A mother wrote to me: Things are better at the moment, but we have ups and downs. I am working on the “loving with detachment” issue. I spend hours each day trying to look at where I went wrong as a parent or what I should have done differently.
What if, in addition to having a substance abuse problem, your son or daughter also has a mental illness such as bipolar disorder? Your child’s behavior is erratic, temper explosive, judgment impaired. It’s hard to know which roller coaster you’re riding. Is it drugs or manic depression?
When a teen becomes an addict, that person you once knew and planned a future for has effectively checked out. What you experience is an addict who will play you better than you can play them. After a period of time, your teen’s brain becomes progressively “hard-wired” to his or her drug of choice, to use a colloquial term.
One day I just became so weary and felt alone. I decided to go to an Al-Anon meeting at the suggestion of my counselor. I didn’t like the first meeting, but did go back later and something clicked. I now attend meetings when my schedule allows — usually once a week, along with counseling. These sources of support helped me let go of my expectations of my son and realize he has a disease. You wouldn’t ask someone with cancer to just stop having it.
As parents of an addict, living in the world of ought to be gives us permission to do things that hurt our addict and perpetuate their addiction. Living in the world of what is forces me to see the situation as it is and not the way I wish it to be.
And it sure isn’t easy for parents and caregivers who are full of concern about a child’s drug or alcohol problem or addiction. As Annette points out, these feelings are numerous and intense: fear, anger, guilt, panic, sadness, confusion, disbelief and more.
When you find out that your teen has been using drugs and alcohol, it’s time to accept the new reality and act sooner rather than later. Intervening to help get your child back on track is not an easy solution. Your kid may kick and scream and protest and shut down, but chances are it will help, as it did in my case. If you aren’t getting through to your child, enlist the help of an interventionist or counselor.
As a teenager, I vowed to never drink the way my dad did. Little did I know that I had a genetic predisposition to become an alcoholic and an addict just like he was — and it wasn’t too long before I found myself fighting my own battle with a drug addiction.
When I felt the walls of denial I had been building up to protect me begin to crumble, I felt the sting of reality. Yes, coming out of denial was painful, but it felt good, too. I was finally walking toward the truth, which was the only path to recovery. My willingness to take action was the first step in getting my children the help they needed.