People who suffer with a substance use disorder also suffer with negative social stigma as well. Addicts are marginalized and shunned by society. It's our warped way of showing disapproval and distancing ourselves from the unsavory mess. However, it is not only the addict alone who suffers this stigma—the parents of an addict suffer a large part as well.
As parents we project onto ourselves—either positive or negative—aspects of our children's lives. How they turn out is all on us and wrestling with the guilt of raising an addict can be suffocating.
Many of us suffer from addiction as well, such as shopping, overeating, gambling and drugs. It is estimated that 28 percent of Americans suffer from drug or alcohol addiction and the number skyrockets to almost 50 percent when we add in all the other addictions. So, of course it's our fault. We showed them that behavior. To make things worse, there's also a genetic component to a substance use disorder, which is our fault again!
Except it’s not.
Whether or not you have struggled with addiction, your child’s path doesn’t necessarily have to follow your footsteps. There's an element of choice to the disease of addiction and, while it’s easy to forget, your child ultimately did make the choice.
Regardless of what our heads tell us, our hearts sometimes speak louder. So here are 3 tricks I have personally used to help me overcome my guilt of raising an addict.
1. Stop hiding.
Whether you live in a big city or small town, our village tends to know what’s going on in every ones backyard. Instead of ditching the Saturday neighborhood BBQ, afraid of where the conversation may lead, show up and be prepared to answer their questions honestly. When they ask about "the kids," tell them about all of them—including your drug-addicted child. Matter-of-factly state what’s going on, that you love your child and that you have hope for the future. Leave no room for them to pity you, but admire your dedication to your family. Then you can let out a deep sigh of relief, because the worst of it is over. They've heard it from the horse’s mouth so there should be no more speculation and imagined whispers behind your back. You have now given them an open invitation to ask you directly how things are going and not lend to the idle gossip.
2. Say it out loud.
This isn't the same as number one. There is something to be said for simply saying the words "My kid is a drug addict." Loud and clear. It's all part of admitting that there's a problem and setting the path to right what’s wrong. It's cathartic and, depending on when you finally come to say it, it can be what flips you over to the other side of the wall of denial. Until you say those words, the addiction has the power. However, once you boldly pronounce it, you take all the fear out of the term and return the power back to your own hands. Besides, until you call it what it is you cannot release the shame.
3. Let it go.
Until you realize that your child’s addiction is not your fault, you will never let it go. It's in our nature as a parent to take something like this on as our own. However, it’s not ours. Our only cross to bear is our own shortcomings, (i.e. with addiction, if you're struggling with one) and not that of the adult child we raised. If you want to feel guilty about your own imperfections, do so by all means. But if you can't get past your own issues, heal and move on, how will you lead your child from their own? So, let it go. I’m talking all of it. It is the only path to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Though the cycle of addiction didn’t start with you, it can stop with you. As a parent wrestling with the guilt of raising an addict, the only job you have to take on is that of yourself and your own healing. There are many of us out there that don't have genetic or personal issues of our own and yet somehow we find our kids still struggling with a substance use disorder. And if addiction does run in your family, please remember that the genes you passed along didn't start with you either. For any parent who find themselves in this predicament, it’s important to know that you are not alone.
In fact, you might be surprised at how "not alone" you really are. Try checking out SoberRecovery’s Forum section and see for yourself. Remember, addiction is a family affair, but guilt isn't part of the deal. From one addict's parent to another, it’s time to move on.