November 2018 - Hader Clinic Queensland

Addiction – The Mother’s Shame

If motherhood is an emotional rollercoaster at the best of times, being the mother of an addict is a rollercoaster ride without the safety harness.

When we become parents we expect and anticipate a great many things, including tough times, tantrums and battles of will.

No parent, however, expects their child to develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

No matter how realistic you are when it comes to your child’s flaws and struggles, addiction always comes as a shock.

The hope that our children will do well, ideally even better than us, transcends all boundaries.

No matter your socio-economic standing, your family background, your own relationship with drugs and alcohol, any mother wishes for their child to make it through life untouched by addiction and its many side-effects.

Unfortunately, addiction also transcends all boundaries.

Addicts come from all walks of life and their struggles are by no means a reflection of their families’ love or efforts.

Parents become aware of their children’s addictions in many different ways.

In the best case scenario the child admits there is a problem and asks for help.

However, many parents are not that “lucky”.

You might find drug paraphernalia in your child’s private space.

You may receive that dreaded phone call from the police, informing you your child has been arrested on drug-related charges; or from the hospital, alerting you that your child has suffered injuries or an overdose.

Some parents retrospectively recognise all the symptoms of addiction and wonder why they did not put the pieces together sooner. These signs include:

  • Distracted behaviour
  • Inexplicable emotional outbursts
  • Chronic shortage of funds
  • Refusal to engage
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Diminishing attendance and performance at work/school

No matter how long a child has struggled with addiction and no matter how this struggle has come to light, the aftermath of discovering a child’s addiction is invariably painful and intense.

Sadly, one of the most prevalent emotions parents of addicts experience is shame.

Shame at not having recognised the symptoms of addiction sooner.

Shame at having failed to prevent their child’s descent into addiction.

Shame at having a child addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Shame at being ashamed of their child, when “decent” parents would offer nothing but unconditional love and support.

When you are the mother of an addict shame can be your worst enemy, as it is shame that often prevents mothers from reaching out and getting help for their child and themselves.

No one wants to admit that their child is an addict.

‘No one wants to announce to a third party that their child is an addict.

No one wants to explain to friends, neighbours, teachers and employers that their child is absent because they are receiving addiction treatment.

However, if your child is to recover you must do all of these things.

Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction is not a matter you can handle discreetly within your own four walls, yet the impulse to do so is very common.

Many parents believe that they can prevent their child from using drugs and consuming alcohol by sheer force of will and through imposing and enforcing strict rules.

This is simply not the case.

If you want your child to get better, and there is no question in anyone’s mind that you do, it is essential to seek professional help.

Put your shame aside.

When you contact a rehabilitation facility, no one will judge you.

When you get your child admitted at residential treatment, no one will look down on you.

When you attend family therapy sessions, no one will blame you for your child’s addiction.

In fact, you might be surprised at the amount of support you will receive.

Yes, substance dependency first and foremost affects the addict.

However, their families are affected just as deeply, albeit in different ways.

If you overcome your shame and seek help for your child, you will get help as well.

Family therapy is an integral part of addiction treatment and family counsellors are intimately acquainted with the emotional war addiction wages on all parties involved.

No matter how alone you feel, drug treatment professionals have seen it all before.

It might seem hard to believe, but many parents of addicts feel the weight of their shame lifted off their shoulders as soon as the addiction treatment process begins.

If you are the mother of a child struggling with addiction and are overcome with shame, hear this:

  • Everything you are feeling is normal
  • You are not the first parent to experience this, nor will you be the last
  • This is not your fault
  • Addiction can happen in any family
  • Help is available

Take a deep breath.

Pick up the phone.

Yes, the road ahead is rocky and treacherous, but it is not going to be a walk of shame.

If you are willing to support your child through this struggle, you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Related articles

Women’s Addiction Treatment
Addiction – The Mother’s Guilt
I’m a mother, wife and daughter of addicts
Our son is an addict. What do we do?
Nature or Nature? What Causes Addiction?
Breaking the Cycle of Addiction – A Parent’s Story
Establishing Family Boundaries
Are You An Enabler?
Family Therapy
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Addiction – The Mother’s Guilt

No mother ever forgets the day she gives birth to her child.

She will remember the time, the place, the colour of the room’s walls, the sound of her breathing and the thumping of her heart. The first cry, the tiny fingers and toes, the first eye contact, the baby’s smell, the weight of them in her arms, the rush of relief at a healthy child, or of panic if something is not right, the sheer limitless possibility of what this child’s live might hold… all the wondrous details of a newborn’s arrival are etched into a mother’s memory forever.

