“We’re not trash. We’re not poor. We didn’t spoil our children. We didn’t give them everything they wanted or give them all the money they needed for everything. It happened.” Joe Mullin’s statement in Patti Singer’s article “Obituaries Reflect Devastating Toll,” hit home for me. Parents are often blamed for their son or daughter’s addiction, and the blame game is a serious matter. It hurts families. It divides friends. Ultimately, it doesn’t help the addict.
I don’t need the whispers or the accusatory glances I often encounter. I already blame myself enough for my son’s addiction, but I would also like to believe we did our best while raising our children. They faced obstacles seldom encountered by other kids their age. I went through the perils of ovarian cancer, and my recovering addict was seven at the time. His struggles with my cancer diagnosis changed him. Fear anchored him in perilous waters.
When I was seven, my mom got cancer. I thought it was going to be that way forever. My grandmother came to stay with us. All I can remember is what the adults around me said while I listened in on their conversations. The doctor said he doesn’t know if she will live or die. I can remember the smell of the hospital and the tubes coming out her everywhere. She looked lifeless, and I thought it was the end. I felt anxiety for the first time. I loved my mother. If she died, who would take care of me when I was sick? Or bring me to school? All the things a mother does.
Not only did he struggle with my illness but his brother’s as well. He watched Brandon nearly die from a burst appendix and perforated bowel. The resident doctor at Rochester General Hospital told us if he went to bed that fateful night, he would have died in his sleep. My son saw death closing in on his family, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. When his brother contracted meningitis shortly after his first illness, my son’s anxiety became his arch nemesis.
My brother was already quite the athlete and destined for greatness. Once again, I saw one of my family members staring death in the face. I hated it all. I was confused, anxious, and scared. I asked the God I did not know to save him. I felt alone again, not in a selfish way but rather asking why does this keep happening to everyone I love in my life. Loneliness was my biggest fear.
I wondered if our brush with death changed the chemical makeup of my son’s brain? Did it open the door to a world where seeking relief from his anxieties made it possible to fall into the trap of addiction? Dr. Gabor Mate claimed, “A great deal of research supports the link between childhood trauma and substance abuse.” He suggests the impact of fearful childhood experiences can cause a person to seek an escape route from the psychological trauma. In this case, escaping from a parent’s or sibling’s illness. Does that mean we should take the blame for something beyond our control? Of course not. My son’s addiction is a disease just as much as my cancer or Brandon’s appendicitis and meningitis, and unfortunately beyond our control.
But the blame game goes much further. Oh, the mother worked outside the home, or the father traveled out of town too often. I chose a career that would afford me the opportunity to be home when my children came home from school. I was present. We went to our children’s dance recitals, plays, wrestling matches, and football games. My husband walked up and down the field encouraging my boys to do their best during their football games. I sat in the stands shaking my milk jug with pennies. We ate our meals around the kitchen table sharing stories about our day. We took our children to church. We did the best that we could do, but it still happened. IT STILL HAPPENED!
We never turned our back on our son; in fact, both times he went through recovery, we were his rehab. We loved him unconditionally without enabling him. I have heard of parents who slam the door on their children. I understand it gets tiring, but the greatest gift you can give is your love and your patience. Giving up forces them to abandon their hopes of getting sober. Loving them gives them the solid ground they need to stand on as they fight the battle of addiction.
Parents do not listen to the lies said about you or your children. Believe the truth. I have heard terrible things said about my son, even by parents who are going through the very same problem with their own heroin addicted child. I want to yell, “Look at the trash in your own backyard before you look in mine.” The fact of the matter is, it isn’t their fault either. They did not cause their child’s addiction. It is so easy to get caught up in the blame game, but it also very dangerous. It destroys friendships. It destroys peace of mind. IT HURTS!
So when you hear of someone who has a son or daughter who is fighting the battle of addiction, and it is a fight, support them. Don’t judge! Stand alongside them. Offer them helpful advice, and don’t be critical. Take them to a support meeting. The former head of my department took me to an Al-anon meeting when I shared my story with her. It had a powerful impact on my outlook.
We are all in this together. Addiction is killing an entire generation. Be a listening ear and supporter rather than throwing stones of blame on the families who are suffering. They need your support. I know I did.