The Struggle to Be Right-Sized in Your Addict’s Life

by Julie Neale
August 26, 2019

I will never forget the day I was meeting with my sponsor and she said, “Your son is an adult now. Your job is over! You got to live your life. This is his life—he can and will figure it out.” Oftentimes I feel confused about what my new role is in my adult children’s lives. I think if parents are honest, most of us struggle to let go and watch our grown children find their way in the world. But when you add the challenge of a child suffering in addiction and recovery, that adds a whole new level of difficulty.

Our son is three years sober. My husband and I are in a unique situation where he is currently working for us and has been for the last year and a half. We see him five days a week. I do understand that having a child in recovery work for his parents is not the ideal nor the norm. But due to a unique set of circumstances, it seemed like a good decision to hire him. We needed the skills he is proficient in, and he needed his second back surgery in less than two years. It has not been easy, and at times it has been extremely difficult, with a lot of hand wringing and soul searching. Periodically, we questioned whether this arrangement was hurting him or helping him.

There were days when I allowed fear to get a firm grip on me, and I could not pry it loose. If I sensed that something was not quite right with our son, or that he was struggling with resentments or depression, it would render me almost useless. Fear would consume me.

I am convinced that I must hold my son’s recovery loosely, but my heart doesn’t always fall in line with this thinking. For the parents of addicts, one of the greatest sources of our suffering is the lies we tell ourselves. I know it’s true for me. I can concoct a story and convince myself that today will be the day that he will relapse. I lose all hope, and I imagine him losing his community, his job, and his apartment, becoming homeless again. These terrible images of his past come flooding back all too quickly.

I have had to work hard in my own recovery to understand and establish good boundaries with both of my children. I try to keep my mouth shut and not offer unsolicited advice. I know that allowing them to make their own decisions gives them dignity and confidence. But sometimes I can’t stop myself, and I succumb to my old habits. My son’s counselor gave me some wonderful advice. He said that when I become fearful around decisions I see my son making, I should get curious and ask him questions about these decisions and let him know I am struggling with fear. I have found that the times I have engaged him in this manner, his response has been kind and honest. Several times he has told me I need to back off and allow him to make his own decisions, and he has reminded me of the fact that I am powerless just as he is powerless, and I need to trust God.

As my son has more years of sobriety under his belt, I have found it easier not to be so quick to offer advice. Do I fail at times? Of course! But at least now I can recognize when I overstep my boundaries and ask him for his forgiveness.

In many ways, my son is a typical millennial grappling with his future and his place in the world. He experiences ups and downs just like we all do. At times, I find myself grieving about the dark places this disease has taken him and the consequences he has had to face as a result of his bad choices. I can’t fix any of that for him, nor should I. But the one thing I do hold on to is the fact that the struggles my son is facing are making him a stronger person and a wiser one, too. I must get out of the way.

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Julie Neale

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  1. Thank you, Julie! Whether or not our adult children are struggling with addiction and/or mental health issues, ALL us moms need to get out of the way and trust God’s plan for their lives. May God bless you and your family “beyond beyond”, Julie!

    • Renee-Thank you for your reminder to get out of the way of God. I struggle with this so often as I see him everyday. But I know his working for us is only for a season. Thank you!

  2. My ags is in early days of being clean. I’m terrified everyday of relapse but I’m trusting God that it will be ok. God has brought him through numerous od’s so I know he has a plan for him.

    • Frankie-I understand your fear of relapse and as you said our only hope is to trust God. That is all we can do.

  3. This has been my story for 5 years. It was reassuring to read that others are experiencing similar fears. I was recently told that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. So very true. I can say that it has gotten better as he has more sobriety. Let’s face it…we’re Moms…we will always worry..

    • I like the acronym-FEAR (false evidence appearing true)! I’m glad to hear it has gotten better-that gives me hope. I recently heard a wonderful quote by an Egyptian Lawyer and Theologian, Adel Bestavros: Patience with Self is Hope, Patience with others is Love and Patience with God is Faith.

  4. Good, true words! I have a daughter with just under 5 years in recovery. The fear isn’t as strong, and she is living her life, doing well. My son has less than a year consecutive sobriety. We lost his twin brother, he lives with me, and I’ve seen the relapse signs (finally). Fresh off the loss of my son to overdose, I couldn’t let his twin, my only other son just be cut loose. With a lot of help from the corrections department, my surviving son is in recovery again, doing well.

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