What about Tough Love?
Have you ever heard of it?
I was a guest at an addiction rally / fundraiser banquet a couple of years ago. There was a moment at the beginning where the question was posed to the crowd,
“How many of you parents have had to close the front door of your house to your child and say, ‘I’m sorry but you’re not welcome here right now.’?”
“How many of you parents have had to call the police on your child?”
Hands went up all over the room. Many of these parents had lost their children to alcohol or drug addiction. Others hadn’t heard from them in years. As I looked around the room, I noticed my own friends and peers in the treatment industry who had hands raised. One, a pastor friend of mine, had tears streaming down his face.
The pain was almost too much for me to be a part of. I wanted to sink into the floor. I wanted to go away from this moment, from this question that was handed to me.
So, what was my answer?
What would I do in the same situation?
I went to treatment with this guy named Kevin. He was probably 23 or 24. Everyone loved him. He was infused with charisma and had a smile that could melt snow. He was funny, incredibly smart, loving, and painfully broken. He returned to treatment for his second or third round right at the tail end of my own 78 days in treatment. I remember him coming around the corner with this big smile on his face saying, “I’m backkkkk!” He gave me the biggest hug ever.
People are so “over-the-top vulnerable” when they’re detoxing. I always think to myself, “I hope THIS version of the person stays after sobriety kicks in for a while,” because it truly is the best version in my opinion. It’s the person in their most authentic state. No walls.
…but I digress.
So, Kevin ended up going on a spiritual retreat with all of us. It was a three day thing held on a peaceful lake with cabins, no television, and plenty of gardens and paths to walk and get alone with ourselves. One night around the campfire Kevin started up a conversation with me;
“Can I use your phone to call my mom?”
He took the phone and walked away. I could see him pacing back and forth as he talked.
After his phone call, Kevin came and sat next to me. I could tell he had been crying.
“How’s your mom?”
“She won’t talk to me until I’ve been clean for a year, but I already knew that. I just wanted to try.”
“She won’t talk to you at all?”
“No. It’s something she learned in Al-Anon or from the people who support her. I talked to my dad though.”
As we talked, Kevin was trying to reassure himself that his mom was doing the best thing. She was doing the healthy thing. She had to protect herself from the pain.
He went on to tell me about his childhood and how he had used drugs for a long time. “My parents are tired. I get it. I get why they can’t deal with me.” But there was so much left unsaid, and all I could see was a little boy who was hurting, and just wanted his mom. Yes, he had caused pain to his family and they felt helpless and lost so they chose their way of coping, but at the risk of overstepping my writing boundaries it is my opinion that Kevin wasn’t the creator of his family’s pain. I’m pretty sure there were layers of stories and complexities. Some of it was probably too confusing for even the family to unravel or understand on their own.
Addiction is hard.
Being in a family touched by addiction is hard.
And I may not know everything, but I do know this.
Kevin needed a mom at that moment. He felt alone, abandoned, and he was hurting. At that moment I wanted to somehow magically be the mom he needed. I did the best I could. We talked. I stayed present in the conversation until he was done.
That was all I had to offer, an ear that wouldn’t stop listening.
I did the best I could with what I had.
Would I Close The Door if I Was the Parent?
I haven’t answered the question, have I? I just told two stories.
Okay, let me piece my thoughts together.
I’ve seen both sides. I’ve seen parents who have allowed their addicted children to live with them and turned a blind eye to their addiction. I’m definitely not condoning that. We can’t pretend it’s not happening. We have to try to help. I have also seen parents who have practiced “tough love” which was sort of a movement in the 90’s. It was the school of thought that said, “I love you, but I have to close the door to your presence in my life while you are doing this to yourself. I will not be a part of this pain.”
I get it.
I really do.
We hope that by giving this ultimatum we will help jar this person into reality. We want to make them see that it definitely IS the end of the road, and at the same time we want to set healthy boundaries for ourselves.
