Children and Addiction
As a parent I can think of nothing more humbling than to have to watch your child suffer. Whether it is physical illness, emotional turmoil (such as a romantic break up), or mental health challenges, I am convinced the uncertain fate of someone you love dearly is one of the greatest tests of faith we can face in life.
In May of 2008, I flew across the country to place in my eldest son’s hand a rock. Not just any old rock, there was a word etched into it. The word was HOPE. To me that physical object represented what Nick needed to hold on to as he made his way from addiction to recovery.
I would like to say this symbolic handing off of the rock was all it took to turn things around in Nick’s life. How simple, sweet, and quick that would have been. But, at times like these, anyone who has loved an addict knows there is nothing sweet, simple, or quick about the decision to stop drinking (or taking drugs) and to turn one’s life around. Part of the reason it can be so challenging as a parent is because really all we can do, for the most part, is to watch and to pray. Offering support, encouragement, an ear to listen, and unconditional love will only go so far. If you have ever loved someone fighting addiction you know the only certain thing is UNcertainty.
My son Nick has always been challenged by some level of low self-esteem, anxiety, and (at times) depression. Having to live between two very different homes from the age of three on did not help matters. At the age of fifteen he began to seek (and find) temporary relief in alcohol, marijuana, and pills. Oddly enough, as his mother, I didn’t find out about this until he was about twenty years old. Believe me, I have often asked myself how does almost FIVE YEARS pass by (much of which was spent under the same roof) without my knowing this was going on?! Especially since I felt the two of us had a very close, honest, mutually respectful relationship.
It was my desire to believe my child, my desire to suppress the signs that were put directly in front of me, and my optimistic nature that allowed the time to go by. These are not excuses, merely my explanation. When the time came where it was no longer possible to ignore the problem (a phone call from Nick, who was living 1,000 miles away at the time, describing the fact that he’d fought through the day recovering from an alcohol binge and was about to lose his job and flunk out of school), it was time for action. And for the past seven years that is how I have handled his alcoholism. Through a series of actions (coupled, of course, by a great deal of prayer).
You see Nick’s life, in fact, got much worse after he received the “rock of HOPE”. A couple of short stints in detox, a 21-day outpatient program, a DUI, then an inpatient treatment program. After rehab came sober living and a couple of visits to jail which I believe was a direct result of having lost his dad to the disease. During all that time Nick had a mother who was willing to walk through fire, if need be, in order to get Nick to love himself enough to turn away from alcohol as his avenue to medicate his mental and emotional pain. But I could not do it for him…even though I desperately wanted to.
I am so proud of how far Nick has come over the past several years of sobriety. His last trip to jail (when I would not bail him out) was what he needed to make the decision it was no longer a life he wanted to live. And although he still struggles (some days more than others) with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, he fights those feelings with counseling and other coping mechanisms he learned throughout his days in treatment.
As his mom it has been a blessing to watch his life change direction and to see him continue to achieve the kind of potential, both in his career and in his personal life, that I always knew he was capable of.
I have never been ashamed of admitting my child has a problem with alcohol or even of my role in his use. Addiction is a disease which knows no gender, racial, religious, or economic boundaries. If it were as simple and easy as making the right “choice” there wouldn’t be so many people in trouble with alcohol and drugs. It is an epidemic and it is hitting our children younger than ever. Because we have gone through this as a family, I am hoping to be part of the solution by speaking out and working towards educating parents about the significance of drug and alcohol use in teenagers.
If you find yourself in a similar situation with your own child, HOPE is the place to start…and NEVER give that up. Although you cannot do it for them, you can be right there with them as a guiding light.
This post originally appeared on Kimberly’s site, www.mymothersfootprints.com.
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