Story 7

Understanding Common Traps

“You are ruining my life. If it wasn’t for you, I would be fine. You are the worst parent in the world.”

The addicted brain is smart, it is clever, and most of all, it is relentless. Reasoning and logic most often don’t work with an addicted brain. The disease will fight to survive. This isn’t polite stuff. This disease plays hardball. There are no rules.

A core strategy for the addicted brain is to attack YOUR vulnerabilities, to push you away from the problem so that the disease can live and thrive. Stevie’s addicted brain knew my vulnerabilities and took full advantage to get what it needed.

He Exploited My Fear and Guilt. He would say terrible things to me: “You are the cause of my depression”, “You are ruining my life”, “If it wasn’t for you, I would be fine”, “You are the worst parent in the world’.

Every one of those attacks was a body blow. I became so afraid, afraid that I would make a mistake and he would respond by hurting himself.

I also desperately wanted to have a relationship with my son. The tactics all worked. These comments caused me to give in, to back off, and to allow the addiction to thrive.

He Divided My Wife and Me. Those suffering from substance use disorders often try to separate their parents and caregivers, play one off the other, if they are not exactly on the same page in terms of parenting decisions. Early on, most couples are not on the same page. This has the parents fighting with each other instead of focusing on their child.

At one point, our four oldest children conducted an intervention – not for our son, but for us! They begged us to stop fighting, begged us to get on the same page to save our family, our marriage and to better help our son.

He Expertly Used Dishonesty. Like it was yesterday, I remember my son walking into the kitchen and my wife saying to him; “You have been drinking.” He denied it.

I then asked him: “Were you drinking?” He quickly turned to me and said: “I am looking you straight in the eye and telling you that I did not drink. I cannot believe my own father doesn’t believe me when I am looking you straight in the eye.” It worked. I believed him.

I was wrong.

Hard and painful lessons came with every one of those experiences.

But the toughest lesson, for me, was the slow and humbling realization that it wasn’t just Stevie who had to change.

My Parenting Approach Needed to Change. In my life and my career, I was a fixer, a problem solver. My strength was analyzing a situation, finding a solution, and fixing the problem. That was my thing.

I thought I was helping my son. I even thought I was saving my son. But the reality was that I was an enabler for my son’s addiction. I am still embarrassed to admit that during his outpatient treatment process, I actually engaged in and encouraged a conversation with him about moderate drinking. I had such a hard time saying no to him. He was so convincing. But, in the previous six months, he had overdosed on alcohol twice and had developed life threatening depression. How could I possibly support such a conversation?

It was just so easy for me to lose perspective.

Handling these situations is difficult on many levels for parents and guardians. It is heartbreaking, maddening, and often demoralizing. The need for perspective and peer and professional feedback is a fundamental reason why professional help and Parent Group meetings are so valuable.