Our son is in recovery from addiction but still struggles with feelings of low self-worth and wonders if he can ever truly be forgiven. It has been a heart-wrenching experience for us, as well.
I, personally, have seen my own emotions rise and fall with his successes and setbacks and recognize that I am probably on the unhealthy side of preoccupation with his challenges. The family support meetings I attend help tremendously, but I still struggle. In many ways, he is still at the center of my happiness universe.
I am a smart woman and understand about surrendering my worries and fears. However, making it happen is a much more difficult endeavor. I don’t think I have ever struggled as much with letting go as I have with this.
My question is: What is the correct model for a mother who would give her life for her child? I recognize that much of my energy is sucked into fretting over how my son is doing. (Is he happy? Is he safe? Is he progressing? Does he need my counsel?) But letting go of all of that feels terrifying.
It’s as if I were letting go of the steering wheel on a car that needs my direction. My better sense tells me that none of that is true and that I should let go. But I don’t know how. How much should I let go? What should I let go of? What is my responsibility to my child?
The idea of letting go of a child who is clearly in danger goes against every parental instinct. Your brain understands that holding on to your son in this way isn’t good for him or for you. Your heart, on the other hand, overrides logic and keeps both of you stuck and afraid. Your heart is good, and I want to help you leverage the love you have for your son so you can truly do what’s in his best interest.
First, recognize that there isn’t a way to fully detach yourself from your son’s struggles or successes. You’re going to hurt when he hurts, and you’re going to rejoice when he’s doing well.
It’s the roller coaster of emotions we all sign up for when we become parents. You don’t want to create a world where you’re emotionally untouched by your son’s life. This doesn’t mean that his life directs your life. It means that you are still full of compassion and concern for your son.
It’s important for your son, as an addict, to see how his behavior affects other people. If you were indifferent all of the time and pretended that nothing he did affected you, then how would he ever learn empathy? This is a critical skill individuals in recovery from addiction must learn.
It’s been said that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection. Your joy and sorrow is something he should experience as part of his recovery journey.
Letting go doesn’t mean you stop caring about your son.
Letting go simply means that you recognize the limits of what you can do for him.
You already have plenty of practice letting your son go. I’m guessing you let him go to school when he was little, let him go to summer camp, let him drive your car as a teenager and let him have experiences without your direct influence. The same trust you had in him to let him go in these examples is the same trust you can continue to exercise.
Your son has been weakened by addiction, but if you treat him like he’s weak, he will never heal.
Your fear tells you that he’s powerless and will only get better if you do something for him. The truth, however, is that your son needs to honestly answer one simple question if he wants to heal his addiction. The question is, “Do you want to get well?”
Let him answer this question and take responsibility for the answer. It’s a question only he can answer. We know how you would answer that question. However, we don’t know how he’ll answer it. You can ask him and then allow him to move the direction of that answer.
Your influence matters, and you shouldn’t give up facing his direction and extending love and concern to him. However, you can’t keep chasing him and answering that question for him. If he honestly answers “yes” to that question, then he will align his life by getting the support he needs from professionals, spiritual advisers, support groups, education and family.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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