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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.

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I’m a mother, wife and daughter of addicts
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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

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