How To Express Love When Addiction Gets in the Way, From a Mom

I am a mother of an adult child who struggles with addiction. I am a voice of pain, a voice of love, a voice of hope, a voice of fear. A voice of a mother who has spent more time looking for her son to be someone else rather than seeing him for who he truly is. …

He almost died. So many die. In my small corner of the world 9 kids I’ve known and loved have accidentally overdosed. In the past year. That’s nine sets of grieving parents, some of whom have told me, (me?) “I wish I’d have gotten the chance to say I love you, to say I see you…..oh Barbara, tell your kids you love them.”

There is one thing I know: our children, even our adult children, need our love — no matter how lost they are, no matter how unloveable they feel, a parent’s love can be lifesaving.  Sometimes, especially during the heated throes of our child’s addiction, that love can be hard for us to express. All the more necessary for them to know it exists.

But how?

**How do we express love to one who’s caused us so much grief, frustration, and pain?

—>We can start by listening. Listening can be an act of love.

**What if we can’t fathom being in the the same room with our adult child?

—>Then we owe it to ourselves and them to listen to kids in solid recovery.

Kids in recovery have gained insight from their own struggles.

Kids in recovery are open to sharing the inner turmoil and shame that ransacked their lives during their addictions.

Kids in recovery tell us they didn’t want to hurt us, or lie, or steal…they teach us that their actions were not personal,

Kids in recovery remind us that there was nothing we could’ve done to stop them from using.

They explain that a family’s love is vital to their survival.

They answer questions with clear eyes and open hearts.

Because we are not talking with our own children, we are more relaxed and open — less afraid and guarded. We find ourselves able to listen (and hear) their stories. Invariably, we see similarities with our own kids. We gain a new perspective on our own kids’ and we start recognizing them for who they really are, in all of their complexities.

I want to be a voice of the kids suffocating in their own addictions who silently beg for their parents’ love.

I want to be a voice of the parents who’ve lost their own, with words of love unspoken.

I want to be a voice of kids in solid recovery who need to be heard.

As my son began his descent into the cycle of his addiction I saw him as someone I wanted him to be, rather than who he actually was. I said what I hoped would change the subject and asked him questions where there was only 1 right answer.

“Hey, son, you doing ok?”


“School going ok?”


The right answer was the one which fortified my denial.  He, of course, played along. I didn’t want to know things weren’t ok. Didn’t want to think he was in pain, or having trouble in school, or feeling bullied.  I had so much going on in my life….the divorce, my writing…..I made a habit of burying the truth at every turn. Listening to my rationalizations instead of my child.

How alone he must’ve felt. How unmoored. How sharp the divide growing between us.

As he descended even deeper into his addiction — losing jobs, losing weight, losing his mind, I was blinded and paralyzed by the fear of what may be the truth. That my boy was suffering, struggling, lost in the dark and moving farther away from me with every breath. His cries for help unheeded.  He was a stranger to me, until I had a random talk with a kid in recovery and my reality shifted – I saw my son with new eyes.

And that’s why I started TruthTalks™ workshops. To help other parents learn about their own kids from those who’ve been there. In TruthTalks™ workshops, parents listen, kids in recovery talk.  There is a lowering of defenses in this safe place, a heart opening when dialogues happen…..I see parents’ faces soften as empathy grows for their adult children. I see the warm water relief washing over a kid in recovery after he’s told his story. After he’s heard. Listened to. Seen. Forgiven.

That’s only the beginning.

As we come to see our kids through different lenses and hear them through new ears, hope is born.

I used to be a voice of denial. These days, I am a voice of truth.

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