Addiction is a disease, that if left untreated, can have fatal results. Yet many families still buy into the shame and stigma, fighting their life and death battles alone, in secrecy, behind closed doors.
One worried mother recently broke her silence and reached out to me. This mother had never talked to anyone before and she had many questions. Mom asked if I would post her questions anonymously as she didn’t want her friends or extended family to know her daughter was addicted.
This mother is not alone. And it’s not just the addicted person who suffers, either. Addiction is a family illness, and each relationship brings unique struggles.
To the mother battling your child’s addiction, I see you.
I see your sleepless nights and tear-drenched pillow. I see your heartache and fear. I see you calling treatment facilities and detox programs. I see you checking your child’s room to make sure they’re in bed and still breathing. I see your confusion – your child has become a stranger. You don’t see the full-grown adult in front of you, you still see the baby you nursed. Or the toddler with the skinned knee. The one who’s boo-boos you covered with a superman band-aide and a kiss. Once you could make all your child’s hurts better. But not now. The monster lurking inside your child is ruining everything. Guilt eats at you. You wonder if your child’s addiction is your fault.
To the spouse with an addicted partner, I see you.
The person you fell in love with is gone. Those romantic nights and shared connections you once had, a thing of the past. You feel betrayed. Your partner is cheating on you. Only his/her mistress is far more powerful than mere flesh and blood. This mistress is addiction. There are no words for the pain you feel. You’ve threatened your spouse, you’ve left them, you’ve nagged them, and nothing works. You’re at your wit’s end. But that’s not all. You realize your partner isn’t the only one who’s changing. You’ve become the spy, counselor, prison guard, and parent. You’re suspicious and resentful, and you feel sick and miserable all the time. Deep down, you know you’re not the same person you once were, but you can’t seem to stop the out of control, roller-coaster you’re on.
To the child growing up with an addicted parent, I see you.
You know far more than you say. You are the watcher. You believe your parents’ problems are your fault. You feel responsible for everyone you meet. You smile and pretend, but your stomach hurts, and you have a lump in your throat. You feel safest when you’re alone. You fantasize, imagining a Daddy who is happy and spends time with you. Or a Mommy who cuddles you and brushes your hair. You tell your parents you’re okay because you don’t want to upset them. But deep down, you’re not okay. You hurt. Only you learn to bottle your emotions and build a wall around them. This wall keeps you safe in your growing up home. But as an adult, it will negatively impact every relationship you have.
To the grandparents raising grandchildren, I see you.
You worked hard, raised your kids, and did your best. You were looking forward to slowing down and having some well-earned ‘me’ time. Only it never played out that way. Instead, you’re on round two. Diapers, playdates, sleepovers, sports, and homework. You don’t tell anyone, but you’re exhausted and wonder if you’ll have the energy to cope with what’s in front of you. While your friends are off on sun-filled vacations, you’re at home raising grand-babies. You love them fiercely, but you’re starting to feel resentful.
To the addicted person, I see you.
I see you snorting lines in the bathroom and chugging from the bottle. I see you lying in bed tossing and turning, drenched in sweat. I know your mind is racing. I know you’re scared. Your two worst fears are going without dope and getting caught. It’s become a full-time job just keeping yourself supplied. You’ve told so many lies you can’t remember them all. You keep thinking you’ll stop – but you don’t. You keep thinking things can’t get worse – but they do. You keep trying to control your addiction – but it controls you. I know you want to stop – at least you want the consequences to stop – but each time you pick up, there is less of you left to fight this battle. You are hurting everyone who loves you. Even worse, you are killing you.
Addiction is a progressive illness for everyone involved. The stress of living under such extreme conditions can cause family members to become physically, mentally, and emotionally ill. Some will suffer from PTSD or nervous breakdowns.
Even though addiction has long been identified as a disease, not a moral failing, some families still keep it secret and attempt to deal with the pain and confusion on their own. These families feel unseen, unheard, and all alone.
Although our stories may be different, our pain is not. Recovery requires one to step outside their comfort zone. Asking for help is never easy, but staying stuck in the chaos of addiction or dying from it is the real tragedy of this disease. I invite you to take the leap. Step outside your comfort zone, reach out for help and start your new life. Statistics show addicted persons are most successful when their families are educated and in recovery too.