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I was delighted with a text I received the other morning from one of my PAL meeting participants. It stated, “We took the suggestion and have gone on vacation, won’t be at the meeting tonight!” I couldn’t stop smiling. I know first-hand how hard it is to take responsibility for ourselves, to nurture ourselves and to actually find happiness for ourselves when our child seems to be lost to their disease. We tend to put everything “on hold” while we wait for them to get better, because then, and only then, will we ever find joy in life.

Over the years I have heard the same comments many times from parents of addicted loved ones: “We haven’t taken a vacation in years; how can we leave when our loved one is in the throes of this problem?”; “What if something happens to them while we are gone?”; “What if they found out we’re enjoying a vacation while they are living on the street addicted to substances?” The list of “what ifs” goes on.

At some point in time, whether we learned it from our own parents or subscribed to it on our own, many of us adopted the mantra that we will only be as happy as our unhappiest child. On the surface this seems like a loving statement, but if we dig a little deeper into what this means, we find a message going out to our children that is loaded with a burden that many of them find difficult to bear. Think about it this way: if someone was depending on you to meet their expectations so that they could be happy, how would feel? Many of us are accidentally sending our loved ones this message.

Several years ago I found myself at a point where my instinctive caretaking for my sons had so overwhelmed my life that I began to neglect my responsibility to myself. What do I mean by instinctive caretaking? I felt personally responsible for their feelings, thoughts, choices, problems, comfort, and destiny. I had created an environment where, not only was I depending on them for my happiness, but I felt responsible for theirs as well. What did this self-neglect look like? Well, I had very little self-care – I stopped exercising, I gained weight, I ate poorly, and I definitely did not go on vacation.

It took some time to realize that the family system (that I created, by the way) was leaving me feeling resentful and victimized. I found out later from my sons that it was hindering them from stepping into their own lives. I’ll never forget when my younger son entered recovery, my husband and I attended a family session where he had completed a “fill in the blank” type survey that was given to us. One of the questions was: “What could your parents have done differently?” He wrote, “I wish you hadn’t helped so much and had lived your own life.”

As parents we are all playing a role in our family system. I want to assure you that you did not “cause” the addiction your child is battling, you cannot “control” it and you certainly cannot “cure” it. But…you are playing a role and you get to decide what kind of role model you’d like to be. If you take away one thing, I’d like it to be this: My happiness is my responsibility. It is not dependent on those around me or even my circumstances. This is a tremendous message to send your addicted loved one. After all, isn’t that our hope for them at some point as well? That they will experience a “breakthrough” and begin to step into life and take responsibility for their recovery and sobriety?

I challenge you to model for your loved one what a happy, healthy adult looks like. Sometimes, that means going on vacation! And remember, you are destined to be as happy as you choose to be.

Blessings,

M.

PAL Facilitator, Coach – Partnership to End Addiction and college certification in Addictions and Substance Use Disorders

Our regular counselor blogger Josh Acevedo is on break for three months, so we are bringing you perspectives from a PAL Facilitator.