Parenting in Addiction
A few years ago, I joined a support network of parents engaged in the same journey I was in, having a child or children battling addiction. It is a unique place to be from other parents not having these issues. There are kids out there who try drinking and drugs at a young age, but it is a phase- a brief walk in adolescence and young adulthood.
They do not stay parked there. There is no escalation of use, no dramatics, no binging, no near-death experiences.
Then, there are those of us parents who watch their kids attempt to hide their newfound habits. I found paraphernalia in jacket pockets hanging in the closet, hoods of sweaters, slashed mattresses full of bottles, and bottles hidden inside empty shoes. What surprised me most was their thinking I did not know. No, I wasn’t a kid who tried this sort of thing, but I am a mom with an instinct. Even if it takes a while to put our feeling with their actions, we eventually know.
Early on, I took anything I found, let them know I saw it, and said the magic words with no magic in them, “Don’t do this again. I won’t have it in my house.”
Then I threw it away.
I treated them with a firm mom mode tone but with love and kindness. We didn’t alienate or treat our kids any different. In my mind, I considered my imperfect teen years and knew we all messed up. My mess-ups led me to be a teen mom, and I thought my consequences were on a grander scale. I was sure the ‘temporary’ phase would pass. (Until it didn’t)
Next, we dealt with police, arrests, jail sentences, assault, theft, domestic violence, prison, overdoses, CPR, and suicide attempts. Over a decade later, here we are. One completed rehab seven months ago, seems to be doing better, and called last night proud he is taking care of some legal fines this week. One is in treatment, calls every other day to leave, has chosen addiction over three children, and is in denial of her inability to live in the real world at this time.
Love Never Gives Up
I cringe to remember the days, weeks, months, and years that led us here. There were good times along the way; however, they are overshadowed by the worst of times. I rarely hollered at my adult kids. I did not sit and ridicule or engage their anger towards me with backhanded comments and abuse. There was one violent exchange in a drunken rage, but it didn’t lead anywhere. It was drunkness that was acting out.
I was a calm mother who never turned her back. Even in my frustration, I was there to help in any way I could. I listened, I encouraged, I reminded my kids of their worth. I let them know a setback gives them a running start toward their future. I was encouraging them to use every lesson to live forward. With the hope of a mother wanting healthy kids, I said what I believed about them.
Today, my son says I was the only one who was honest with him while constantly encouraging him. My daughter says I was a great mom who was always there. Even the conversation I had with my son was about motivating him to help himself while I had to tell him he couldn’t come back to our home. He says it was powerful and pushed him to accept help. I took a hardline in ending the abuse against us with lies, manipulation, and theft.
Putting your child out is difficult. It breaks your heart into a million pieces.
I hoped the same concept would help my daughter; maybe it will. We are in the middle of that story today. It hasn’t been as well received. Was one ready and the other not? So far, it has not been promising, but I keep praying.
Wrong or Right, We Keep Going
Is there a right way to helping a child in addiction? No, there’s not. We are individuals who respond to life differently. We often hear that parents should show tough love. Did you know tough love looks different for everyone? We also hear that we should not enable our kids. Of course, we should not enable drug or alcohol use, but not everything we do to be supportive is enabling. I see parents ask if they should bring their kids food, toiletries, blankets, socks while on the street. They ask because they live in fear of the stereotypical title of “Enabler.” Yes, bring your kids necessities, and don’t let anyone tell you not to!
My kids once showed a habit of partying with their friends until that habit became necessary one day. Their minds began to change and accepted this nonsense from their brains and bodies that the false pleasure from using was a better choice. One day led to two, then three, then four.. and now, years later, it is all their mind knows. When life happens, if something goes wrong, or a feeling rises they do not like, their mind remembers that ‘habit’ that became an addiction and says, “We have a way out of this.” In comes the drug of choice, and away goes the sobriety.
It takes over two months for a thought habit to become routine in our mind. I am not a fan of 30-day treatment programs for this reason. After a month, the person is sent back into the real world with the same mindset they entered treatment. They experienced detox, yet that does not change how they think, feel, or choose to respond to anything. Entering outpatient care is an excellent option if a person can keep their mind clear enough to attend. My experience is, they can’t.
It is a cycle that exasperates the parents. We feel lost and unsure what to do next, if anything. We watch as parents let their kids go and wonder how they did it. We cry alone, and we feel shame. Parents are tired of going round and round with these kids, some now adults.
I wish I had tried harder when they were young. I should have tried counseling, service programs, anything. My little magic words and attempts at communicating in love did not work. I wouldn’t change my style, but it was never enough.
Our house was chaotic because of kids’ actions, not because of our response to their using. The atmosphere that addiction creates is toxic and so dense we could not see clearly. Hindsight leads to insight, and if I knew then, what I know now, it would be a different ballgame. It may not change the outcome because the one lesson I know better than any is I can never change another human’s mind. I do not own that power. It is something a parent can never do. We may influence those minds to a certain age, but then the influence either becomes their guide or their hindrance. Understanding that concept is the first step to letting go.
If you are swaying in a similar boat, I am happy to pray for you, chat with you, and share some private space supporting you. Feel free to email me- firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below. I know this journey is a hard one, and I want you to know you are not here alone.