Can Better Mothering Prevent Addiction?

by Julie Neale
October 28, 2019

Moms with children who are addicts have to reconcile thoughts and feelings that other moms probably don’t have to deal with. We start to question where we went wrong—if only I had done this, or if only I had done that, or if only I had been more aware, or if only I had done more for my child, or if only I had done less. The list is endless. Brené Brown writes in her book Rising Strong: “No regrets doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living without reflection. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life.” I think every mom must have some regrets. But mothers of addicts have to be careful, or we can fall down a rabbit hole and blame ourselves for our child’s addiction. What we seem to be telling ourselves is if only I had been a better mother, I could have prevented this awful thing called addiction. Al-Anon has a wonderful phrase called the 3 Cs: You didn’t Cause it, you can’t Control it, and you can’t Cure it. As my sponsor repeated to me many times, you just don’t have that kind of power.

Below is an excerpt from my journal that I wrote several years ago, when I was in much pain over my child’s addiction. I asked myself the following question:

What am I sad about?

  • Being seen as a bad parent. That I possibly caused or at the very least contributed to my son’s addiction. That I am a failure as a mother.
  • Sad about my son’s choices and risky behaviors and the consequences that he will deal with the rest of his life.
  • Being judged by other parents who don’t understand this disease.
  • Feeling confused as to why God would allow this to happen.
  • Wondering if God had given me too much to bear, feeling depressed, and lacking the energy to reach out for help.
  • Sad and angry for the strain my child’s addiction put on my marriage. Angry that going forward, we have to navigate together very difficult decisions around what to do and what not to do for our addicted child.
  • Grieving the death of so many hopes and dreams for him and our family.
  • Worried about the financial stress addiction has added to our lives.
  • Grieving that I will have to hold his recovery loosely for the rest of my life.

As I look back at this list, I am struck by how much of this was about me: my sadness, my fears, my anger, my anxiety, my guilt, and my shame. I saw myself as a victim of his addiction, and, at the same time, I felt responsible for him. I felt his addiction was mine to fix. I felt I had to carry his feelings, and I needed to be there to rescue and protect him. I wanted to manipulate and control him. I thought I could find the solution for him. It took a lot of work for me to understand that I could not do that for him. Only he could find a solution and work his recovery.

When I started attending codependency groups—working the Twelve Steps with my sponsor, reading the Big Book and many other books and blogs on addiction and codependency—I began to see I needed to do my own work to get healthy. I learned that I could show my son empathy, listen to him, encourage him, and share, but I also could confront and level with him. His recovery was not about me. It wasn’t about what I said or didn’t say, or what I did or didn’t do. I began to feel more relaxed around him, and we seemed to speak a common language—the language of recovery. I saw how he could make decisions and accept responsibility. (Not necessarily on my timeline, but his.) I offered him guidance and help when and if he asked me for it, and I still do today. I began to feel free again.

The short clip below is from the documentary ASK. K.C.’s mom, Julie, is a very competent lawyer in Dallas. Her job is to “fix things” for her clients. That’s what she does all day, every day. But when she realized her then-teenage daughter was an addict, she remembers her response, which is probably similar to that of most moms. Take a look and see if you are currently experiencing or did experience something similar to Julie. I know I did. (Spoiler alert: if you watch the entire film, you will see K.C. and her mom today are each living a beautiful story of recovery!)

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Julie Neale

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