My name is Janine and I am a parent in recovery from the effects of my daughter's drug and alcohol use. Today, I am strong, I am proud, and I am grateful. I didn't always feel this way. I was anxious, broken, terrified, and numb with grief. I felt ashamed, guilty, isolated, alone, and at times invisible. Then other times I felt like I stood out in a crowd with a sign over my head that read “parent of a drug addict.” And I kept it all to myself.
I avoided friends, other parents, people I had known for years. I was totally ashamed, feeling like a failure. While other parents were talking about what college their child was going to or where they were doing their internship or where they were traveling, I would want to scream! I couldn't be part of these conversations. I couldn't share and be honest about what was going on in my life with my child. I felt like everyone knew and they were judging me and my family. The weight of it was suffocating. I felt so alone, so isolated, so ashamed, and I wasn't even the addict!
Then it occurred to me that when and if, by the grace of God, my daughter gets sober how can she be successful in her recovery if she is never "allowed" to put this behind her? If she will always be judged and identified as an addict and not accepted back into society when she is in recovery, then where is the motivation to stay in recovery? Without forgiveness, acceptance, and support there would be no success. There would also be an ongoing stigma for the families affected. How successful would they be in their recovery? There needed to be more awareness. There needed to be an open dialog among us all. I needed to speak up.
It was with my daughter's encouragement that I was finally able to speak up. She provided me with her story to be read at a community drug awareness event. Still feeling the "blame and shame" I was very nervous about doing it. It was only after my daughter said, "Mom, you have to do it, people are dying" that I knew I could. At that moment, I never felt more love, pride and admiration for my daughter. My beautiful, smart, compassionate, and beloved daughter lifted my shame and gave me the strength and courage to stand before a packed auditorium and I began with the words, "I am the proud parent of a recovering addict and alcoholic."
Telling our stories was empowering. It broke down walls for many parents that felt as I did. They were no longer alone in their pain, grief, confusion, and heartache. So many people have said thank you for sharing your stories. They had felt so alone, ashamed, and hopeless. Many now felt hopeful.
There are also many people that cannot talk about this. They don't want to see themselves in other people’s stories. They are afraid, afraid that it could be their child, that it could happen to their family, to someone they love or even themselves. When I encounter these people, I try not to get offended, angry or impatient. I try not take it personally and get defensive. I try to live by this quote, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." This applies to everyone without exception. You never know what is happening in someone else’s life.
Being open and honest heals the soul. To this day, I can't quite believe I came out on the other side of the nightmare that was my beautiful child's addiction. I pray she stays on this side. I know this is not all sunshine and fairytales, but today is a good day and I need to believe that tomorrow will also be a good day. Change your thoughts, change your life.
As “the affected” we struggle with guilt, shame, and disappointment. However, in our wildest dreams we could never imagine the depth of guilt, shame, and disappointment an addict deals with and struggles to overcome every day. If your loved one is in recovery accept them, support them, be grateful, and celebrate the beautiful beings they are. There is so much to be learned from a person in recovery, from both the addict and the affected loved one. There is an incredible amount of strength, bravery, insightfulness, awareness, compassion, and gratitude that is possessed, the majority of people will never quite understand this.
Forgive your loved one and forgive yourself. Support each other and hold on to hope. By letting go of my shame and guilt I hope I can help my daughter to let go of hers.
In spite of the pain, struggle, and broken hearted grief I lived through, I am thankful and grateful because I am stronger, more insightful, and even more empathetic than I ever would have been if I didn't experience this. My daughter is the love of my life. She and I are closer and more bonded in a way we never would have been under normal circumstances. People heal, relationships heal, hearts and souls do heal.