The art of letting go

A mother journeys with her addict son. Here’s her story. My son’s drug addiction started around the time he finished high school. Both my husband and I had never done drugs, so at the beginning we were very naïve.

We thought it was bad behavior. We assumed that he would “grow up,” and since he was entering the adult world of college, work, etc., we kept waiting for him to change. All the discussions we had with him fell on deaf ears. In fact, we discovered it was getting worse.

We sought out a counselor for him and we learned that his addiction was significant enough that he should go into a rehab. The counselor also told us that we needed to get help to learn more about his addiction, and to figure out the best way to cope with this disease. He suggested we go to Al-Anon.

This was the beginning of a long process of learning about addiction, and discovering through trial and error the best way to love our son, while putting up very strong boundaries. Rehab helped for a while, but before long, the addiction took over again.

Allowing him his suffering

As parents, we certainly played a part in these setbacks. Even though our motivation was love, we kept trying to save him. We knew better than to give him money, but we would buy him things that we thought would help his self-esteem. We bought him clothes for job interviews that he never went on, bus passes when he lost his license and many other things. When none of this helped him, of course we felt betrayed.

The counselor told us that we had to “allow him” his suffering and not try to fix things. But what parent wants to “allow” their child to suffer? Bargaining with God didn’t work. We felt so lost, and his addiction was becoming our obsession.

One of the biggest hurdles for us was “letting go.” We saw firsthand the immense pain and suffering he was going through. He was addicted to heroin, and even though we witnessed his incredible desire to stop, we saw the addiction win over and over. He would do so well for weeks and then he was pulled back down.

Even though we knew it was a disease he was fighting, I could not comprehend why he would choose drugs over everything else. My little boy was in there somewhere, and I desperately wanted him back.

I felt like Mary at the foot of the cross, watching my son die. The fear and pain that I felt hurled me into a dark depression. I became consumed with trying to save him. My darkest moment was when I was speaking with a woman who just lost her son to heroin. I was actually jealous of her. Her son was at peace and mine was still living in the depths of hell.

Letting go … with love

It was through this experience where I really learned how to let go. My husband was letting go through anger and I was letting go with fear. But we learned how to “let go with love.”

What does that mean? For us it meant to stop trying to save him. That was God’s job. It meant loving him unconditionally, as an addict. It meant putting up the necessary boundaries when dealing with an addict. We learned that in deciding our boundaries, we needed to remember that they were put up to protect us, not to get him to change. When we would go over these boundaries with the counselor, he would help us realize that in being honest, some of these boundaries were our way of trying to control our son — make him want to change.

The reality was that we needed to stop trying to control the situation.

And letting go with love meant to truly love without any expectations. One day he called us and said he was hungry. He had spent all his money on drugs but he hadn’t eaten in four days. He asked us if we could find it in our heart to bring him some food. So we packed up four bags of groceries from our kitchen and brought it to him. To me this was kind of biblical. “When I was hungry…”

When we spoke with the counselor about this, he made us look at why we brought him food. We certainly felt better that he was eating, and it was biblical, and so on. But we had given him the food and left.

We asked the counselor what we should have done, and through his answer I realized what letting go with love meant. He said maybe we could have taken him to the soup kitchen. His actions in using drugs didn’t warrant four bags of groceries. But taking him to the local soup kitchen, and sitting with him and sharing a meal there, may have shown him more love. Letting go of all control and doing it with love.

Getting back on track

Our son could have easily died. In fact, it almost happened twice. But God had a plan for him that wasn’t finished yet. Through my son’s experiences, pain, loss and grief, he slowly got better.

He told me that what helped him the most was losing his “safety net,” which was his belief that Mom and Dad would find a way to pick up the pieces of his self-destruction. He also said that little by little, he was able to regain his self-worth, his dignity as a person. He realized that he needed to face his suffering instead of self-medicating.

The process was slow. He would have a setback after six months, but then he found a way to get back on track. His counselor helped so much, and the change in the way we treated him did too. He knew we loved him, but we had long since stopped trying to save him.

Right now, he’s doing really well and working hard on a drug-free lifestyle. But I also know that even though he may be a recovering addict, the addiction will always be there. It’s a daily fight for him.

What a gift we have received in going through this journey with him. Learning how to truly love someone, without any expectation of change, has changed us in ways that were previously unimaginable.

For any parents struggling with their children’s addiction, it can be the hardest thing in the world to be strong and not try to save them.

And finding a way to keep showing them that you love them while allowing them to suffer is challenging. Showing love and allowing suffering can seem like they negate each other.

But in reality, it’s what we all feel from God. He shows us his love and allows us to suffer. We may get mad at God, but at the end of the day, we know he loves us immensely. God’s in charge and sometimes we just need to get out of the way for God to do his work.
By C. H.

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