Dear Mom: Don’t Lose Hope
I know you’re tired. There are no words for your pain, only tears. Your child’s addiction is tearing you apart. You’ve tried to do everything right. You’ve kissed their face a thousand times. You’ve watched them sleep and held their hand when they learned to walk. You’ve taught them to look both ways before crossing the street. You’ve made sure they wore their helmet and buckled their seat belt. You’ve been their No. 1 cheerleader, and no one in the world will ever love your child as you do. Once upon a time, you could fix it all, and now, you can’t.
You’re lonely and so, so sad. Only you don’t tell people this. You don’t want your friends feeling sorry for you or judging your child. So you suck it up, put on your brave face, and carry on.
You wonder where you went wrong. You search your mind for any telltale signs that you might have missed. Looking back, you try to make sense of how you got here. Maybe addiction is in your DNA? Maybe Grandpa passed it on? He liked to drink. Or was it your husband? The one who seldom drank but, when he did, always went way overboard. Or maybe it was the neighbor’s kid, the one who introduced your child to smoking marijuana?
You did your best to protect them. You kept them safe. You clothed and fed them. You kissed their scraped knees and checked under their bed for monsters, but you never imagined the monster lived within your child.
This monster lies in your child’s voice, moves your child’s body, and has taken over your child’s mind. You call this monster addiction.
Your child isn’t the only one with a monster. You’ve changed, too. You’re exhausted and drag yourself through the days, longing for bedtime, when you can seek release through sleep. Your mask is slipping. You’re mad at everyone. While friends and family move on with their lives, you’re stuck.
You’ve tried everything you can think of to help your child. You’ve lied for them and paid their debts. You’ve been their personal ATM, housekeeper, counselor, and police officer. But nothing you do works, and, worse still, your child doesn’t appreciate your efforts.
Dear Mom, hold on.
Stop beating yourself up. You didn’t cause this disease, but there is much you need to learn. First and foremost, please reach out for help. Do not allow your child’s addiction to destroy you. Instead, learn how to love your child without enabling their illness. You will need safe people in your life who have walked in your shoes and can provide you with emotional support. Feelings that remain hidden become a toxic wasteland of resentments and self-pity. You won’t help your child by becoming sick, too.
Dear Mom, your child’s addiction isn’t about you.
Addiction has nothing to do with the love between a mother and her child. Substance use disorder is a brain disease that leads to changes in the structure and functioning of the cerebral cortex. The first use of alcohol and drugs is voluntary. However, over time, the changes in the brain caused by repeated use impairs a person’s impulse control and their ability to make sound decisions.
Dear Mom, one of the hardest things you will ever do is let go.
Not of your child, but of their illness. Let go of how you thought things should be and accept what is. Let go of the urge to fix, control, and rescue them. Let go of overfunctioning on their behalf—allowing your child to feel the consequences of their actions will encourage them to seek help.
Dear Mom, it’s natural to feel a little broken.
Be kind to yourself. Erase the old, negative tapes and insert new, positive ones. No matter how many times you hear “it’s not your fault,” your mother’s heart will not believe it. Guilt is normal; try to believe anyway.
Dear Mom, addiction is a family illness.
You can’t cure your child, and you can’t control them, but you can influence the outcome. Someone has to make the hard choices. Be open to learning and doing new things. Don’t wait for your sick child to ask for help. Lead the way. Involve professionals. They will help you navigate the pathway from addiction to recovery.
Dear Mom, don’t lose hope.
Across North America, 23 million families are living in recovery and leading beautiful, productive lives. Although it may seem like the heartache will never end, it can and does for many!
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