I sat next to a pediatrician at a charity dinner one night, and the talk turned to teen addiction. He posed a thought-provoking question: “Do you feel guilty that your son became an addict?” If he had asked me that same question earlier in the game, my answer would have been an unequivocal “Yes.” I was wracked with guilt (co-mingled with anger, shame, horror and fear) because I believed I had somehow created an addict by failing my son in some unintended way, although I wasn’t certain what that was. Was I too controlling in my son’s young life? Not controlling enough? Were my standards unreachably high, or perhaps too low? Was I too much of a mother to him and not enough of a friend, or vice versa? My painful self-examination and self-flagellation was endless, but still—I had no answers. I didn’t know what I had done—right or wrong. In the rear view mirror, I began to look at my parenting as an abject failure.
My perspective started to change as I learned how, for some, drugs and alcohol take on a life of their own. It is a neurological, inheritable, biological reaction unrelated to willpower, character or desire. Apparently I passed that gene on to my son from my side of the family tree– unknowingly, as addiction hasn’t reared its ugly head in me. (The gift that keeps on giving across generations –Uugh). Still, my son has chemical dependency in his genetic toolkit where it keeps company with courage, determination and his very kind nature, among many other great qualities. Those are the gifts that he uses today in his life of active recovery. He got those from me, too.
But I won’t take credit for the good stuff any more than I take blame for the bad. My son was dealt a genetic hand of cards; how he plays it is up to him. And how I play the hand that life deals me is up to me, and that includes discarding the guilt card whenever I can.