The Helplessness of Watching an Addict
Addiction is a family disease. That may not sound exactly correct on the outside, but if you take an inside look at the disease you’ll quickly realize how dramatically it impacts not only the one afflicted, but those who live with them, care about them and love them. It goes beyond “I’m only hurting myself,’ the pseudo self-righteous denial statement used to dismiss the concerns of anyone watching.
There are few things more painful than the experience of parents, for example, who know what’s going on, yet are nearly powerless to turn the tide of addiction in their children. Families get torn apart and soon parents are cut off from any contact. Addiction is divisive. It doesn’t make any sense, but neither does being addicted. Cutting yourself off from the people who love you isn’t on the checklist. But it happens too many times.
Recently I met a woman who was in the hospital for chemo therapy for her cancer. She was in a stem cell isolation unit, but was doing rather well. In fact, she went home a few days after our visit. But she wasn’t concerned about her cancer, which was under control. She was concerned about her son, who had been addicted for several years. She talked of her heartbreak over not being able to see him, or talk to him. Her husband told me it had been several years since their last meeting, and that did not go at all well. He had burned through any money he had, burned through the provision of family members and had long abandoned his career as a stock broker.
“He’s living in some house someplace with his friends,” she said. “We tried to help him, tried to get him into treatment, but he pushed us away,” she told me. “It’s like he doesn’t even know us anymore.”
As they continued to tell their story, it became obvious that neither of them had any support. They were asking “What can I do” questions, and neither seemed to have any knowledge of or experience with any groups that could provide information and the separation from their son, although painful, was about the only way they had of coping with the family problem. She knew her son would argue any point brought up about his addiction, and his father showed a kind of resignation to it all, as if to say “My son is dead and I have to keep going.” They never sought the counsel of a local treatment center, or Alanon, or Nar-Anon. There are literally thousands of support organizations around the country.
“I didn’t know there was help out there,” she said. “It’s been so many years. He’s nearly 35 now. We can only hope he gets some help. But I think we need help too.”
What was even sadder about her story was the fact that her son did not even know she had cancer. He was in the same city, close by, yet had no knowledge of his mother’s failing health. What remained of the loving son she raised had been chained up by the twisted reasoning of the addicted mind. Addiction doesn’t care about that his mother is sick and may be dying. Addiction owns her son.
There is hope. There is support than can transform grieving parents into proactive parents. A call to a treatment center for counsel can be the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of families. Alanon and Alteen are solid. Joe Herzanek’s book “Why Don’t They Just Quit?” is another excellent guide for parents. Church groups, such as “Celebrate Recovery” are popping up all over the country.
Addiction is a family disease, which requires a family solution.
Ned Wicker is the Addictions Recovery Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center He author’s a website for addiction support: