I am not a psychiatrist. Nor am I a psychologist or counselor. I’m simply one of many parents of an adult child addicted to drugs, alcohol, or both.
If I’ve had no formal training why did I start this blog? The answer is that I'd like to connect with other parents who, like me, struggle to stay connected to an adult child and/or raising grandchildren.
As those of you know who have joined the recently created GRANDPARENTS UNITED, https://www.facebook.com/groups/570120206875018/ a private Facebook page for people like us where we discuss, ask or offer advice on raising grandchildren, as well as our children addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Our journey is complicated, heartbreaking, and many times overwhelming.
My hope is to come together in a supportive, safe, and nurturing fellowship.
Nothing about this disease is fair. Nothing about addiction makes sense. And yet in every town and city hundreds of thousands live on the streets, or in shelters and outdoor communes, their fragmented thoughts thinking about how to get their next high.
How could this possibly happen to my child? My family? Me? We ask these questions time and time again but there are no answers.
ALL IN OR ALL OUT?
I have adjusted, settled on, and tweaked my answer to this question what seems like a million times.
The disease is heredity, a choice, narcissistic, or related to childhood trauma. A few conclude it’s the luck of the draw.
One theory is to completely disengage. Another piece of advice; love from a distance. Neither suggestion made sense to me. As articulate as loving from a distance was presented I couldn’t buy-in.
I have only seen this happen in movies. Even when based on a true story I question if there was total disengagement. I have yet to come face-to-face with a parent of an addict who said, “Yep, that worked for me. My child got sober once I told him I was done.”
Maybe some of you have done either of these and it worked. If so, I’m happy for you and your family. I must be weak because I can’t do this. For me, this would be like saying to a friend or family member, “You’re out of my life unless you get better.”
Some will argue the two are not on equal ground. After all, an addict can stop if they want to. Right? I say thirty days sober in a treatment center doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface. Much longer periods are needed to grasp the concept of what a better life looks like. There will always be money and marriage problems, losing a job, and people we love die. The issue is how to deal with disappointments without substance abuse.
Until there is a program developed to teach our very ill children how to believe and understand that changing their lives comes when they are able to deal with, accept, and process disappointments there will be little progress in the war against addiction.
Until physicians and ER personnel are interconnected on a website and can see at a glance the last time a patient came into an ER for pain meds for what they say is back, tooth, or an old injury and “gets it,” there is little chance for change.
And what happens when someone steps out of a close-knit protected environment from a thirty-day stint in a treatment center and into the real world? The rose-colored glasses soon fall off when reality hits hard. Back child support; court costs; lawyer fees; bills for jail days; costs for reinstatement of a driver’s license; the bombs just keep rollin’ in until history repeats itself and escape from reality seems the only answer. A band-aid is a band-aid and only offers temporary protection.
With all the suggestions what is our solution? Do we alienate? Force sobriety, telling our first, second, or third born that if they want to be part of the family they have to go by our rules?
If force was the answer what a wonderful world this would be.
We’re celebrating a special occasion with everyone in the family. The table is set, the meal prepared and, after everyone arrives, someone says something you know is going to cause trouble, whether in jest or as a jab, and there’s nothing we can do to ward off the anger that is about to ensue.
As predicted, the drama and chaos begin and our perfect event turns into a nightmare.
And guess who most likely will be attacked? Us.
I've read, researched, and studied what other parents do in this situation. I've listened intently to two psychologists who told me to save myself and walk away. I attended Alanon, listened to both sad and joyful endings and yet no approach felt right to me.
There is no cookie-cutter answer. Everyone is wired differently. When two people hear the same thing their reactions are different, even when not under the influence.
Confrontations soon turn into a full-blown shouting match that might begin like this; “You and you’re perfect little life! If it weren’t for you my life would be different. You’re a terrible person!”
Siblings grab coats, their children's hands and quickly go out the door. We're left with a pile of dishes, family members upset because they asked you not invite the one person who might cause trouble, and a ruined day. We can't win.
I’m always a breath away from erupting like a volcano that has been simmering for years. I fight the urge to tell my adult child what they have done to me, or their child, and everyone who has ever tried to help them, even thought I know anger breeds contempt and alienation,
Many times included in this argument is: “You are the reason I use,” or “When you accuse me of using you make me use!”
My first instinct is to defend myself. But I’ve learned that if I don't weigh my words it could lead to long periods of silence that last for days, weeks, and even months. There’s nothing worse than to age five years worrying that your adult child is hurt, sick, needs help, or worse.
It’s hell on earth when a parent is punished for caring.
It’s taken years to come up with how I want to deal with confrontation. Do I want to participate and waste words on a conversation my child will probably never remember?
Now, I remind myself that it’s not me he’s angry with and I’m face-to-face with someone I love who is filled with remorse and shame.
My response could go something like this; “Yes, I have not done things I’m not proud of.” I answer with a short, honest, and sincere statement. No one is perfect, so this is truthful.
Even in an altered state of mind, there’s nowhere anyone can go when both parties are in agreement. When the fire subsides, a hug with, “All I need you to know is I love you and that will never change,” goes a long way.
Does this work? Will my child be alcohol or drug-free because of a change in my attitude? I wish it were that simple. But it’s a start and I have seen a change in our relationship.
Willingness + emotional support from family + professional help followed by a solid, long-term treatment program is the formula with the highest proven rate of success.
WHAT ABOUT ME?
There are support groups but it will take finding the right one for you. There are angry parents who want to vent; there are Christian gatherings that might not be where you belong, but I find extremely helpful, and then there's the analytics who try to make sense out of nonsense.
One of the side effects of this disease is that our child’s twisted odyssey of delusions become their reality.
What do I do when I’m feeling overwhelmed? This sounds simplistic but I find a quiet place and slowly blow out anxiety and frustration, and then breathe in calm.
I do this several times until my heart rate begins to slow and my mind stops racing.
No matter how many times I'm told I’ve done my best, or read articles and listen to podcasts that say the addiction is not my fault, I continue to revisit those things I could have done differently.
Could I have been a better mother? A better listener? Was I there when he/she needed me?
To most of the above, I plead guilty, even though I dedicated much of my time to my three sons' upbringing there were days I wasn't mentally available.
No one on God’s green earth doesn’t feel guilty about something, and parents are riddled guilt about what they woulda, coulda, shoulda done differently while raising their children.
Lady Macbeth said it best, “Out, damn spot!” Looking back over our shoulders will never point us in the right direction.
Today my son is sober. Tomorrow he might not be.
But I relish the peaceful moments we have together while keeping the faith that more days like today are yet to come.
Next week’s blog: Explaining to a grandchild why they live with you.
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