Living with an addict is difficult at any age, but being the child of a drug-addicted parent can be downright devastating. Addiction is a disease that affects the entire family, and when you’re a kid in a household that’s controlled by drugs, you’re often faced with situations that nobody should ever have to deal with.
Maybe you missed out on opportunities other kids had simply because all the money went to buy drugs or alcohol, or maybe you were embarrassed by their behavior. Chances are good you wound up taking care of your parents while they were drunk, high or detoxing, and you likely had to fend for yourself at an early age. You may even have been neglected or abused. Most likely, they were simply absent.
All of those experiences you had as a child of drug-addicted parents might have had a big impact on who you are today and how you see the world. You probably have mixed feelings and vivid memories about your parents that include feelings of anger, resentment, and betrayal.
Holding on to those powerful emotions can leave you struggling with anxiety, depression, fear and perhaps even your own issues with addiction — if so, forgiving your parents could help you overcome the painful memories and toxic resentment that’s keeping you from achieving what you want in life.
Don’t Wait For An Apology
Denial is one of the most common, and most hurtful, characteristics of someone who is struggling with drug addiction. Many children of addicts make the mistake of waiting their whole lives for an apology from their parent. Unfortunately, that apology often never happens simply because of the addict’s failure to take responsibility for their actions.
If your parent does apologize, chances are good you’ll be left feeling less than satisfied with what they have to say. They may not fully understand how you’ve been impacted by their addiction or even remember the events that are permanently etched in your memory. They could underestimate how their addiction affected you or even blame the drugs for all their shortcomings as a parent – that’s likely to leave you feeling even more hurt and resentful towards them.
Making the choice to forgive your drug-addicted parents means making a conscious choice to let go of the negative thoughts and feelings you’ve been living with. Remember, it’s not about them — it’s about you and your future. You are the one who has been carrying the resentment. Forgiving them allows you to put that burden down.
Learn the Difference Between Forgiveness and Forgetting
Forgiving a person for treating you badly does not mean that you accept the fact that they were, and might still be, abusive, selfish and hurtful towards you.
Contrary to what you might believe, saying that you forgive your addicted parents is very different than accepting their destructive behavior or denying the impact their addiction had and continues to have, on you.
Making peace with the fact that they struggled with the disease of addiction simply means that you choose to let go of the anger and resentment you have been living with — it doesn’t mean you pretend their drug abuse didn’t affect you. It also doesn’t mean you should suddenly expect that your parent’s behavior has changed for the better or that you will now be able to have a healthy relationship with them.
Remember, forgiveness is a deeply personal choice that often involves processing painful feelings so that you can let go of the invisible chains that are holding you back from your own health, wellness, and prosperity.
Look for the Upside
While finding something positive to say about growing up with drug-addicted parents may seem impossible, that’s exactly what some children of addicts have been able to do.
Growing up as the child of addicted parents can mean you didn’t have the healthy adult role models you needed at home to develop high self-esteem, understand how to deal with your emotions and become a strong, resilient adult. While that means you might have faced more challenges than your peers, it’s not a lifelong sentence to living with resentment and anger — it can actually motivate you to become a better person than your parents were.
Chelsea Cameron, a young British woman who was raised by drug addicts, has taken forgiveness one step further by finding the positives in her parents’ addiction. In an open letter that posted on her blog, she begins with “Mum and Dad, Thanks for everything, I owe you.” She extends thanks to both her parents for, “teaching me that taking drugs ruins lives, breaks families apart and gives no one a quality of life worth living.”
Cameron goes on to say, “I’ll be eternally grateful for this lesson you have taught me, which has a message which has stuck by me until this day and always will. I have never and will never have a desire to take harmful substances, through your example.”
Remember — You’re Not Alone
Addiction is more common than you might realize. A recent study by the Pew Research Center revealed that 46 percent of U.S. adults reported having either a family member or close friend who currently is, or has been, addicted to drugs. The study also discovered that addiction impacted both men and women equally, and there were no notable differences in addiction rates based on political affiliations or ethnicity.
An estimated 28 million Americans grew up with addicted parents, and many of these children of drug addicts have found the support they need by sharing their experiences with others who have “been there.” Groups like Nar-Anon, a worldwide 12-step fellowship program for families and friends of addicts, hold meetings throughout the country, and some locations even have Narateen groups for young people.
Here at FHE Health, we know that addiction is a disease that impacts the whole family — that’s why we offer a variety of programs and services for families of addicts, including family psychotherapy and family dynamics classes.
Need Help Learning How to Forgive Your Drug-Addicted Parents? We’re Here For You
If you’re the child of a drug addict who needs treatment support, call us here at FHE or complete our online contact form. Our team of compassionate, experienced addiction experts is always available to talk, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.