I don’t talk about my family much; at least not my parents. Anyone who knows me also knows I can’t meet someone new without telling them about my extraordinary wife and our two spastic doggos.
There’s a reason for that.
I’m the only child of a single mother with what used to be a relatively close-knit extended family; think cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Family life seemed pretty normal for me when I was younger and I don’t remember much conflict existing within that family outside of the drama that engulfed my divorced parents.
Teachers and classmates would likely characterize me as quiet and weird when I was kid. I was definitely a “momma’s boy.” We were close and I never expected that to change… until it did. I could never really figure out how to feel “normal” or “comfortable” in a group of people, or when I was by myself. In middle school I discovered a really easy way to get to the place I thought all the “normal” people were – it was using drugs.
I started using drugs daily right around 13 years old and that lasted for another 14 years. As my substance use progressed, my relationship with my family deteriorated. My mother tried desperately to help and in many cases, force me to get better. The small amount of money my grandfather had left for my education was poured into “behavioral modification” programs that promised positive outcomes. As you could probably guess, it didn’t work.
I continued on my own path well into adulthood and dealt with increasingly catastrophic consequences of my substance use disorder. It wasn’t until I was offered an opportunity to specifically address my trauma that I began to really progress into my recovery.
My decision to prioritize my health and wellness cemented my path forward in my recovery, but just because we start getting better, doesn’t mean the people around us will follow suit. I vividly remember the hours on hours of gut-wrenching communication with my wife who worked as hard as I did, if not more, to understand my condition and figure out a way to grow together from this awful set of circumstances. That’s what I believe it takes for families to heal.
My relationship with my mother is nothing like it was before I started using drugs, nor is it anything like the relationship we had when I was still using. I’m a different person than she remembers and the man that I’d become was and in most cases, still is unrecognizable to her. I can’t imagine what that must be like.
I’ve done my best to try to communicate with her about these things that keep us from deepening our relationship as parent and adult child, but at some point in the past few years, I’ve accepted that I cannot continue carrying that burden alone.
It’s obvious that my mom and my family care very deeply about me. I care deeply for them as well. My mother did everything she knew to try help me and I will forever be grateful for that commitment, but that’s not supposed to end when our loved ones enter recovery. In many cases, that’s just the first step towards family healing. From that point on, it takes commitment and accountability from the entire family to grow and get better together.
It’s common to hear parents of those living with substance use disorders say “I just want my kid back” — I used to feel a pang of guilt remembering my mom saying those exact words to me at several points while I was still using drugs. I felt guilty I wasn’t living up to her expectations for our relationship because of how much she’d sacrificed for me.
I’m at peace knowing I’m grateful for all my family has done to support me in my recovery. The woman who raised me sacrificed and suffered so I could have a chance at happiness. My mom didn’t get her son back, but I hope she’s proud of the man I became anyway; because I am.
Support your family as they make decisions to get healthier, even if it means you’ll have to put in some more work yourself. Even if it means they’re growing out of whatever you wanted them to be.