There is so much more power in letting go of this identity than keeping it. Think about labeling someone with the stigma of “addict” rather than referring to them as a person who suffers from addiction. The difference between the two is one defines a person and the other one refers to an aspect of a person. When we label someone in that way, we dehumanize them. We start to see them as all things addict instead of focusing on their humanity as our child.
What if it’s the same for us as mothers? How much of your identity has become “mother of an addict or substance user”? When we label ourselves in that way and identify with that label more and more, we lose the other aspects of ourselves and become defined by our kids’ addiction rather than it being an aspect of our lives.
Now we’re in trouble too, right? We tell our kids they’re more than the substances they’re using or addicted to, yet we let it take over our lives as well. We become as consumed by their substance use/addiction as they are.
Have you considered that the greatest gift you can give your child is to focus on yourself and your needs? You could be fully present with them rather joining them on their level of pain, fear, and self-destruction. When you switch the focus from them to you and your needs, you bring desperately needed stability to the relationship.
Joining someone in their suffering by suffering with them doesn’t help them. Acceptance helps them. When you accept the situation, you work with it instead of resisting it. You are most effective at making changes when you’re in acceptance.
What percentage of your time is spent in the “mother of an addict” frame of mind? How much time do you spend thinking about it? How much time do you spend talking about it without resolution? Do you waste precious mental energy worrying about their substance use? Do you think of their substance of choice more than they do? How much time do you spend trying to run or hide from it, but it keeps finding you?
The more you think about it, talk about it, live and breathe it, the more you increase it as your identity. It’s so easy to slip into this identity because as humans we instinctively associate ourselves with roles in life. When we become mothers, that role can consume us. It isn’t that painful to be identified only as “mother” because most mothers are overworked, underappreciated, and losing themselves to all the people they are mothering.
Since many mothers are like that, we become part of a tribe of women who are acting and feeling the same way. It’s an easy transition from there to the “mother of an addict” role. There, we slowly lose more and more of ourselves to our child’s disease because parenting our child is the only role we are attached to so we are driven to succeed at it. When our mission of raising kids we can be proud of gets hijacked by addiction or substance use, our success in life is suddenly in jeopardy and we panic.
There is no balance of other activities like hobbies, friends, passion projects, exercise, reading a book, figuring out who she is besides a mother. The only balancing act she’s doing is on the tightrope she’s walking on while cleaning, cooking, working, doing laundry, running kids to activities, and completely ignoring herself and her own needs or wants. All the while talking herself into the idea that she’s doing the right thing, and this is how it’s supposed to be. Yet deep inside she knows it’s not right.
She shuts the voice inside of her down because she doesn’t know taking care of herself is the least selfish thing she can do. She thinks she has to care for everyone else first to be a good mom. The problem is she’s not first or second or third on the list, she’s either last or never even makes the list.
This is why putting your own oxygen mask on first is so important. It’s not selfish. It’s the most loving thing you can do for yourself and everyone else in your life. A car doesn’t run without gas in the tank. Why are you running on an empty tank? I always go back to self-care because until you are willing to invest time for self-care, it’s almost impossible to change how you feel.
Turning my focus from my daughter to myself wasn’t easy. Hell, I really wasn’t even sure what I liked anymore. I totally lost myself in her addiction. I had to dig in and figure out what made me happy. I had to make time to breathe, eat right, exercise, drink water, sleep, fix my hair, find some hobbies, create an identity outside of being a mother, accountant, or wife. I had to work through the discomfort of admitting where I was in life and doing something different. I had to create an existence that didn’t depend on any one aspect of my life. That way, if I had a struggle in any one area, I had other areas to lean on for support to push me forward, so I didn’t get sucked back into “addict Mom” role again.
The best part, all these things have made me the best mother I’ve ever been. I’m patient, present, and love unconditionally, but I also have boundaries. Consistent loving boundaries create wonderful loving relationships.
My change was a process. Start with awareness. Notice how you are defining yourself this way and how it’s affecting your life. Allow yourself the space to see this without judgment. Be compassionate. If you aren’t compassionate, it won’t work.
Once you have spent time creating awareness of this identity in yourself and what it’s creating in your life, then you can move forward to work on intentionally exploring and creating the life you really want. Let’s all join the tribe of mother’s who put their own oxygen mask on first and leave behind the tribe of mothers who are sacrificing themselves for everyone else.