So many parents reach out to me and want to know what to do about their child with addiction. I also hear from others about their parent, spouse, sibling, friend, or significant other. For the most part, I hear from distraught parents so I’ll use those pronouns but know this is applicable to anyone dealing with a loved one who is addicted.
People are always disappointed when I tell them the answer is to get help for themselves. That can’t be the answer right? “Nothing is wrong with me,” they say.
Quite often they do not go to a support group or other counseling or education option, sure that it can’t be that. There is a solution and maybe what that child needs is some tough love since they haven’t tried that yet.
I can tell you from personal experience that “tough love” can backfire on you. First of all, no one really knows the definition and what the boundaries are. But do know that a person who feels intense shame will not respond well to feeling as if you have withdrawn your love. In fact, it fuels the problem.
But many parents have to go through more chaos for a while before they will take the step to find support. Or they go to a group once or twice and don’t commit, sure that if they look long enough and far enough they’ll find answers. Some never do, staying in a small space in their minds where the walls close in and isolation fuels despair, loneliness, helplessness, and the “why me” syndrome. They abandon faith in the assumption that God is supposed to answer prayers with a cure. Others whose children came back from the brink of death even imply that their prayers were answered leaving parents feeling inept as faithful followers having made some error along the way that encouraged this awful punishment.
Also not true.
Parents cannot understand why their loved one won’t get help. Can’t they see it’s destroying the family? And the answer is, no, they can’t see it. In fact, those still in the clutches of this horrible disease think it’s their family that is plotting against them.
Here’s the ironic part. Why would a child seek help when they see their families won’t take that step for themselves? If parents have branded help-seeking as a last resort or a weakness, it’s likely our loved ones will, too. We think of this as “their problem” not understanding how our attitudes, yelling, crying, begging, anger outbursts and shaming are driving them further into their disease process. What parents want most in the world they are throwing up barriers to because they simply haven’t made the time for themselves because they are so entangled with the chaos of their loved one’s disease.
Have we listened to our loved one? Or are we, the parents, so sure of what they are going to say we talk over them? What if you listened and were very quiet. That’s not what they are expecting. So why not try it. Listening. Really listening even if you’ve heard it all before. But it does sound different when no one is talking over one another.
Have you talked to your loved one about your own issues. How you project scenarios and worry over them despite the fact they have not happened. Pre-worrying helps no one, least of all the worrier. Who needs more frown lines?
- Tell your loved one that as much as you want them to get well, you love them even if they don’t. They need to know you love them unconditionally.
- Find support for you. When you seek support, you are modeling that it’s worthwhile. You can’t fix this for them and to stop trying you need to be in a group that helps you figure out how to untangle your life from their chaos. Families Anonymous and Al-Anon are two.
- Be quiet, and listen. We all want to be heard. I know that’s hard. But they feel unworthy already. They feel they are not living up to your expectations. I read my son’s music and it became so clear. I had no idea how inadequate he felt. You’ll be surprised at how they react to a quiet and calm version of you.
- Talk about the things you do to your loved one who has SUD. “I shouldn’t be yelling. I’m so sorry. It’s not productive and doesn’t make either of us feel better.” Or, “I know I called and texted you obsessively. I lose control when I think you are in danger. I picture you dead or in the hospital and that’s not helpful. Projecting never is. I am attending a group and I am working on it. I hope you can be patient with me. Maybe remind me, ‘Hey mom, you’re projecting and worrying about stuff that has not happened. Come back to the present.'”