Many times I’ve spoken with moms about the treatment program my son attended and our family’s experience with New Life House. I’ve also witnessed many moms in Al Anon groups struggle with placing a child in treatment or choosing a long term sober living program. One barrier to treatment that surfaces with many moms is that they feel that they’re being mean. When our family intervened with our son, I too second-guessed my actions. I hesitated to take a hard stand. Throughout the process I fought back years of trying to emulate my own fictional version of “super mom.” How could I be so mean? Mean!
We worry whether the relationship with our son will weather this betrayal. Will he eventually forgive his mom? Will he know we aren’t trying to shun him and that we love him deeply? How will he feel about missing the upcoming family vacation? Is it “mean” to keep the rest of the family moving through its traditions without the son while he is in treatment? These are the types of questions that we ask ourselves when facing the myriad of challenges stemming from a chemically addicted child. We can forget the fear, the lack of personal safety and the loss of material possessions caused by living with an addicted child. Instead we can fixate on whether we are being mean by making our son survive without a cell phone. Should we interrupt the treatment schedule to take him on a family vacation?
Recently, I asked my son, a New Life graduate, and his friend, also a graduate, whether they thought a parent was being “mean” when placing a child in a long term structured sober living program. At first, both were a little confused by the question. The concept of “mean” didn’t resonate with them in this context. They could identify with the anger they felt when the family insisted they seek treatment. In my own son’s case, he thought he’d “do his time” in treatment and then get back to his old life. While he was plotting his next steps, he wasn’t thinking about having the meanest mom in the world. Only I was.
Both young men talked about the damage they had created while using drugs, the chaos caused within their families. Recovering from addiction is not a passive activity, it takes strong stands by family and friends. With that strong stand comes unconditional love and support for recovering from this disease.
They accepted that tough love was necessary for each of them to seek sobriety. Giving them the opportunity to recover in a program that provides tools to move forward with their lives was the most loving thing a parent could do. It was life or death. They could have a home or live on the streets. One summarized, “Want to see mean? Try jail.”