I raised an addict – what could I have done differently?

It has been a very interesting month. Since my first post I have connected with old high school friends who have active or recovering addicts in their families. I have been contacted by people who are living the nightmare of Addiction as parents, spouses, children and friends of addicts as well as addicts themselves. Many have shared powerful stories of recovery.  I have written or spoken the words ‘I am sorry for your loss’ too many times to count, though we really do need to keep counting…  Every person we lose leaves a gaping hole in the world. That hole will swallow us all if the tide is not turned.

I did not intend to start a blog, and I am a bit unsure of where to take it from here. I am, after all,  just the Mom of a recovering addict who posted a bit of a hissy fit to her Facebook after learning of another senseless death. I don’t think I can keep tossing out hissy fits, it would get old pretty quickly. I have decided that I will post when something is swirling around in my head enough to make me sit down and write about it, since that’s what happened the first time. It may be a few things in a short amount of time, followed by a lull. We’ll just have to see where this blog leads me.

This is a new journey and I’m glad for the company of all who would like to walk this path with me. We have certainly walked it alone for far too long.

Today’s thought: What could I have done differently?

This question haunted me for many, many years. Should I have taken him back to school to get a forgotten book? When he left his report on the counter in fifth grade should I have left it there instead of bringing it to school? He had ADD so organizing was hard for him. Did I do too much? Did he never learn to be accountable for his own actions? Was I too worried about him failing a stupid sixth grade math test? Should I have let him fail and learn the result of not putting in the work instead of making him study against his will? Should have, would have, could have were constantly swirling in my head. Tiny voices blaming, blaming…

Yes, I should have let him fall on his face when he was little. The consequences of their errors grow as they do. I didn’t have to catch him when he fell —- I was holding on so tightly he never really fell.  And when he went away to college he fell hard. So yes, I should have let him fail more when he was young.

In all honesty, that is the one thing I feel I could have changed. I don’t know what else I could have done differently that would have gotten him to ‘just say no’ to drugs. Above is an old newspaper clipping of my son and his friends from the neighborhood with their ‘just say no’ signs. They marched around the neighborhood chanting. He wore his D.A.R.E. (Drug Addiction Resistance Education) T-shirt forever. We spoke about drugs and drinking and sex. Once, when my son was a freshman in high school he had some friends over. Two of the girls brought booze into my home in soda screw top bottles (OK, lesson one: no outside drinks allowed in my home). They also had some joints on them. My son and his friend came to me and told me what was going on. THEY CAME AND TOLD ME. Parents were called, girls cried, drama ensued. BUT HE TOLD ME. How, then, did this kid end up a freakin’ heroin addict? The one who told. The one who knew better. No matter how much we think ‘they’ve got this’, they don’t. Life is not black and white, and adolescence is the murkiest of grays. We cannot rest on our laurels, no matter how great our kids are – they are navigating a mine field.  Kids do dumb things, but many stupid choices don’t have the dire consequences too many families are facing today in eye of this epidemic.

Part of the problem is that we just didn’t know. We didn’t know to say, ‘stay away from OxyContin kids, because it will lead to heroin’. We knew to say, ‘don’t drink – alcoholism runs in your family – but if you make poor decisions, don’t compound them by driving. Call us, stay where you are’. We knew to say, ‘Don’t have sex, you’re too young, but if you do, wear protection. If you get a girl pregnant, please come to us, we will work through this together’.  We knew to say, ‘don’t do drugs, they are dangerous, people get addicted’.  We didn’t know to say, and I wish with all my heart we had, ‘but if you get addicted, please come to us and we will help you. We will be here for you because we love you.’  Of course this OxyContin thing wasn’t on our radar. Who could ever imagine their kid would go so far as to stick a needle in their vein?  I’ll tell you, my son didn’t think he’d ever do something so stupid either, even when he was addicted to OxyContin, until he did.

I can’t re-think what we didn’t know. But I can warn parents of young children today. Because now we do know about OxyContin and the path it forges to heroin. There are many ‘not my kid’ campaigns out there. Parents today need to arm themselves with information about what drugs are popular with what age groups in their hometown and what the warning signs are.  They also need to have a plan about what they would do if they find out their child is making dangerous choices. Also, what’s their plan if they find out some other kid is making dangerous choices. Do they tell the other parent?  What will they do if their child came to them and told them they were addicted? What will they do to make it possible for their child to even feel capable of telling? Have a plan in place. Maybe even read a few books. Understand what enabling looks like. It can look a lot like love…

Co-dependence and enabling isn’t something that only occurs with addiction. I was an enabler-in-training for years. We need to learn to recognize when a child should do something for themselves, even if it’s hard to watch them not do it and pay the consequences.  If your Senior won’t fill out college applications then maybe he’s not ready for college.  Many of the things I learned in Alanon about detaching and not doing for someone what they can do for themselves would have come in handy during those teenage years. Would it have made a difference to my son? Would he have not become an addict? Who knows. But I do know that I would have been more equipped to deal with the addict who came to possess him.