No mother ever forgets the day she learns that her child is an addict, either.

She will remember the time, the place, the colour of the table top, the sound of her breathing and the thumping of her heart. The tears, the nails bitten, the impossibility of eye contact, the weight suddenly pressing down on her chest… and then, without warning, the crushing wave of guilt.

Mothers’ guilt is inevitable.

Every time a child suffers, be it teething, their first experience with bullying, a broken heart, a broken bone, tears at the first day of school or over the death of their beloved gold fish, a mother feels guilty.

Every time a child does wrong, whether it is a playground push or being caught shoplifting, a mother feels guilty.

Yet nothing compares to the guilt experienced by mothers of addicts.

It may mix with feelings of disbelief; because surely this is impossible. A sick joke.

How could my child, the one I have held and rocked to sleep, the one I have read and sung to every night for years, the one I have shown in word and deed that they are loved no matter what… how could my child have turned into the broken, terrified, suffering person across from me?

There might be a flare up of rage. How dare they?

After all the time invested in them, after all the money spent on education and short-lived hobbies and must-have items… how dare they stumble down a this path of self-destruction?

Fear may rear its ugly head; after all this is in many cases unchartered territory.

Aren’t drugs for children who don’t know better? For children running from a lifetime of pain?

Aren’t drugs for children who don’t have loving mothers?

And then it comes.

Was it something I did? Was it something I didn’t do?

How could I not see this sooner?

What if I had spotted the warning signs earlier?

Why didn’t I prevent this?

Every mother of an addict will ask herself questions such as these; every mother of an addict will weep with the shame and agony of feeling as though she has failed.

There will be moments when she is convinced that her child’s addiction is a direct result of her own shortcomings as a mother, because, let’s face it, every mother is assured from the moment those blue lines appear on that first pregnancy test that everything will be just fine as long as she does her best.

When your child is addicted to drugs or alcohol, everything is not fine.

In the mind of a mother, this translates directly into not having done her best. Not even close.

When mothers of addicts succumb to guilt over their children’s illness, yes, addiction is an illness,  things can go from bad to worse.

Guilt may trick a mother into enabling her child’s addiction, when all she wants is to make amends for her failings.

Guilt may shame a mother into remaining silent about her child’s addiction for fear of advertising her inadequacy.

Guilt may drive a mother into depression.

If mothers of addicts are left unsupported, their lives are in danger of derailing completely.

Yes, addicts need professional treatment in order to get better and stay better, but so do their mothers.

Family therapy and family counselling is often thought of as an add-on, rather than an integral part of addiction treatment.

Mothers often fear that family counselling sessions will mean sitting in a closed room while being blamed for all that has gone wrong.

This could not be further from the truth.

In order for a person suffering an addiction to fully heal and have a chance at long-term recovery, it is vitally important that their relationship with their family is repaired, because addiction does not just affect the addict, it profoundly affects their loved ones as well.

While individual counselling helps an addict to see the patterns of their illness and their bodies’ response to all manner of triggers; family counselling helps parents of addicts realise that there is nothing they could have done to prevent this.

Giving family therapy a chance can be a real turning point for families in general – and mothers’ of addicts in particular.

It can be painful for a mother to come to terms with the limits of maternal power. After all, any mother sets out on her journey determined that no harm will come to her child. It doesn’t matter whether this child is fifteen or fifty years old.

However, it can be liberating as well.

Once the weight of guilt is lifted, and it will be, for family counselling is not just about a mother forgiving her child but also forgiving herself, it is much easier to fully engage in the treatment process.

Mothers, who no longer feel personally responsible for their children’s addiction, are able to support them in better and healthier ways, simply because they can assess the situation more clearly.

So, mothers, do not despair.

Do not see your child’s illness as your shame, but stand proud, for you are strong and loving enough to support them.

You are, in fact, doing the best you can.

Related articles

Women’s Addiction Treatment
I’m a mother, wife and daughter of addicts
Our son is an addict. What do we do?
Nature or Nature? What Causes Addiction?
Breaking the Cycle of Addiction – A Parent’s Story
Establishing Family Boundaries
Are You An Enabler?
Family Therapy
Addiction Treatment

I Was an Addict. Now I Help Others.

Fran is one of the many friendly faces you will see frequently at our retreat. Fran is one of our support staff. She is also a recovering addict.

