Written By:Amber Hollingsworth,LPC
It is so lonely to have a child struggling with addiction. Every day you live in fear. When the phone rings at night, your heart stops. When you see your child’s number come up on the caller ID, you feel sick at your stomach. When they are home, you want to scream at them, and when they are away your mind races with anxiety. You start to imagine all sorts of terrible scenarios, and this will create a perpetual state of fear that can turn into a full blown anxiety disorder.
At Hope For Families we believe that many parents (especially mothers), develop a disorder that is somewhere in between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). As parents, we are wired to protect our kids, and this disease puts us into a situation where we basically have to sit in a front row seat and watch our kids slowly destroy themselves. Trust me, this will absolutely MESS YOU UP!
Our bodies are not made to live in this kind of fear for prolonged periods of time, so eventually or brains adapt to this scenario by keeping us in a “fight or flight” state. Symptoms of this can include: frequent feelings of exhaustion, muscle tension & headaches, upset stomach, feelings of panic/fear/and rage, difficulty focusing and remembering, a desire to isolate, inconsistent sleep patterns, and many more.
While you struggle through this nightmare of a situation, it will seem like everyone around you turns on you as well. If you are married, then you probably have a lot of conflict with your spouse on how to deal with the situation. You might be scared to tell your friends fearing they won’t understand and might even make you feel worse by telling you “how they would handle the situation” if it was them. It feels like your coworkers, neighbors, and members of the church are looking at you with judgement. Trust me… no one knows how they would handle this situation until they have been through it!
Many parents in this situation even hate talking with other parents who have children struggling with addiction/alcoholism. When other parents talk about their child doing well, it can just make you feel sad/depressed that your child isn’t doing well. When they talk about how terrible their child is doing, it can make you feel scared and hopeless that your child will never get better. It becomes excruciatingly painful to hear friends talk casually about their child’s accomplishments, because it triggers your grief over the dreams you had for your child.
At Hope For Families we recommend that you avoid talking to a lot of people about the situation, because very few people understand the situation enough to be helpful. I suggest that you pick 2 or 3 people that you really trust (counselor, friend, family member, parent who has gone through it themselves, Al-anon sponsor) and lean on them for support. You don’t have to subject yourself to other people’s judgement, opinions, and advice (I’m sure you already have enough anxiety, fear, shame, and guilt).
The one thing I do strongly suggest is for you and your spouse to figure out how to work as a team. In most situations, this is the only person who can truly understand the situation, and you need their help. The more united the parents are, the better the outcomes will be for the marriage and for the child. Having an addicted child can and will destroy your marriage!
Here is the most common situation that we see happening with the parents we treat:
One of the parents becomes very emotionally reactive to the situation (most often the mom), and this often creates a lot of drama between them and the child. They do this because their instincts are screaming “DANGER” at them constantly, and they become desperate to find out what is happening and fix it. They snoop, nag, preach, yell, threaten, spy, plead, and bargain.
The other spouse becomes focused on getting harmony back in the home, and often they will start to keep information from the reactive parent and become very resentful (and secretly blame) the reactive parent for continuing to provoke the problem.
I’m not even going to go into all the dynamics that can occur if there are other siblings in this mix.
Saving your marriage is the most important thing you can do to help yourself and your child. If you feel stuck and don’t know how to get your spouse to support you, check out our online course designed specifically to help parents develop empathy for each other and ultimately get on the same page. You may also schedule an appointment to talk to one of our specialists in person or over the phone for a consult session.