By: Cheryl Steinberg and Nicole Armstrong
The following interview was given by a woman – a mother – who has been around both addiction and recovery most of her life. With one daughter in recovery and another on Suboxone maintenance, we at Palm Partners thought getting a parent’s perspective on the disease of addiction and recovery could be helpful for other parents.
Our interviewee asked to remain anonymous so we’ll call her Susan. Susan grew up in a two-parent household with an older sister. Their father was an active alcoholic and addict for much of her upbringing but now has 30 years of sobriety.
A normie, herself, Susan later married a man who would later die from the disease of addiction. They have two daughters.
Palm Partners: What is your family history with addiction and alcoholism?
Susan: I was raised by an addict and I married an addict and then I raised two addicts. So it’s been a world of experience, so to speak. When I was young, I can remember my mom became active in [Al-Anon] and when I was about 13 years old, she would take us – me and my older sister – to Alateen meetings; even then I didn’t fully understand even though I was given information about the disease. It didn’t really register.
Do you think that addiction is hereditary?
Yes, I definitely think that addiction is hereditary – (jokingly) no, we just got a cursed family tree!
Do you go to any support groups, such as al-anon and was it helpful going to these groups?
I’m not actively attending meetings now but yes I did find it very helpful. For one, I find it very comforting to be able to sit in a room full of other people who I don’t need to explain what’s going on with me to because they understand. Someone can say something and I can totally relate to them and they can totally relate to me.
Do you think the environment contributes to addiction? What’s your opinion on Nature vs. Nurture?
I think [environment] has some effects but I wouldn’t say that it makes you or doesn’t make you an addict; I believe that it is in you. I was exposed to addiction as a child and I went the other way and didn’t become an addict, I became the person who takes care of the addict – the co-dependent. I do believe being in a household with addiction has its affects but does it make you an addict? Absolutely not.
What’s your advice to parents with a child who is actively using?
Go to an Al-Anon meeting and learn all you can about the disease and get support. Also go to an open AA or NA meeting, I found that to be very enlightening.
How did the rest of your family react and deal with addiction?
My sister – since she is less knowledgeable of addiction – her reaction a lot of the time can be anger. My parents always are very supportive and sometimes can be a little co-dependent with me even with all their knowledge. With my husband[‘s addiction] it was very clear cut with getting him well and with my daughters it definitely almost became a NEED for them to be fixed by my father. It became much more important, not sure if that was because of my husband’s death or because he is an addict, too. Almost as if [my dad] felt like it all started with him and spiraled from that; like in some ways he had guilt about it.
Is it an open topic in your family?
Yes, very much so.
What is your experience with a child in recovery and one not in recovery?
Because I believe in recovery and I believe in the program and that it works – I’ve seen it work – that is my wish for both of my children. I try not to judge and as long as I don’t feel one of them is using; I try to be supportive. But because I have seen what recovery can do to transform someone and change their life, that’s what I would want for both of them. I see my recovering daughter and I see the changes in her life, then I see my other daughter and I see some changes in her life but I still feel like she struggles and I don’t [think that] she’s totally happy; I feel that that’s because she hasn’t fully dealt with everything and doesn’t have a proper support system. I feel that is crucial to being able to succeed.
What makes you different?
I’m different when it comes to chemicals, I don’t have that in me. I am the other side of the coin; I am the one that tries to fix [others].
When did you know it wasn’t normal and it had become a problem with your husband and then your children?
With my husband, in some ways I feel like I always knew. I remember going to my first Al-Anon meeting and listening to the other women talk and how they laughed about what their addict was doing and they seemed okay with it and I thought they were crazy. I remember leaving thinking they’re crazy and I’m not going to be one of them. So I went home and was miserable again for a few more years until I went back and thought they’re onto something here and I finally accepted what I already knew.
With my oldest child, I have to honestly say I don’t know how I didn’t know, but I did not know. I must have been living on a cloud or something but, I had no idea and when I found out I was shocked. With my youngest child, it wasn’t until my oldest child entered rehab that I noticed she had a problem [too]. When you have two active addicts, one is always worse and the worse one ends up making the other one look well. When one was really bad, I didn’t notice problems with the other and vice versa. And I think that’s a big problem for people with two children who are addicts.
What are your thoughts on allowing children to experiment with drugs, knowing the family’s history with addiction?
I think the only way that a parent would be okay with that would be because they didn’t have enough knowledge about the consequences.
Do you recommend parents allow kids to drink at home and be open about it?
In a household of people who aren’t a family with a history of addiction, I think that’s okay. I think if a child can see how a normal person interacts with drinking that it can be healthy for them to see that. But that would only work for someone who doesn’t have addiction issues.
What was your best resource when your kids needed help?
My father, in some ways he was probably my crutch because of his knowledge and experience [as a recovering alcoholic/addict].
How do you feel about being the go-to person for help with addiction?
It makes me feel good. It’s nice to be able to share my experience in a positive manner to be able to help other people. With this disease and being a parent, I’ve always felt like when you’re making decisions so many times what feels like is the natural response as a parent, isn’t the best response dealing with an addict. And that is a hard thing for a parent to come to grips with so if I can help them with what I’ve already learned, then that’s a nice feeling.
Did you turn religion or a higher power to cope with everything?
I pray more now and that’s something I didn’t do before. Not religion so much but more of a higher power type of thing.
Did your children have a religious upbringing?
What’s your take on AA and fellowship?
I fully believe in the program of AA and the benefits that can be achieved by going to the meetings and working [the] program. In my experience, it is what appears to make the addict be able to live a happy and healthy life.
What is your take on Suboxone?
For detoxing, I find [Suboxone] to be very beneficial. I believe that it can be beneficial in maintenance related issues in some cases, but I feel that it would really need to be closely monitored because you are dealing with addicts.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. Palm Partners can help.