I’m a mother, wife and daughter of addicts
Apart from some flecks of grey hair framing 49 year old Kate’s face, it would be difficult to tell from her smiling demeanour that she’s learned to cope with drug addiction in both her immediate and extended family.
Kate’s journey through addiction with her family is still unfolding. However, thanks to The Hader Clinic Queensland, Kate’s life no longer revolves around managing those in her family with substance addiction issues.
This is Kate’s story
“I’ve got two boys. Brian’s 19 and Steve’s about to turn 18. And I can’t forget my husband, John.
Brian’s the one that’s working in a bar. And the one that was treated for addiction, and is an addict.
His poison was drugs and now that he’s of legal age, he’s been drinking.
Brian’s drug issues came as a surprise to me as I’d always thought that I’d encouraged openness and honesty within our family unit.
He was into whatever drugs he could get his hands on. Whatever he could find.
At 17 he chose to leave home, didn’t complete Year 12 and went and worked at McDonalds. He moved in with a bunch of guys in their late 20s.
I could see in some ways that Brian wasn’t coping, yet he didn’t want to spend any time with me either, even though where he was living was just a ten-minute walk from my office.
I know what it’s like when you’re young and you want to leave home. So I knew not to push him too much but I was the only one who really kept in contact with him.
A few months later, he turned up at our place, looking like skin and bones. And he smelled terrible. It was then I realised something was wrong. Unbeknownst to us, he’d been living in our garage, which was unlocked downstairs.
Eventually he spoke to John’s brother, his uncle, who told him that he needed to speak to us. And he did.
He was abusing ice and worried for his life. He was a mess.
It was then I realised that Brian was the type of kid that told you what he thinks you want to hear rather than what he really feels. He finds it hard to articulate that – and just follows the crowd instead.
I began to put some pieces of the puzzle together about how Brian started struggling with addictive behaviour.
I look back on my side of the family and John’s side too and they were all alcoholics. Every grandparent. And John is too. It just goes hand in hand, right? When the kids were little we always talked about alcohol and about how John is an alcoholic.
The kids always knew about this from the start. Brian was determined not to be like his father, yet he is the spitting image of him. He doesn’t know how to stand up for himself.
Brian’s never accepted help of any kind in his life, even with his homework.
However, he could see that he was in trouble and for the first time, he asked for help. We got him into a residential addiction recovery program straight away at The
Hader Clinic Queensland and he did 90 days of treatment.
However, he came out and went straight off the rails, so we sent him for another stint of rehabilitation which seemed to go well.
He then moved in with us but within a week he’d relapsed, and we kicked him out, three weeks before Christmas.
We saw him again on Christmas Day and we went to see a movie together on Boxing day. Then I didn’t see him until August.
He would communicate sometimes if I communicated with him and he seemed OK with being a Facebook friend.
At the same time, John was giving me heaps of grief and telling me to let him go. He was saying things like, “Brian won’t recognise what he’s losing until he gets to rock bottom. And you need to tell him that his behaviour isn’t good enough to be part of the family”.
I guess by staying connected online, I’m keeping the door open. John says it won’t help him take a look at himself and work things out.
I understand where John is coming from but I’ve been EXACTLY where Brian is. And I guess I know that you can come out of it. And what helped me the most is knowing that despite doing drugs, alcohol and having anorexia, my mother never wavered in her love for me, telling me that she’d always be there for me.
I’ve been able to reframe my perspective on my son’s drug use.
We were lucky that we didn’t see Brian in an ice fuelled rage or anything. But we knew there was something wrong as, before he left again, he was stealing from us.
I realised we had to be firm and show him the door. I do feel sorry for his brother and the relationship that’s been destroyed.
And you can see the same old stories running through the family. I had an alcoholic father that used to beat the shit out of us. And we can see issues in Brian. It’s as if they get into a life situation that they can’t get past, so they recycle the same story and hurts over and over. And when I see this, I want to say, “dude, wake up to yourself”.
What shocked me with Brian’s addiction was that he never talked to me about the feelings he had about being worthless. I felt guilty. I thought that I’d been a good parent. I had an awful first marriage, so I thought I had learned by being what I thought was open and honest with my kids.
As part of Brian’s rehabilitation, I attended complimentary monthly family meetings with The Hader Clinic Queensland which helped me change my life and perspective.
Every time I would go to a monthly family meeting and listen to other people whose loved ones were struggling with addiction, I would have what I describe as a “lightbulb” moment. I realised that if you don’t disclose things, you can’t be helped.
For example, my dad was a terrible alcoholic as well as a philanderer. I have just found out that I have 11 half brothers and sisters!
On the weekends, my mum would pack up a picnic lunch and get in the car with my dad and drive to his mistress. We’d play pool downstairs while my dad was upstairs.
