Is tough love the right thing to do?

Diane’s regret after her son’s death:

Joshua Giannini

by Diane Fielder-McCormick – My biggest regret during the seasons that my son Joshua was using drugs is when I acted in “tough love” ways. In the picture I posted today on Facebook of him on my front porch a year ago, I had kicked him out for stealing money from me. I took him to a homeless shelter/drug rehab place but he walked away. Before he even went in.

And he slept in the woods, literally, all winter. Looking back,  I’m thinking that some of our behaviors add to their shame, compounding it. Multiplying it, sinking our loved ones even deeper into the abyss.

Yes, he did move back in and stayed with us until his suicide. Think twice before words are spoken or actions taken. Really hard balance on the other side of death.

From Rachel:

It’s an impossible line to navigate between support and enabling. It is an absolute tight rope, and the line is so thin, we are either enabling or supporting, and the distance between the two is about a centimeter. I learned a great deal from attending the AA meetings in rehab with my child.

The men who got up to speak, shared their past lives of deep manipulation, and hurting those closest to them. They were unable to feel regret, until they were clean of drugs. They all admitted, the more the family helped, the more advantage they took of their family members.

Drug addiction is a vicious cycle, often sweeping our most tender-hearted and compassionate up in addiction. All of us can only hope and pray that our loved one is the chooses to go into recovery, to potentially live drug-free.

I was fortunate, my son has been clean over 6 years–and before Fentanyl hit. It had absolutely nothing to do with anything I did or didn’t do.

At any moment I could’ve lost him, there were dozens of those times I could’ve lost him. And if I didn’t lose him the one week, the next week was still dangling there, like a spider in the web.

The regret must be overwhelming about that final day, but we need to know, that there would’ve probably been many future potential final days to come, and there were probably many potentially previous final days that had come and the child miraculously survived.

Published by

AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

14 thoughts on “Is tough love the right thing to do?”

  1. Hello, it is 3:36 in the morning, and my Son’s passing away still haunts me. My Son lost his battle to substance abuse on May 15, 2016. It’s slowly killing me. I believe tough love is what killed him. There was so much my family did not know regarding substance abuse. I made so many mistakes. As a result of these mistakes Travon is gone. His life is over. I am overwhelmed with grief.

    1. I have been in exactly the space you are in now. And what killed your son was a disorder of the brain called substance use disorder. I have seen parents who do all the wrong things have a child live through it and thrive. And I have seen parents who did everything right and lose their child. I am not saying we can’t be supportive or a big part of their recovery. But what I am saying is that we can’t control the outcome of a hateful and horrific disease. Right now you are also hyper focused on your errors which probably accounted for 2% of your parenting over the years. But you child was with you for over a decade and there are many things you did right which you are currently unable to focus on. We all go though this part you are going through at first. And while you can’t stop or avoid the pain you can let it in and learn to manage the hurt and minimize your suffering. All that hurt does have a meaning. It means love. It means you are healing. And the most intense feeling will last 60-90 seconds. Knowing that might help you survive those intense waves.

      We all have bought into tough love at some point. Because we’ve tried everything else and we are watching someone we love more than ourselves self destruct. And the helplessness that goes with that is also unbearable. This process of coulda woulda shoulda is part of grief of an overdose and suicide death. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart. If you reply, I will answer. From one grieving parent to another.

  2. I hate addiction, it has destroyed my family, my husband and I have had custody of our grandchildren since 2012, my daughter was in and out of rehabs and jail, got clean a couple of times but always went back to using , lie after lie to get money and then I said no more money can’t see her kids till clean , she had not seen her kids in about 3 or 4 years and was living 6 blocks from us this last year , she died November 15, got sick didn’t go to dr till to late didn’t die from overdose was septic with multiple organ failure and years of drug abuse she was 36 , I have unbelieveable guilt of things I didn’t do or say to her, I was with her the last hours of her life and I hope she heard me telling her how much I loved her and how sorry I am

    1. She heard you Donna. She did. We all have regrets. I know my son’s suicide was in part because he thought we abandoned him when in fact, we simply didn’t know what to do and we didn’t know what direction to take. The behavior makes it so hard to see it as a disease. I hope you can forgive yourself. I have regrets but have forgiven myself. But it does still sting. It is the worst disease because of how it makes the sufferer lie, steal and hurt the ones they love.

