7 Things I’ve Learned as a Parent in Recovery

It was my first sober Saturday in recovery. It was a big deal. But I was completely preoccupied. It was past midnight and my twelve-year old son Cole wasn’t home. He had never been this late before. Ghosts may very well have been stirring that day. Little did I know history was preparing to repeat itself.

I had just come off a twenty-year bender. I’d barely had time to clear out the empties and I’d already turned into my parents. Anxious and worried like my mother, and pacing the floor like my father.

I hadn’t gained my weight back yet and was very thin and bony. My hands and feet were like blocks of ice. I could not get warm. I was shivering, and my teeth were chattering. I wrapped myself in a blanket. It was dead quiet in the room except for the tick tock of the clock and my heart beating in my ears when the telephone rang. The jangle made me jump. It was the police. They had found my son in a crack shack.

Twenty-five years later. I will never forget that call.

The officer was gruff and abrupt, his voice a one-two punch to the gut.

“Did you hear what I said Miss? WE FOUND YOUR SON IN A CRACK SHACK!”

In a closet, guns drawn, pointed at his head.

It didn’t seem real. Surreal. A million thoughts collided. How could this be? Why my son? My baby? My little man who hop, hop, hopped around like a bunny rabbit in his pillow slip. Who pulled his Teddy Eddy in his red wagon with the wobbly wheel. Grey bear with matted fur.

This was my biggest fear.

My worst nightmare.

Crack cocaine!

Midwifery of the beast!!

I didn’t know whether to laugh hysterically or throw myself on the ground. Roll on the floor in ashes. “No officer, this can’t be,” I gasped, and almost added, “He doesn’t even play with matches.” But that sounded too pathetic—even to me.

Denial is One of the Most Common and Fatal Symptoms of Addiction

Truth is, deep down I knew. But I chose to ignore the signs. I didn’t want to know. Because, then what? Eventually something happens. It always does. My awakening was like a bucket of ice water in the face. My son was in trouble. Big, scary trouble!

Like a kaleidoscope, the pieces fell into place. The changes in his look and gentle demeanor. The sudden weight loss. The red scarf under a cap on backwards. Hardcore music. Money missing from my purse; knives and spoons from the cutlery drawer. Going out to the garage with his buddies all sullen and returning beaming from ear to ear, looking elated to the point he might levitate. Platitudes rolling off his tongue like a Baptist minister. His pearly whites glistening like a Hollywood movie star.

That night would be the first of many I would make to the police station to pick up my little man. My sweet, scared little rabbit. When I saw him, I thought the world would open up and swallow me. His face was a mask of fear and confusion and skin a horrible ashen grey.

A raw and desperate mother’s love emerged. All that I ever wanted for my boy, the hopes and dreams….. I was devastated. I loved my boy. I wanted to do it all over again. Make it right. Take it all back. The bars and parties. Be a normal family with a dog and cat and a white picket fence. If only I knew how….

Generational addiction is not a new concept. One study indicates that approximately 80 million Americans either have a family member with alcoholism, married a person with alcoholism, or grew up with alcoholic parents. Research has shown that children who live in a home where at least one parent has a drug or alcohol addiction are four times more likely to suffer problems with substance abuse themselves.

Oh dear reader. The ravages of crack cocaine I will not subject you to. I will say I’m glad to not have had a crystal ball. Crack is an extremely dangerous drug. There is so much grief, for everyone involved.

My heart broke open and tears spilled around me enough to fill a river.

It was exhausting.

I lost my mind for a bit.

Sometimes I would wake up curled in the fetal position, crying in my sleep. I would dream I didn’t hear his key in the lock. But then he would be standing there. Except it wasn’t him anymore but a hardened and distant stranger.

I tried to make up for lost time. Recovery meetings. Talking to teachers at school. Meetings with professionals. Most weren’t very helpful, and others were rude and judgmental. I attended parent support groups where I freaked people out with my stories. I cried. Begged. Pleaded. Prayed.

In the meantime, Cole began disappearing for longer and longer periods of time. Letting go was a skill I had not yet mastered, and I agonized. Though, who wouldn’t? I have never experienced such fear.

Someone suggested I try a tough love support group. Now, THAT was a trip. That’s where well-meaning folks support you to say and do things like, “Be home by such and such a time or I will lock the door.” Cole would shrug and walk away.

Off course he didn’t make it home on time. He never made it anywhere on time. That is, unless he was meeting his drug dealer. It was excruciating to lock the door at the appointed time. I am not a tough love kind of mom. I am a laisse faire mom. A let’s make blanket forts and drink out of our sippy cups kind of mom. Let’s be snuggle bunnies on the couch because mommy is sick, again, mom. I was not comfortable with this new role. But I was desperate and willing to try anything.

Cole didn’t care if the door was locked or not. It made no difference at all. He came and went as he pleased. I soon discovered why—something I didn’t share with the group. His cozy little nest in the corner of the garage with a foamy, pillow, and one of my duvets. Such nerve, while I was inside agonizing. He’d come home hungry in the middle of the night and toss some frozen steaks onto the gas BBQ. Once it was cold and he curled up in the backseat of my car. I drove to work like that. He didn’t wake up and I didn’t let on. I was relieved to know that he was safe, and stocked up the freezer instead.

