When will the misery end? Stages of Grieving: parenting addicted children

My husband said “no” when my 30 year old son asked to borrow his truck. The conversation ended badly: my son hung up on him with a flippant “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” My husband is feeling sad about it all.  He said some things he wishes he could take back, replay or do differently. I recognize the defeatism and self-deprecating emotions that happen from outcomes like this. I’ve had a few of my own. Everything about a child’s drug abuse and addiction can have negative consequences for parents. The worry and fear. Then there’s the doubt you place on yourself as a parent; then there’s the resistance to the truth – wishing you could say yes, often saying yes to avoid conflict. Then there’s the hurt and emotional suffering you go through because even though you know intellectually, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control, you can’t cure it, it still doesn’t make the situation better or release you from responsibility. I just wish he was doing better, had sought recovery and fought relapse. The truth is he is ripping and running right now and I am powerless over it.

This disease is an inside job. When will the misery end? It ends when I let go and let God. When I accept what is and chose recovery from the family disease.  I can chose another way in my relation to this disease, yes,  I will have sadness, but not all consuming misery.

Sister Bea talked about the 5 stages of grief in a retreat I attended.  Parents discover grieving  is a term that aptly describes our feelings of having sons and daughters afflicted with addiciton.  First there is denial. Denial of reality is a symptom of our disease. At first, it had its place – to cope with the unthinkable. Used too long, my life becomes unmanageable. Next comes bargaining, a weird but true phenomena with your interaction with God. OH God, I promise this, if you do that! The 3rd stage is anger and there are many articles and reading material about anger. Many parents of drug addicts have issues with anger and resentments. Parent Pathway has a wonderful meeting-in-a-box exercise for Anger and I often speak about it (click here). Fourth is sadness – so strong it overtakes you. For some, there can be clinical depression and other disorders from it. Finally, there are snippets of acceptance, and all of this happens at different points in time. With acceptance there is a shift in attitude filled with hope, growth and splendor through spiritual relief. It is here I find solace from the family disease of substance abuse. It brings me back to the present moment – neither dreading the next moment nor dwelling over past moments. I accept there will be pain and sadness sometimes, but with acceptance, events such as this won’t torment me through the 5 stages of grief.

Letting go of grief over your child’s substance abuse

Photo of Ricki TownsendFor parents whose children struggle with substance abuse, the New Year gives us an opportunity to start fresh and welcome new, healthier attitudes or behaviors. But what happens if we find ourselves clenching grief or loss so tightly that we cannot embrace happiness or joy? Ricki Townsend, a family counselor and interventionist who helps families work thought grief, shares some ideas about letting go.

“We have dreams and hopes for our children as they grow and discover life. Then one day we wake up to find they have become involved in the battle of addiction. And so our life as we hoped it would be has changed. As parents, we may find we have trouble sleeping, we may start to have health issues, we may find ourselves crying or even angry over the simplest of things. Please look at the possibility that you are grieving the loss of your child as you knew him or her.

Grief and loss are naturally interwoven into addiction. Grief is different for each one of us, but please don’t discount it. We put so much energy into getting back our child that we often forget about ourselves. Here are some ways to deal with your grief:

  • If you acknowledge that you are grieving, I invite you to work through the grieving process with a counselor who will help you understand your losses and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way.
  • Grief can feel suffocating.  A good exercise to release grief is to take a very deep breath, hold it tightly and then release it slowly. You will feel your body calm down. It is also therapeutic to cry in the shower or yell in the car or smash pillows with a tennis racquet—anything physical to vent your sorrow, your anger, your disappointment.
  • You might also want to write a letter to whatever is running your life—addiction, fear, remorse—and tell it that you are taking back your life.  You can also write down your sorrows and regrets and burn them in a fireplace or “burning bowl.”  The important thing is to symbolically purge your “if only’s” so that you can free yourself to live more in the moment.
  • There are also some great books that will help support our recovery. Check out The
    Grief Recovery Handbook
    by John W. James and Russell Friedman or The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson.

It is up to each of us to ‘push the clouds away’ in order to be happy. Don’t sit on the sidelines and don’t become a victim—you have the power to reclaim your serenity.  Best wishes for a healthy New Year.”   

