How To Love Yourself the Way You Love Your Addicted Child

By Kayce Stevens Hughlett 02/20/19

Our mission in life became to fix our son, get his life on track, keep him safe, and stop the madness. We became addicted to fixing our addict. In the meantime, my life was circling the proverbial drain and it was all my son’s fault… or was it?

Image: 
Mother sitting and touching shoulder of her upset daughter, addicted child in crisis
They say that true addicts must hit rock bottom before they’ll change, but what’s the rule of thumb for concerned family members? Do we have to hit rock bottom too? ID 98129805 © Pitiya Phinjongsakundit | Dreamstime.com

Stories are the cornerstone of living and loving—from oral traditions to New York Times best sellers, tales written by others and those we make up inside our minds. They help us make sense of our existence like nothing else can. Good stories tether us to life and help us transcend into new ways of being.

There is a story rattling around in my head—a story for myself and perhaps for you. It whispers to me with prompts and questions like: What would I say to you? But then I wonder who you even are. Are you my beloved or a friend I’ve yet to meet? Someone I embrace or a ghost from whom I run? Would we pass each other on the street without a second glance or might we sit and chat over coffee for hours on end? What would I tell you if we were one and the same? No separation, no delineation. Not the stranger or the ally. Not the sober one or the drunk, but rather you, me, we. What would I tell us?

We're All Addicted to Something

Those of us who’ve lived with people who have addictions—oh wait … who am I kidding? We’re all addicted to something. No one is immune. We each have the places we run when we’re feeling vulnerable, scared, or confused. We create our lives so we have our fix of choice within reach at all times. When life feels excessive or news in the broader world is crazed, we grasp at something to ease our rage, sooth our aloneness, and calm the overwhelm. We eat, we shop, we drink, we gamble or easier yet, we try to fix someone else.

We point a finger away from ourselves and toward them. They are the one with the problem. If only he or she would stop drinking, agree with “the right” viewpoint, pay more attention to me then surely I’d feel better.

I can’t begin to tell you the number of hours and ways I’ve spent over the last 30 years trying to improve my husband. Lucky guy, the pressure eased for him when our 13-year-old son turned to drugs and alcohol. Together, our mission in life became to fix our son, get his life on track, keep him safe, and stop the madness. We became addicted to fixing our addict.

We tried inpatient and outpatient treatment, therapeutic boarding school, and a wilderness program. We were all in except, of course, our son, who did his best to skirt the therapy sessions, game the system, and do the bare minimum to figure out how he could get out of our fix and carry on with his agenda. In the meantime, my life was circling the proverbial drain and it was all my son’s fault… or was it?

Hitting Rock Bottom as a Parent

They say that true addicts must hit rock bottom before they’ll change, but what’s the rule of thumb for concerned family members? Do we have to hit rock bottom too? It doesn’t really seem fair.

I recently met a woman who was ensnared in her 40-something-year-old daughter’s cycle. (My son is almost 30 now.) I watched this woman wring her hands and spend precious time trying to figure out how to wire money to her daughter on the other side of the world. I wondered about the difference I felt between us until I realized that that mother hasn’t hit her bottom. Some people never do. They value their child’s life more than their own. That’s what society has told us we should do. Sacrifice for others. Family first. Give to the death.

When I hit my bottom, I began to wonder if there was another way. What if sacrificing for my son wasn’t the solution? Please don’t get me wrong, I adore my son. In fact, he has been my greatest teacher and I am deeply indebted to his role in my personal journey. I would indeed give my life for him, but I was giving him my living. I was disintegrating into my own form of insanity and it was helping no one. Not him, not my husband, not me. We were each in our own way following addiction into the darkness.

What if love others as you love yourself looked different than I’d been taught? What if that’s exactly what I was doing? Loving him as I loved myself which turned out to be not very well at the time.

How to Love Yourself

I don’t recall if it was the third or fifth or nth incident with the police or treatment when I realized I had a choice. I could go into that dark hole of despair and stay there, or I could find a way to bring myself back into the light. If I could continue to love my son without joining him in the madness, then maybe I could shine a beacon for him when or if he chose to return to a healthier way of living. So in service of myself and family, I chose to light my own candle while continuing to literally light candles and offer prayers of love for all of us.

I began to develop a journaling practice. I poured my thoughts, fears, worries, and internal and external stories onto the page every day. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I exhausted the dialogue, covered all of the what ifs, and landed at a moment of rest. Then I got up and did it again and again and again. As my practice deepened, so did my sense of peace and ability to be present to others and the world around me. I started to heal. I learned how to draw appropriate boundaries and managed to send love and light to my son even when we were estranged for months at a time. I developed empathy and compassion, regardless of whether I understood or condoned my son’s choices. And somewhere along the way, the chaos quieted. Our legacy gave way to the promise of a brighter ending.

I remembered that authentic stories untangle us from lies, tether us to truth, and help us transcend into new ways of being.

May it be so for you and yours.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Disqus comments
KH-008.jpg

Kayce Stevens Hughlett is a tender, a healer, and an artist of being alive who believes in everyday magic and that complex issues often call for simple practices and author of SoulStroller. She holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology and she is a Certified Martha Beck Life Coach. Her novel, Blue, won the Chanti Award for best women’s fiction in 2015. Kayce began her working life as an accountant for a multi-national firm and transitioned to the healing arts when life’s harsh circumstances sent her searching for answers on a less-linear path. She is the co-creator of SoulStrolling® ~ a movement for mindfulness in motion. Raised in the heartland of Oklahoma, she now resides in Seattle, Washington with her family and muse, Aslan the Cat. Learn more at http://www.liveittogiveit.me/. Find Kayce on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Disqus comments