We believe it is important, as part of our addiction treatment program that we have staff that can relate to the person in recovery and understand their situation, thoughts and feelings as it helps create an environment where the addict feels safe and secure, and more at ease to open themselves up to the components of the treatment program, resulting in better outcomes.

Fran has kindly offered to share her story .

My name is Fran

I am the eldest of 7 children, born to a “good” Catholic family in rural Victoria.

Growing up was not a great experience for me.

My parents were dairy farmers, devoutly religious and strict disciplinarians. Because they did not believe in contraception, our family grew fast – my next younger sister and I are only 11 months apart, Irish twins. Three more brothers and three more sisters followed, as well as two siblings who did not survive.

Between running the farm and providing for 7 kids – including my youngest sister’s special needs due to severe Downs syndrome – my parents had neither time nor energy for affection.

There were simply too many mouths to feed and nappies to change for them to spend one-on-one time with me.

I never felt particularly loved or special. It didn’t seem as though I mattered to my parents.

There are no memories of being cuddled, held or told I was loved; however, I do remember being belted and sent to school with welts on my legs.

School, unfortunately, was not a great experience either.

Fitting in seemed impossible

Because of my parents’ religious beliefs I was the only student sent to sit in the library when time came for sex education.

Because my mother was either too busy or simply not interested, she taught me nothing when it came to personal hygiene – I didn’t know about tampons or deodorant – which made me stand out even more.

I did not belong with the ‘smart kids’ because they considered me a ‘deadshit’ – yet the ‘deadshits’ rejected me because I was too smart.

High school was a very lonely time for me.

I started sneaking out of the house at night towards the end of Year 11 because I was desperate to fit in and socialise. It was not to be.

My parents busted me and promptly shipped me off to boarding school for my final year of high school.

My boarding school experience? Not great.

Because my mother bought all my school clothes second hand and refused to give me any spending money, there was no way for me to fit in at my new school. Still,

I did manage to finish and pass Year 12.

Once school was done, I applied for a nursing course and was accepted. I wasn’t particularly keen on becoming a nurse, but the course was my ticket to freedom.

Back in the day, training as a nurse meant you got paid as well. It was the quickest route to independence from my parents – that was all I cared about.

Over the next 15 years I accomplished quite a lot

I earned my general nursing certificate and followed it up with a degree in psychiatric nursing.

I travelled the world.

I moved interstate and became a pharmaceutical rep, mainly to get out of nursing. Nursing was not for me, I actually hated helping other people.

Still, no matter how much I achieved, I always felt restless, irritable and discontent.

I became a passionate triathlete and competed for over ten years. Triathlon became an obsession, it almost filled the ‘God-shaped hole’ in me. I won quite a few races and placed in the top ten nationwide, but even though sport helped me improve my self-image, it was still far from positive.

Discovering drugs

I first discovered drugs after I had a bad, bad bike accident while training for Ironman Hawaii – it was to be my second time at that race.

Things were going really well at the time. I had a good job for a pharmaceutical company. I was engaged to a doctor. I was fit.

Suddenly, from one moment to the next I had broken bones to heal, couldn’t train at all and worked only with difficulty.

An old acquaintance got in touch and invited me to come to Big Day Out.

The group I went with were all taking speed, so I tried and loved it. It felt as though it was a way to feel like my pre-accident self again.

I started taking speed every day and didn’t stop, even when I was able to train again.

I hid my speed use from my fiancé, but he knew something was up. Still, I managed to hide my drug habit for almost a whole year – I even attempted to race while high, but became dehydrated and collapsed.

Finally I told my fiancé, in the hope that he would help me quit; instead he was angry and kicked me out.

In some ways this was the beginning of my downward spiral.

I quit triathlon and started partying all the time.

Before long I lost my job for the pharmaceutical company and started working as a masseuse, the money was good.

My new lifestyle brought nothing but madness.

I had a brief ‘relationship’ with a criminal and dealer, until he knocked my front tooth out.

My confidence plummeted, I used more and more; until I eventually became homeless and started stealing to survive.

In 2005 I went to jail for the first time – actually, I was in and out of jail a total of three times that year.

It was also the year I found out I had hepatitis C.

In the middle of all this, I met the father of my oldest son.

He was using and violent, but he did say he wanted to get clean – so we went north to Alligator Creek and got clean together.

When we found out I was pregnant, we moved to the Sunshine Coast. We didn’t know anyone there, it was a fresh start. My boyfriend even got a job.

For a short time things were looking up.

When I had my son, Hunter, his father relapsed and became extremely violent. So much so, I ended up in a women’s refuge.

