I remember when my son was born. I did what all mothers do. I counted ten fingers and ten toes and breathed a huge sigh of relief. It had not been an easy pregnancy, including a lot of alcohol use.
Cole thrived. He met all his developmental milestones; and was a bright, loveable, energetic, little ball of fire.
Problems began when he started school. Mostly, he would get into trouble for not being able to sit still in class.
Our lives were far from perfect, but school became a huge nightmare. I asked my son years later what would have made the most difference. He said, “Teachers that understood.”
As he grew older learning challenges and behaviours escalated.
He slipped further away.
I was one week sober when the telephone rang. It was the police. They had found Cole in a crack shack. He was only twelve years old.
Cole’s Side of the Story
May I have your attention please?
May I have your attention please?
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
I repeat, will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
We’re gonna have a problem here…
-Lyrics from the Real Slim Shady, Eminem
He was in trouble!
“What the Fuck?” he thought.
Duh, you fuckin’ idiot,” he muttered to himself.
“I didn’t even do ‘nuthin wrong,” he explained later to his mother.
“They asked me to hold a stupid bag. That’s what! And then the police came. How was I suppose to know what was in it??”
Why?” he shoots back, agitation and rage in his voice.
“Cuz they wuz nice to me. THAT’S WHY. These guyz are my friends!” To make matters worse he missed his mom. The old one. This new mom was different. Always attending those stupid recovery meetings. He liked it better before. When she drank. When there were no rules. When he was his own boss.
“Don’t peoples know that when they changes shit I get confused,” he said to himself. “Plus, when shit things like this happens, she keeps saying dumb shit like I know you will make the right choice, or I know you will make the right decision. How the fuck was he suppose to know. Huh? Kind of like when people says dumb shit like watch you P’s and Q’s? Like, why the fuck don’t people just say what is really up?”
He couldn’t wait to get to Roller’s. He wished the bus would go faster. Rolly had an eight ball. His palms began to sweat and his heart raced. The thought was almost as intoxicating as the initial rush of the drug itself.
“That’s what I need. Yeah. That’s exactly what I need,” he said to himself.
Cole felt safe in Rolly’s dark, dingy basement. Away from the craziness and stress of life. Where nobody knew where he was. Where nobody hassled him.
He sat down on the sofa, put his head back, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply off the end of the glass pipe. Finally, he felt like he could breathe.
Such sweet relief.
If only for a moment.
Then he began to obsess about where he was going to get his next hit. Trying not to think about all the trouble he was in.
Common Traits of Children of Alcoholics
- The predisposition to addiction increases when both parents have addiction issues. Genetics and environmental factors place our children at extreme high-risk for a range of mental health and addiction issues.
- Children (and adults) raised in alcoholic homes are used to unpredictability, and have difficulty trusting their environment. Their world is one of confusion. Acting-out behaviours are often rooted in anger and fear.
- The fear of abandonment is very real to children in alcoholic homes. This causes poor boundaries, low self-esteem, and attachment issues. Without positive role models, children are easily influenced and manipulated, and have difficulty in relationships. In single-parent families, children may feel responsible for siblings, the home, and even the alcoholic.
- Children judge themselves harshly and feel very powerless in their situation. As adults, they may take on the blame for problems that aren’t theirs. They may become overly-responsible or the exact opposite.
Tips and Strategies
- Educate children about addiction. Explain if they are genetically predisposed, alcohol may make them feel “really, really good.” More so than their friends, and they have a high chance of becoming instantly hooked as a result.
- Keep the avenue open for communication. Try not to lecture and nag. This is unproductive and is more indicative of your own fear and loss of control. Instead, watch for teachable moments. Parents often say driving in the car is a good time. Trust me. They are listening even when you think they aren’t.
- Our kids don’t need fixing. They need love and acceptance. Learn to let go and let them experience the consequences of their actions. Learn the fine line between advocacy and enabling. This is difficult. Just do your best.
- Focus on developing the relationship instead of on their behaviours. As Dr. Gabor Maté, renowned addiction specialist says, “The first thing we should be asking is not why the addiction, but why the pain.” Rather than thinking what is wrong with him/her, ask yourself what happened to him/her.
- Many children from alcoholic homes have been exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. This may cause learning challenges. Research also reports a male contribution if the father is a heavy drinker. Watch for symptoms, adapt, and advocate for your children.
Today, All Things Considered….
Cole is doing fantastic.
When I think back to how far he’s come….
He was in the delivery room when his daughter was born. She’s in her teens now. Not only was he a drug addict, he looked like one too. His eyes were dead and his face had that sunken hollow look. He had marks and scars all over his arms from using and stabbing himself with a ball point pen. His baggy jeans hung from his skinny hips like a scarecrow. I remember resisting the urge to cinch up his belt as though he were still a little boy.
If You Can Relate to our Story, Don’t Ever Give Up
Cole is a grown man today. He is not that same person.
It was not a sudden change, but a slow process of healing and learning and lots of lessons in love.
Does that mean his life is easy today? No. I can’t imagine there not always being some complications. But he learns to manage, and he keeps moving forward. At his core, he is a good person. Solid. He’s long since left that other scene behind and is responsible today. We have conversations about parenting, politics and paying taxes.
Morale of the story?
I remember how lonely it was dealing with this in our family. I hear the same from other families today. If you are struggling with addiction in your family, I know how painful this is.
As a parent, this is what I have learnt.
This too shall pass. Nothing ever stays the same.
Never give up hope.
Don’t ever stop believing in your kids. The part of them that is still there before the drugs took over.
But hands down, at the end of the day what works best is love. Love. Love. Love. No matter what. Unconditional, never stop loving, love.
AND, if you need a good hiding place because things go “missing”, try the vegetable crisper of the fridge. My son never looked there.
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. What is Addiction Recovery Coaching? Book your FREE 30-minute consultation.
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