  3. Part of what drives the tough love approach is the overwhelming feeling that nothing we are saying or trying to do to help is getting through to our addicted loved ones. I at one time felt my son was so “gone” that he was unreachable. I think it is at these moments when counseling, talking, loving and supporting is being met with rage and rebellion that there seems to be no other option left other than letting them feel the consequences of their actions. I hated this phase. My son did survive and I still wish it never had to happen. I do think that sometimes people do want to pursue the addiction they are suffering with and the complexities of their disease gives us no other option except to protect ourselves. I wanted there to be money left if my son was ever to be reachable again, so I could help him get treatment. I wanted to live and stay sane and emotionally sound, so I could someday have a mutual loving relationship with him. The reality of living with a user who is bound and determined to reak havoc is an imposible living situation. I think it is heartbreaking to have to walk the tough love approach as a parent and I also think it is risky. Unfortunately sometimes I don’t think there is any other choice. In my evaluation it takes the addict some self evaluation that sometimes is not possible without living with the reality of their addiction. This reality takes them to dark places such as homelessness or jail. All the while we as parents are telling our children there are other options. What happens witin their psyche that causes them to eventually accept or seek help is complex. My son told me once that he always had two choices while addicted. I remember I responded enthusiasticly saying I always knew that you saw somewhere inside yourself a speck of light that recovery was possible. He said no mom my two options were heroin or death. He went on to say he was to weak to choose death. However he often wished he could have ended the suffering for everyone. This complexity associated with addiction is where the battle is. They
    often are unable to see a way back to us or to the person they once were. I don’t think tough love is the answer. I do unfortunately sometimes think it is the only option we as parents have. I think it should only be applied after everything else possible has been tried. We should never give up and continue to offer hope and options. Seeking cooperation from our children and loved ones for recovery during tough love should be our goal.

  4. To Diane and all those who have lost, are stricken with grief and wondering where or even how to go on…

    I offer two pieces of information that have served me over the years.

    First, the Canadian physician Gabor Mate has some amazingly insightful information from his work with addicts. He argues that our society, its consumeristic drive, its “penchant for punishment” (my phrase), and rugged individualism (use your own bootstraps) are creating the policies and products that yield addictive thoughts and behaviors. Here is a Youtube video of Dr. Mate: https://youtu.be/cPPR7BkK5lA. He has published a couple of great books too.

    My second piece of information is an excerpt from a poem by Antonio Machado: Here are two translations…

    Caminante! no hay Camino. se hace Camino al andar (Spanish).

    Walker! There is no path. The Path is made by walking.

    To those who grieve… stand when the ferocity is too great to walk. Walk as you are able to do so. Remember that the path is yours and as you look around you, notice that there are many others – those facing ferocities and those walking their own untrod path.

  5. ‘Tired of fighting a fight I can’t win’…some of Joshua’s last words to his Mom….This statement embodies what I have heard over and over fro those who have struggled with the disease of addiction…they are as tired as we are fighting this fight and why we parents, who have children struggling with this disease, need to speak up and demand that laws and healthcare access change ..to help save our children’s lives..early on in our son’s addiction I believed ‘tough love’ was the only way..not so sure anymore…when they run, do we let them go? Or do we try to get them stabilized, detoxed and in to treatment and therapy to address this disease…I have seen the devil in my son when using but also the kind, sweet young man when not..no mother needs to or should bury their child…

  6. I think the tide is shifting on the whole tough love approach. I also agree that the line between enabling destructive behaviors vs enabling recovery is super thin, and will shift day to day. We all did the very best we could. I know Billy had the tools. Do I have regrets? I do. But I am getting to a place where I know dwelling on the would of, could of, should of will drag me down a dark hole so I consciously say STOP to my brain. Billy knew he was so very loved by so many. That brings some peace. 💙

  7. Yes that’s me that Anne Moss posted above about boundaries. When Josh was alive ‘i had my rights – I can’t allow people to steal from me ‘
    Now what matters is ‘did I add to his shame?. He had choices but he wasn’t in his right mind. I’m not saying that I made the wrong decision…. Just seems like the ‘tough love’ approach would add to their shame and unworthiness AND WE DONT WANT THAT FOR OUR CHILDREN. There’s got to be another way. I’m hoping ten years from now we will have come up with another way to help our addicted loved ones and we will look back on the old way as cruel and barbaric. How many other Mothers ( Fathers and Family ) have done ‘tough love’ hoping rock bottom would not be death but it was ??? I’m hoping I’m not being irrational due to grieving the loss of my son Joshua Giannini ( search on this site for videos he left me hours before his suicide ) six months ago … But still I feel strongly that we need to re-evaluate the way we treat our loved ones who are addicted. Everyone needs to be treated with honor and respect. I welcome your opinions to help me bring the right balance to my ( and others ) hurting heart. Diane
    P.S. in one of Joshs videos he said , ” Mom please… Use your hurt and pain to help others “

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