “take what they like and leave the rest” – that is, determine for themselves what lesson to apply to their own lives.
The local Jerusalem Al-Anon website provides more information about Al-Anon, including meeting times and locations in Jerusalem.
One of the most helpful sayings in Al-Anon is: “You didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it” – the “it” referring to your loved one’s addiction to a drug or behavior. The disease may well result from a combination of nature or nurture, and the tools we have to change our child’s behavior are quite limited.
As stated on an excellent website for parents (see link below): “It’s crucial for… parents to take care of themselves, avoid blaming themselves for the problem, and act calmly during their child’s recovery process. Letting the situation get the best of you will only delay the healing, and can even make matters worse.”
Taking time for ourselves when we have a child who seems to be on the road to disaster is probably one of the hardest things a parent can do. We are so married to our responsibilities that we fail to notice the value of our own well-being. Yet as we know, when our kids see us taking care of ourselves, it teaches them to do the same.
We must make time to breathe, reflect and relax.
I have found all of the above in the practice of yoga.
What I love most about yoga is that it is about doing and non-doing simultaneously. Even while doing the postures, you are in a constant state of relaxation, connecting to the present moment, noticing the breath and rooting yourself to the ground. All of these wonderful messages of being grounded, present, and relaxed can be carried into your day.
The importance of breathing can never be underestimated.
How often have we reacted to our kids instead of responded? When we breathe, we have the opportunity to stop and think before we respond. For some reason, we usually think we need to respond to our kids’ requests on the spot, which only feeds their habit of immediate gratification. When we first take a breath, think and then decide how to respond, we generally discover a more logical response. Our kids will learn from us that it is important to weigh one’s decisions.
Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a very special yoga class, which uses sound therapy with chimes to help us stay in the moment.
It is crucial for us parents to be mindful of our stressors and notice when we are going into “yellow,” to avoid going into “red,” where our overreactions begin.
Our teacher, Dr. Kim Hershorn, is the creator of the Life-Tuning Process, which she describes as “an embodied, heart-centered and creative approach that gives people tools to connect more fully to themselves, to others and to life.”
Through workshops, coaching and yoga classes, she teaches meditation, relaxation and breath work. She also uses writing and creativity exercises for stress management, self-awareness and leadership training.
Hershorn shares tools that she encourages her students to bring into everyday life. Here are a few examples: • Deep breathing. When you feel challenged by something or someone, or when you are tired, unclear and off-center, take a breath. Inhale through the nose and allow for long, slow exhalations from the mouth. Bring the breath deeper into the belly as you expand your lower ribs.
• Grounding. Feel your feet on the ground. Imagine roots anchoring them into the ground and feel your connection to the earth.
• Centering. Feel the midline that runs through the center of your body through the spinal cord. Rock from side to side, front to back, until you find your center. This is a good way to find the calm in the eye of the storm (especially when your environment is chaotic).
• Put things in the light. Whenever you find yourself judging, condemning or reacting negatively, breathe and put whatever you are reacting to into the light. Respond from an illuminated, conscious place rather than from your darker impulses.
As parents, we are constantly faced with challenges.
These simple tools can help you stop and listen for solutions.
You will start to focus on your strengths rather than on your limitations; you will react less and make conscious choices.
What a wonderful lesson for us and for our kids: Stop, think, breathe – and then respond.
Resources • Jerusalem Al-Anon website: • – A Substance Abuse Guide for Parents ( Tracey Shipley is an addiction counselor counseling teens, young adults and parents, and the founder of the Sobar alcohol-free live music bar for teens and young adults.,