I always wished I were one of those kids who knew what to expect when they came home from school. They knew their parents were at work, or doing something normal like grocery shopping or relaxing. They could invite friends over without the unspoken anxiety of what they may walk in on.
But that wasn’t my life.
Instead, I was born into a family beaten down and held hostage by addiction, that would one day be ransomed and set free.
I Was Unbearably Alone
I never had a real father. He was more of a mirage than a tangible part of my upbringing. Addiction plucked him from our lives, and I plucked fragments of memories (the good parts of course) and pasted them together to form a make-believe relationship that I held in my mind. I could go years without seeing him, but my friends heard about him so regularly they would have never guessed I barely knew him.
I wondered if I would recognize his face if I saw him on the street.
My mom was much different. She was the best mom in the world. She was funny. She was strong. She would wring out every ounce of enthusiasm left in her being to be the mom we needed when she came home from work. Things could have gone on this way forever, just us three and mommy.
But seasons change. Things happen.
My mom got remarried. She watched her dad die. She started to come unraveled as if she didn’t know where to put things anymore.
Eventually it all became too much to balance, and I watched her sink into addiction.
My mom was my best friend and is my best friend today, but for ten years in between then and now, I was alone. In every sense of the word, I was alone. It felt as if I inhaled too long and too lightheartedly, and by the time I exhaled everything was different. I lost my mother. She was hidden so far within this stranger that I couldn’t reach her. I lost my best friend. She stared blankly and emotionlessly into my desperate eyes. I lost my home. My heart… My soul no longer had shelter from the world. I lost myself. The blissful ignorance of childhood was gone.
I was present, and I was painfully aware.
It’s Really Hard
People always have a lot to say when you tell them your parent is an addict. They ask lots of questions. They tell you not to take the things they say personally. They say it will all work out eventually. They give you their number and tell you to call if you need them. They don’t realize your life has been on a constant loop of ups and downs.
Sobriety and relapse.
Sobriety and relapse.
They don’t realize you’ve already had this conversation with five other people, and it’s just a part of it all. They don’t realize it doesn’t mean anything to you.
I’ve been in this position. I’ve had ‘heart-to-heart’ conversations with people who thought they could help, just to roll my eyes and lock the door behind them as they drove away.
I know what you’re going through.
A Little Advice
You can’t make your parent get help. Sadly, you can’t love them into changing. If they are going to change, it is going to be because they decided to. It’s because they realize they’ve reached the end of their rope, and the knot they tied just isn’t holding. Too many people will give you advice about what you can do for your parent. The most important thing you can do is make sure you come out okay on the other side.
If you have siblings, don’t allow your relationships to become estranged.
I have an older brother and a younger sister. Growing up, I always had great relationships with both of them. Yet, when my mom sort of ‘checked out’, our relationships changed. We each went our own way. Instead of banding together, we abandoned ship. No one can relate to the pain of having a parent in addiction as well as your siblings. Keep one another close. Carry one another through this time. Cry together, relax together, fight with one another, just don’t give up. When you come through on the other side, you will be grateful for the bond you share.
Don’t wear the shame.
Your parent’s addiction is not your addiction. You can’t control the decisions they make, and you should never wear that shame. Consider yourself separate from your parent’s situation. Detach from that. You don’t have to hide, and you don’t have to lie on their behalf.
Seek help…for yourself.
When people think of children living with parent’s in addiction, they automatically imagine physical violence and constant fighting. For some it is like that. For me it wasn’t. For me the addiction was mostly quiet. My mom would be locked in her room for days, and we would never hear a peep. Regardless of what addiction looks like in your home, get help for yourself. There is a level of emotional and mental damage that comes with having a parent in addiction. It may be completely undetectable to you, but a counselor will make it possible for you to see and grow through this time.
Do not become an enabler.
Being able to recognize areas where I was enabling was the hardest thing for me. My love for my mom was unconditional, and I wanted the best for her no matter what. Yet, in protecting someone from the consequences of their actions we inhibit them from learning. Never feel obligated to lie, or cover for your parent’s addiction.
Never give up.
After years and years of struggling with addiction. After countless bouts of sobering up, and relapsing, my mom came to terms with the fact that she needed real help. She decided to make a big change in hopes of having a brighter future. I am so proud to say that she succeeded. After checking herself into a 90 day treatment program, my mom has over a year of sobriety behind her. My relationship with her has been restored, and we finally have our mom back.
No matter how many times your parent tries and fails at living a sober life, never give up on them. Always hold out hope for a better future. Change is possible.
Help is Out There
Is your parent is open to getting help, but unsure of where to go? You can call 239-440-6856. That’s my mom’s phone number. She is an advocate for recovery today and has helped hundreds of people suffering in active addiction find help.
Editorial Note: This article was written by my daughter, Holly. She is a bright, beautiful woman of God in her early twenties. She is married to the love of her life and has never battled with addiction. She, and my two other children, are proof that a family can survive addiction. I have the most loving, beautiful and joy-filled relationship with all of my children. They are the light of my life. This article was difficult to read, and even more difficult to edit…but I am grateful. —Robin Bright