Family Addiction: It affects us all
(This week’s Addiction Column is hosting an article submitted by Cathy Taughinbaugh, Founder of “Treatment Talk.”)
I am the parent of a former addict.
When my daughter was 19, I realized she was addicted to crystal meth. It was late spring and she should have been finishing her sophomore year at college, but instead, because of her addiction, she was no longer attending classes. She had taken a job washing dogs and she had just been fired.
Through the years, I’ve asked myself why I didn’t know that my daughter was using drugs. As it turns out, she had been using on and off for the past four years, including her last two years of high school.
I found crystal meth in her backpack in the fall of her senior year. We had it identified, so we knew for sure what the drug was. Her father and I sat her down and listened carefully as she explained through her tears that she was holding it for her friends and that she did not use the drug. She said she would never do it again.
I honestly believe that she didn’t use again. For awhile.
As parents, we were shocked, frightened, and angry that she had made this choice to use drugs. We were filled with shame, and clearly in denial. We were naive to think that our little talk would make any difference in my daughter’s future choices.
She was grounded for a few weeks. She did attend a therapy appointment, but that didn’t go well, so we discontinued it. I try to stop myself, but I do occasionally think back on what we didn’t do: We didn’t drug test her. We didn’t send her to a drug education program. We didn’t change her environment. We did not regularly check her backpack and room, because if I’m brutally honest, I was too scared of what I would find.
There were a few minor infractions after that incident, but she kept her curfew, was accepted to college, and seemed to be functioning as a normal teenager.
I know now why I was in denial during that time. It is difficult to face a problem when you don’t have the answers. Drug use was new territory for me. I had never had any family member addicted and didn’t have a clue about crystal meth. Although I know now that I didn’t cause it, at the time, I didn’t want to face my role in my daughter’s addiction.
So like many parents, I continued on in my comfort zone. I wanted to continue the close relationship with my daughter and was not sure how to do that and be the drug warden at the same time.
But when she was almost 20 years old, her drug use became clear and that’s when I jumped into action. I called a few close friends that I thought could give me some guidance and help.
We found an educational consultant who put us on a path to healing. She agreed to treatment, and within one week she was on a plane to Utah to attend a Wilderness program for five weeks and then on to Southern California where she was in treatment for another three months. Finally, she lived in a sober home for six months.
Her program included getting a job and/or attending college. She did both and graduated from a local state university. A part-time job in a grocery store helped pay expenses while going back to school.
Today, I am a grateful parent. My daughter has continued in long-term recovery and is doing well. We both realized, first and foremost, that we needed to face our reality, change and grow.
Having an addicted child is not what any mom dreams for her child. This was the last thing I expected. The emotional exhaustion sends you down a devastating path. It is a journey to find your way back. The financial costs took my breath away.
For any family thrown into the midst of their child’s addiction, you feel the full range of emotions throughout the experience. From anxiety, to anger, frustration, sadness and grief, the emotions can consume you if you let them. You have to say goodbye to the child that once was and accept this new person whose life has become chaotic and unmanageable.
The control of your life that you once had is now gone. You know inside that you’ve also lost the power to make a difference in your child’s life while they are in the midst of their addiction.
Just like any addicted person, finding a spiritual side to my life and seeking the support of others is what saved me. It gave me the courage to ask for help, the strength to walk into that first Al-Anon meeting and the understanding that there was hope for my family.
Self care and support was essential for me. Addiction is draining on everyone but particularly those closest to the addict. As they say in the airlines, put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. This is exactly what you need to do when you are dealing with your child’s drug or alcohol dependence. Work on healing yourself first before you try and heal your child.
My daughter has moved on with her life and doesn’t discuss her addiction often. She knows, however, that life can be hard due to poor choices and the disease of addiction. She also knows that there is always hope.
We both realized that our lives could change when we were ready to dig deep, overcome our fear and take on the challenge to begin again.
(Cathy Taughinbaugh is a Parent Recovery and Life Coach and Founder of Treatment Talk, a website dedicated to sharing and support for addiction, recovery and treatment. Cathy is committed to educating parents, young adults and teens about the dangers of substance abuse.)