It is absolutely paralyzing to learn that your child has substance abuse issues. Where do you turn for help? How do you know what steps to take? What is addiction, anyway? There are endless questions and no consolidation source of answers or support. In addition, the stigma of having an addicted child causes many parents to retract and withdraw rather than seek help. In truth, many families struggle with substance abuse issues, and the support, wisdom and guidance they need are not easily found.Parent Pathway was created for parents, by parents, to provide a place to find peace of mind at a time when their world feels like it is falling apart.
Somewhere along the way, ABC news anchor Elizabeth Vargas confessed, “I am an alcoholic,” she said. “It took me a long time to admit that to myself. It took me a long time to admit it to my family, but I am. The amount of energy I expended keeping that secret and keeping this problem hidden from view was exhausting.” Kudos to Elizabeth for being honest about her disease. And kudos to her for shedding light on how exhausting it is to keep chemical dependency a secret.
That goes for the families of addicts and alcoholics, too. How much time have you spent orchestrating the appearance of a (fake) happy family? How much angst did you have, wondering if the good child or the angry addict would show up at the holiday dinner table? How many sleepless nights can you count? How tiring has it been to pretend that “Every thing is just fine?”
Such exhaustion takes a toll on our relationships, our health and our outlook on life (through a curtain, darkly). At the same time, it can be healthy to acknowledge the toll that a beloved child’s chemical dependency takes on us as parents. Taking that personal inventory may be the place where we hit bottom, where we say, “No” and “No more.” Let the healing begin.
It seems in life that we all want to find serenity at some level. Whether it is for a moment or whether we are striving for a day of serenity or a life of serenity. I think I took the feeling of serenity for granted before I found myself trapped in the craziness of the disease of addiction with my loved one. It was almost like waking up one day and feeling like I was in some sort of crazy dream nothing short of a nightmare. Where do I turn? How do I get out? Will this dizzy feeling ever stop? It reminded me of the kids program from when I was growing up where they suddenly exasperated ‘Help Mr. Wizard!!’ Only in my dream there was no Mr. Wizard it was my reality.
How did I regain my serenity or even pieces of it at first? I began by citing the serenity prayer in my mind to try to replace the obsessive thoughts of my daughter – ‘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.’ This helped to calm my mind and my nerves during stressful times. Then I moved on to creating boundaries around my day and activities. I made sure I took care of my priorities and didn’t let someone else’s crisis become my own. I lovingly let my daughter know that she was responsible for the consequences of her actions, not me. Eventually, little by little, I regained the sanity that then lead to serenity. I don’t take my serenity for granted anymore and I know when I am getting off track that I need to stay centered on what’s important and how I take care of myself.
Your question: I have a beautiful 25 year-old daughter (only child) who is addicted to opiates. A few weeks ago, she came to me and told me of her addiction (which I had been enabling for 2 years). She is on methadone right now and does have counseling once a week. She has lost 2 jobs and is currently unemployed. She did move back home with me, and it has created a nightmare for me. I told her she HAS to get a job. The only money I am giving her is for methadone ($13 a day) and gas ($5 a day) to go to treatment and look for a job.
I am resentful because this is putting a financial burden on me. I do not think she is still using opiates because she is drug tested every two weeks. I think she is good just to be on the methadone because she doesn’t have to struggle with where she is going to get money for her fix every day. I think the reason that I am resentful is that she continues and constantly goes to the home of someone who used to be one of her dealers. He is a man who is almost 40 years old and has 2 children. She moved in with him for a while (she said platonic) when she first broke up with her boyfriend. She said that he is now clean and no longer dealing and that he is the one who encouraged her to get clean.
I ABSOLUTELY DON’T KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH THIS. She is constantly in touch with him even though she is living with me. I know that he would like, and may already be having, a relationship with her. I have told her that I don’t believe being around him is conducive to her getting/staying drug free. I have been to one of the family counseling sessions with her and will continue to do that. I also am looking locally for NA meetings. I guess my question is: How do I deal with her wanting to be with her ex-dealer constantly?
RESPONSE FROM EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: Thank you for your willingness to reach out. Your question paints a stark picture of addiction as a family disease that can take down everyone, not just the addict. Parents get stressed and develop resentment, anxiety and illness as a direct result of their loved one’s addiction.
In my experience, it is only when the addicted person finally becomes so sick and tired of being sick and tired that they reach out for help. It is the same for family members: when we get sick and tired, we change the way we handle this situation with our children. It sounds like you are at that point.
Please consider a written agreement that states what you will and won’t accept in your home. For example, “You may live in my home as long as you find a job within a month and stay sober and attend XX amount of NA meetings each week. I will pay for methadone and gas only under those circumstances. You will need to pay for your own telephone. If you use drugs or alcohol, you will need to figure out somewhere else to live.”
Say it with love and conviction. Don’t make a rule that you aren’t willing and able to enforce. Give her a good reason to stay sober.
The bottom line is that you cannot want sobriety more than she does and expect her to get better. You cannot make your daughter keep away from “bad influences,” but you can give her structure and rules that puts the ball of sobriety in her court. She should also be seeking out NA meetings to attend. Don’t do her work for her. I wouldn’t pay for her phone or let her use your phone, or else you are enabling the very behavior that makes you crazy. It is your home. You get to make the rules. You NEED to make the rules.
And you need to concentrate on yourself, so spend your energy finding a parents Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting that you can commit to attending. You can’t make your daughter sober, but you can learn ways to support her in a respectful and healthy way, rather than suffering each day. I wish you the best.