Sunday, March 25, 2012

Parenting and addiction

We are at another juncture regarding T's substance abuse problem. I'll be honest that I hesitate to write about this, because I am deeply regretful about all of the older children in foster care who never find a lasting home because people fear the problems that plague abused children. Topping that list of problems is substance abuse and the mental health issues that often underpin and accompany it. So I will begin as I sometimes do by saying that nothing I am about to say causes me to regret being part of his life. (A biological parent with an addicted child would never have to give that explanation, and I love him just as strongly as any biological parent loves their child.) Amidst all of his confusion, he deserves unconditional love and recognition.

Right now, T is in outpatient substance abuse treatment and doing poorly. He did okay for awhile. He goes three times a week for four hours for a variety of individual and group therapy, drug testing and life skills sessions. Lately, he goes, but he continues to use drugs and alcohol, and he shows no signs of taking treatment seriously. (I would have liked to have had him in residential treatment, but he would not go voluntarily, so this intensive out patient treatment was an acceptable compromise at the time.)

As a friend said to me once, "Nobody becomes an alcholic because they like the taste of alcohol," meaning that there are complex issues that underpin all addiction. Certainly that is true of T. I won't even recap them here, because they are often the focus of this blog. Suffice it to say, his abuse history and mental health issues are inextricably linked to his substance abuse. I have no idea which comes first - is he abusing drugs because he has bipolar disorder and major depression, or is he failing to develop sane habits because he is an addict? In many ways it doesn't matter. The link between prolonged child abuse and addiction is well-established and harrowing. He needs to get out of his own head and escape thoughts and memories he can't process. He wasn't taught social and problem-solving skills. He learned early to use substances to find relief. As it always does, that addictive behavior escalated in his adolescence, leading to a host of problems.

T tries hard not to...poop where he sleeps, to borrow and slightly sanitize a phrase. But the chaos of his ill judgment eventually makes its way into our home. Recently he appears to have graduated from marijuana to pills, something we're sure he picked up in the treatment program, where he's been trading cigarettes for something that causes him to return home giddy and unnaturally social. He commits small crimes - begging gas money to get to treatment and spending it on cigarettes that he trades for drugs. That of course means we had to rescind his driving privileges, and that means if we want him to continue treatment, we have to take three afternoons off work each week to get him there as the facility is an hour away. He disobeys our requests, lately doesn't show up for treatment, and sometimes doesn't come home at night. He is still gentle and loving and if you talk to him about his behavior, he's very quick to recognize that there's a problem. But his self-awareness doesn't do any good - the circuitry that leads to self-governance simply isn't working. Unless and until he makes a choice to be sober, he isn't able to make any other progress or find any peace.

Parental love is a powerful thing, and it compels us to seek every avenue of assistance we can think of. At the same time, I am very familiar with the point of view that one must let go and allow the addict to determine whether or not to seek help. But let's be honest: it is nearly impossible for a parent to be that objective with a child. Addiction and mental illness are hell, and it is terribly painful and difficult to see your child enveloped in that kind of confusion. He has weeks where he is able to abstain and manage himself, and that makes the inevitable return of chaos and confusion all the more painful. I don't subscribe to a strict tough love frame of mind. I can indeed be tough - I have taken his keys, his phone, and his computer, cancelled his car insurance, rescinded his driving privileges and refused him rides around town. I won't enable him and I won't endanger him by expecting him to be capable of things that he's demonstrated he can't handle. But I believe that if he could do better, he would. He isn't willing things to be this way.

1 comment:

GB's Mom said...

"But I believe that if he could do better, he would." Such a powerful statement!

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