I Threw Myself Into Recovery

I also attended therapy. I know, right? I took other parenting courses and checked out different support groups. I chewed my finger nails to the quick, drank gallons of coffee, and chain-smoked cigarettes.

By the time Cole was sixteen he had been expelled from almost every high-school in the city. He was also doing hard drugs pretty much around the clock, and involved with criminal activity. I was a single mom and felt like I had absolutely no control. My first few years in recovery were about damage control. Or at least trying to control the damage.

For five years things were super intense. It was a very emotional time, for both of us. I was a nervous wreck, and Cole was full of rage. He was also extremely impulsive and easily provoked. Not a great combo. This resulted in eviction notices and trips to the hospital. Broken knuckles. Fists through drywall and glass-top coffee tables. Lying and stealing. Drugs. More drugs. Whatever it takes to get those drugs. I once had drug dealers at my door with guns. Death threats on my answering machine. The word RAT spray-painted in big letters onto our car and windows.

I became a warrior. The Great Obsessor of things I couldn’t change. A soldier on the front line of a war zone without a smoking gun. Fighting a whole new animal. An alien beast. I tried all the things that crazy parents do when drugs take over their children’s lives. I ignored. Lied. Justified. Enabled. Pleaded. Begged. Did drive-bys. Made deals with God. The Devil. Enforced contracts. Grounding. Then raged and lay in my bed at night frozen with fear when nothing worked.

Days rolled into weeks. Into months. Into years. The chaos went on. It seemed it would never end. Day after day. Month after month. However, time passes. I managed to stay the course with help from a lot of great people in and out of the recovery community.

I was carried through those early years. Sometimes it felt like the pain would split me open like a ripe watermelon. It didn’t. But like my own addiction, this too brought me to my knees. Finally, after realizing how little control I had over anything, I began to let go bit by bit and turned my son over to the care of a loving God.

Slowly, things began to change.

Twenty-five years later, here are some of my reflections as a parent in recovery.

7 Things I’ve Learned as a Parent in Recovery

I’m not going to belabour on all the things I did wrong. God knows I’ve done enough of that. In fact, as part of my healing process I have come to see it as a great honour to help break the cycle of addiction in my family. It is sacred work. And it feels purposeful.

  1. No matter how much you want to or how hard you try, you cannot make someone get help. The individual has to want to change. All you can do is plant seeds and be there for them when they are ready. Energy is better spent focusing on your own healing rather than trying to rescue and fix others.
  2. Especially if a parent is new in recovery, it takes time to build credibility and trust. Children and family members affected by another person’s addiction have been deeply hurt. Don’t take their reactions personally. Allow time for the dynamics to unfold and work themselves out. Have patience and watch for teachable moments.
  3. Learn self-forgiveness. Otherwise, parenting comes from a place of guilt, and the need to either give in or over compensate. If you make a mistake, apologize and move on. Stop beating yourself up. Lighten up. Get professional help to deal with your past issues. We are the parents. They are the kids. They need us to be stable.
  4. Alcoholics are used to being reactionary. In recovery, it takes time to learn to make decisions from the logical side of your brain rather than the reactive. For example, I had a habit of saying “no” whenever my son asked for something (which translated to “If I pester mom enough she’ll say yes”). Instead, I practiced catching myself and saying, “Let me think about that.” Then too, when an urgent situation arises you can RESPOND rather than REACT.
  5. Learn about enabling. Let go when you can. Allow people to experience the consequences of their high-risk behaviours. Set strong boundaries around what is and is not acceptable for you and in the family home. Let the person know that you love them but not their acting-out behaviours.
  6. Maintain balance in your life, especially when things seem out of control. If need be, dial it back to the basics. Remember HALT. Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Do fun things. Self-care is not selfish. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.
  7. Keep the hope alive. Never give up on your loved one. Love from a distance if you must, but don’t ever stop loving. No matter what. Love heals.

My son became a father when he was 20. He was in the delivery room at the time of his daughter’s birth. He had just given up drugs and his jeans hung from his skinny hips like a scarecrow. I resisted the urge to cinch up his belt as though he were still a little boy. He was cradling the baby in his spindly arms when I entered.

Tessa was a miracle baby. When I held her, I felt a stir inside, a glimmer of pure, uninhibited emotion. A glimpse of what I thought it must be like for a mother not tormented by addiction.

Tessa was beautiful. She had an angels kiss on her cheek and ears that stuck out just a little. You could see through them. And through her skin as well. Like the light on a pearl that’s still wet from the sea. Her piercing blue eyes stared into mine and she cast her love spell.

The inter generational effects of addiction are well-known. The elders teach the philosophy that the decisions we make today will benefit children seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future).

And, so the cycle continues……

Janet Christie

Janet Christie is an Addiction Recovery Coach, blogger, educator, and intuit. Janet loves to facilitate positive change which empowers women, mothers, and families. In her spare time, she likes to…haha! Spare time. You are adorable. Janet is available to provide recovery coaching support. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE. What is Addiction Recovery Coaching? Book your FREE 30-minute consultation.

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