Do you feel responsible for your teen/young adult’s substance use?

There we were in the psychologist’s office. 

I was sitting on the love seat. 

My daughter was in a chair and the psychologist was in another chair next to her. 

I was facing both of them. 

My daughter was telling me and the psychologist all the ways I was a bad mom, all the reasons she hated me, and I was defending myself.

The psychologist, while skilled at trying to neutralize the situation, was no match for my daughter and her anger.  

In that moment, I was in hell

It wasn’t the first or last time we sat with some kind of mental health professional, doctor, or other person and acted out the same scene.

I was far from the place of figuring out I could not convince my daughter that my version of her life was the true story and her version was false or distorted.

I didn’t know yet that each person’s reality goes through the filter of their thoughts and life experiences and the same situation can truly be totally different for each person.

At that time, I was so attached to the outcome of her life and so busy defending myself because of that, it took me years to allow her to have her story. 

I learned I could assume her story was true and meet her where she was at and not make it mean anything about me.

It was so much easier than trying to figure out how to change her story in order to find peace. 

I could let her keep her story and I could keep mine.

Before I figured that out, I was taking my daughter’s addiction, everything she said, and everything she did personally because some part of me believed that the outcome of her life truly reflected on me.

That was a lot of pressure to put on both of us.

It made her an extension of me rather than allowing her to be an individual

It was a set up for failure and misery for everyone.

How could she be sad, or mad, or angry, or unhappy with her life if I made those feelings mean something about me as a person and a mother?

It’s so sneaky though, right? 

The thoughts that go with that behavior sound so nice and caring and motherly. 

“I just want my daughter to have the best life possible”

“I just want her to be happy”

Those thoughts are relationship destroyers in a pretty box with nice bow on top

I can still remember the first time my daughter let me hug her shortly after I stopped trying to take her story(for a while she was too angry with me for hugs). 

It was a bad night for her emotionally and all the components of her substance use and the pain it brought up were involved. 

I was hurting because she was hurting and I was scared for her, but still trying to hold space for both of us. 

She said the same things she said in the psychologist’s office, but this time I didn’t defend myself or tell her she was wrong. 

I just said, “I don’t know how we got here, but I love you”, and I hugged her. 

She didn’t hug me back that night, but she let me stand there hugging her for a long time.

It was the beginning of a new story for her and so many changes for me and our relationship.

There were three lessons in this story, and they were painful to learn but so valuable and freeing:

  1. How my daughter’s life turns out is not a reflection of me.  What matters is what I think about how I showed up as a mom, what I learned, and how I changed as a parent as I learned along the way. I had to KNOW and BELIEVE I was a good mother before I could separate her actions and results in her life from my success.  
  2. We all have our own story about our life. Each story is based on our life experiences, thoughts about it, and what we make it mean about us. Our story is only some version of the truth.  We each have a right to our story until we are ready to give it up.
  3. Unconditional love takes on a new meaning, feeling, and freedom for you and your child when you can just love them as a unique individual without looking at them as a reflection of you.  

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