When it Comes to Your Child’s Addiction, Leave the Past in the Past


How do we help a loved one who is struggling with substance use? I wrestled mightily with that question for years, while I lived a life with a son who was in active addiction. In those early days, my answer usually came down to a deceptively simple focus of “I must fix him.”

After many years, I began to take some of the emotion out and use my own tried-and-true problem-solving methodology. Back to the basics.

I’m a pretty simple guy without a single hour of formal education beyond high school, so I usually use past experience and analogies from my life to learn. What I applied was something that made it easier to understand where I was in relation to “fixing” my son.

Many years ago, I worked as a laborer in the local laborers’ union. Most of the time, if I wasn’t on the end of a 90-pound jackhammer busting out concrete, I had a machine in my hands pouring it back. That experience became a metaphor for life.

Life is like a sidewalk. As I walk along that sidewalk, I look back over my shoulder. There is a concrete sidewalk behind me that has hardened and set. There is nothing I can do to change that concrete now.

Around my feet the concrete is wet but it is quickly becoming hard. If I don’t keep moving forward, I will become trapped in that hardening concrete.

In front of me the concrete is wet and pliable. I can shape that concrete any way I chose.

I can look back over my shoulder and see the hardened concrete and learn from where I walked, but I cannot change it. Ahead of me I can shape the concrete into a path I choose. I can add curves or hills. I can work it to be as smooth or rough as I want. I have the power to shape my sidewalk. Sometimes I can walk along and do nothing, leaving it rough and ragged, sometimes I am on my knees working it with the care and tenderness of soothing a baby. My sidewalk becomes my choice to design and make.

When my son was struggling with the disease of addiction, I hate to think how many times in our “discussions” (read: loud arguments) I started with an accusatory, “You did X. You did Y.” At the time that was important. “You did” was a way of keeping score and also trying to change the shape of that sidewalk over my shoulder.

After years of learning and reflection, I have come to realize that no effective discussion begins with the words “You did.”

We all say it, and most of us have had it said to us. But the fact remains that defensiveness is not a good way to begin any dialogue.

If we don’t work on ourselves first, we cannot effectively work with anyone else. It’s hard when we are wrapped in emotion, but when we realize and accept that the sidewalk behind us is unchangeable, we can more easily begin to address the things that really do make a difference.

To Begin Helping, Start Talking.

Want to address your son or daughter’s substance use? Learn how to have a conversation — not a confrontation — with your child.

Talk Bubbles

14 Responses

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    Frank R.

    January 24, 2018 at 2:44 PM

    I love the story and analogy of walking a path you are constantly forming and working n. In that story I find it hard to be looking back as the concrete in front of me hardens around me and I am stuck in it. And to work it you have to sometimes get on your knees to make it smooth and beautiful as you work with it your own hands. Full personal responsibility for sure, getting out of it what you put into it.

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    Ron Grover

    January 24, 2018 at 2:35 PM

    Kathleen, Rhonda,

    Thank you for your kind comments.

    We are all learning parents even after of child enters recovery.

    SPOILER ALERT: Rhonda, my son has been in recovery since July 2010. Julie at The Partnership has another essay to be posted updating everyone about my son since I wrote my first essay for The Partnership back in 2009.

    If your brave enough you can read my more personal and rough stories on my personal blog, An Addict In Our Sons Bedroom. http://www.parentsofanaddict.blogspot.com

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    January 24, 2018 at 2:23 PM

    I read this and I think that is/was me. Always saying remember when you did this or that. Truth is he remembers, all too well, when he did this or that! I need to never remind him. I feel he has made a valiant effort to rid himself of need to take those damn pills!! I pray every day that he never returns to his old self. Thanks for your words of wisdom! They mean a lot!!

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    January 24, 2018 at 1:14 PM

    I love this analogy. It is so true!

    What is the rest of your story? Is your son in recovery now?

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    January 24, 2018 at 12:33 PM

    Thank you for yet another powerful story of pain with hope and real solution!!! I feel like such a hopeful and learning parent!! Far from perfect and full of love!!!

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