Note: Through my work with Be a Part of the Conversation, I am privileged to serve families who have been impacted by the disease of addiction. When I hear someone express anger and frustration with their loved one’s behaviors, I often recommend an exercise that really helped me once I became aware of my son’s addiction. The exercise is to write a letter to your loved one’s addiction … not the child/spouse/sibling/parent, but to the addiction. This letter is not intended for our loved one’s eyes, but as a means to work through the emotions that are often present when we are in crisis. It is intended to help us heal. I found it incredibly cathartic years ago, as it helped me to separate my beloved son from the behaviors that accompanied his disease.
I recently asked a group of parents to take on this exercise, and decided it was time for me to revisit the practice as well. I thought I’d share the result, which is quite different from the letter I wrote in 2010. You may consider trying this exercise yourself. I hope you find it as helpful as I have.
To: My Son’s Addiction,
I have conflicting feelings about you. When I first met you, I absolutely hated you. You stole my son from me. You infected my kind, loving, sensitive boy and sickened him to the point of becoming emaciated, deceitful and distant. You stripped away any evidence of the love he had for his family or true friends.
I desperately tried to figure you out. What was this deadly grip that you had on my child? I will always hate you for the years you stole from us, the sleepless nights, the tension in our family, the sideways looks from acquaintances who undoubtedly judged us all. I hate that you not only tried to kill my son, but you inflicted tremendous pain on my daughter at a vulnerable and critical time in her young life.
You made me question my capacity to protect my children.
Over these past 12 years, I have learned quite a lot about you. In fact, understanding you, and helping others to understand you, has become my passion, my mission, and the most rewarding work of my life. Learning about you and examining your manifestations may have caused me to hate you even more, because I now understand how “cunning, baffling and powerful” you truly are. You cannot be eradicated, but you can be wrestled into remission. I don’t know why you exist, but I know that you most assuredly do exist, rooted in the brains of many more people (including mine) than I ever imagined.
The reason I feel conflicted about you is because, paradoxically, your unwelcome abduction of my son ushered in some of the greatest gifts in his life. It is difficult to imagine where his life would be today if it weren’t for you. I guess it wasn’t really you who produced all the wonderful things in his life; rather it was my son’s diligent and transformative interpersonal work to recover from you that brought so much awareness, depth, and authenticity into his life. Your poisonous seed was planted into this valuable young man at such an early age. (How long had you been there, waiting to wreak havoc?) And yet, from those perilous origins, a caring, creative and warmhearted man has emerged. My son’s recovery from you has brought him back to us, and allowed him to find, love, and be loved by his fiancé. Where would he be living today, if not for you? Would he be as physically, mentally and spiritually healthy? We will never know, but how could I possibly want more for him than the beautiful life he has today, even with the detritus left in your wake.
I must also reconcile the fact that you and your pathology have become a fascination for me. Since meeting you, I have spent many of my waking hours exposing you. I elevate practices meant to avoid you, diminish you, or subdue you. And I celebrate tales of your downfall in other precious lives. You remain my fiercest enemy, but I rejoice in the knowledge that your grip on my child and my family has been replaced by the loving hand of recovery and fellowship. You have unwittingly bestowed upon me the acquaintance and friendship of hundreds of people I would never have encountered under less daunting circumstances. These are the gifts of my desperation, for which I will be forever grateful.
But still, f#%k you.