I have seen these blogs before about dropping kids off at college and how hard it is to send your baby away to another state, so far away, for the first time. Letting go, letting them make mistakes, not being there to protect them. Did we teach them enough? Will they get proper nutrition for the year? Will they make it to class on time? Will they be lonely? The list goes on.. and on…
And I get it. I really do. Letting go of our kids is one of the absolute hardest parts of being a parent. The phone calls from our daughters on the side of the road at night with a flat tire, totally lets us know that they absolutely are not ready to be on their own. Or so we think when we drop them at a four-year university with all the hopes in the world that they will become “successful” in life one day.
THE OTHERS Then in the dark corners of America sits a portion of families that live a quiet, fear filled nightmare, and their thoughts aren’t “will they get the proper nutrition for a year”, their thoughts are “will they live to see the sun come up tomorrow.” Those families, that send their child off to a drug rehab, instead of a dorm room, those families are the ones I am speaking to.
I hear you, I feel your pain, you are NOT alone, and you will make it through this nightmarish hell we find ourselves in. There is no one and done piece of advice I can give you. I can only tell you that, the feeling of being alone in this, can be crushing and you are not alone.
Traumatized and humbled If I could come up with two words to describe all my feelings over the last few years, it would be traumatized and humbled. Let me start with the humbled part.
All parents know they aren’t perfect; we have regrets, things we wish we could take back, things we wish we did that we didn’t. So, whenever our children make some pretty bad decisions, we naturally begin to question what we could have done differently. Where did we go wrong?
To be honest it could be any number of things, but I guarantee you that every parent will feel guilt and shame when they uncover their child’s drug use. Guilt because we are certain it was something we could have prevented if we had just ___________ (fill in the blank). And shame because the stigma of drug addiction is alive and well in our beautiful culture of forgiveness and love.
Humbled So, to find ourselves in this position it automatically humbles us, even if we don’t want to be. We don’t typically hold our heads up high at some party, with a glass of champagne in our hands and boast about which university our child is attending. No, it’s quite the opposite. We will avoid these things in order to not put ourselves in the position of being asked “so where is your son attending college and what is his major?” Uh, the school of Hard Knocks and Bad Decisions and his major is Trying to Stay Alive! Yup, it’s humbling alright. And polarizing.
The traumatized part is this…EVERYTHING else. Legit facts right there. Everything else you uncover, see, smell, hear, come across, dream about, all of it is traumatizing in connection to your child. Your very own home, your safe place, can be a place of trauma. Some parents find their child unconscious on the floor and must call 911, or administer Narcan, or watch their other kids uncover their sibling dying on the ground. It’s ugly. And traumatizing. And sometimes you wish that each time you shut your eyes to sleep, you will wake up and it will be different. It won’t be your life. This won’t be your new name: “the parent of an addict”
So, when we finally, at the end of a very long dark scary road, get to drop our child off at a rehab, the first sense we feel is relief. But that is quickly replaced by a plethora of unpleasant feelings. The guilt, shame, trauma, humility, fear, and a substantial feeling of loss, to name a few, creep into our psyche and stay there for quite some time.
So no, I don’t feel super bad for the parent that says goodbye to their child at college. I wish with every fiber in my being that my child was doing that well, that he wasn’t suffering deeply enough to be on death’s door. I wish my biggest concern for him was nutrition or friends and maybe the worry of an occasional party getting out of hand. No, our worries are way darker, deeper, longer lasting. Ours are a lifetime of worry. Not a semester or a 4-year degree. Ours feel eternal and dismal.
If you just dropped your child off at a detox program or a rehab, listen to me, please. You will make it through this. You will live to see the other side of this. You will survive the grief and shame and you will come out stronger. If you can attend a family rehab event, if you can talk to their counselor and even find your own, do it! Do everything you need to in order to stay well. They need you well. Your child needs you to be rested, restored, supported, mentally and emotionally stable for the months and years to come.
I once had a friend say to me “Heather, you are the mothership of this home and you are sinking. The mothership CANNOT sink.” In other words, do whatever you have to do, to not let this sink you. Your mental health is every bit as important as your child’s. You are not alone in this battle. You are not alone in this war. You are not alone. Even if you feel you are alone, you are not.
*Nar-Anon meetings are held all throughout the United States and they are a wonderful support for those who love an addict. Please find one close to you and try it out. If that one doesn’t work for you, try a different one.