Forgiving an addicted parent is not easy, but it’s a vital part of the process of moving forward with your life. Until you let go of the pain of your past, it’s impossible to live fully in the present.
Acknowledge Your Experience
Your parent’s addiction may have affected you in a number of ways. For example:
- You may have worried about your parent overdosing or being incarcerated.
- You may have been forced to assume adult responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning because your parent was under the influence.
- You may have been a caretaker for younger siblings.
- You may have solved problems at school or with friends by yourself instead of seeking a parent’s advice.
- Your family may have struggled financially due to the cost of substance abuse or your parent’s inability to maintain steady employment.
- Your parents may have divorced due to addiction or you may have worried about being placed in foster care.
- You may have been embarrassed to bring friends to your home due to concerns about your parent’s behavior.
It is completely understandable to feel resentment towards a parent whose addiction had a negative effect on your formative years. Parents are expected to protect and nurture their children while serving as role models for appropriate adult behavior. It’s difficult to accept that parent with an addiction isn’t able to fulfill this role.
To move on, you need to fully acknowledge your feelings about your parent’s addiction. Acknowledging the trauma you’ve suffered can take several forms. For example:
- Writing about your feelings in a journal
- Expressing your emotions through art or music
- Seeking help from a therapist
- Attending a support group for people with an addicted family member, such as Al-Anon
Be patient with yourself throughout this process. Just as addiction develops over time, the healing process doesn’t happen overnight.
Understand the Nature of Addiction
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. It’s not caused by a lack of willpower. However, it is often accompanied by mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Substance abuse affects memory, judgement, and impulse control. Someone with an addiction that has had time to progress can act in ways that are completely out of character. To further complicate the situation, they may not even remember everything they’ve done while under the influence.
Your parent didn’t consciously choose drugs or alcohol over meeting your needs. Once the addiction took hold, it was simply impossible to focus on anything other than substance abuse.
To learn more about substance use disorders, you can review the following:
If your parent is seeking treatment, Waypoint Recovery Center offers a family program to help the children of addicted parents understand substance use disorders and learn healthy communication strategies to support a lasting recovery. Participation in the family program isn’t mandatory, but the experience is designed to be beneficial for everyone involved.
Realize Parenting Is Difficult
Being a parent is often referred to as the most important job in the world, but it’s one that doesn’t come with a rule book, instruction manual, or formal training. Parents must learn as they go and even the most committed individuals will make mistakes.
No parent is perfect. Parents who don’t have substance use disorders may still be emotionally distant, struggle to control their temper, or fail to acknowledge their child’s accomplishments. It’s tempting to think that other families don’t have problems, but you must realize that the parent-child relationship can be challenging under any circumstance.
If you have children of your own, you’ve undoubtedly said or done things that you later regretted. Acknowledging that mistakes don’t make a person a “bad” parent will also help you build a stronger relationship with your own children.
Remember Forgiveness Doesn’t Have to Be Earned
It’s a common misconception that we should only forgive those who have apologized and taken the time to earn back our trust. Although efforts to make amends are certainly admirable, you can still choose to forgive someone who doesn’t “deserve” it.
Staying angry about the past leads to bitterness and continued suffering. Extending forgiveness to someone who hasn’t acknowledged their mistakes isn’t a weakness. It’s an act of courage.
The past can’t be changed, but what happens tomorrow is within your control. When you choose to let go of the anger, hurt, and resentment you are feeling, you’re freeing yourself to embrace a better future.