When I ask parents to tell me what their lives were like before addiction entered their worlds, many can’t tell me. They struggle to remember. Many just can’t even remember what their own life looked like back then.
Addiction changes you and disrupts the dynamics of the entire family.
For those close to the addict, life will never be the same.
I remember when Eric first started getting deep in the throes of addiction. I was confused all the time. It was my constant state of mind. And sorting through that confusion felt overwhelming. It felt overwhelming day in and day out. It felt overwhelming sleepless night after sleepless night.
I didn't understand what was happening, I had no knowledge of addiction as a life-long disease. I was constantly feeling desperate to find a way to get him back on a good path. I felt betrayed over and over with every hurtful action he took.
It was many months before I began seeing patterns in his addictive behavior. It was many months before I could acknowledge the truth. This boy I had raised. This son I loved more than life itself. This person who had been so open with me and so connected to me was gone. The person this addiction brought to my door was going to lie, over and over. The disease would say whatever it had to say to get what it wanted.
And he was going to hide what I thought was his drug problem from me. In his mind, he wasn’t lying. HE just didn’t see his drug use as a problem.
I always tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but my trust eroded more and more each week. I developed an insatiable hunger to learn about what addiction really is. I needed to know what causes it. I became obsessed with figuring out how my beloved son could act out in these ways. And my focus grew stronger with each passing week and month.
So I started to gather information from different sources. I talked to everyone I could think of. I surveyed other professionals in the recovery arena. I talked with lots of people in addiction or in recovery. I also talked to many other parents who were doing what I was doing.
And I came to see that what I was doing was misguided. I came to see what they were doing was misguided. We were all trying so hard to “save” someone they love from the addiction.
I looked for insight in every nook and cranny I could find. My gradual understanding helped me shed the immense guilt and shame I felt in about my son Eric’s addiction.
Today, I'd like to share with you my most valuable nuggets of wisdom that I've learned over the years.
Here are 7 things I wish I knew when my son first started struggling with addiction:
1. An addict will lie to you no matter what
One of the most painful things about addiction is the deceit that surrounds it. All of the lies, manipulative behaviors, and broken promises add up over time. These lies, manipulation and broken promises completely shatter any sense of trust. They shatter your trust in your child. And they often shatter your trust and confidence in yourself and even in others you love.
So, what can you do?
First, realize that lying is an inherent part of addiction. Second, know that lying is a big part of how this disease gets what it wants. And third, believe that the person underneath the addiction is almost always in a place of deep shame
Understanding these three things can help ease the pain of being lied to. Get to a place where you understand these truths in both your head and your heart. You’ll be able to deal with the lies without feeling so much negative emotion.
2. They don't actually want to hurt you
It's quite easy to become enraged or desperate when you know your child is using drugs or alcohol again. They may have been in and out of rehab for years. They may be verbally abusive; they may be manipulative; they may blame you over and over for their choices. You may feel so very hurt, that this child you raised could behave that way toward you. It sure feels like they don’t love you.
You may be operating based only on fear and frustration. Fear and frustration make it nearly impossible to respond in a calm & loving way. These emotions make it hard to give appropriate encouragement. And our children do need appropriate encouragement.
This is why it's so important to also acknowledge that the pain and shame an addict feels is oftentimes unbearable. This does not excuse their hurtful actions towards you and others. It’s useful simply to recognize that they too are in pain and fighting their demons every day.
The truth is: people with substance use disorders (i.e. addictions) almost never want to hurt you on purpose. They often fail to see the severity of the damage they cause until they enter recovery.
In recovery, the veil of addiction lifts. In recovery, our children have the clarity of mind to finally look at the aftermath of pain they've left behind for their loved ones.
3. They want you to stop enabling them as much as you do
If your child is in addiction, you've probably witnessed a number of outbursts already. They may lash out, blame you, talk to you in terrible ways. They may try to make you feel guilty and afraid for them so that you give them what this disease wants. Or maybe you’ve seen the other extreme. Maybe what you've experienced is increasing isolation and detachment from you. You may feel like you no longer are "in relationship" with them.
