What Can You Offer an Estranged and Addicted Parent?
Being in recovery is hard. Being in recovery and dealing with a parent in active addiction can be even harder.
While highly functional during my struggle with substance abuse, I had the emotional age and literacy of a child. I didn’t have the communication skills to have healthy, long-lasting relationships with anyone, let alone a parent.
I had no comprehension of boundaries. I just kind of bumbled along oblivious. Recovery enabled me to grow up, learn how to live, and cope with a parent in active addiction – while maintaining my own sobriety.
Growing Up and Starting Fresh
They say when you get sober, you need to change your playground. But what about a parent who uses? The status of parent, addicted or not, usually warrants a free pass of involvement in your life – they’re someone you hold in high esteem, trust, and listen to…right?
Until the work.
There’s a rite of passage for anyone who wants lasting recovery. These bedrock activities of emotional work include:
- Understanding the desire to use
- Discovering triggers
- Uncovering trauma
- Setting boundaries
The above activities serve as the basis for a sustainable program of recovery – they are “the work.” And our labors never end: new triggers arise, we make mistakes, lose relationships, deal with heartbreak, and uncover painful memories.
This journey of self discovery enables us to see the world in a whole new light. It shifts the fog of substance abuse that clouded our view, and we have clarity.
Personal Growth and Establishing Limits
Something I discovered in my work was the path of destruction left in the wake of substance abuse wasn’t all mine to own. As a child, I bore the brunt of the destruction an addicted parent can cause – we had to move to a different continent to stay safe. As an adult – in recovery – I dealt with the loss of that relationship, and the gaps it left in my emotional development.
Today, as a person in long-term recovery, I enforce boundaries to keep myself safe from their continued substance abuse. Some of my healthy boundaries include:
- Avoiding involvement in their drama
- Refusing responsibility to emotionally or physically care-take
- Refusing to be held hostage emotionally to bend to their whims
None of these healthy actions are easy; it goes against the grain of being there for a parent. It’s unnatural to have to filter every word and action. The key is to de-personalize it: it isn’t about you, it never was – it’s just their addiction speaking – and I’m forever reminding myself of this fact.
It hurts, but it does get easier.
Putting Yourself First
I ensure my well being by enforcing boundaries and continuing to work on my own recovery.
I’m powerless over how others choose to behave; I’m not powerless over how I chose to respond. I try to do that with kindness and compassion, but I’m still very much a work in progress.
If you’re in recovery and struggling to manage a complex relationship with an addicted parent, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Additional Reading: When Your Loved One Has an Addiction – What Helps and What Doesn’t?
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