Saturday, September 6, 2014

Islands of Guilt

"If I had ever been here before I would probably know what to do. Don't you?" ~ David Crosby - "Deja vu"

"We should have noticed the change in behavior."

"We should have sent him to wilderness camp sooner."

"We should never have sent her to wilderness camp."

"If only I had been around more."

"If only I had hovered less."

"I was too tough on her."

"I was too easy on him."

We've all experienced second thoughts and reservations, would-haves, should-haves and could-haves, the perfect vision that hindsight predicts in vivid detail our children's spiral into addiction.

How could we have not seen it? We're a good family. We created a loving household for our children.

Why, how, did we let this happen?

We create islands of guilt for ourselves, surprisingly comfortable locales where we can justify feeling less-than about ourselves.

The origins of the word GUILT are unclear. The Old English gylt meaning "crime, sin, fault, fine," has no traceable transitional words to what we now consider the meaning of its modern progeny. It is a word that seems to have emerged out of the necessities of cultural mores and expectations. Perhaps they didn't have time for such wasteful pursuits as guilt in the 11th and 12th centuries - probably not! Perhaps neither do we as parents of children who have journeyed to addiction.

We are in uncharted territory. While there are books like What To Expect The First Year and What To Expect The Second Year, there are no similar publications titled, What to Expect When Your Adolescent Spirals In The Vortex Of  Substance Abuse Or Other Addictions.

If we had ever been here before, we would probably know what to do!

Fortunately there are voices and guides out there who have experienced the pain of watching sons and daughters succumb to addiction. Unfortunately guilt prevents these voices to be heard. Guilt keeps us locked in despair. Guilt keeps us isolated and catatonic. Guilt is a roadblock across the path of our recovery journeys. We may as well be castaways on an island thousands of miles away from rescue.

Most importantly this guilt is unfounded.

We can pick apart the minutia of each minute, every day, month and year of our children's upbringing and pour wave upon wave of guilt upon ourselves until we are isolated on our self-made islands, apart, alone, angry, helpless and doomed. On these islands there is little hope of escape. The tides of guilt that brought us to this island are simply too damn strong.

Addiction is a disease. Guilt felt as a result of our son's or daughter's addictions is like feeling guilty about a child who has contracted a disease. Parents in the throes of combating afflictions such as childhood leukemia rise to the occasion. They model life, not death. They become beacons of hope and encouragement.

As parents of addicts we can live our lives and be that same beacon of hope to our addicted children while keeping in mind only they can find the cure to their disease. Guilt will only inhibit this process, keeping us stalemated on the island, isolated from our addicted children, family, friends and ourselves.

The islands of guilt to which we can so easily travel inhibit our progress along our pathways to recovery. These can be comfortable places. While there, we are divorced from our lives wallowing in eddies of self pity at the expense of seeking what is out there for us to experience.

And often, the addict is right there with us, wallowing with no where to go but exactly where she is, where he has been. We are both stuck in a quicksand of addiction. When we as parents stop struggling with the guilt we can feel the hold our child's addiction has on us loosening. We can break free and move on with our lives.

If we remember the origin of the word gylt - crime, sin, fault, fine - we can avoid or even escape the island. There is no crime here, no sin, we did not cause this, and there is no penalty to impose. We can cease blaming ourselves for a disease that has captured our children. We can love the addict while hating the addiction.

There are dugout canoes awaiting us. Our pathways to recovery are just over the horizon.

Start paddling.

… keep coming back

"And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries." ~ Paul Simon "I Am A Rock"