But the reality is, even when you give in to their demands, addicts feel incredible shame. Deep down, some part of them wishes they wouldn't get their way. They know that when they get their way, they remain in their addiction.
I surveyed hundreds of addicted adult children. They rate their parent’s helpfulness at 2.4 out of 5. And what’s more, they say they rate their parent’s helpfulness that low not because their parent is saying “no” to them. They say they rate it low because their parent is saying “yes” to them.
Pretty amazing, right?
4. Your child is not powerless in the face of addiction
Recovery is a lifelong process. And it takes huge amounts of determination, patience, and courage to pull through.
And still - even though recovery isn't easy -- recovery is possible. It’s always possible. I’ve seen recovery occur in senior citizens and in young people. I truly did not believe my son would ever enter recovery --- until he did! And I’ve had lots of other parents tell me the same thing.
And through it all, it is so hard to remember the fact that your “child” is an adult. It’s hard to see someone in addiction as a grown-ass adult. Their behavior is anything but adult. But they are adults, and adults are always responsible for the choices they make in their lives. That includes our children. That also includes us.
There are many conditions, physical or mental, that can be debilitating. But this doesn't mean that it's impossible to cope with illness, manage its symptoms, and even overcome them. Your child has the power to choose recovery, and it is always their choice.
This brings us to our next point.
5. You can't help them change if they're not ready
It doesn't matter what you do for your child. It doesn't matter how loving, understanding, or supportive you are. It doesn’t matter how much of your own life, your own time, your own money you give them. These things won’t make a difference if your child is not ready for recovery. And your child will not be ready to choose recovery because you give them what they ask for or what you think they need.
There is one way I’ve seen children move toward choosing recovery. That way has the child bearing for themselves the pain that comes from their choices. That way does not require abandoning your child. That way simply requires parents to Love Another Way.
On the flip side, constantly berating them, trying to "fix them" or force them to be accountable does not work. This feeds into their already devastated opinions of themselves. Oh, you might see some temporarily shift. Most often, those temporary shifts are the addictions attempts to get us to do what it wants. They are manipulation.
Positive changes rarely last until your child has chosen recovery for him or herself.
6. Their addiction is not your fault
Too many parents take the burden of their child's addiction on their shoulders. They constantly question themselves and their decisions. They blame themselves. They hold themselves accountable for things that are not their responsibility. And the truth is that almost all of us are good-enough parents. And virtually no one is a perfect parent.
This can turn into a vicious cycle. Your child's hurtful words and actions confirm what you already believe about yourself. If your child blames you and says you were a lousy parent, that’s the disease talking. This is Not. Your. Fault.As a result, you end up consumed with trying to do better. That’s futile. You cannot change your child. You're like a hamster on a wheel. You end up always trying to figure out what you did wrong. You spend your energy, time and money chasing after a solution that is actually not within your control.
Hear more of how I used these 7 things I wish I had known when my son first became addicted.
Click to reserve your seat on my workshop “3 Little-Known Secrets That Encourage Your Child To Recover... AND Help You Reclaim Your Own Life From The Grip of Your Child’s Addiction In Just 8 Short Weeks.”
Free, confidential, 90 minutes.
7. You need guidance more than you know
How many people do you know who openly talk about addiction? Parenting someone with a drug or alcohol abuse problem can be exhaustingly isolating. You might feel like no one would understand. And in some ways you are right.
Others who haven't lived through similar experiences may find it difficult to emphasize. They may not know what suggestions to offer. And when they do offer suggestions, they may not be useful. A huge part of healing the damage addiction has caused in your family involves reaching out to people who get it. You need some people around you who have an intimate understanding of your situation.
You may choose to rely on a trusted therapist or a certified addiction professional. You may choose to connect with other parents who have lived this journey. There are lots of parent support groups in some areas. You may choose Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. No matter which approach you choose, the process of asking for support for yourself is crucial to your recovery. The addicts and the recovery professionals agree on this.
I am a parent who has lived this. I have a tribe of parents who have lived this and are Loving Another Way.
Click here to check out my website and see if my approach resonates with you.