Shame and isolation are two unwelcome companions in the daily lives of parents of young addicts. There’s the shame of having a child who is heading for “jail, not Yale.” There’s the shame of having intensely negative feelings about the child you love. And there’s the shame of descending into dysfunctional parenting: enabling, screaming, lecturing, threatening and seething with resentment 24/7. This abundance of shame tends to isolate parents. After all, what kind of parent wants to admit that their child is making them crazy? Or that they hate the kind of parent they’ve become? Well-meaning friends offer parenting advice that would never work for a child who doesn’t recognize or care about consequences. And because your friends have never been pushed to the brink by a child with out-of-control behavior — such as lying, stealing, punching holes in walls, getting arrested and being put on psychiatric holds — you’re probably not comfortable telling them that you often feel you’re losing your mind. Walking alone in shame can have a terrible effect on your mental and physical health. And if you’re feeling desperate and out of control, you’re going to have a hard time helping your child — not to mention doing your job and focusing on the other relationships in your life. Here are five ways the Al-Anon program can help you regain your sanity and start to enjoy life again:
- Lack of judgment. Where else can you stand up in front of a room full of people and say you’re relieved your kid spent the weekend in jail because it bought you a few days of peace? And no one bats an eye? It’s a relief to be able to speak freely and know that no one will judge you, your kid or your parenting.
- Validation. Newcomers often hear “you’ve come to the right place.” No matter how bad you think your story is, every Al-Anon member has a similar story, or one that’s even worse. Only people who’ve walked in your shoes can understand the level of fear, desperation and anger common to parents of addicts and out-of-control teens. The empathy and support you gain from a room of your peers can go a long way to divesting you of shame and making you realize you’re not alone.
- Boundary-setting. Most parents of young addicts have trouble setting boundaries. They resort to inconsistent parenting, veering from enabling to empty threats. Al-Anon meetings are a great place to learn effective limit-setting techniques from more established members.
- Get your life back. You’ve come to Al-Anon because your life revolves around managing the chaos in your home. You spend so much energy putting out fires — confiscating drugs and weapons, calling 911, locking up your valuables, and more — that you’ve neglected your marriage, your other children, and you’ve forgotten how to have fun. Working the Al-Anon program can help you accept that you can’t control the addict and learn to disengage from your worries about his or her outcome.
- Have a sense of humor. Living with an active addict, or worrying about one who’s living on the street, is emotionally wrenching. When was the last time you laughed or felt that it was OK to laugh along with your heartache? You’ll hear a lot of laughter in Al-Anon meetings. Members will assure you that nothing productive is gained by walking around with a dark cloud over your head. Having a sense of humor about the absurdity of it all can lift your spirits and give you the stamina to face what’s coming your way.
Going to a 12-step program such as Al-Anon can give you the support you need to regain a sense of control over the most important person in your life: yourself.