Don’t just hope your children will never be exposed to drugs. Assume they will. Talk to your kids, speak to your friends, and  have a battle plan in place. If your school or town has informational meetings about this epidemic, show up, even if your kid is only 7 or 8. Be informed. Be ready. We need to fight this epidemic on all fronts. If your town does not have any form of parent education, Start the Conversation. All parents of young kids should listen to addicts in recovery speak. They are your neighbor’s children.  My son would tell you he had a nice childhood. He played baseball and soccer and took karate. We had a good relationship. He knew his parents loved him, and  – he did know better. What made him make bad choices in spite of knowing better? What changed from the age of 14 to the age of 16, when the drinking began? Murky gray. Minefield.

Recognize addiction can happen to your child. The epidemic is real. Be afraid. Be prepared to fight for your child’s life.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Arm yourselves.

735 thoughts on “I raised an addict – what could I have done differently?

  1. Thank you for sharing. My 56 year old son has been clean for 2 years and I’m so proud of him. My life has changed 100% because I am not overwhelmed with his drinking 24/7. I know it could end tomorrow but today I’m calm for the first time in 40 years. A l anon taught me so much but I, like you, never let him fall. I know now that I should have done things differently when he was a child but hindsight is always 20/20. I hope you know that you dI’d the best you could as a loving mother. Kids don’t come with instructions and we do what we think is right. Again, thank you for your blog post.

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  2. My 36 year old daughter is a addit and steals to support it I tried to back off and let her take responsibility but just this week helped her get out of jail and sitting here now thinking what have I done. She was in jail for the second time for steeling. I think it all started when she had her twins at 21 but can’t really say for sure it started with pain pils and sleeping pills than about 4 years ago her husband left and she went down hill fast on the hard stuff. Three beautiful children nice house husband with a real good job one she had it all the next week nothing . Not a excuse I know but how could I not see it coming. The kids all played sports. They were always on the run I thought things must be going well. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. How do I help. Today I look back and see where I helped too much. Just like yesterday bailing her out haven’t heard a word today. What’s she doing where is she! Here we go again she has no place to go pulled the car sold the house she was living in because there were always people I didn’t know or did I want to know. Tried tough love but now I gave in and got her out of jail What was I thinking? And still she says I’ve done nothing wrong it’s the people I was with. But none of them went to jail? She’s grown I can’t make her do anything Besides she thinks I am over reacting And yes I was and am one of those moms that never wanted her to do with out even after she got married. I feel as though I have the word stupid across my forehead .

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    1. I know how you feel, you wonder what you did or could have done differently. I have 33 year old daughter who had 2 beautiful boys. She knew she could not be a mother anymore or perhaps she didn’t really want to so she gave her kids to their father and they now live far from me. About 5 years ago she was in intensive care in a commaI she was on life support and every day something would go wrong and the Dr said she would not live. I spent 4 months at the hospital and She had a stroke so not knowing how she would be if/when she came out of the comma. She did come out of the comma but could not walk, talk and it took about a year for her to resemble a person again she still can not read or write, she drags her right leg and her right arm is useless. She went back to drinking and doing pills. Last week she died and they gave her narcan and revived her. She tried to kill herself. She was in a phyc ward and they let her out today. I have said I would not enable her again and yet her she sits in my other daughters apartment downstairs. As mothers our love is forever,but there comes a time to stop. She knows, one mess up and she is out in the streets again. My heart has been so damaged I don’t have anything left for my husband and other kids. I may die inside but this has to be the last time. She was clean of heroin for 6 years up until last week. I feel she really wants help but you just never know. I know their will come a time when you say no more but it will never be easy no matter what. I will keep you and your daughter in my prayers. Good luck and remember as mothers and human beings we can only take so much. Good luck to you and your daughter.

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  3. It’s so easy to blame ourselves for what happened to our loved ones. I think we need more focus on not what we did or didn’t do but on accepting what has happened and dealing with the real issues… like peer pressure… low self esteem … or just being addictive. We have all gone through the terrible years of adolescence and its effects on our mentality and well being. So many kids are still bullied and forced into doing things they had no intention of doing just to be accepted. The media hasn’t helped either with its focuses on beauty, sex and drugs.
    Children have been brought up under terrible circumstances and have never used drugs. Let us not forget about the “addictive gene” It’s alive and well and rears its ugly head in many of our children .. children of family members with this same gene. It’s the reason why some of us can have a few drinks and stop and others drink until they can’t stand any more. Or like me who can share a cigarette socially and never pick up another one for months or years.
    I am the mother of a recovering prescription drug addict.
    His father is an alcoholic. I’ve never been addicted to anything. But my son inherited that nasty gene from his dad.
    It’s a constant struggle for him. He started with pain killers prescribed by a doctor for stomach pains he was having…
    the rest is history.. same story different child.
    I almost lost him severel times to seizures. He spent a 5 years in rehab. Four of those years he stayed to help others.
    He’s doing well now.. Has a job.But still dreams of getting high.. yes literally dreams of it.. It’s a struggle but we live day to day and hope for the best.
    Never give up on your loved one… at least you know you did your best. Best of luck and love….

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