To love an adult child is different than to love a baby. When children are first born they are dependent on a parent for their every need. Those needs and the level of dependency varies and grows as the child does. Eventually the goal is that the child is a well-rounded, independent member of society and the parent is able to enjoy them as a friend, and as a child. The love never stops, it just grows. When we are talking about the addict adult child, it is a whole different situation. I love my daughter, and nothing would change that. Now, it means something totally different than it did when she was a baby.
Loving JoDee means putting aside the resent I feel for her ruining her own life. It means forgiving her when she steals or lies or ignores me at times of active addiction. It means understanding that she is going to be selfish and self-centered and have little regard for those around her, especially the people that love her. Loving her now, at this point, at five years into addiction, means I can’t expect her to be the person she used to be. I can’t expect her to be an honor student, a gymnast, a good employee. I have to understand her limitations and accept them for what they are. When she calls me to say she needs this or she needs that and don’t forget the things she asked for, as though I am required to bring those things even though I am furious with her for making such a shit storm out of her life, I don’t respond with bitterness and anger but instead, swallow the rock of frustration in my throat. Some days overlooking the entitlement and immaturity is so difficult. I have to get real religious with myself to be reminded that her immaturity is because she has stunted emotional growth. In summary, loving an adult addict is to restrain myself from running her over with my car by remembering the way she was when she was a baby.
The Parent of an Addict Loving Themselves:
Finding out your child is addict is liking someone telling you that your child is a murderer or a thief or picks on challenged people. It feels like as a parent, you have done something wrong. The addict doesn’t understand that feeling that way does not mean we think they are a murderer or a thief of picks on challenged people. They don’t understand that we feel as though it is a reflection of ourselves, not of them. It is always the parents that ruin a kid. When we see a young child running in the street looking like a gutter rat, the first thing we think is where is their parents? Most often it is usually where is that mother? It is extraordinarily hard for a parent to love themselves when their child has gone so far off the path we imagined them on. It means we, or I, spend a lot of time going over the things that happened during her childhood. Should I have punished her that time? Should I have not punished her that time? Was I strict enough? Not strict enough? Did I treat her like a friend not a daughter? Was I not friend-ish enough?
For me it took a lot of talk therapy, late night analysis and self-deprecation before I finally realized that I can’t hate myself. I can hate the things that have happened, and I can even hate the way I behave sometimes (like the time I punched her in the back of the head when she was high, or smacked her on the forehead with the N/A Basic text, neither of which aided in her recovery, at all) but I have to forgive myself. It helps no one, including her, if I am drowning in hatred of myself. That causes a lot of depression and isolation and bitterness that I can’t afford to have or my other children suffer even more. It’s not easy to forgive myself, or love myself, it is hard work, but it’s important work. No one will survive this if I don’t.
An Addict Loving Themselves:
Before an addict is addicted to something, they were a person. A person that did many things, including work or go to school or teach dance. Somewhere in the back of their brain something was already going wrong. They were hardwired to make poor choices, or have impulsive behavior. Without proper intervention, the end result is unavoidable. Until recently we didn’t know what those signs were, or how to prevent them. An addict already has a crack in their foundation of self-confidence and acceptance. Addicts are not only from under privileged areas though that is the stereotype. Or they had abusive parents, or were sexual assaulted. But the truth is, there are lots of individuals that had all of those things against them but never did any drugs, at all. There are so many reasons that a person activates the part of the brain that feeds on addiction. But it’s a slow process. Most people believe it is fast, and happens overnight but that just isn’t true.
A person feels a way, a certain way they can’t explain, and tries something to fix that feeling. Adderall, pot, valium. For some that is enough, and they keep doing what they do. For some that isn’t enough and they can’t still feel what they don’t want to feel or don’t know how to explain how to feel. They move on, to something harder and stronger, until they end up at heroin. The end of the end. The life-sucking, life-ending, mind-melting end. Somewhere along the way, they stop even liking themselves. I’m not sure when they stopped loving themselves, but by the time they are stealing from their family, sleeping on the street, cheating on their partners, selling themselves or their souls for one more hit, they hate themselves.
JoDee and I have talked about this many times. Being high means not having to remember all the painful things she has done to herself and her family during active addiction. Being clean means facing these things, and finding a way to move on from them. She has never come right out and said she hates herself, but I can see it. I can see it in her eyes and I hear it in her voice and it’s evident in her actions. Just when I think she can’t do anything worse to herself or others, she does. Just when I think she can’t surprise me anymore, she does. And not in a good way. Addicts have the ability to love themselves but it’s a process, and it takes work. Without doing the work, it won’t happen.
Siblings Loving an Addict:
Children see things so differently than adults do and siblings see each other even more differently than their parents. There is so much more I am willing to forgive or ignore that our children won’t. When I am sad or depressed they are angry. They can often see manipulative behavior before I can, or I am willing to admit. Not only do they have resentment toward the addict for her actions but they resent her for the way her actions affect me. It often appears on the outside like her siblings hate her. And that just isn’t true. The truth is that they are hurt and angry by her actions. The truth is the miss the life time they were promised with their sister, but was taken from them for reasons beyond their control. The kids are so much more direct than I can be. The boys will say I am mad at you, don’t talk to me to her, but ask me how she is anyway. I can’t even say don’t talk to me. I should. It might help her see that she is a wreck but that makes me feel worse. I have gone that route and to be honest, it sucked. I’m not sure the end result was worth it because I was suffering wondering if she was alive or not while her world changed zero. I am glad that her siblings are still living their lives. I wish I could be more like them. And then there are times that I wish they would reach out to her more. But that isn’t fair for me to ask of them. It isn’t fair for me to ask them to put themselves out there, and be vulnerable to her addiction when we have seen no evidence in 5 years that anything would change.
JoDee has been an addict for six years. It has been five years of me chasing her recovery. I look back at the person that dropped her off at the first detox and I don’t recognize her. But sometimes, I miss her. She was thin, and naïve, and full of an angst that allowed her to do anything. She was silly enough to believe this would turn out alright and we would earn the win. Ah….those were the days.