What's it like being the parent of an addict? I'm not talking about the day to day experience with a crisis and drama around every corner. I mean what is it like inside of a parent that has gone from discovery to recovery. When I inventory my emotional state at current it isn't fair to put aside all of those feelings over the last 10 years. Am I normal, a survivor, crazy as many believe, maybe just a composite of every experience in the last decade.
It's not hard for you to read back in the archives of this blog to see my emotional state at any one time, a range that is from despondent to overwhelmed with joy. I don't pay for a therapist to analyze me, there probably isn't enough money for that without adding another trillion dollars to the national debt and a therapist would probably run out the door with their hands in the air screaming. So I am left to myself to deliberate and draw my own conclusions and summaries.
After deliberation about the last 10 years this is my emotional inventory:
Hurt: Hurt is one of those emotions that never leaves me. I am able to put it aside and shield myself from it but at times it jumps out at me. I have never hurt like I did while suffering through my sons active addiction. It is a hurt that even overshadows the death of loved ones such as a parent. I spent a long time with this emotion. I took it personal. For many years I couldn't separate the disease in my son from him. It was a personal affront and I held it very deep. The pain from this emotion took me to places I wish I never would have seen. This was the most destructive emotion for me. It was the hardest for me to reconcile within myself. Hurt drove my life.
Anger: Anger was my defense mechanism against the hurt. Anger allowed me to do things I am not proud of as the parent of an addict. Scream and curse at my son. Scream and curse at my wonderful wife. Basically attack anyone that was within reach. Mostly, mine wasn't a physical anger, I sliced people to bits with words. My anger even drove me to my lowest point in life. I struck my son in anger. My son taught me a lesson, even high and addicted he did not strike back. His respect for me at that time was greater than my respect for him. I am ashamed. "You have a right to be angry", words that I have heard before but are empty, they accomplish nothing. Anger comes with the territory but our response to life with anger is something we must find a way to live with while not destroying ourselves.
Suspicion: I always thought of myself as a trusting person. My whole philosophy in life was that I am too lazy to not trust. Trusting is easy. To not trust requires a tremendous amount of work and energy. To become suspicious and distrustful is easy. It becomes easy to see the evil in a person. It is easy to forget that the symptoms of a disease can mask the reality of a situation. It is easy to allow suspicion to drive your life and behaviors. I'm not talking about the things the parent of an addict must do to protect themselves and the addict. I talking about learning to see evil in a person when evil is not the intent. That is a bad place to be as a person, the one that lives that way and the one on the receiving end of that suspicion.
Contempt: Contempt is the culmination of hurt, anger and suspicion. Contempt is a terrible thing for a parent to hold against their own child. Contempt can easily slide to a place their is no caring. I felt once that I was entering that place. I can't go there, that is a one way door. I did not go through that passage. It is a bad, bad place.
Joy: Joy is that emotion we all want. When I think of joy the picture of Snoopy dancing on top of his doghouse comes to mind. It is immediate and temporary. Joy comes from many places but it is an emotion same as a fart on a motorcycle, blown away very quickly. However joy is a fix I craved. I'd twist reality in order to experience that feeling. Too often my desire for joy allowed me to ignore realities to the detriment of myself and my son.
Hope: Hope was the most dangerous of positive emotions. Hope set me up for terrible lows. That's because I misunderstood hope for most of the time my son was using. Hope was an emotion that I transferred to others. My hope was based upon the actions or lack thereof by other people. I would pass out hope to others like business cards at a conference. I placed my hope in their hands, from my son to rehabs, meetings, counselors or anyone. I allowed others to build up my hope or dash it from underneath me. Hope is an emotion that must be internalized, it isn't a wish. Hope is an awareness of life and the tender nature of what impacted me. Where there is life there is hope; when I understood that simple phrase I understood what hope really is and not what I wanted it to be.
Happiness: Happiness is so much more than joy. Joy is fleeting, happiness is a state inside. Happiness can be found in all things. Happiness can be obvious, the birth of wonderful grandchildren, the sound of, "PaPa come here." But happiness can be born of heartache and pain as in the happiness I feel to have known my father for 27 years of my life. Happiness isn't the smile or grin you see on my face, it is the feeling inside. The smile is just a physical response.
Appreciation: Appreciation is the dominant feeling I have today. Appreciation isn't a "thank you" it is a recognition of what "is". Appreciation is taking in all, the good, bad and the ugly. The simple process of writing this post is a process of appreciation for me. The horrible emotions and actions I described above are just as valuable in shaping my well being as the wonderful feelings I experience today while my son is in recovery. Appreciation ALLOWS me to learn from what I have experienced over these past 10 years. If I choose not to learn then what has been the worth of a decade of my life? I wish that I had never experienced any of this and my son had never been an addict. I know inside me if there was a time machine I'd be on it right now to change it all, but that can't happen. Ignoring the bad and only recognizing the good discounts my life and make me less than. I want to be the best I can and learn from my terrible mistakes.
Love: Love is so much more than what we whisper at night before falling asleep. Love is a life preserver in a storm, it is a foundation that holds you up, it is something that makes you more than you can be alone. I learned more about love in the last 10 years than I had learned all my life before. Love comes not just from those close but from those people that have enough in their life that they wish to share. All you have to do is ACCEPT it.
In conclusion, as the parent of an addict we are not perfect. In fact we shouldn't even strive for perfection. Trying to be perfect causes terrible control issues. (speaking from experience here) It's a hard lesson but we all must do what we are capable of doing at any one time. Self assessment and learning isn't something we do, it is a process we work.
I wish that forward in my life I am able to live mostly or all in the positive emotions. But, I know that hurt, anger and suspicion will at some time again enter my life. That's the way life is but as I grow and learn I believe I will be much better from this experience.
I don't know if any of you that read this blog have experienced these same emotions but if you have, it is worth the reflection to examine what being the parent of an addict has done for you as much as it has done to you.
Maybe I'm normal, or maybe not. But no matter, quoting an old wise philosopher, Popeye the Sailor Man:
"I yam wot I yam. And that's all wot I yam......"