I have learned in Al-Anon not to give advice. Why? Because addiction is often a life and death matter. I would not want to be responsible for making an off-the-cuff remark that might lead to someone’s death. But as I listened to this heartbreaking story of an adult child off the rails and his parents' lives destroyed by it, I had to ask myself…when does parenting end?
I have struggled with this issue myself. Too many parents do. And hearing their story sent me back to time after time when I have rescued my adult children. Learning to Let Go and Let God was and is the most difficult lesson of my parenting role. It runs counter intuitive to every cell in my mother’s heart. Yet in my head I know it was the best option for everyone concerned. It is nearly impossible to stop a Mother’s Heart from helping her children. We instinctively keep trying even when all hope is lost. We want to make the impossible happen. We hang in there when everyone else leaves. It is what we do.
Addiction knows this and takes full advantage of a mother’s heart. The Fathers suffer as well.
Fathers' hearts are hard wired to protect. They will conquer any enemy that threatens their child. They stay up late waiting for their child’s safe return even if they need to get up early to go to work. They instinctively watch for anything that might harm their child. So to tell a Father to let it all fall apart and trust your child's Higher Power to rescue him or her is beyond painful.
We want so hard to rescue our child from this disease of addiction. Soon we learn we cannot save our child. He or she has to save him/herself.
So where do parents go to find their happily ever after when their children are struggling with addiction. I suggested my friends to find a support group. I like Al-Anon, but there are other support systems available, such as counselors and therapists. . The important idea is to find help and support for you. Shame and guilt for not having raised a functioning adult keeps us isolated and does not serve our best interest. There are no perfect parents only people doing the best they can, and no parent ever wanted their child to be an addict. Blaming ourselves only plays into the Disease’s plan to keep us trapped in its ugly game of Life on a Merry Go Round.
What are the tools parents can use to overcome their natural instincts to save an adult child?
- Find help for yourself. A Support group will help you gain a new perspective on the situation and bring balance to your life.
- Don’t trust your natural instincts to save. They will keep you going around and around the same mountain. Feeling guilty can be a good thing. Setting new boundaries are uncomfortable, but over time boundaries of what is okay and not okay will become the new normal. Give yourself time to adjust.
- When something tragic happens and you cannot be near your child thinking, “God has done for me what I could not do for myself” might help lighten the guilt load.
- Process the guilt and sadness. They are not easy feelings to feel, but this allows us to acknowledge our pain and still accept life on life’s terms. No matter how ugly.
- Count your blessings. Sounds trivial, but a gratitude list helps us to focus on what is going right and keeps us out of the darkness.
My friends did make it to an Al-Anon meeting. I told them to take what they like and leave the rest. That means they will hear things in a meeting that do not sound right or comfortable to them. And they will hear things that sound exactly the way they feel. So they can keep and cherish all the things that help them move forward and feel peace, and ignore everything else.
I have been attending Al-Anon for years and yet it takes a constant effort to do what is best for my children, not what might make my parenting heart feel good. My children are doing okay. No one is in jail and they are all alive. None of us is guaranteed a tomorrow. Knowing that we are just living in today helps me understand that we are all on an adventure. My happily ever after is knowing I am not a slave to a disease that I can't control. That means I can live for now... unafraid of what might happen in the future.
A Reach Out Recovery Exclusive By Madeline Schloop