Parent of an Addict: What’s it Really Like?

teen-in-hospital-bed1 “Be all you can be.” That’s The U.S. Army’s recruiting slogan.  It also happens to be a necessary motto for every parent of an addict.

So what’s it really like raising a child with a drug problem?

It starts with letting go of the idea of having a “normal” life. Truthfully, it’s a far cry from the storybook life we all fantasized about once upon a time. Being a parent of an addict is about being more than you ever dreamed you could be. And most days it feels like you’re at war.

You quickly learn survival skills.  Not just physical survival. Yes, those are necessary at times, but also emotional survival skills.

You learn to love someone that, by all accounts, is un-loveable. Being close to an addict is toxic, even for a parent. We are not immune to the symptoms of the disease. We just learn how to absorb the poisonous relationship and deal with the behaviors in a way that allows us to protect ourselves and do our best to protect our suffering child.

A parent finds a way to hold on to hope when your heart is being torn apart and all seems hopeless.  But you never give up on hope — not for your child or yourself.

You find a way to survive in situations that you never dreamed you would encounter, such as visiting with your child through a glass wall surrounded by steel bars and cages. Or standing beside him as he lay in an emergency room bed while a very somber doctor explains the situation.

Miraculously, you find a way to detach yourself from your child’s actions that run counter to every value you hold dear and have taught him since he was a baby. You learn to manage your emotions when you know that your child is dealing in areas that you would not venture into without a police escort.

The world is upside down. Jail is good, freedom is dangerous. You find yourself asking or praying for the police to take your child into “protective custody.”

A parent of an addict lives EVERY moment, awake or asleep, in a love/hate relationship with the phone. If only the phone would ring and I could hear his voice just to know he is alive at this very moment. But, every time the phone rings your heart skips a beat, launching itself into your throat. Your stomach flip flops and your mind wonders: Is this “the call”?

Parents of addicts learn how to smile with friends and family. We need them for our own survival. We learn to allow them inside  places that used to be only for us.

What’s it like for you being the parent of an addict? What survival skills you learned along the way?