I can remember the moment I knew my mom needed real help. My parents had been divorced since I was 10 and for the next couple years she hid how out of control her problem had become. My sisters and I knew she partied, I knew she dated recklessly, and I knew she put us in bad situations constantly. But one afternoon she stayed home with us instead of going out and promised we would watch a movie together.
Before settling down onto the couch with me she disappeared into her room with a glass a water. I guess that’s when she took the pills. As the movie trudged along she became sleepier until she was passed out next to me. We wanted her attention and shook her arms to make her wake up and tried to ask her questions. Her eyes kept fluttering, but she was out for the next four hours.
It was the first she time I can remember her being that high with us there, and the first time I remember understanding that she was sick.
I felt so ashamed of myself for being angry with her and even more ashamed of her for being that destructive in front of us. For the next few years we lied and covered for her again and again. I started to realize that drug and alcohol addiction is a family disease, a problem that becomes so heavy the entire family begins to carry it.
Finally, when I was 16, we stopped going for visitations. She didn’t even fight us. She got worse. So did I. I started going to counseling when my parents saw that my natural nervousness had turned into a full blown anxiety disorder. For the next two years I went to counseling but still could not admit how angry I was with her. If she was really that broken, it made me feel like a part of me was broken because she made up part of who I am.
Whenever people would talk about her, I would defend her even though it made me feel sick inside. Coming to the end of year two in counseling my therapist pushed me to cross a bridge I had avoided thus far, she heled me understand what true forgiveness was. She explained that forgiveness was selfish in that it took my feelings out of the situation. It was the only way I was going to be able to move on with the rest of my life. She outlined a five point plan for me:
One of the first steps I had to take was understanding addiction as a disease. Addiction causes people to lie, cheat, steal, and in some cases even abuse people around them. My mom had put herself in sexual and financial situations that ruined her life. It took me forever to understand that my mom loved me, but she loved drugs more.
That’s why she wouldn’t stop, no matter how many times we begged her or how much she lost. I had to gain perspective on just how strong that hold could be. A part of me didn’t want to learn because I didn’t want it to somehow give her an excuse. She had to get to a point inside herself where she was finished and wanted help, it was something I couldn’t force her into.
I had to let go because holding onto it was making me sick. I had been in therapy and was a in a downward spiral. It was only getting worse, I pushed God away, was cutting, and made decisions with my life that I would never be able to change. I didn’t forgive my mom so that she would feel better, in fact she didn’t even know until years later. The only way I was open to healing and moving on was if I did it for myself, because forgiving someone and having a relationship with them is two completely different things.
2.) Asking for Support
My parents weren’t on board with me forgiving my mom. In fact, my dad still hadn’t completely faced his feelings regarding the situation and became super upset whenever I brought it up. To him, holding onto the pain and talking about it often was what my mom deserved. He felt like she would keep suffering because he was. So I turned to God. Praying was a huge part of keeping myself honest about the effort I was putting into feeling better.
I gave up parts of the pain to God and decided to move forward, it wasn’t as heavy to carry with him inside my heart. The first time I could really pray again after the divorce was after I decided to move on. It felt so cathargic and I knew I needed his help. A part of me had to find lessons in the pain so that I could reflect on what the experience taught me.
3.) Let Yourself Grieve
The main thing that I had to learn was to give myself time and let myself be angry. In many ways, I felt like the mom I knew had died when she started taking drugs. She wasn’t who she used to be, she didn’t have the same memories, and she definitely didn’t have the same priorities. I had to grieve the loss of someone I loved and reconcile with the idea of who she was now.
If you never face those emotions then they will just be pushed down until they explode someday at someone who doesn’t deserve it. If you are rekindling your relationship with the person who suffered the addiction, know that it’s a process. Forgiveness isn’t instantaneous, it’s a journey. Forgiveness definitely does not mean accepting bad behavior or giving them a pass.
4.) Find an Outlet
Teach yourself to deal with your anger and sadness constructively. For me, writing a letter to my mom and asking her questions helped. Then, instead of reading it to her and rehashing painful feelings to her, I would read the Bible and ask God to help me answer questions that felt were impossible to understand. It made me feel better and stronger with the Word behind me. I also started writing again to burn off negative energy and turn it into something positive.
5.) Do It for Yourself
If the person you are forgiving hasn’t made amends yet, you don’t have to wait for them. The person suffering from the addiction or recovering from one isn’t in charge of your feelings. Them feeling sorry about it doesn’t change how you can feel about yourself. Forgiveness takes the responsibility away from you to fix a situation that’s out of your control. Set boundaries, pray for them and the situation, and then allow yourself to move on.