“You can’t go back and make a new start,
But you can start right now
And make a brand new ending.”
– James R. Sherman, author of “Rejection”
I’ve never stood in a maternity ward, hearing the cries of my beautiful and utterly pregnant wife giving birth, let alone been at her side as the greatest gift a parent can ever receive is delivered right in front of us. I don’t even have a wife, and I don’t know what kind of parent I’d make until it actually happened.
However, if that wonderful gift grew up strong and tall, but still found the pain of the world too hard to bear, and sort refuge from that part of the world that makes no sense in an addiction, in ongoing substance abuse, then maybe, just maybe, I’d be the perfect Dad. I do believe I’m qualified for that.
So who am I then to listen to, you well may ask. My name is Andy, I’m a thirty-something digital marketing entrepreneur, I’m a thirty-something recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and I’m the thirty-something very loved son of two very wonderful, caring and empathetic parents. I, however, and as I’ve already stated, have no kids – yet.
I do know exactly what it’s like to be an addicted child, and I do know exactly how my mother and father felt, and then struggled and suffered when that slow but inevitable truth finally hit them. If I could have spared them that angst, that confusion, and that hell (I don’t think that’s too strong a word), as you may well be experiencing yourself now, I would have done. In a heartbeat.
Sadly, and for so many of our younger generation, it was impossible without help from a professional, medical facility designed to detox an addict safely and securely, and then begin a process of rehabilitation. My parents knew that I was an alcoholic and a drug addict, and I knew they knew.
Love and desperation were the reasons they finally put my drug-ravaged carcass in the family car a few months after I left prison (oh, yes…), drove me to the next state, and delivered what was left of me to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. And then walked away. By doing so, they saved my life.
Conversations, brutal and honest, many with tears shed, that I’ve shared with my Mom and Dad since, and topped up with the knowledge I’ve acquired from every day after the day I’ve described above, enables me to write this: “4 Effective, Clear & Honest Ways You Can Help Your Addicted Child.” And you can help them.
The problem (well, just one of them, anyway) with addiction is that it affects your thought processes, clouds your judgment, and turns you into the world’s biggest liar – lies you’re more than happy to tell if the result is your next bottle or your next fix. It’s not choosy either. It’ll make you lie to those closest and dearest to you, maybe in the misguided belief that they’ll always forgive you.
Regardless of the angelic kind of character they may have had in earlier years, addiction will force anyone, even a previously sweet-natured child to rely on brazen deceit, lies, misinformation, and even theft to get what to their drug of choice. However, nothing is lost, and your child now needs your help more than ever to become all they can be.
Furthermore, and this is a hard lesson to learn for any parent, addiction is far more powerful, more assertive and more persuasive than you are, and sadly will ever be. The majority of that addiction’s chronic symptoms target the brain, how it functions, and even how it’s structured. Absolutely no addict can think rationally under the influence of the addiction itself.
It is essential for you, as parents, to establish honest, assertive and open ways of communicating with your child, without the need for lies and deceit. And, yes, it’s not easy – not easy to do, and not easy to sit by and watch as your guidance is thrown back in your face. Most of the time, anyway.
It won’t be perfect, but it will be honest.
Always ask open-ended, direct, and, importantly, non-judgmental questions of them, ones that require a little more thought than a simple “Yes” or “No.” Always, however hard it is, to try to:
- Be engaged
- Be kind
- Be respectful
- Ignore or diminish negative comments
- Be consistent, and
- Be positive
… And Stay Positive
An addict has low self-esteem and exceptionally limited self-confidence. This only contributes to their continued abuse of drugs and/or alcohol. The approach is everything. Be positive and do your damnedest to stay that way, however difficult that may become.
By doing so, you will create a more natural and mutual sense of cooperation and teamwork between you both. By doing this (and as constantly as you can), your addicted child will be far more likely to be more honest with you, engage in new activities, and seek out better friends, but, more importantly, in its own way, you are preparing them mentally for the challenges that will surely lie ahead of them.
Always remind them:
- They can become better only with the help
- They are, and will always be extremely important to you
- Addiction is hard, strong and relentless, but they can be more so
Always be positive about the treatment – drug detox and rehabilitation. Be proactive in helping your child to seek treatment by together researching what is available, in terms of drug and alcohol rehabs, as well as the various support programs out there.
Finally, let them know they will not be alone when pursuing treatment.
You now need to set boundaries – in other words, what you will and will not do for your addicted child. This needs very careful consideration and should include all members of the family. Certainly, you need to ask yourself two very important questions:
- Would you lie or cover for your child?
- Would you accept continued substance abuse* before drug and/or alcohol detox?
*Please be aware that it is highly dangerous for an addict to detox from certain substances without medical supervision. Alcoholics, for example, can suffer delirium tremens (or DT’s), which can prove fatal.
At the outset, any boundaries that you mutually decide upon will cause issues. And plenty of them – primarily because you refuse to facilitate the addiction. However, by letting them know you have boundaries that aren’t affected by their attempts at manipulation (and they will try to manipulate), they will understand that they alone are responsible for their actions.
Look After Yourself
You may well have heard of this before, but it fits this situation perfectly. Think of the airline passenger, flying with their son or daughter next to them, when a cabin door suddenly flies open, or other such emergency occurs – put your oxygen mask on first, and then, and only then, help them with theirs. If you don’t look after yourself first, you really will be of no use or help to them.
You have been presented with a nightmare situation, one that will stress you and make you anxious than anything you may have encountered before. If you fail to deal with its effect on you (and it will affect you), you are risking a number of health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorder, and a reduced immune system amongst others.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers the following advice:
- Ask for help
- Care for your own mental and physical health
- Join a support group (there are plenty available for the families of addicts)
- Learn relaxation skills
- Remember, you have a life too. Do not stop seeing friends, making plans, pursuing hobbies – continue your life as you would have done.
Many, many other parents are in similar circumstances. Never think you are alone.
Eating You Up & Spitting You Out…
My Mom used to refer to my addiction as “What keeps eating you up and slowly spitting you back out, again and again.” I love her way with words, and I try to be as equally expressive with my writing. She nailed it, as normal, with that description. If you want to know the very real essence of what addiction is, it’s that – “What keeps eating you up and slowly spitting you back out, again and again.” That’s how your child feels right now.
By following these 4 effective, clear and honest ways you can help your addicted child, you will create an environment in your home that is honest, supportive, and, most importantly, helpful to your child.
Do you believe your child may be in the grip of either drug or alcohol addiction? Are you past that stage and desperate for a solution? Please, do share your thoughts with other readers using the comment box below. Yes, it’s highly personal, but so is the addiction. No-one has ever truly beaten it on their own, regardless of what they might say.
Finally, please remember, you also are not alone, not ever. Take care and Godspeed.