Credit: Shutterstock / Andrii Kondiuk
Let me guess. Even in your worst nightmares you never imagined addiction would be on your own doorstep. After all, it’s something that happens to other people’s children, not yours. That’s what I thought, too…until the horrible reality hit me squarely between the eyes.
Drugs take no prisoners. Meth stole our middle daughter. Pain pills stole our oldest. And prison for trafficking drugs across state lines has taken our third and youngest daughter. We watched them all slowly descend into the abyss that is addiction. We were powerless to help, though it wasn’t because we didn’t try incredibly hard. Finally, I found a way to survive.
As the parents of addicts, we initially bob around in the sea of disbelief and despair that we’ve been cast into unwittingly. We struggle to reach the shore. We try to hoist ourselves up out the mire we’ve ended up in. However, we find ourselves stuck fast. That’s when we need the first advice we can really apply to our lives:
“Learn to separate the child you know and love from the addict your child has become.”
Addiction has a way of changing key things about your addicted loved one. This is not an exhaustive list:
- Core belief system
- Propensity for danger
It will take the meekest, mildest, most thoughtful and truthful person and turn them into an unrecognizable stranger. As much as you love your child, love that stranger they’ve become. And then work on your own survival. As the saying goes, “you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first”.
A critical first step for me dealing with everything was admitting that I needed help. It seemed vaguely familiar, this concept that I resisted for so long. Finally, I got to the point that I had to do something or I felt I would lose my mind, so I grasped that concept. I was desperate for someone to tell, for answers to my gajillion questions, for someone to “get it”.
At first, I found 12-step groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon helpful. I joined a couple online. Those groups aren’t for everyone and more importantly they’re sometimes not enough for others. I fit into both of those categories. I needed, both as a parent and as one who loves an addict, to figure out so many more aspects of my journey than the groups offered.
I did manage to pluck a few choice morsels from my time in the groups. I learned to reach into the funnel cloud swirling in my head and find my emotions. Anger and grief were the two most consuming of the bunch. So, I devised a plan.
Learning as much as I could, by researching and reading everything I could get, was the key. It unlocked the notion that I was mourning my children like they were already dead. That lead me to learn as much as I could about grieving from that perspective.
STAGES OF THE GRIEVING PROCESS – Addiction Perspective
#1 ISOLATION or DENIAL of the reality of the situation. Parents don’t want to believe the worst. Some grasp at straws, trying to make sense of the chaos that has become their lives. Others just stick their heads in the proverbial sand and refuse to deal with it.
#2 ANGER – There is anger toward the addict for his/her actions. There’s also anger at yourself for not being able to rescue your loved one.
#3 Bargaining – Many go through bargaining with God. Others beg and bargain with the addict to get off drugs. Neither tactic is effective, but nearly every loved one of an alcoholic/addict does one, the other, or both at some point in time.
#4 Depression – This includes sadness and regret, as well as the preparation for separating ourselves emotionally and physically from our loved one. It manifests itself in different ways. Studying the classic depression symptoms will help you recognize when you are in this phase. Don’t do it alone. Get help if it is warranted, whether it’s by way of medication or talk therapy.
#5 Acceptance – Don’t mistake this for accepting the addict’s behavior. Acceptance, instead, is of the reality of the situation and the realization that you are powerless to change it. This is where separating the child you know and love from the addict he/she has become comes into play.
There, in step #5 of the grieving process, you are brought to Step #1 of your own journey toward coping. This place, after going through the grieving process is where you realize it’s okay to take care of yourself. Maybe you’ll take up meditation or yoga to get your inner voice slowed down. Maybe you’ll indulge yourself with a little personal pampering to feel better about yourself and to relax.
Whatever it is, just know it’s okay to be happy sometime. It’s okay to treat yourself. It’s okay to not feel guilty when you have fun. In fact, it’s all necessary to promote good mental health. It’s great for relieving stress. And it’s a start toward getting yourself to a place where you can fully be there for your child.
I hope this helps you know that you are not alone. There are many who have gone before you, many who travel this road with you, and more who will travel it after you. Keep in mind that on your journey you do not have to be alone. We can find others like ourselves around every corner. We’re your co-workers, church members, cousins and friends. The crazy thing is that there are so many trudging through their own lives, thinking they are alone. They think they’re in an insular bubble when they are sitting in the same boat as another parent of an addict.
Will you be brave and acknowledge those other people and speak your truth to them?
They’ll understand and give you hope for a brighter future.
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