I love an addict. It’s probably the hardest job I’ll ever have. It’s much more difficult than staying at home with my toddler where I moonlight as a chef, laundry mat, maid, and personal assistant. It’s harder than that one summer that I stood out in the dusty road in the Florida sun directing traffic for a bunch of drunk people dressed up like witches and wearing kilts at the Renaissance Fair. And it’s definitely harder than the 60+ hour work weeks when I was a Case Manager watching families ripped apart and children taken from their home every day due to addiction and mental illness. Yup, loving an addict is much harder than that.
My first year as a case manager I met a little boy that my heart fell in love with. He was 5 at the time and both of his parents were addicts. His biological father lived on the streets somewhere and we were never able to locate him. His mom’s boyfriend (and the father of his half brother) was also an addict. His half brother went to live with his paternal grandparents and he was left in foster care. I watched him bounce from foster home to foster home for almost a year before I left that agency, never finding stability, love, or acceptance. I remember reaching out to both parents and mom’s boyfriend – trying to convince them to see their child to no avail. I remember thinking, “what the heck is wrong with you that you can’t stop what you’re doing to come and see your child, even if it’s only for one hour a week“. And I remember being so heart broken for this little boy and wishing that I could take him home and show him that he was worthy of a loving family.
But loving an addict? It’s even harder than that.
I didn’t know until I loved an addict, what struggles an addict faces every day. Externally they struggle with the pressure to be sober. The pressure of always trying to live up to their family’s (and the worlds) idea of what a functioning person is. They battle the stigma of being an addict because the vast majority of people haven’t yet gotten on board with the idea that drug and alcohol addiction is actually a disease. Even when they’re sober, they’re paying for their past mistakes, living in a world where they (rightfully so) are held accountable for all of the things they do when they’re using, but without the understanding that they’re never in their right mind when using, and so are they really the same person? The internal struggles stretch far beyond the external pressures and effect who they are as a person – something that I would never presume to be able to speak on.
I wish I had the answers to heal the hurt and abolish the pain – both for an addict and the people who love them. But I don’t. This isn’t an article where I’m going to tell you I have it all together and I’ve mastered the delicate balance between loving an addict without being taken advantage of. Although I always love my addict in my heart, I still struggle to use love as a verb and love them through their addiction. I struggle with the sober side too – repeating the mistakes of trusting too soon and giving too much, getting my hopes too high, and making plans too far in advance. So no, this isn’t an article where you’ll learn the 5 easy steps to pulling your loved one through addiction. Or how to master cutting the addict in your life off. Instead, these are the three most important lessons I’ve learned about loving my own daughter, through watching another mother trying to love her own.
Cherish time with her, even on the hard days. When my daughter is 20 minutes into her 3rd time out and hasn’t gotten the concept that if she gets up I reset the timer. When she’s broken things, spilled things, and colored on the walls with crayons. When she has potty accidents in her clothes all day but the second I sit down says, “mommy, please up I have to go potty”. When she hasn’t napped and we’ve been sleep training all week, we’re out of coffee, it’s midnight, and I’ve already put her back in her bed 6 times. Yes love her on those days. Loving an addict has helped me to remember that she may not always be around to annoy me or break things or not give me a second to breathe, and that now is my chance to cherish her while I can.
Don’t be defined by your wrongs. I strive to encourage my daughter to be whatever she wants to be, whether that’s a freelance mailman or a mechanical engineer. I want her to know that it’s never too late to choose who you want to be and become that. I encourage her to make choices, but also that she’s responsible for the outcome of those choices. I try to model this for her through taking responsibility for my own actions, and when needed, apologizing to her or anyone else. Because of that, before she could even talk, she would give a hug as a means of saying I’m sorry. Once she could speak, she learned that saying your sorry is important. And now that she’s starting to understand concepts, she knows to say she’s sorry and can tell you what she did that she’s sorry for. Yeah, that’s heavy for a 2.5 year old – but now is the time to begin teaching her so when she’s 15 and responsible for her own actions, she’s already had plenty of years of reinforcement. Loving an addict has taught me that I want my daughter to grow up to know that her actions do not define who she is and that she always has the chance to gain forgiveness for a wrong doing and change the course of her life.
We’re called to love. This is two part: Showing her she’s loved, but also showing her how to love others – both through respect and grace.
Showing her she’s loved. Christ loved us so much that he gave us his only son despite our sinful nature, inability to follow the rules, and conditional love toward him. So who am I to not love my daughter through her crap too? It’s not a perfect system. I still yell and act irrational when I’m upset with something, or will need a time out to regain my composure. But I’m hyper focused on always letting my daughter know that I love her no matter what she does. This isn’t to say that I don’t reprimand her wrong doings, tantrums, and acts of craziness. I do however try to start every punishment or explanation with, “I love you and I’m not mad at you”. She’ll still get her punishment, sit in time out, lose the toy, etc. It will just sound more like “I love you and I’m not mad at you, however you’re not allowed to throw your toy and now you need to sit in time out”. Loving an addict helps me to remember to always tell her I love her while I have the chance to.
Showing her how to love others. What people say or do does not make them less worthy of love. We’re not called to judge them, but rather to treat them with love, respect, and kindness. It’s important for my daughter to see me doing (not just talking about) these things. Whether it’s a server at a restaurant who keeps getting our order wrong, the cashier who’s too slow, or someone saying something hurtful, their wrong doing does not give us the right to retaliate. I want her to know that no matter what someone does to her, she is not their judge and is not the one to administer a sentence to them. Rather that she is to love and respect people despite their wrong doings, show kindness toward others, and give grace even to those who seem like they deserve it the least. Loving an addict has taught me that we never know the internal struggles that someone is facing or why they do the things they do, but that everyone deserves and needs grace and love.
So dear addict in my life, thank you. Because through your struggles I’ve learned that life is too short. I’ve watched you struggle day after day, year after year, only to begin the cycle again. I’ve watched you be hurt and hurt people, love and be loved by people, struggle to find affection in all the wrong places, only to be heart broken again. I’ve watched you be proud of yourself and your accomplishments, and I’ve watched you in your valleys – where there’s no where to go but up or 6ft under. And I’ve learned to always love and root for you, even at the detriment of myself. Because when someone is an addict, it doesn’t define who they are, as much as it defines who the people who love them are.
If your’e struggling with addiction, there is hope and help for you. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration: 1-800-662-HELP(4357) or online here.
If you’re struggling to love an addict through their addiction, there are programs for you too! One is Alanon, you can learn more here.
Romans 8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Not following Momming with Grace on Social Media? Don't miss out!
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