For me, it is such a privilege to help parents in crisis get their children into treatment from addiction. The core of these conversations is the same: parents are scared, they feel like they’ve tried everything, and don’t know what else to do at this point. It’s hard to have hope. I speak to young parents with 18-year-old daughters, and I speak to parents looking for treatment for women who have misused drugs and alcohol for several decades.
I hear my own story in these conversations. My son has struggled with addictive behaviors on and off since he was 13. I’ve had to learn how to heal from codependency because everything I initially wanted to do was wrong. I wanted to tie him to a chair and not let him leave the house! I wanted to control what he did. I had to learn healthy boundaries with him, including not allowing him to live in my house, hungover to the point where his siblings were asking why he was sleeping all day. This was especially hard because of my own history with addiction. Without me even realizing it, I was trying to make up for my past when I was a mother with an active addiction by “helping” him.
In my recovery, I struggled with letting go of the damage I did to my kids in active addiction – the things I can’t go back and re-do. It took me a lot of years to even talk about that. Whenever something is wrong with our kids, we want to blame ourselves. We still look at them as this little beautiful being that came out of us, but they grew into their own person.
In fact, it wasn’t until my own Mom set up boundaries with me that I finally sought treatment for my own addiction four months later and began my journey of recovery. Sometimes we think by bailing out our children when they are in the thick of their addiction, we are parenting them and just doing our job as Mom or Dad. But sometimes we’re practicing codependency and facilitating drug use, by giving rides to meet up with friends, giving cash to them freely, or not bringing it up when valuables are suddenly missing from the home.
We’re not allowing them the freedom and the pain they need to experience to get through it and seek help. We are used to putting band-aids on our kids’ boo-boo’s and this is not a boo-boo we can fix for them.
They need help for their substance use disorder. This addiction is not something we created. We can’t cure it for them, and we can’t control it. The best thing we can do is get help for our own codependency and be an example of recovery and healing. It’s about taking care of yourself so when your child is ready to ask for help, you can be a healthy support system for them. Parents, especially Moms, are so used to taking care of everyone else that sometimes they get lost. At some point we forget to say, “OK, now my child is an adult and it’s time to take care of me.”
Many parents of women struggling with addiction have called me to seek solutions, and I heard guilt and shame in their voices. We think we could have done something to prevent their pain. Pain is just part of life sometimes. Yes, there is a genetic component to addiction but at the same time, their substance use disorder doesn’t necessarily have to do with your parenting. I have five children, and they are all so different. I didn’t make them who they are. No matter what they experience in life, it’s not our fault as parents. We think we could have done something differently and it would have changed everything. We want to own their story and the truth is, it’s not ours to own. We all have our own path.
Recovery from codependency has helped me take care of myself first, so I can help others – including people that call New Directions for Women looking for addiction treatment. I share with them that they’re not alone, and they don’t have to do this by themselves. Our job is to help them find a solution, and get them to the right place so their entire family can enjoy the miracle of recovery.