By Katherine H.
What do you do…when you don’t know what to do? A parent’s natural inclination is to care for their children and help control their surroundings. When a child is in trouble, it is a natural impulse to provide obvious solutions. After all, if you instruct a child to do “A”, then “B”, the outcome will be “C”, right? Not with addicts and alcoholics. No matter what a parent does, the outcome is never “C”. Perhaps for a short time you will have “C”, but soon enough chaos ensues, and parents are at a loss.
Our family experienced this outcome over and over. Because I am sober, I thought I could avoid this chaos in our home. For a long time we did. But when our son found relief with drugs and alcohol, I could not let him go. And when I say relief, that notion is hard to understand. Yet relief from what? Who? What could possibly be a problem for this smart, talented and funny kid who had everything he wanted and needed?
Early in his middle school life I began to see in our son what I could relate to as a recovering alcoholic. The symptoms were victimization, things not being fair, lack of motivation, lack of interest, falling grades, getting into trouble, dishonesty, lack of respect. These symptoms could and would be cured by escape. With the puffed up attitude and sense of belonging that drugs and alcohol can create, our son found solace. But the real problem with a person who is an addict is the feelings and escape from drug and alcohol use becomes the most important thing in his or her life. They cannot walk away from it. It is very subtle, but it does take over. All good things get pushed aside.
I thought we could fix these problems. And boy did we try. Counseling, discipline, keeping him in lots of activities, taking the car away, giving it back, grounding him, the list is long. The long discussions between my husband and I were agonizing. In spite of my experience of being sober all of my adult life, I did not want to do what I had to do. To do the only thing that would work but was so hard to do as a parent. I finally had to let him go, an absolutely counterintuitive thing for a parent to do.
Many people helped us through the letting go process. Because I finally asked for help, we received instructions; therefore we suddenly “knew what to do.” We started going to Al-Anon and I started getting honest about what was going on in my home. That is what helped our son the most. He could not accept our ideas and solutions. He needed, he screamed out for, his own ideas and solutions. We let him go, to stumble and fall, and hopefully remember the guidelines we gave him while he grew up in our home. And those guidelines were- if you need help, ask for it. Be honest. Look at yourself and your actions. Don’t hurt others.
Once I let go, he could follow his own path. And I could not have picked a better path for him. Yes, I thought I knew what he needed, but in truth he found what he needed. He stumbled across two young men who reached out to him as New Life House graduates are taught. He immediately was curious and impressed by their comfort and confidence. I was given the number and called and knew that this was a place he where he could be comfortable. Guys there were his age, smart, talented and have so many skills. They are taught how to be honest and look at their behavior and to change how they perceive their surroundings. House members are allowed their own path with guidelines that are sensible.
It wasn’t until I stepped out of the way, let him go, and trusted that we had given him all the tools that we, in our limited human way could do. His Dad and I had done our work; the rest was up to him. He is becoming the young man he was meant to be, in a way we could have never orchestrated. He has worked hard to be this young man and we are forever grateful he found New Life House and was willing to give it a try.