I was chatting with another mom who is a casual acquaintance. During the course of that conversation, I mentioned that my oldest child was an alcoholic and had struggled with substance abuse issues since he was a teenager. She looked at me in surprise and said, “Oh my goodness, you must feel so guilty!”
I have had a lot of different reactions from people over the years when I share that information. I’ve had people respond by talking about a loved one of theirs in a similar situation. I’ve had others comment on how difficult it must be. I’ve had some awkwardly change the subject. I’ve never had anyone imply that my child’s addiction was something I should feel guilty about.
When I responded by saying “No, not at all,” the look on her face told me that was even more surprising to her than my initial statement. That’s part of the reason why I am so open about it. I believe we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. My words could be just what another person needs to hear to help them with their loved one. Until the stigma around addiction is lifted too many people live in shame.
We hear our coworkers and our carpool buddies talk about their children’s accomplishments on a daily basis. We rarely hear someone come in on a Monday morning talking about how they had to bail their daughter out of jail after a DUI. Parenting is a tough job on a good day. On a bad day we need the support of others in order to make it through.
It was meeting other women who had been in my shoes and did not bat an eye at the events I described to them who helped me realize that our family was not unique, I was not alone, and that I was not a bad mother. They were the beacon of light that I needed when everything seemed dark and I try to return the favor by letting my own truth shine.
People fear what they don’t understand. If you’ve never had personal experience with addiction, it’s easy to demonize the nameless faceless people who suffer from it. It’s harder to be disgusted when it’s the boy down the street, your best friend’s nephew, or your co-workers son. Everybody knows somebody whose family is touched by addiction — they just may not realize it.
Addiction is a disease, not a character defect or a moral failing. No one would dream of asking a mom of a child with cancer or diabetes if they felt guilty. An addict’s mother is no more responsible for her child’s illness than they are.
Mommy guilt is an insidious thing. We are never doing enough, having enough, trying enough or even simply being enough. It’s disheartening that we place such a burden on ourselves. We don’t need to make that load any heavier by piling onto someone else’s. Dealing with addiction is difficult enough. We don’t need to deal with someone’s judgment as well.
Parenting mistakes do not cause addiction. If they did, everyone would be an alcoholic or an addict because no parent is perfect. I don’t need to feel responsible for or embarrassed by my child because he is not a reflection on me (and also for the simple fact that he is not an embarrassment). I have a lot of different feelings towards my son — compassion, worry, regret, hope, sometimes anger, always love. Guilt is not one of them.