I was trying to hold onto sobriety, I was ‘white knuckling’ it, as they say. However, after I became pregnant again – to a friend of a friend who was using at the time – I relapsed and things got out of control fast.

It was as though my disease had been doing push-ups in the corner, just waiting for me to get back in the ring.

My boys were 18months and three years old when they were removed from my care.

Rehab

I kept using and slid deeper and deeper into a life of crime.

I was on the ‘qmerit’ program, but I was failing miserably. Finally, I was presented with a choice: go to jail or go to rehab.

In a rare moment of clarity, I chose rehab.

And so my long and arduous journey of recovery started.

I did two stints of residential treatment – one six months and one ten months – and relapsed after both of them.

A few months into my second relapse I ended up in the hospital with a blood infection, naturally a result of using.

I spent four weeks hooked up to intravenous antibiotics and it was in my miserable and lonely hospital bed that I finally hit rock bottom.

I was being evicted from my flat.

I was in yet another abusive relationship and had just taken out yet another domestic violence order against yet another horrible boyfriend.

I was facing a lengthy prison sentence.

My children had been in care for three years and the authorities were weighing up whether or not to impose a care and protection order (meaning I would be denied contact with my children until they came of age, 12 years to go for my eldest).

On top of all this, I was deeply, desperately addicted. I had even used during my stay at the hospital and now the cravings were becoming unbearably intense.

The pain was awful and I was calling one dealer after another, but no one was answering.

I was a reduced to a crying mess. I saw no hope for the future. All I could think about was how badly I wanted something to take the pain away.

Then, for the first time in decades, I prayed.

I asked God for help, not just for my own sake but for the sake of my children. There was no way I could go on like this, so I begged God to show me what to do.

A calm came over me. Thinking back on it now, I believe it was a spiritual moment. The sense of impending doom left me.

Suddenly I was certain that everything would be okay.

I realised I had been offered the tools to make everything okay over and over again at the few Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings I had attended; for whatever reason I hadn’t felt as though any of their suggested steps applied to me.

I had a NA sponsor, whom I never called; I was doing one or two meetings per week at the very most, I didn’t have a home group, a service position or any motivation to do the steps.

Until now.

Lying in the hospital bed, drenched in tears, I suddenly believed without a doubt that if I followed the NA steps all would be well.

When some of my dealers finally rang me back the next day, I told them I had changed my mind.

I stayed in the hospital for two more weeks, withdrawing and thinking, always thinking.

The day I was released I started going to NA meetings and kept going, every day. I got a home group and a service position and started doing the steps.

Things started to improve. Dramatically.

Yes, I still was evicted. However, I did find a new place to stay.

Eight months into my recovery process, I went to the Supreme Court, fully expecting to receive a jail sentence and ready to face the music. I had a reference letter from a seasoned member of the AA/NA community, which the judge read out in court, as well as letters from my doctors and case worker stating they were planning to reunite me and my sons.

To my endless surprise and relief, I got parole.

Three months later, miraculously, I got my children back.

Together we entered something of an upward spiral, for a change.

We received better housing. I started studying again. I completed my first round of steps and started on my second.

I got a new job in a rehabilitation facility, helping other addicts. I earned my second diploma and, after 18 months, was finally approved for a BlueCard.

Things have been going great ever since.

This year I have become part of the NA initiative at the Women’s Correctional Centre in Wacol – the same place where I was an inmate in 2005.

Going back to prison, even as a support worker, has been a surreal experience; the place has not changed a bit.

Every Friday I visit the prison to attend and mediate at NA meetings; we get around 20 women in each session.

I’m also donating a NA basic text to the detention unit (DU), I’ve even made it a special bookmark. The general manager of the prison has approved this donation just recently and given permission that these items are place in the DU.

This may not sound like a big deal, but it is a huge deal to me.

During my time in prison I spent a week in the DU and it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my incarceration.

The DU is nothing but a metal room, no windows, just a mattress and a bible. That’s it.

It nearly drove me crazy to spend seven days in there – and I absolutely refused to read that bible.

Knowing that the next person suffering through the isolation of the DU will have the comfort of the NA basics and a small personal touch in form of the bookmark…it just feels really nice.

Today I can honestly say that I am deeply grateful for the life I have.

I have the chance to heal the damage I have done to my relationship with my sons; and although it is a slow process, I feel we make progress every day.

I have a beautiful partner, who loves and supports me – and is just great with my kids.

Currently I attend at least three meetings a week, I have almost finished my second round of the steps.

Prayer and meditation are part of my every day, I feel I have an amazing connection with my higher power.

