When your mother faces a drug or alcohol addiction, Mother’s Day might not be a holiday that you look forward to. You might feel a sense of hopelessness, sifting through a seemingly endless array of Mother’s Day cards, never finding one that describes her. Maybe you feel slighted, thinking this day hardly matters when you’ve spent your life supporting her.
Mother’s Day might seem less like a joyous holiday and more of a painful reminder of your daily life. On holidays and weekends and most day of the year, you’ve carried the weight of her addiction in more ways than one. You’ve been there when it’s inconvenient, or when it’s meant making sacrifices that no child should have to make. Maybe there have been days when you’ve had to reassure yourself that, “She still loves me,” when she seems to love drugs more.
Mother’s Day may be devoted to your mom, but it may also be a difficult day for you. As this holiday approaches, it’s understandable to be sad, anxious or upset about society’s celebration of the ideal mother, of which you might feel you never had. However hard this day is, keep these truths in mind:
Contemporary Images of Motherhood Rarely Reflect Reality
In the weeks preceding Mother’s Day, the retail world is often the first to remind you of what motherhood is “supposed” to look like: moms are happy and healthy individuals who live in harmony with their darling children. This fantasy may be a reality for some, but for many families, it remains unrealistic. Images of loving, joyful mothers and their children can seem like a mockery when your mom struggles with addiction. These idealistic representations of mothers may trigger feelings of anger, shame, or guilt, and it can be difficult to not compare your own mother-child relationship to this seemingly unrealistic standard.
Before you let these feelings sink in too far, remember that even the happiest of families don’t usually look like the advertisements that you see. Motherhood tends to be full of trials and tribulations of all kinds, all of which are less than picturesque. You might not see your mom reflected in Mother’s Day marketing, but that doesn’t mean that most mothers are perfect. Although drug or alcohol addiction may not be part of the picture for some families, it can be a silent struggle that many mothers face.
Her Addiction Is a Disease
Maybe your mother has been an alcoholic since before you could walk, or you’ve never known a time when her purse wasn’t stocked with a stash of “extra” prescription opioid pills. Maybe she can’t seem to make it through the day without marijuana, or heroin, or some other illicit substance.
She might try to convince you that her pills help her in ways you cannot, or that the drugs she’s taking aren’t hurting her, despite the physical evidence that reveals otherwise. Your mother may try to tell you that she’s in control of her substance use, even when you know that she’s not. She’s in denial, and you see the signs that she can’t — or won’t — acknowledge. At the end of the day, you love her, so you try to see her actions as compulsory, not deliberate choices.
In truth, a substance use disorder isn’t really a choice at all. Addiction is defined as a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive drug use, despite painful consequences. Your mother likely knows her addiction is destructive, and she probably doesn’t want to be addicted anymore, but she’s unable to stop. Long-term drug use causes changes in the brain’s reward system, wreaking havoc on decision-making, learning, and impulse-control. If your mother tries to stop using drugs or alcohol on her own, she will likely feel overwhelming withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be life-threatening if not addressed with professional care. When your mother realizes that her drug or alcohol addiction is a disease, she can come one step closer to getting effective treatment to overcome her substance use disorder.
You’re Not Alone
Being a son or daughter of a mother with addiction, you’ve likely tried to be a safe place for her, even when she wasn’t yours. Being your mom’s support system is a labor of love, and can drain your mental and emotional energy faster than you realize. Venting to your friends or other family members may relieve some of the stress you feel for a short while, but for all the times they listen to you, they might not truly understand the weight you carry. To maintain your own well-being, you’ll need to replenish your energy in a healthy way, and find sources of support who can offer the kind of guidance you need.
That’s where friends and family support groups can become invaluable. Fellowships like Nar-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics are comprised of people who also support an addicted loved one, and who face struggles similar to your own. In these groups, you can express your hopes, fears and frustrations among people who can empathize with your day-to-day challenges, and get advice from individuals who have found strategies that work.
However conflicted or distraught you feel on Mother’s Day, or any day of the year, remember that you’re not the only one who faces those feelings. You’re not alone in your struggles, and there are people who can help you find the kind of strength you need. Friends and family support groups can be found almost anywhere, and some of the most well-known fellowships include:
- Al-Anon: For the loved ones of alcoholics
- Nar-Anon: For the loved ones of those addicted to drugs
- Dual Recovery Anonymous
- Adult Children of Alcoholics
- Co-dependents Anonymous
- Families Anonymous
Getting Mom the Help She Deserves
The first step to getting your mom into treatment is a conversation. An honest, heart-to-heart talk with your mother lets her know that her addiction is hurting more people than just herself, and can pave the way for her to seek rehab care. If you feel comfortable and confident, you can talk to your mom in a one-on-one talk, or if you’d prefer more support in this conversation, consider staging an intervention with other family members and an interventionist.
In either setting, explain to her how her addiction has affected your life, how you feel, and the destructive or neglectful behaviors that you’ve noticed. Reiterate that you want to see her overcome addiction, and that she needs to get help to do so. It may be difficult, and you may have a few judgmental thoughts you want to say, but try to refrain from voicing criticism in this first conversation, as it could elicit a defensive response and derail the talk. Once your mom is in treatment, family therapy sessions will give you the chance to discuss the painful issues with the guidance of a professional therapist.
When you talk to your mom or hold the intervention, be prepared to take her to treatment immediately afterward if she admits she needs help. To ensure a smooth transition, call The Recovery Village at 352.771.2700 ahead of time. Talking to The Recovery Village representatives is toll-free and confidential, and they can help you discern which level of care, and which center, suits your mom’s needs. The Recovery Village runs accredited drug and alcohol rehab treatment centers across the country, so no matter where you live, you’re never far from help. When your mom is ready to start treatment, The Recovery Village is here to help. Our telephone lines are available around the clock every day, even on Mother’s Day.
One Last Word: Hope Is Real, Help Is Always Possible
Whether you choose to reach out to The Recovery Village or not, remember that drug addiction is a disease, and that it is treatable. Your mom can heal, and her recovery is always possible. Don’t give up hope for a better future for both of you, and don’t give up on her.