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.
Perhaps you’ve suspected for some time that something is amiss, but learning the hard truth about a child’s addiction or alcoholism is an absolute sucker punch to the gut. Maybe that’s why it is so hard to accept that truth.
There are many obstacles to grasping a child’s chemical dependency, with denial in the forefront. Dictionary.com defines denial as “An assertion that something said, believed, alleged, etc. is false.” Quite fittingly, the example given is “Despite his denials, we knew he had taken the purse.” Swap in any number of nouns for purse—pills, money, jewelry—and now you’ve got a story that sounds may sound familiar.
Acknowledging that something was really wrong with my child was too horrific, so I looked the other way, made excuses or simply refused to accept the possibility. Part of me couldn’t understand how my child could be addicted, especially since I had worked hard to be an involved parent, loved each other, had family dinners almost every night, and was very present in my son’s life. (Maybe too present, come to think).
Once I “got it,” I still couldn’t believe it. This was my faulty logic: “Drug addicts come from bad families. We are a good family. Therefore, my son can’t be an addict.” Toss that logic with a hefty dose of shame and stigma, and you’ve got the perfect storm of denial. But my utter lack of knowledge and information about chemical dependency kept me from understanding that no one is exempt from this common disease that impacts one out of three American families.
Although I understand that my denial protected me from a horrific realization, I wish that I had been able to break through it much earlier in the game. Then we would have faced the monster when it was weaker and less entwined in our lives. If you need help understanding and overriding the coping mechanism that can perpetuate your pain, please check out our Denial Meeting in a Box for some powerful tools.
Last weekend I did a much overdue task which was cleaning out the clutter that had collected in a couple areas of my house. I realized how therapeutic this activity was for me. I initially created more mess as I pulled things off the shelf and went through the pains taking sorting process: Attic? Donation? Keep Handy? Throw away? As I sifted through books, hats, papers, just to name a few, I started feeling a sense of unburdening. While I do not like to have a messy house, I do have small messy areas! The area I was working on was in the garage where I have shelves and cabinets for various projects and activities stored. I have a tendency to do a big clean-up project and then slowly it gets cluttered as I zoom around in my busy life not paying attention to the little things that add up to bigger messes later on. When I was done and all was neat and tidy I realized how this relates to life in general.
When I am organized and on top of the many responsibilities that I have, I feel peaceful and stress free. And when I am on top of setting boundaries and taking care of myself then I can better care for those I love. In my co-dependency, I can let things get out of hand quite rapidly. Which in turn creates messes that I need to later clean up! These messes are usually around letting a bad habit creep in – like jumping in and paying a bill for my child when they are responsible. I may think, ‘oh, it’s just a small amount and she can really use the help….’ or ‘I’ll help by creating a resume since I’ve done so many…’ Yet, doing these small things can add up to a big message ‘you are not capable, I am’ and ‘why take responsibility when Mom will bail me out.’ I’ve worked hard to undo these types of bad habits and create healthy ones. Just like cleaning out the clutter around my house, I will continue to clean out the clutter of my co-dependency!
QUESTION: My son started drinking @ age 13. He is now 43 yrs old and has not found sobriety. He has been in & out of rehabs & hospitals for the past 30 yrs. He is dually diagnosed & fails to be compliant with his treatments. He is a chronic relapser. He has a history of harassing, threatening, intimidating, verbally abusing people & destroying other peoples personal or real estate properties.
It has been very difficult to watch his self-destruction. Over the years there is nothing that we haven’t tried to help him get better. We have had to accept our family’s powerlessness over this disease. We had to pursue our own recoveries in order to find some peace & serenity. We needed to let go of him to be happy again.
Many times we thought that he had hit his bottom, but the insidious disease keeps winning & taking him over, again & again. As much as any parent doesn’t want a child to go to jail, I am hoping that he will be sentenced & kept there. I am hopeful that maybe this is his bottom and he might realize how alcohol has destroyed his life & driven people that love him away. I see this as the last resort for his healing, since nothing else has worked. If jailed for 6 months or more, will he be evaluated & offered rehabilitation? I try to keep up my hope, but if he doesn’t learn from this drastic lesson, what can we expect the next time? This is all very heartbreaking. All I can do is pray. Any words of encouragement, I would appreciate. Who is this stranger, my son?? I read this helpful website every day. I am grateful for it:) Thanks for being there!
EXPERT ANSWER: When you get on a plane, the instructions are to put the oxygen mask on yourself before your children. YOU need to survive and at some point if you assess that everything you are doing is too much and not enough at the same time, then you are enabling the continuance of the same behavior.
Your son’s bottom is different than yours. If everything else that you have tried has yielded this result, then perhaps prison will bring his bottom to him. All you can do is love him and pray because at some point he has to understand how destructive his behavior is to not only himself but those who love and care for him. Addiction travels many difficult paths and you are certainly living one.
Best to you and yours!
EXPERT ANSWER: You hit this on the mark!! Your child is a stranger. This is a brain disease, and eventually our loved ones are no longer available to us. Their entire lives become addiction.
So many of us have loved ones missing to addiction. I am sorry that there is no magic wand; change must come from him.
You are doing well if you have made your boundaries strong and rigid. You will find kinship and wisdom at meetings like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. please go to a minimum of six meetings, and try different ones until you have found the right one. Celebrate Recovery support meetings are also available to you at most major churches.
I would also encourage working with an addiction therapist who can help you move forward with the pain you are carrying.
It sounds like your son has lost his belief in himself for the time. If you talk to him, let him know you love him and believe in him, but hate this disease and what it has done to him. It is possible to love your child while hating his addiction.
Ricki Townsend, Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1