By Christine Suhan
I recently read an article that a mother of a heroin addict wrote, titled, “I Raised an Addict—What I Could Have Done Differently.” As a recovering addict and now a mother of probable future addicts, my wheels were spinning after reading it. There were several great takeaways, but I felt compelled to respond with some of my thoughts and experiences. The author wrote,
“Don’t just hope your children will never be exposed to drugs. Assume they will. Talk to your kids, speak to your friends, and have a battle plan in place. If your school or town has informational meetings about this epidemic, show up, even if your kid is only 7 or 8. Be informed. Be ready. We need to fight this epidemic on all fronts. If your town does not have any form of parent education, Start the Conversation. All parents of young kids should listen to addicts in recovery speak. They are your neighbor’s children. My son would tell you he had a nice childhood. He played baseball and soccer and took karate. We had a good relationship. He knew his parents loved him, and – he did know better. What made him make bad choices in spite of knowing better? What changed from the age of 14 to the age of 16, when the drinking began? Murky gray. Minefield.
Recognize addiction can happen to your child. The epidemic is real. Be afraid. Be prepared to fight for your child’s life.
Forewarned is forearmed.
The following is my response to parents of addicts reading this:
Don’t waste your time preparing for the fight. You will fight. It will be instinct. Survival mode will kick in as you watch your child slowly, or quickly, killing himself right in front of your eyes. Mama bear will show up and take you to places you never thought possible. You will do unimaginable things to try to protect your child. To try to save your child. Fear of the worst will fuel irrational thoughts and behaviors. You will plead, bargain, and become willing to sacrifice everything you have to release your child from the monster that has them. You don’t need to prepare for this, it will be an inevitable progression of your natural, parental instinct.
You will not regret the sacrifices you made, even though they failed to save your child. You know that you’d do it all over again if you had to. Your child is worth it.
But the stark reality that most parents of addicts fail to recognize is this: despite all of your exhaustive efforts, you cannot save your child. This is not your fight. You can be armed and equipped with all of the latest information out there but no amount of knowledge will change your child’s destiny. Your child’s ability to make it out if this war alive, does not depend on you.
What does depend on you, though, is how you survive your child’s fight. What you need to prepare for is not the fight, but the letting go. Finding a way to be okay, despite the outcome. Learning to live your life, regardless of whether your child lives or dies. Building a support system that holds you up when the ground falls out from underneath of you. Deepening your faith so that when the world feels like it’s a dark, cold, and scary place, you can look up and find hope.
Letting go is going to take hard work. It’s going to take preparation. It’s going to take lots of practice. It will go against every ounce of parental instinct that lives inside of you. You will feel incredible guilt. You will feel like the worst person in the whole world. You will feel judged. You will feel alone. Letting go will be excruciating painful.
But letting go will be the best thing that you can do for yourself and your child. Letting go will give you room to breathe. It will, paradoxically, give your child the best chance at survival. Because when everyone around him stops fighting he will have no choice left but to step up. To give the fight all he has. Chances are he won’t reach that pivotal point of desperation until you have let go.
My parents fought my addiction hard. They were equipped with all of the facts. They intervened several times. They were always there to pick up the pieces and to clean up my messes. Until they weren’t there anymore. Until they were done fighting.
I remember sitting in a counselor’s office with my mom and blankly staring at her as she tearfully told me that she had already started grieving my death. That she had made peace with the fact that I would not live to see another birthday. She was done fighting. There was nothing more she could do. She was letting go.
Later that year I almost died, twice. I overdosed on meth twice within the same week and should not have lived through it. My parents were prepared. They were ready. They would have survived my death because they let go.
And I’ll tell you what, I am entirely convinced that I survived my disease because they let go. Because they let me almost die. Because they let me sit in jail for two months when they could have gotten me out. They gave me a chance at life because they stopped trying to save me.
Your child’s addiction will destroy a lot of things, but it doesn’t have to destroy you. You can survive their tornado. You can be the one that’s left standing when everything crumbles around you. You can be the calm amidst the storm.
I talk to parents of addicts all the time who are looking for guidance and advice. My response to them is always the same, “find a way to let go.”
“But what if…”
Find a way to let go. The best thing you can do for your addict is to take care of yourself. To be there for your spouse and to hold your other kid’s hands as they walk through this with you.
My boys are 1, 3, and 4 and I’m already preparing. I’m working, daily, on letting go of outcomes. On being okay, no matter what happens. On strengthening my faith so that it works under all conditions, in every circumstance. On developing a relationship with God so that when it’s time to let go, I have someone to let my child go to.
I don’t have to learn how to fight, the fight will intuitively come. I will do what I have to do until I can’t do it anymore. We all will. Every parent of an addict will fight with everything they have in every possible way until they just can’t fight anymore.
What we have to prepare for is what happens next.
What we need to learn is how to let go.
About the Author: Christine Suhan is a wife, stay at home mother to three wild toddler boys and writer/creator at www.feelingsandfaith.net. She has a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and enjoys helping people through openly and honestly sharing her journey of life, recovery, mental illness, marriage, parenting and more. You can also find her on her Facebook page.