I want you to know something. I hate you. You are among the cruelest of maladies. You twist love into unrecognizable tangles and place gulfs between loved ones that appear too wide to bridge. I want you to know that even though it often seems that you are winning, I will always love my son.
I am the mother of an addict. My son has been in the clutches of this deadly disease for over eleven years. He fell off the edge of the earth at 16 years of age and began a dark, dark journey that took his soul and broke the hearts of all of us who love him. An addict inhabits his mind, body and spirit and wears his face. My son is still in there somewhere but no matter how hard we try, we cannot find our David.
To be the mother of an addict is not something I knew how to be. It requires a willingness to go where you have never been before and learn lessons you do not wish to master. I am very grateful that there are those who have walked this path before me and have been so kind and compassionate to share their experience, strength and hope. Without them, I would not survive this long trek and I would not be able to see the blessings in front of me that permit me not only to survive it, but to thrive in its midst and to see that I can experience both joy and sorrow simultaneously.
Educating yourself about this disease is the first step to freedom. Learning that it is a family disease and that those who love an addict need help just as much as their loved one is critical. I confess that I am codependent and must work on my condition daily. I have a disease of “good ideas.” By that I mean that I have focused on putting my ideas in place to get what I want—a well son. I have tried to choreograph his recovery and I now realize that it is not my job to do that. It is like saying out loud that “my life is unmanageable so let me manage yours.”
For those of you struggling with a child that is recovery resistant, I would like to share some things that are helping me let go of my child and allow him the dignity to find his own solution. I want to state right up front that I am a work in progress. I progress in fits and starts to the best of my ability. My best looks different on different days. We look for progress and not perfection.
It is crucial for you to strive to get better even while your loved one continues to spiral down. It has helped me to envision an island where peace and contentment abound. This island is connected by a bridge to a mainland of pain and suffering. My loved one is not ready to cross the bridge onto the island of healing and recovery. I linger with him on the mainland, afraid to leave him behind. A realization occurs to me that it would be better for all of us if I summon my courage and cross the bridge. I find much respite from suffering. I feel rejuvenated and empowered on this peaceful isle. I also discover that I can wave to my loved one and encourage him to join me when he is ready. It becomes clearer to me that I belong on this island and that as I acclimate, I find I am spending less and less mental energy on my suffering adult child. I am moving forward with my life and other important relationships in a healthy way. I no longer want to be my adult child’s life coach. I want to be a role model for balanced living.
Another suggestion is to find support. I have assembled a team of resources that I use freely and often. This team consists of people in recovery, people like me and people like my son. I go to many Al-Anon and open AA meetings. I have a home group, a sponsor and sponsees. I work the steps myself. I have a therapist and a growing bibliography of recovery books that I read and study. I highly recommend that you have an addiction professional on your team and become willing to take direction from them. They will help you help your child in a healthy, limited and precise way. They can coach you to provide no instant answers when your addict wants something from you.
Finally, I recommend focusing on gratitude. This is a very helpful practice to keep me out of victimhood, mired in self-pity. I have learned that every human being experiences suffering. This realization yields compassion for me and for others. I have learned that my pain is not wasted when I am willing to share the lessons my personal suffering has taught me. I try to give thanks often for all the blessings in my life and to realize that the difficult things I am currently facing may very well be on tomorrow’s list of blessings. Life is full of miracles and mysteries. I no longer want to be so focused on my suffering child that I miss out. When I die, I want MY life to flash before my eyes, not my child’s life.
Addiction causes separation on so many levels. Separation can keep us sick and miserable but the antidote to separation is the connectedness recovery offers. I cannot encourage you enough to seek it for yourself. Your life is just as important as that of your suffering loved one and really, the only person we can save in this life is ourselves.