Have you ever said to a loved one, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t keep drinking so much?” Or, “If you loved us, you would stop taking those pills like you do.”
When someone we love has a problem with drugs or alcohol, it is very difficult to understand how they could keep doing the hurtful things they do. But oftentimes we don’t even realize that the challenging, unloving behavior is directly connected to addiction. We may be in a state of denial and unaware of the drug and/or alcohol use, so the hurtful behavior translates to “they must not love me”. When we do realize that our loved one acts very differently when using substances, we can’t help but think that surely if they loved us, they would stop. When they don’t, even after promising to stop multiple times, we simply feel that we are unloved and it is extremely hurtful.
As a counselor, I worked with young children of alcoholics/addicts for many years. Children often expressed that their mom, dad or sibling must not love them because of the mean things they said or did. The Betty Ford Five Star Kids Program which i360 hosts helps the children learn that love doesn’t have anything to do with it. Addiction is a disease. And through this program, the children’s staff use a clever story to help get this point across.
“There is a mama bear living in the woods with her cubs. They are getting really hungry, so she goes out of their den to find food for them. As she looks for berries and other bear food, she sees something silver shining through some leaves on the ground. She has heard stories about the silver thing and was always told to stay away, but she is so curious. She approaches it and paws at it. Nothing happens. She paws at it again, and WHAM!! Giant, sharp teeth tear into her leg and the mama bear howls in pain! What was it? A bear trap! ‘Kids, when the mama bear got trapped, was she thinking about her cubs? NO! All she could think about was the pain and how to get out of it. But, did she still love her cubs? Of course she did! When your parents get trapped by addiction, they still love you very much, but they are totally focused on the trap and how to feel better and get away from it. When she finally yells HELP, someone comes to help her get free, but she has to ask for help first.”
The children seem to grasp this concept and feel relieved when they hear this story, along with all of the other wonderful education and support they receive in the program. The children leave the program with a reduction in the shame they’ve carried and an understanding that addiction is a disease, and most importantly,that it is not the child’s fault.
Innovation360 hosts this amazing program quarterly and any child between the ages of 7 and 12 who loves someone who drinks too much or takes drugs qualifies. It is non-profit, so scholarships are available if the $400.00 fee is unaffordable. You can reach the program by calling 972-753-0552 or by going to www.fivestarkids.com.
The symptoms of addiction are lying, manipulating, denying, blaming, minimizing, projecting, etc. So, yes, it is very difficult not to take our loved one’s actions personally. The best thing family members can do is to get their own support and education about addiction. Innovation360 offers a parent support, counseling, Healing Starts at Home family program, and other services. These programs help reinforce the message that the addict or alcoholic cannot show consistent love when in the grasp of the disease. If they receive help and find recovery, it often becomes clear that they still love you as they learn to love themselves again.
Blog written by Pam Newton, M.S., LCDC – [email protected]