In my present life, I welcome the opportunity to write on the topic of addiction, but this was not always the case. Life experiences, knowledge, and the healing of time have brought a clarity of thought and feelings to be shared. For some, this article may provide an opportunity to experience an inside view on addiction as well as new information and insight on the effect of addiction on families with a focus on how it challenges a parent’s love. For others, it may be an all too familiar page from the story of their life, a chronicle that validates personal experiences that occur when addiction comes to your home.
In today’s world, it is common to hear about addiction impacting a family. It affects the young and old, men and women, and good people in good homes. Families bear the shame that accompanies addiction. Parents grieve the loss of the dreams they had for their children. Their world turns inside out, and they start to doubt their worth as a parent.
Years ago, life seemed simpler. You were taught right from wrong; you kept your family close and followed the teachings of the Torah. That simpler way of living, built on sound principles, is challenged when the complexity of addiction and mental illness enters your life. Marriage and family descend into a foreign way of life. You feel disconnected and disrespected by the child that used to come to you to kiss away their hurt. Darkness crosses the threshold into your home. Shame seeps into the fiber of the family. Answering questions about your child’s absence from a holiday or wedding celebration brings dread and inner turmoil. The simple question, “How is the family?” leaves your stomach tied in knots. Do you tell the truth? Do you quickly change the subject or make an excuse? How do you explain it to them? More importantly, how do you explain to your other children their sibling’s behavior—how they dress, how they talk—and the arguments they might overhear? Your mind goes in a million directions all at one time. You smile as you recall the happy anticipation of your wedding day, of having a family to love, teach traditions, and build sweet memories. The joy changes to grief as you search for an explanation.
Please know that there is someone out there waiting to help you, waiting to help your child. Start the journey, if they are not ready to join you, start anyway. Support systems for parents are becoming stronger and more visible. The veil of shame that has covered the road of recovery for so many families is lifting. Find people who understand the heartache. Look for supportive people who do not cast judgment. Cry if you need to and laugh whenever you can.
If you have not had this personal experience but took the time to read this article, hold out your hand without judgment to someone who is in need, what greater mitzvah. There was a time—it seems very long ago—when I knew nothing of the world of addiction. My journey as a parent whose child faced addiction brought me to work in the field of substance use disorders and trauma. It has enriched my life beyond description. I am now an international speaker on addiction and trauma. In my work, I have seen the miracle of recovery happen over and over again. Parents and their children, whether they be adolescents, young adults, or adults, turn the corner away from addiction and once more find their seats at the Shabbos table.
If you are a parent, a family member, a friend, or a concerned person who recognizes that there is much to be done to dispel myths, educate and support those on the journey to recovery. Please, extend your hand to them and join your heart with theirs for together we can do what no one should have to do alone. Addiction may challenge a parent’s love, but it does not have the power to stop it.
Alberta Montano-DiFabio is the Clinical Director of Recovery at the Crossroads in Turnersville, New Jersey, providing state of the art treatment while honoring the culture and traditions of Jewish heritage.