A Future You

by Susan Burrowes
July 15, 2019

It happened in the fabric store. I was in the notions section, on my knees, peering at the tiny silver beads I needed to finish my project. It helped me to keep my hands busy these days. It kept my mind off my addicted daughter. We had sent her to a wilderness program, where she struggled for thirteen weeks before being transferred to a locked-down rehab facility. “It’s your last chance,” the therapist had warned us. “She’s sixteen. Soon you won’t be able to make decisions about her health.”

I thought I was safe here in the clutter of the hobby aisle. Then I saw them. A mother and her teen daughter, coming around the corner, daughter holding a basket full of cheerful fabric. They were chatting animatedly about lunch, where they would no doubt share a decadent dessert and maybe a secret or two. Mom threw her arm over her daughter’s shoulders, so casually. I caught my breath.

Jealousy, rage, and shame nearly knocked me off my knees. I stood shakily and turned away from the pair, pretending to have a sudden interest in necklace bales. Why did they have this happiness and I did not? Was this woman a better parent? Did she do a better job of raising her child? Was I being punished for something I did in this life or the last?

Even now, years later, the image still haunts me. I still feel the sudden explosion of pain I endured that day at realizing everything I had lost, all the small pleasures I would never experience with my daughter, and the shame that maybe I was responsible. But time has given me perspective and the answer to the question that plagued me for so long. The answer is: nothing. I had done nothing wrong. I had done my best.

Addiction is undoubtedly a disease; the use of drugs results in perceptible changes in the brain. It is also a condition that requires long-term management. Though it’s hard to accept that, after years of caring for our children, we parents can’t do anything to anticipate or mitigate the onset of our teen’s addiction, the facts of drug and alcohol use explain a great deal.

Consider that a 2010 National Institutes of Health study states that genes account for as much as 50 percent of an individual’s risk of becoming addicted. We can’t control the predilections of our children. We may not even know of them until it’s too late.

Changes in the young brain that lead to drug use can also stem from difficult events in childhood or a teen’s need to self-medicate due to undiagnosed chemical imbalances. Our teens may have experienced negative emotions or traumatic experiences that they’ve chosen to hide from us.  

Then there is the time-tested truth of peer group pressure. Teens are especially susceptible to the need for inclusion. High school in particular is a tender and vulnerable time in the social and emotional growth of our kids.

These are a few of the most common reasons that addiction can happen, and for the most part, none of them has much to do with you. You didn’t see it coming? Neither did your kid. No teenager wakes up one day and says, “I think I’ll be an addict.” Addiction creeps up like winter weight. A little at a time. Until one day there it is, an irrefutable fact.

Regardless of the origin of your child’s addiction, it’s not useful to indulge in shame or self-blame. It’s counterproductive, chipping away at the solid bridge between the troubled times in which we find ourselves and what we hope will be a better place. For all of us moms of addicted children, moving forward steadily in whatever way we can will give us the best chance of getting to the other side, of coming to a point where we can support our children as they manage their illness.

I can’t keep myself, or you, from feeling regret, anger, and maybe jealousy toward other parents who have had what you so desperately desire. I still wrestle with those feelings. But I can offer you a hand over the bridge to a new normal, some support for the painful journey you are on, and most of all, I can try to ease the burden of shame that slows us from reaching a better future.

Susan Burrowes

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  1. This is me…sometimes jealous of those parents who do not live with the monster of addiction in their children. I have been going to Al-Anon for 18 years and I often relapse! This is not a disease I would wish on my worst enemy. I have had an addicted son and daughter for the past 20+ years, with only a few years where they were both in recovery. BUT, I am the lucky one… my friend’s son died recently from alcohol addiction, a parent’s worse nightmare. Today, I am grateful and I will continue to put one foot in front of the other.

    • This is such an unwelcome visitor–jealousy. But as you say, we relapse, too. We keep putting one foot in front of the other. Moving forward. Mom Power.

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