Ricki Townsend



Another Form of Letting Go – Grieving for lhe loss of life as I thought it should be

man worrying sqWhen my son went into his first rehab, he seemed very humbled, open and honest about his drug addiction. I was having a hard time accepting any of it and was puzzled as to how this happened. Though I knew he needed help, and I got him to the rehab facility, I was very ignorant about the disease.
Every Saturday, for 7 weeks, my husband and I would drive 3 hours one way to attend “family day”. This is where the rehab facility invited loved ones in for an open session to impart stories of hope and recognition of recovery. It was maybe the 3rd session and a speaker shared how his glands under his tongue would water and his mouth would quiver just looking at a liquor store sign. All other mental faculties were hijacked to the thoughts of pulling into the parking lot of the liquor store. It’s hard to imagine. But I somehow knew he spoke the truth.
Towards the end of that session I began to sob. I could not stop. In fact, my will to not make a “scene” made my uncontrollable tears flow faster! If the guest speaker had such trouble with involuntary thoughts and physical changes, how would my son stay clean? I did not know and could not articulate why I was so overwhelmed with grief that one Saturday.
After finding Al-Anon and learning as much as I could, I came to understand that I was probably sobbing for the loss of how I thought life was supposed to be. By grieving, I was beginning to let go and surrender to new ideas of how to live life when alcoholism/addiction is in the family.

Grieving the loss, letting go of the past – Surrendering

There are many forms of loss – employment, illness, relocation, and death. Down to the bone marrow type sadness seem so obvious when a loved one dies. For a long while I did not understand the emotions I felt – why did I always end up crying at counseling sessions? “She is grieving for her son,” a licensed family counselor explained to my husband. I was indignant! – After all, no one has died! I expected her to direct us on how to fix this problem. I continued to deny that I was powerless over my young son’s lives. I was certain my feelings of anxiety, sadness and despair could be eliminated once their problems were corrected. This same professional told us to go to an Al-Anon meeting and that local schedules were at the front desk. I barked back, “I do not have a problem! Why would I need to go to a support group”? I didn’t know what Al-Anon was, but I was certain it did not have anything that would help me. It took another 2 years after this professional encounter for the progression of the disease to send me to my knees. My sponsor says “if you think you know everything, then you are not willing to learn.” That’s exactly what was happening back then. I thought I had the answers and knew what needed to happen. But, that said, things did not get better, they got worse. Eventually I came to a place where I knew I could not do this anymore – in desperation, I surrendered! I sought help and became willing to keep an open mind about the help available to me.

I accept that bereavement is a real emotion and I stopped trying to outsmart it or deny it. Yes, my loved ones are living, but I was grieving the loss of my hopes and dreams for them. I was sad they were unable to pull themselves out of “it” with ease and simplicity. I wished they did not suffer and I wished I could save them. It was insanity to think I could cure it and deny how I really felt. I was overwhelmed with sadness and grieved about the way I might have behaved differently knowing better. Truth is I did not know much about addiction. Once I understood the complexity of this disease, I had to let go of that too. When you know better, you do better. Surrendering and letting go of the past helped me move into the present with a new sense of hope, a gain from the senseless loss.

In Memory of Joey Kovar; The Pain of Losing a Loved One

Photo of Ricki TownsendRicki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified Interventionist, is a Parent Pathway Expert.  Please feel free to ask Ricki or our other experts any questions you might have about chemical dependency or your role in relation to someone with a drug abuse problem.


Honey, may you have found the peace and healing you were looking for in drugs. 

This is such a tragic, tragic death as every one of these sense-less deaths are. Some of these deaths are accidental and some of these over-doses are purposeful. What do these sense-less over-doses and deaths remind me of? Somewhere family and friends are experiencing something so traumatic that this pain will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I personally lost someone, about 5 years ago. They tagged her Jane Doe…she died alone. And it was not that long ago that someone in my family almost lost her life, alone on a dark lonely stretch in the country – Alcohol addiction. I have a dear friend living with the loss of her daughter; drugs and alcohol. She is forever scarred and in pain.

I am so tired of our country, trying to hide and pretend this is not an illness. It is known as the “A” word. Addiction…Hmmmmm… I believe another “not-talked-about” disease had an initial – the “C” word, yes? Today we have major fundraisers and marketing on a constant basis to raise money for cancer treatment and cure. We grew to understand it was a disease and we let go of the Shame.

Are we slow learners?? Is it because the symptoms are so different? Is it that we still believe it is about self-will?

So to Joey Kovar’s family, and all of the other families living with this pain, I say, “I am so sorry I was not blessed to know him, but I know the pain of losing someone. I wish you peace, understanding and love on this journey you never asked to be on.”