Where Love and Addiction Meet
When a child is born, so is a parent. Full of love and good intentions, we do our best (and hope for the best), believing that things will somehow turn out okay. We teach our children right from wrong and prepare them to manage life on their own one day, which is the whole purpose of our job. But when addiction grabs a child, everything changes. The lines between letting go and hanging on, and between helping and hurting, become blurred. And hope starts to hurt.
Suddenly, we’re facing a disease that not even the professionals have completely figured out yet, but we’re trying to figure it out while in a blind panic, running through the fires of hell with fears and dreams and parental instincts tripping us up.
This is the place where love and addiction meet. A place where our child and his worst enemy share the same body. A place where it’s no longer clear how we’re supposed to do our most important job.
Addiction looks different when viewed from the other side of the looking glass. Now that we’re living it up close and personal—now that we’re living in a funhouse mirror (that’s not so fun)—shallow, old judgments and assumptions about how addicts and the people who love them behave seem callous and naive. Because we now know that when addiction invades the place where love meets life, reality becomes distorted—which is why everything that everyone does looks crazy: for a while, at least, it actually is. Addiction confuses and abuses our natural instincts. Perspective, rational thought, and clarity become warped in this horrible new dimension.
When addiction appears, we’re often unaware of the scary new world we’ve been thrust into and know nothing about—it’s easy not to see what we don’t want to see. When we are blinded by confusion, denial, trust, and lies, it’s easy for something so horrible to hide right before our eyes. When addiction appears, so does a stranger (or two . . . our own words and behaviors become so contorted that we also become strangers, to others and to ourselves). We’re often not sure if we’re talking to our child or The Addict. We’re not sure which one we’re helping (or hurting). And we’re not sure whose eyes we’re looking into or whose are looking back. Actually, we’re not sure of anything at all, but we’re especially not sure if anything we’re doing, or not doing, is right. When addiction appears, things aren’t what they appear to be from the outside looking in—or even the inside looking in.
The place where love and addiction meet is confusing, terrifying, and exhausting. And the heartache is crushing.
Addiction breaks hearts and bonds and all the rules. An extraordinarily cruel disease—and unlike any other—addiction relentlessly breaks promises, shatters dreams, and tarnishes memories. Addiction destroys relationships and families, pitting everyone against everyone else and manipulating and twisting love into knots. Addiction does whatever it takes to survive.
The Addict pushes us away, so we don’t get to sit with our sick child, giving comfort while battling his deadly disease together. We’re no longer able to do the things that we used to do to show our love. Instead, we’re left to wallow alone in our unearned guilt, feeling badly for being unable to fix or protect him. And, since addiction is too often looked upon as a choice or a crime, there’s not much comfort to be found.
Too many people see The Addict as bad, as a criminal or loser—not as our child, who still exists within. Not as someone who is sick and needs help (or whose family needs help). Rarely do people ask how our child is doing or mention his name, because, with all the stigma and trauma and drama, they’re more comfortable that way. But we act strong for the sake of anyone who might happen to notice and for our own sake, too.
When a child is born, so is a parent. Full of love and good intentions, we do our best (and hope for the best), believing that things will somehow turn out okay. We teach our children right from wrong and prepare them to manage life on their own one day, which is the whole purpose of our job. But when addiction grabs a child, everything changes. Suddenly, we must figure out how to be the parent of an addict—we must figure out how to love our children without helping to hurt them, how to grieve the loss of our children (who are still alive), and how to trade shame and blame for strength.
This is the place where love and addiction meet . . . but we’re not alone.
And together we are stronger.
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Sandra Swenson is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction (Central Recovery Press 2014), Tending Dandelions: Honest Meditations for Mothers with Addicted Children (Hazelden 2017), the Readings for Moms of Addicts app (Hazelden 2018), and her blog.
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