What Can You Offer an Estranged and Addicted Parent?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

Being in recovery is hard. Being in recovery and dealing with a parent in active addiction can be even harder.

While highly functional during my struggle with substance abuse, I had the emotional age and literacy of a child. I didn’t have the communication skills to have healthy, long-lasting relationships with anyone, let alone a parent.

I had no comprehension of boundaries. I just kind of bumbled along oblivious. Recovery enabled me to grow up, learn how to live, and cope with a parent in active addiction – while maintaining my own sobriety.

Growing Up and Starting Fresh

They say when you get sober, you need to change your playground. But what about a parent who uses? The status of parent, addicted or not, usually warrants a free pass of involvement in your life – they’re someone you hold in high esteem, trust, and listen to…right?

Until the work.

There’s a rite of passage for anyone who wants lasting recovery. These bedrock activities of emotional work include:

  • Understanding the desire to use
  • Discovering triggers
  • Uncovering trauma
  • Setting boundaries
  • Healing

The above activities serve as the basis for a sustainable program of recovery – they are “the work.” And our labors never end: new triggers arise, we make mistakes, lose relationships, deal with heartbreak, and uncover painful memories.

This journey of self discovery enables us to see the world in a whole new light. It shifts the fog of substance abuse that clouded our view, and we have clarity.

Personal Growth and Establishing Limits

Something I discovered in my work was the path of destruction left in the wake of substance abuse wasn’t all mine to own. As a child, I bore the brunt of the destruction an addicted parent can cause – we had to move to a different continent to stay safe. As an adult – in recovery – I dealt with the loss of that relationship, and the gaps it left in my emotional development.

Today, as a person in long-term recovery, I enforce boundaries to keep myself safe from their continued substance abuse. Some of my healthy boundaries include:

  • Avoiding involvement in their drama
  • Refusing responsibility to emotionally or physically care-take
  • Refusing to be held hostage emotionally to bend to their whims

None of these healthy actions are easy; it goes against the grain of being there for a parent. It’s unnatural to have to filter every word and action. The key is to de-personalize it: it isn’t about you, it never was – it’s just their addiction speaking – and I’m forever reminding myself of this fact.

It hurts, but it does get easier.

Putting Yourself First

I ensure my well being by enforcing boundaries and continuing to work on my own recovery.

I’m powerless over how others choose to behave; I’m not powerless over how I chose to respond. I try to do that with kindness and compassion, but I’m still very much a work in progress.

If you’re in recovery and struggling to manage a complex relationship with an addicted parent, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Additional Reading:   When Your Loved One Has an Addiction – What Helps and What Doesn’t?

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