You always knew the empty nest was coming. Eventually they grow up and move out. Then they were supposed to fall in love and get married and start a career and you could become the story book grandparent. But that didn’t happen. Your son or daughter is an addict. No one is prepared for this.
It can be excruciating. Maybe you don’t know where they are or if they are safe. Sometimes you know where they are and who they’re with and know they aren’t safe. Hopeful periods of sobriety are followed by fast cratering, until you no longer enjoy the times they aren’t using because you are always bracing for the crash. Perhaps now you are parenting their children, sometimes with official authorization and sometimes because they just aren’t here or just can’t be a parent.
You feel hurt. You feel angry. You struggle to figure out how it all turned out this way. You don’t know what to tell your friends. You don’t know whether to wrap your child closer in your arms or change the locks to protect yourself and the rest of the family. Here’s where you start:
1. Say the words. “My daughter is an addict.” It’s not a shameful thing that someone did. It’s the result of some blend of genetics and/or some traumatic experience and/or “who knows?” It’s a description of their current brain misfunction and the impact it has on everyone’s lives.
2. Don’t do this alone. As lonely as this feels, remember it’s unfortunately common. Multiply the number of addicts in the world X 2. That’s how many people are walking in your shoes. Start with Alanon or some other support group. Attend to remind yourself you’re no alone. Attend to get support. Attend to give support. Attend to remind yourself that there is a way forward.
3. Guard your other relationships. Don’t let the addiction destroy your marriage or other important relationships. Disagreements about how to be a parent to an addict, as well as the sheer emotional demand of the situation strain your relationships. It is like all of the oxygen is getting sucked out of the room.
4. Have a plan. Work your plan. Learn the difference between helpful and co-dependent. This sounds easy until your child is calling from jail or your grandchild is living in a car parked in Wichita. You’re going to have to have a plan. You may need an experienced therapist help you make that plan. You may need a sponsor to help you stick with your plan.
5. Take care of yourself. This is likely to be a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to be more helpful if your body is fit, your mind is rested and your spirit is fed.
Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.
CCD Counseling has a number of therapists who provide Counseling for families of addicts./