It’s just the weirdest pile of crap that happened – so when things happened to Brian I was of the opinion, “how can you not talk about it?” The Hader Clinic Queensland made me realise that if they can’t tell you, you can’t help them.
When I started attending meetings, I was carrying the biggest weight on my shoulders – the huge mother weight of guilt.
I had wanted to make sure our lives were perfect. I didn’t realise but I suffocated Brian for years with soccer coaching and training. I thought I was making time for my sons, but the actual fact was that I was too busy with being a soccer coach to notice the small things.
It was probably the third or fourth monthly meeting where I had that lightbulb moment. When I went back recently to have a talk I could see that everyone is at different stages of the journey – the further along you get, you can see everyone’s progression and you realise that you have to go through the same steps – even when you don’t think you’ll ever change.
Mel, the director of the Hader Clinic Queensland, shared with me that there are four outcomes of rehabilitation:
- Win/win – where the client and the family are rehabilitated
- Win/lose – where the client is rehabilitated but the family isn’t
- Lose/lose – where both the client and family don’t succeed
- Lose/win – where the family succeeds but the client doesn’t
We’re at the “lose/win” stage, so whilst Brian isn’t rehabilitated, we’re all better than what we were by a long shot.
John is still an alcoholic even though he no longer drinks.
I found that I probably got more out of the clinic in terms of the relationship I now have with my husband, rather than my son.
Taking the power back in the relationship between myself and John provided a catalyst for change.
I have infinite patience but I was tired of nagging him to stop drinking. Eventually I was able to say to him, “I no longer want to put up with this”. I said, “I want to move on with my life and I don’t need you in it, but I want you there.”
And this is where he began to take me seriously. He sought help in the form of AA meetings and counselling.
He’s asked me if I ever worry if he’s going to drink again but I say, “That’s your choice honey. If that’s what you want to do, I’m not controlling you. You control yourself”.
The journey with him has been on and off and I can still see addictive tendencies.
I’ve come to realise that giving up alcohol or smoking isn’t a lifestyle burden, it’s a lifestyle choice that I make so I can better every day. You realise that there’s a connection to believing your addiction is love – the thing is that there are many types of love.
I looked forward to the family nights at the Hader Clinic Queensland which would often revolve around a workshop or different theme each month.
There was a great one about guilt, and enabling.
I thought I was at the lower end of being an enabler. I never gave him money. I guess I am in some way by maintaining that tiny bit of contact.
They also talk about the effect addiction has on other family members. My other son, Steve, is what’s known as a “ghost” – the person that doesn’t say anything and tries not to interfere. We’ve had to discuss with him. It’s really good to understand it.
I’ve also learned that nobody’s perfect and we’ve all got a bit of everything happening – I have learned heaps through watching how other families are coping.
I used to think that I just had a bad vibe – bad dad, bad boyfriends, bad first marriage. However, with counselling I learned that if I hadn’t been through that I wouldn’t have stayed with John or been able to cope with Brian. I have had enough experience now to stay “this is just another step”.
These are some of the key things I learnt:
- Sometimes I think you need awful experiences to cope.
- I have learned to become better around setting boundaries with Brian. He knows I won’t drop anything or stop my life to help him unless he asks. We’ve had a couple of meals together which was nice, but I don’t expect anything. In fact, I gave a talk at the clinic that night and described treating him like a cat. You have to ignore cats, then they’ll come to you.
- A lot of addicts say that they think you want to “fix” them but I truly want Brian to come to that conclusion himself. I tell him that I’m not there to solve his problems. Of course I would like more contact. He’s 19 – who cares about your mum at that age?
- There’s always someone else worse off than you. I’m just grateful that I met Mel, Olivia and the team at the Hader Clinic Queensland. Otherwise I’d have lost the plot with Brian.
My advice for families with loved ones suffering from addiction is:
- Cherish those monthly family meetings. If you need to go more, do so. Sometimes you don’t realise how they can help because you’re afraid. It’s all part of the package at the Hader Clinic Queensland – you do get out what you put in.
- Forgive yourself! That was my biggest lesson. Forgive!
- Nobody stays the same – even addicts. John is living proof that addicts can be trusted and often it’s great because they’re so predictable.
- Enjoy the good times. There’s lots of sh*t but there are good times too.
- Your life shouldn’t revolve around the addict. Put yourself first. This was easier said than done at first but I’ve just been on holidays – and spent money on myself.
- Everyone has an experience to offer and learn from even if it’s very different from yours.
- Sometimes what you think is a “place of love” is not that place at all.
- Learn about family dynamics and what to do about it. I was an enabler and John a persecutor.
I’m now looking towards the future with my family. I hope that Brian gains insight into his addiction and uses the tools given to him in rehabilitation and accepts that it’s up to him to change.
If you have a family member struggling with addiction and need help, I wholeheartedly recommend contacting the Hader Clinic Queensland. I cannot praise their family counselling programs enough. They have changed my life.
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