What’s it like being the parent of an addict? I’m not talking about the day-to-day experience with a crisis and drama around every corner. I mean what is it like inside the mind of a parent who has gone from discovery (of a child’s drug use) to recovery (from a drug addiction)? As I take stock of my current emotional state – examining all of the emotions I have felt over the last 10 years – I wonder: Am I normal? Am I a survivor? Am I crazy? Maybe I’m just a composite of these experiences and it’s simply who I am now.
After reflecting on the last 10 years, here is my emotional inventory:
Hurt: Hurt is one of the emotions that never fully dissipates. Usually I am able to put the hurt aside and shield myself. Occasionally, however, it jumps out at me. I have never hurt like I had while suffering through my son’s active addiction. For me, it is a hurt that even overshadows the death of a loved one. I spent a long time with this emotion. For many years I couldn’t separate the disease in my son from my son himself. His addiction was a personal affront and I held onto very deeply. The pain from this emotion took me to places I wish I never would have seen. This was the hardest to reconcile within myself. Hurt was the most destructive emotion for me and it drove my life.
Anger: Anger was my defense mechanism against the hurt. Anger moved me to do things that I am not proud of: scream and curse at my son, scream and curse at my wonderful wife — in fact, at times, I attacked anyone who was within reach. For the most part, my anger wasn’t physical. Rather, I sliced people to bits with words. But one day my anger drove me to my lowest point in life — I struck my son in anger. My son taught me a lesson, however. Even though he was high and addicted, he did not strike back. His respect for me at that time was greater than my respect for him. Of this, I am ashamed. “You have a right to be angry,” he would say. I have heard those words before. But they are empty. Anger comes with the territory. Our response to life with anger is something we must find a way to live with, while not destroying ourselves.
Suspicion: I always thought of myself as a trusting person. My whole philosophy in life was that I was too lazy to distrust somebody. After all, trusting is easy. To distrust, on the other hand, requires a tremendous amount of work and energy. Yet, suspicion makes distrust easier. You begin to see the evil in a person. It is easy to forget that the symptoms of a disease can mask the reality of a situation. It is easy to allow suspicion to drive your life and behaviors. I’m not talking about the things the parent of an addict must do to protect themselves and the addict. I’m talking about learning to see evil in a person, when evil is not the intent. This outlook leads to negative consequences for all involved.
Contempt: Contempt is the culmination of hurt, anger and suspicion. Contempt is a terrible thing for parents to hold against their own children. Contempt can easily slide to a place where there is no caring. I felt once that I was entering that place. I can’t go there; it is a one way door. Thankfully, I did not go through that passage. It is a bad, bad place.
Joy: Joy is that emotion we all want. When I think of joy the picture of Snoopy dancing on top of his doghouse comes to mind. Joy comes from many places -– but it is immediate and temporary. However joy is a fix that I craved. I’d twist reality in order to experience that feeling. Too often my desire for joy allowed me to ignore realities to the detriment of myself and my son.
Hope: Hope was the most dangerous of positive emotions. Hope set me up for terrible lows. I misunderstood hope for most of the time that my son was using. It was an emotion that I transferred to others. My hope was based upon the actions — or lack thereof — by others. I would pass out hope to people like business cards at a conference. I placed my hope in the hands of rehabs, meetings, counselors…anyone. I allowed others to both build up my hope and pull it out from underneath me. Yet, hope is an emotion that must be internalized; it isn’t a wish. Hope is an awareness of life and the tender nature of what impacted me. Where there is life there is hope; it was only after I understood that simple phrase that I understood what hope really was, rather than what I wanted it to be.
Happiness: Happiness is so much more than joy. Joy is fleeting, happiness is an internal state of being. Happiness can be found in all things. Happiness can be obvious: the birth of wonderful grandchildren; the sound of, “Papa come here.” But happiness can be born of heartache and pain, like the happiness I feel to have known my father for 27 years of my life. Happiness isn’t the smile or grin you see on my face, it is the feeling inside. The smile is simply a physical response.
Appreciation: Appreciation is the dominant feeling I have today. Appreciation isn’t a “thank you,” but rather, it is a recognition of what “is.” Appreciation is taking it all in-the good, the bad and the ugly. The simple process of writing this post is a process of appreciation for me. The horrible emotions and actions I described above are just as valuable in shaping my well being as the wonderful feelings I experience today while my son is in recovery. Appreciation ALLOWS me to learn from what I have experienced over these past 10 years. If I choose not to learn then what has been the worth of a decade of my life? I wish that I had never experienced any of this and that my son had never been an addict. If there was a time machine I’d be on it right now to change it all, but that can’t happen. Ignoring the bad and only recognizing the good discounts my life and make me less than. I want to be the best I can be. In order to do so, I must learn from my terrible mistakes.
Love: Love is so much more than what we whisper at night before falling asleep. Love is a life preserver in a storm; it is a foundation that holds you up; it is something that makes you better than what you can be alone. I learned more about love in the last 10 years than I had learned all my life before. Love comes not just from those whom are close to you, but also from those who have enough in their life that they wish to share. All you have to do is ACCEPT it.
As the parent of an addict, I have learned that we are not perfect. In fact, we shouldn’t even strive for perfection. Trying to be perfect causes terrible control issues (speaking from experience here). It’s a hard lesson, but we all must do what we are capable of doing at any one time. Self assessment and learning isn’t something we do, it is a process we work through.
I wish that I could live the rest of my life experiencing only the positive emotions. But I know that hurt, anger and suspicion will at some time again enter my life. That’s the way life is. Yet after experiencing the extreme emotions brought about by parenting an addict – and acknowledging them — I believe that I will be better able to cope with any negative feelings that arise.
Have any of you have experienced these same emotions? If you have, it is worth the reflection to examine what being the parent of an addict has done for you as much as it has done to you.
Maybe I’m normal, or maybe not. But no matter, quoting an old wise philosopher, Popeye the Sailor Man:
“I yam wot I yam. And that’s all wot I yam……”