Except people in active addiction will call our bluff every time.
If we tell them they can’t stay if they are using, they will lie…and after the lies are no longer accepted, they will turn and walk away.
You see, addiction is a spiritual thing.
It is something that gets on us. It gets ahold of us.
It manifests as a whirlwind or like quicksand that slowly threatens to suffocate everything it touches.
We want to untangle from it. We are hurt. It is costly.
I was recently on the phone with a father who was in tears, “Tell me what to do, Robin, and I’ll do it. Should I call the police? My wife can’t take any more of this.” His son had been to over ten rehab centers since his teenage years. He had stolen money from the family bank account. The father was frustrated and just wanted it to end. He just wanted his son back. Of course I advised him not to get the law involved with his family.
We are not warring against our children here, so putting them in jail will not help them. You can’t arrest your way out of addiction. There is no amount of incarceration that can set a captive free. Putting a person in jail for being in bondage to addiction is just putting him in more chains.
So, What Is The Answer? Would I Practice Tough Love?
I have three adult children. None of them are addicts but they have been in situations before, and they know, without a doubt, that my house is their house, forever. All my children have keys. They come and go as they please. That invitation would not be revoked, even if one of them were to take everything I own or set my house on fire.
I know, you may be thinking, “But you’re not in my shoes. You haven’t lived it.”
No. I haven’t.
You are right.
But as I was preparing myself to write this article that has been on my heart for over a year now, the Spirit of God brought this Scripture to me,
“Where can I go from Your Spirit, God? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in Sheol (hell), behold, You are here.” —Psalm 139:7-8
There is nowhere I can choose to go that my heavenly Father will forsake me. Yes, I can go down a bunch of terrible roads, but He will never tell me to go clean up before He will come find me and rescue me. He is always here. He promises that I can never get too dirty, do too much wrong, or make too many bad choices to be labeled as unworthy of His mercy and His love.
As humans, we are forever looking for another person who loves us like that. We are looking for someone who says like Jesus did, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” We long for that unconditional love. We want to know that our parent’s love for us is without boundaries and without borders. I know, I know….Tough love doesn’t mean we don’t love them. It just means we love them from a healthy distance.
I can’t do that.
And I suppose that’s why I love working with people in active addiction. I love to look eye to eye with a person who is lost, broken, angry, and feels there is no hope…and find that little bit of light that’s hanging on. I love the act of loving them back to life. I believe that’s what we are all called to do.
Would I allow my adult child to continue to live with me if they were in active addiction? Would I put myself at risk of them stealing from me and interrupting my days and nights with their self-created crisis?
I have to say I would.
I would not keep silent though.
I would pray over their belongings, their bed and their pillow. I would lay my hands on them even while they were under the influence of drugs and I would pray deliverance Scriptures over them. I would not fight this battle on an earthly level. I would go to war in the spirit and I would fight.
Would I expect every parent to do this?
Do I judge the parents who feel it necessary to close the door on their children and save themselves?
Do I judge the parents who call the police on their children?
We are all walking different journeys. We are all walking paths that have been ordered by our Creator.
I refuse to judge your journey and I am mindful of your pain and the fact that you have to live with your choices.
But as a parent who is also a believer in Jesus Christ, if you have a child in active addiction and want to begin to believe for this child and declare war in your household (in the Spiritual realm), I’d love to hear from you.
I know there is another way. I have experienced it with children that God has given me to mentor and love. I have seen and experienced the fruit of deliverance in my own life as well as the lives of those God has put in my path.
I’d love to send resources to you and believe with you in faith for your children.
You have to be committed to go to battle for your children, though. That’s the first step.
Click on the link below and I will partner with you and send you resources and Scriptures to stand on for your children.
God is bigger than any problem and He will make a way where there seems to be no way! As parents, we need to become those leaders, mentors and beacons of hope that the younger generation can look to for help and guidance.