When Your Child’s Addiction Becomes Your Own

Published in ‘South Bay Woman’ Magazine, November 2008 issue

By Dr. Kristin Whitelaw

From the moment you give birth, an innate force within secures a powerful and concentrated intent at the deepest level to protect your precious child, protect them from harm, accepting this role with reverence as it carries the highest priority.

Holding your child carefully, keeping them warm, nourished and safe, you show them the immeasurable importance of their place on earth. They feel loved and of great value knowing that you care about their happiness, comfort and fulfillment. You are their greatest fan and root them on as they step into the world, deciding for themselves how they wish to engage in the life experience. Seeing them off, deep steadfast desires to protect surge through you still. As their caretaker for many years, this powerful urge does not ever truly end. You simply let go, hoping the years of love, guidance and care remain as the foundation for their own ability to keep themselves safe
from harm.

What happens when your child is involved in one of the most harmful behaviors possible and they fall away from what you worked so hard to instill, strengthen and ensure? How do you handle watching them sink deeper into a world that seems to swallow them into darkness, an unreachable place where you feel powerless – the world of addiction?

Addiction is dangerous and destructive to everything you have committed to keep safe. How do you protect them? Your natural instinct is to shield them from harm, however in your attempts to do this, the addiction begins to engulf your life. This is when your child’s addiction becomes your own.
Three major reasons for this are:

1) Believing you have the power to change or control the person/addiction.

Feeling powerless, you strive for ways to gain a sense of control – life centers around fixing the problem and dealing with the addiction’s

Attempts to gain control are:

•  Becoming a “perfect” parent, supporter, nurturer
•  Being careful about everything you say and do
•  Peacekeeping
•  Taking care of the child’s needs over your own

2) Treating addiction as a moral, behavioral issue rather than an illness.

Expecting rational thinking from an irrational, altered state of perception – addictions cease to be rational by their very nature. Usual support and guidance are ineffective. When tried, there is a great sense of failure, frustration and hopelessness for all involved.

3) Believing the addiction means something about you.

Self-blaming causes guilt, anger, regret, and a sense of inadequacy as a parent. Identifying with your child’s addiction – either feeling responsible for fixing it or unable to face it. The key is not gaining control or changing the addiction. It is understanding you have no control over the addiction. You do, however, have power; the power to let go.

Letting go is:

•  Supporting, not fixing
•  Permitting another to face reality
•  Allowing consequences
•  Not taking responsibility for them
•  Admitting the outcome is not in your hands
•  Acceptance

In letting go, you truly embrace your parental power, by being the example of that which you wish them to do. The addict will be most positively affected by a healthy parent who takes care of themselves, has good boundaries, follows through, respects themselves and honors their life. You don’t need to control or change the addict’s actions, but you can learn to change your responses.

You best help your addicted child by:

•  Reaching out for support of others who have been through it
•  Expressing your feelings
•  Letting your child solve the problems their addiction creates
•  Focusing on one day at a time
•  Not determining your choices by theirs
•  Not doing for them what they can do for themselves

Remember, your child doesn’t need you to take them away from their journey towards discovering their light, they simply need to see your light shining as a reminder of their own along the way.