Parents of addicts face shame and it is it tough not to fire back. But there are more powerful ways to react than lashing out.
When a child is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is a nightmare for parents. One I refer to as the Roller Coaster From Hell. Isolation often occurs as the layers of shame and guilt nearly suffocate a parent. As if this reality isn’t painful enough, we endure the hurtful comments such as, “I always knew where my kids were; why didn’t you?” Or, “It would never happen to my child; I raised them right.”
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2017 approximately 19.7 million Americans had a substance abuse disorder.
That means there are potentially more than 40 million parents in the United States alone, impacted by the hidden and often publicly ignored hateful and hurtful comments directed at them by people who have not lived the devastating life as the parent of an addict.
Before I understood the journey of addiction, I was vocally rude and ignorant. I believed that if a child went astray, it was the fault of the parents. I learned the hard way that addiction doesn’t care about parenting skills, or much else. No family is immune to the possibility. I was a good parent, yet my daughter, Jamie, lived fifteen of her thirty years of life with her addiction Beast. Now, I was on the receiving end of the judgement.
The worst periods of our lives are also opportunities. Rather than being offended and responding in kind, choose to use the five tips that are far more powerful than lashing out.
1. It’s Not Personal…They Don’t Understand. My words were as harsh as some of the wounding comments I see directed back at people like me. Now, I realize these piercing remarks come from a lack of understanding. Try not to take it too personally. They don’t understand because they have not been there.
2. Breathe…Don’t Lash Out. No matter how right we think we are, when we lay into someone, the reaction will be defensiveness. Name-calling or attacking rarely results in understanding. We see this as never before in the political debates of our time. Neither side is convincing the other. Take a step back and resist the temptation to set someone straight.
3. It’s About Helping Them To Understand. The best way to combat hateful comments is to be respectfully informative. We should help others to understand the road we travel and how it feels to be in our shoes. My youngest brother was very vocal in his viewpoint that I should hunt my daughter down and force her into rehab. He had not traveled the lonely life of the parent of an addict. It was tempting to blast him into outer space, but instead, I respectfully explained that I had zero control over my twenty-something daughter. A few short years later, his step-daughter was deep into addiction, and his perspective changed. It’s not about being right. It is far better to help others gain insight into your struggles than to react and engage in their negativity.
4. Don’t Let Their Opinions Turn Into Your Shame or Guilt. We give away our power by believing other people make us feel guilty or ashamed. The truth is that we get to decide how we feel. Refuse uninformed onions and society’s stigma. You will never convince everyone to agree with you, and you don’t need to – stand up and stand on top of your story. No matter how much judgment society directs toward you or anyone else on a similar path as yours, reject the shame and guilt.
5. Don’t Judge…It’s Contagious. It may seem there are no benefits to being on the receiving end of harsh judgement or critical comments, but there is one. Since you understand firsthand the negative impact of offensive jabs, be careful you are not doing the same thing to another person. We often get caught up in our self-pity and don’t see that we have become what we despise. Worse yet, we jump on board the judgment train with others. Instead, use your experience to rise above and become more open-minded and accepting, even if you disagree. Judgment is contagious, but so is understanding. Be a part of the solution rather than the problem.
In the information age, there will always be people sitting behind a computer screen spewing judgement, negativity, and even hate. The good news is that you have the power to rise above the noise and allow yourself to become stronger. There is always light in the darkness, so stand up and shine yours. Never lose hope.