Preventing, stopping or explaining chemical dependency is often the focus of stories about addiction. Seldom does anyone consider the parents who suffer.
Some teens grow up and out of chemical dependency. Some grow into chronic, crippled adults. Parents deserve permission to save themselves, but everywhere they turn, parents are blamed, shamed and held responsible and then further subjected to derision when they can't control or fix their child.
Some purport that if parents just love their kids enough they can bring them back from the brink. But this is misleading and ineffective. My message doesn't do this unintentional disservice; rather, it promises parents they can recover even if their children don't.
When I discovered my son was using drugs, our world imploded. In spite of our best efforts, our son smashed every value laid before him. He was a star athlete and scholar, a kind and loving magnet who drew people to him with an electric smile as big as his warm heart. A sweet little boy who left love notes on my pillow and hugged me hard and long. But meth captured him, and the monster invaded our son and rendered him morbidly useless. As he disappeared into addiction, it took us with him.
Paralyzed with grief, we became ineffective bystanders. For nine years, fear dangled like a spider, but it also pried open my mind. I learned I couldn't fix him, but I could fix me. Taking back my life was a slow and arduous process, but now I can fast-forward relief. Addicts feel bad enough about themselves; heaping guilt and shame erects barriers and hostile withdrawal. Once I truly understood that my son was physically and mentally ill, I could act rather than react. And I could love him but also love myself, knowing I was powerless over something bigger than both of us.
For parents newly initiated to this fraternity—or for those convinced their lives are over—please remember you can recover even if your children don't. Maybe the very colleague you speak to and perhaps have known for years is the mother who's never let you in on the secret that crowds her heart and cries her to sleep.
Karla V. Garrison is a clinical therapist with a master's degree in psychology and counseling.
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