Families suffer from addiction too
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on my website at www. adafamilytrauma.net.