How do I detach with love? My child has become my addiction and I am exhausted.
A MomPower mom recently sent a plea many of us can relate to. She said, “I would love some information or steps on how to detach with love as well as self-care. [My child] has become my addiction, and I am exhausted.”
I know all too well the feeling of being “addicted” to my child’s addiction. Recently, I read about a study titled “Prefrontal Cortex Functioning of Family Members of Those with Substance Use Disorder,” which was being conducted out of Texas Tech University by researchers Shumway and Bradshaw et al. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that controls executive functioning, and it is where our planning and decision-making is done. The researchers found in functional MRI testing that “family members often exhibited similar impairment and decision-making difficulties as those with a SUD.” They are now doing more extensive research on the mid-brain.
What that all means is that our constant overwhelming and possibly illogical urges to “fix” and “help” our loved ones are similar to the cravings they get to use drugs. The trauma and constant stress, in the case of the parents, cause changes in the brain so extensive that, when researchers presented parents with an image of their loved one going to treatment, the same parts of their brains lit up in the fMRI as the addicted person’s did when they were having a craving. So when you feel like you just can’t control yourself, and you need to ignore your own needs and be on constant high alert, there really is evidence to suggest you may need to fight what your brain is telling you to do just as our children must when they have a craving. It makes more sense now, doesn’t it? Research like this on family members may be the key not only to understanding why we do what we do, but also to helping us find better and more effective strategies to cope.
Hopefully, understanding why it is so difficult to stop being consumed with our loved one makes it a little easier to force yourself to be rational about this irrational disease. Remind yourself that if you fall apart, you won’t be able to help your child if and when she wants your help. It’s impossible and unnatural to detach from your own child. However, you can and should remind yourself of what you have control over and what you do not. We can let our children know they are loved and that we are here for them when they are ready. Sometimes we need to believe in them until they can believe in themselves but still be cognizant that they will be doing the hard work of recovery themselves.
Yoga, meditation, EFT (tapping), and exercise in general have all been found to help with trauma. If you’ve had a loved one struggling for any length of time, you have definitely experienced trauma. Isolating is a typical response, but connecting to others who are supporting a loved one who struggles will not only help you access information based on experience but also reinforce that you are not alone. If you are able, find a trained family recovery coach who can mentor you as you go through this extremely difficult time. Remember there is hope. As frightening and dangerous as this disease is, over 23.5 million people live in active recovery. That means there is always hope!
For more information on the research study, please visit Brain Research: In the Same Way Addiction Sufferers Crave Substances, Their Family Members Crave Them.
Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.
Maureen Cavanagh is a peer recovery coach and interventionist who works with families and loved ones supporting a person struggling with a substance use disorder on their own recovery. She is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings and Magnolia Recovery and Consulting, and the author of If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Addiction and Recovery, published by Henry Holt/Macmillan. You can learn more about her at www.maureencavanagh.net