I feel truly optimistic about my future; I’m even thinking of turning my trials and tribulations into a book to help others to overcome addiction.

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An Addict’s Christmas Survival Guide – Tis the Season to Stay Sober

Christmas can be tricky when you’re in recovery.

It is, traditionally, the season to eat, drink and be merry – and when drinking and/or taking drugs to achieve merriment are no longer on your wish list the upcoming festive times can seem very, very daunting.

Whether you are newly sober or have been for quite some time, Christmas is fraught with triggers.

Work functions, pre-Christmas get-togethers with friends and, of course, celebrations with family can be a profound test of will power.

On the other hand, if you are facing a solitary Christmas, for whatever reason, it can be just as hard to maintain a positive attitude and keep unhealthy coping mechanisms at bay.

So, to help you make it through the allegedly most wonderful time of the year, here are some simple yet important things to remember:

Choose your Christmas companions wisely

For many, Christmas is the perfect excuse to let loose. Pre-Christmas festivities can bleed into pre-New Year parties easily and before you know it there is a ‘reason’ to indulge every day for two weeks.

If you are recovering from an addiction you have the right, and the responsibility to yourself, to be picky about just whom you choose to hang out with over the holidays.

If you get the feeling that your work colleagues might pressure you, albeit without ill intent, to join in their Christmas shenanigans, it is okay to skip the office Christmas function.

It is up to you whether you choose to be upfront about your reasons to abstain – there is nothing wrong with inventing an alibi if it makes you more comfortable.

The same goes for any get together that might trigger your cravings.

It is probably not a good idea to see friends with whom you had regular sessions of alcohol and/or drug abuse in a party setting.

Remember, whatever makes this tricky time easier for you, goes.

Talk to your nearest and dearest

There are likely to be some Christmas-related social events that you really would like to be a part of; but you might be unsure of how to best breach the subject of your recovery and its related challenges.

In case of family occasions or celebrations with very good friends, honesty is the best policy.

It’s perfectly okay to share any worries you might have about the upcoming get-together and explain to your nearest and dearest that parties involving alcohol and/or drugs are challenging for you.

Holding back might just leave you emotionally unsupported in a difficult situation, so there is nothing to be gained from trying to tough it out on your own.

People who care for you can be amazingly supportive and understanding, if you give them a chance. Think of it as a kind of Christmas miracle.

If you’re celebrating solo – have a plan

Not everyone is inundated with invites to Christmas parties – many people face the holidays alone or prefer not to socialise in order not to jeopardise their recovery.

Whether you are going solo this Christmas by choice, because of geographical distance or estrangement – having a game plan can be critical to make it through the season unscathed.

Being on your own does not have to translate to sitting at home and waiting for Christmas to pass; in fact, that can trigger all kinds of negative feeling that might cause cravings for your self-medication of choice.

To avoid feeling down, keep busy. Whether you enjoy going to the movies, walking, going to the beach or spending hours in your favourite coffee shop reading the excellent novel you gave yourself for Christmas – getting out can be key to keeping your spirits up.

If you need to talk to someone but don’t feel like friends and family are going to be understanding and supportive, call your sponsor, recovery coach or one of the many Australian helplines operating around the clock (even, and especially, during the holidays).

Helplines you can call 24/7:

It’s okay to say ‘No, thank you’

Peer pressure is real.

It can be difficult to refuse alcohol and/or drugs when you’re virtually surrounded by them, which is often the case during the celebration marathon that is Christmas.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that your personal choice of remaining sober is not going to make anyone else uncomfortable, unless they have a problem themselves.

If someone claims that you are ruining their fun by not joining in, this is not someone you should be spending your festive season with.
In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, it is a case of mind over matter: Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.

An opportunity for personal success

Yes, Christmas can be a trying time, but challenges also present an opportunity for personal triumph.

You have already taken them all-important step to choose to be drug and alcohol free. Celebrate it this Christmas by showing yourself just how strong you can be and invite those closest to you to share this remarkable achievement.

So remember:

  • It is okay to skip the office Christmas function
  • It is okay to avoid get-togethers with friends who drink and/or take drugs
  • It is okay to tell your family and friends about your situation
  • Get out and keep busy
  • Talk to someone
  • If you need to, call one of the 24/7 support services
  • It is okay to say no

Its not too late to be clean for Christmas

Remember, it’s not too late to get into recovery and be drug and/or alcohol free for Christmas. Give us a call on 1300 856 847 to have a no-obligation chat about our addiction treatment programs.

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