I feel deep empathy toward parents just beginning the terrible journey of their child’s drug addiction — and those facing the turmoil of a next step: rehab, incarceration, dislodging the addict from the family home. Examples like these are still fresh wounds for my wife and I.
We have learned and faced several difficult lessons throughout our journey, all of which we previously denied in the beginning. We constantly fought with ourselves and each other about these things. It didn’t matter who was telling us the truth because we knew better. After all, he was our son. We have come to accept these truths and today it is much easier to deal with the heartache. We have become more effective at helping our son and even ourselves.
1. Parents Are Enablers
We love our sons and daughters. We would do anything to remove any pain they are feeling. We would do anything to take away the addiction and smooth the tough road ahead. We would give our life if it would help even a little.
I once wrote a letter to my son about using drugs. I used the analogy of him standing on a railroad track when a train (drugs) is coming forward as fast as ever blaring its horn. However, during all of this, he hears nothing. I told him it was my job to knock him out of the way and take the hit because that’s what fathers do. I now understand that I was wrong all along. All that would do would leave me dead on the tracks, leaving my son alone to stand on another set of tracks the next day.
We raised our children the best way we knew how. At some point, they made certain decisions that led them down this path. In the long run, we can only support them and provide different opportunities to help them make the right decisions in life. That is why different role models such as sponsors, recovering users, police officers, probation officers, correctional officers, pastors, and counselors should all work hard to show our addict the correct path. Unfortunately, this tends to be a difficult thing to do because no one loves our addict the way we do. However, at times, we cannot always do what they need when they need it.
2. I Cannot Fix This
This statement is regarding what I have previously wrote above. This is a problem only our addict can fix. A concept such as this is very hard for a person like me to accept because I try to fix everything. No one is allowed in our addict’s mind except them. They are the only ones that can decide to change their lives, for better or for worse. This will not end until they decide to end it. Many times, parents try to make that decision for them and it only winds up resulting in more frustration and failure.
3. My Addict Is A Liar
Addicts will say anything to hide their addiction and will take any action to mask the problem. I honestly believed at the time that they did not realize they were lying and they just said whatever they thought a parent would want to hear. I believe that children seek approval from their parents and look to give us pride. I believe that addicts dislike themselves and do not approve of what they are doing but believe that they have no way out. Their only mechanism for survival is to seek some kind of approval through lies, even if they know they will eventually be caught. As a father, I believe that ‘approval’ offers a similar instant gratification similar to drugs. Even a glimpse of approval from a loved one gives them a certain kind of rush, even if it lasts for a couple seconds. When my addict tells me he is not using, I really don’t hear it. I tell him often, “My eyes can hear much better than my ears.” Just as we seek evidence of their using, we must seek evidence of their NOT using. Do not rely on faith alone that they are not using just because they have spoke those words.
4. My Addict Is A Criminal
Symptoms of this disease include illegal behavior. That is why my son is incarcerated. Face up to it, Dad and Mom– He has made mistakes and he must pay the price. As some may say: “It is his debt to society.”
Criticizing the police, the judge, the jail, or the lawyers does not do any good. In fact, they are not the ones who put him there; it was his doing. When we see incarcerated others in the spotlight, we tend to think about how much they deserve to be there. However, our babies are nothing like that right? We can justify and separate the wrongs by misdemeanor and felony but those are only legal terms. Every person is someones child. Overall, I now understand that my addict has done illegally done things to land him in jail. He must pay for his wrongdoing and must understand why that is so.
5. Others Don’t Want Them Around
My son has wronged many people and I have come to terms with this. It is OK to feel uncomfortable around drug users. We are the parents and it is unconditional love that keeps us by their side. It is not wrong for friends or relatives to have their own feelings and pain about this situation. Some families have may give great support to their addict and sticks by their side through thick and thin. But some people decide they do not want the trouble of an drug user in their life. We get to make the choice and there is no wrong choice; either one is OK.
6. Life Will Not Be The Same
At 5 years old, my son thought he was Michelangelo of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He used to run around the house with an orange bandanna tied around his head, brandishing plastic weapons and fighting evil. When we look at our addicts, at times we see that 5 year old and mourn the loss of a child. We would try anything to get them back.
My addict is now a 21-year-old man. He is an adult with a child’s maturity at times. However, our world recognizes chronological ages, not maturity levels. Parents must learn to do that too. I will always believe that Michelangelo is lost inside of him. Those that are lost sometimes find their way back, but some do not. I can grieve this loss, but it will not help either of us to move forward. An addict does not live in the past or the future, an addict lives in the here and now. If you want to help someone struggling, you must live in the same world he/she does.
7. Homelessness May Be The Path He Chooses
Mom works in downtown Kansas City. When you drive down there, you can see people living on streets and under bridges where they hold up signs asking for food or money. They are dirty and they are hungry. They can very likely be someone struggling with addiction or suffering from mental illness. One common denominator for the homeless is that at some point in their life, they had people that loved them. They are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends to someone. That doesn’t change their situation. They have made choices that led them up to this point. They can make other choices and there are people and organizations to help them change. The key is, they must make the decisions. If our son makes the decision to live this way, it will hurt me terribly but he will do this until he thinks it is time for him to change. I can try to help, but I cannot make him change. If he does not want help, he will continue to live that type of lifestyle.
Why is This Important?
We struggled mightily against these truths and have fought with every ounce of strength. We have lost our fight and have accepted what we wished would not be true. My learning is: until you understand the truth, you cannot find peace within yourself or really be able to help your addict. Accepting the truth allows you to help both yourself and your addict.
I do not hate my son for using drugs and for putting all of us through this pain. I hate the things he does. I hate the lying, the stealing, the using. I love my son very much but I hate his ways. It is perfectly okay to separate the two.