Fam­i­lies suf­fer from ad­dic­tion too

Cecil Whig - - & - L ORRI I RRGANG

Edi­tor’s note: Ever since the Whig con­cluded its “Voices of Re­cov­ery” se­ries last fall, many have asked the pa­per to con­tinue dis­cussing re­cov­ery and ad­dic­tion. As an ex­ten­sion of that fo­cus, we now present “Shift the Fo­cus” an ev­ery-other-week col­umn by Lorri Ir­rgang, a lo­cal au­thor, re­cov­ery ad­vo­cate and mother of some­one in re­cov­ery. Join us as Lorri dis­cusses many top­ics per­ti­nent to the re­cov­ery move­ment.

— I have spent time shar­ing how ad­dic­tion af­fects the fam­ily as a unit. I want to “Shift the Fo­cus” now to the care­tak­ers/ par­ents liv­ing with a child who has a sub­stance use dis­or­der.

Let’s be­gin by get­ting one thing straight. The most prom­i­nent char­ac­ter­is­tic is, we, the par­ents of chil­dren who abuse drugs and al­co­hol, love our chil­dren! This is clearly for­got­ten by some who re­fer to our chil­dren as “junkies, fiends or losers.” If you are one of these peo­ple, please have some com­pas­sion as these “junkies” are some­one’s child, brother or sis­ter. Many peo­ple are quick to judge not only the ad­dict


but the type of home they must have grown up in or the types of par­ents they must have had.

“Those” par­ents must not have been very strict. “Those” par­ents were di­vorced. “Those” par­ents live in a bad neigh­bor­hood and don’t pay at­ten­tion to their chil­dren. These qual­i­fiers are not qual­i­fiers at all when it comes to the world of ad­dic­tion. Ad­dic­tion can show its evil face to any­one re­gard­less of whether they come from a co­he­sive fam­ily or a di­vorced fam­ily, a rich fam­ily or a poor fam­ily, an ed­u­cated fam­ily or a fam­ily with high school diplo­mas. It does not dis­crim­i­nate.

Drugs did not just af­fect my son. My daugh­ter and I also had to en­dure the agony that the drugs brought into our home. Re­gard­less of the spe­cific drug be­ing used, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of most sub­stance abusers are the same. The same is true for the par­ents whose chil­dren are sub­stance abusers.

As any good par­ent would do, you want to help your child and keep them safe. This was the same char­ac­ter­is­tic that crept in for me when I dis­cov­ered my son was suf­fer­ing. There was a feel­ing of des­per­a­tion to fix his prob­lem and get rid of the dis­ease that was tor­ment­ing him. The prob­lem I en­coun­tered was that I had no idea where to find this help or “how” I could help? I did not know any­one else who I could ask which di­rec­tion to take.

Dur­ing the early phases of dis­cov­ery, par­ents will in­vest much of their own money in do­ing what they feel is keep­ing their child safe and within reach. They will give them jobs within the fam­ily busi­ness, or help them to find jobs lo­cally. They will pro­vide their loved one with a car or money for gas to avoid an ob­sta­cle for the child get­ting to work. They will pay fines and bills, and buy them gro­ceries. I, as many of us have done, paid for an at­tor­ney to rep­re­sent my son in court. I paid for a high-end re­hab with the false no­tion of “one and done” treat­ment. I have con­sulted with par­ents who have spent their life sav­ings or re­tire­ment in­vest­ments. Sev­eral par­ents have lost their homes as they could not pay their own bills once they re­peat­edly paid for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

An­other char­ac­ter­is­tic that is com­monly seen in par­ents is guilt. Guilt man­i­fests it­self in crazy ways when your child’s life is over­taken by ad­dic­tion. Did I do some­thing to cause it? Why didn’t I know this was hap­pen­ing? Should I have been more knowl­edge­able about the signs and symp­toms of drug use? Could I have fixed this if I found out sooner? What if I kick him out and he dies? Par­ents can even feel guilt long af­ter the ad­dict be­gins their re­cov­ery. Care­tak­ers may also ex­pe­ri­ence guilt once they be­gin to learn how their own ac­tions en­abled their child to keep drink­ing and drug­ging.

The emo­tional an­guish that a par­ent suf­fers is a liv­ing hell. From my ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with fam­i­lies, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of how women and men han­dle the sit­u­a­tion may vary. This may ex­ac­er­bate or lead to ad­di­tional con­flict within a re­la­tion­ship. Liv­ing with an ad­dicted loved one can lead to the demise of emo­tional, spir­i­tual or phys­i­cal con­nec­tion be­tween a once lov­ing cou­ple.

Women will head in one of two di­rec­tions. They will be­come ex­tra emo­tional and go into over­drive try­ing to take care of ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one within the house­hold. Ad­versely, they will shut down and be­come se­verely de­pressed. They will take on their child’s prob­lems and feel their pain. Women are more likely to search for sup­port through coun­sel­ing or sup­port groups.

Men strug­gle with not be­ing able to pro­tect their child and of­ten feel more anger ini­tially. They be­come frus­trated as the fam­ily unit be­gins fall­ing apart. Men want to fix the ad­dic­tion. Watch­ing their child’s ad­dic­tion progress causes a heartache that is of­ten un­bear­able. Mourn­ing takes place for the child you once knew even though they may be di­rectly in your pres­ence.

Dur­ing the months and of­ten years of liv­ing with an ad­dicted child, the chances of los­ing friends be­comes higher. Many peo­ple can­not bring them­selves to share what they are liv­ing with. Their friends and fam­ily do not know the fam­ily se­cret. Those that do share fear the judge­ment that will fol­low. These par­ents lose trust and their hope fal­ters the longer they suf­fer.

If you know any care­tak­ers who have a child that is suf­fer­ing with sub­stance abuse dis­or­der, you can help them by ed­u­cat­ing your­self about ad­dic­tion. Knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of this topic will prove to be very pow­er­ful. With­out a doubt, you may also come across friends and rel­a­tives that my need your sup­port also. Most im­por­tantly, al­low your­self to be com­pas­sion­ate through lis­ten­ing. No words were go­ing to take away the pain that I ex­pe­ri­enced. I did not look for some­one to solve my prob­lem. I needed some­one who would lis­ten with­out judge­ment, give me an en­cour­ag­ing hug, and some hope that this dev­as­ta­tion would not de­stroy our fam­ily.

The next col­umn to pub­lish Nov. 25 will ad­dress what hap­pens if the trauma of ad­dic­tion is ig­nored. Be sure to check out Voices of Hope (VOH) for Ce­cil County on Face­book if you would like to join a lo­cal move­ment. Also, feel free to e-mail me at lafry@adafam­i­ly­trauma.net or on my web­site at www. adafam­i­ly­trauma.net.

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