This psychologist, who helps others with relationships tainted by any of a myriad of issues, including addiction, codependency and dealing with adult children and parents who abuse alcohol, has himself fallen into many of the same traps I describe below. Dealing with a son’s drug and alcohol abuse has been the most difficult and divisive challenge my wife and I have had to face in our decades together.
He was charming, generous and creative. But like all addicts, he lied easily and took advantage of other people’s generosity. This led to conflicts between my wife and me, especially in those extended periods when he had returned home to live with us.
My wife and I each got professional help, and over time we mended the rift. Our son went into various treatment programs. However, after the years of substance abuse and general neglect, he became disabled through failing health and died at age 40.
This multi-decade experience taught us things we may have already known intellectually, but had never really understood. Here are a few of them.
The hardest lesson of all was accepting the reality of his addiction with all it entails and the reality of his probable early demise. As parents we fought hard to deny this, but we could not change the reality.
We had to learn to refrain from rescuing him. Each rescue let him off the hook for taking responsibility. When we stopped rescuing him, he became more responsible.
We withdrew direct financial support: no more enabling him with money handouts, no matter how small. However, he was always well fed when he visited and we always took food with us when we visited him.
We stopped letting him stay with us other than for a weekend visit. We stopped enabling him in avoiding responsibility for his life.
We had always listened to him talk about his struggles, but we had to learn to accept our own feelings of helplessness. This was very difficult for two people who seem to be hardwired to jump in and fix things. We attempted to restrict our advice to those times he asked for it.
As we got the lessons and our son came to understand the new reality, our relationships with him became more love-based again. Communication opened up. We had a beautiful mutually-supportive relationship with our son, especially during his last year. It meant a lot to us. It meant a lot to him.
Had we continued to deny reality, to rescue and to enable, we might never have made peace. His early death would have been even more tragic.
Having to deal with adult addicted children is something I could never wish on any parent, but sadly, it is a reality in many parents’ lives.
Dr. Neill is a Central-Island Registered Psychologist. You can reach him for an appointment at 250-752-8684 or through his website www.neillneill.com/contact