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Here is a tightrope... And so the story of a parent whose child struggles with addiction goes.

Here is a tightrope. Your child walks along precariously two steps forward one step back. You watch on from below juggling the balls of responsibility collected along your own life’s journey and have the net at the ready to catch your child if he or she may fall. You are aware that your child does not have the balance of your other off spring who don the trapeze and are doing just fabulously -although they sometimes misjudge your attention towards their sibling as favouritism and you hope that this does not cause them to lose focus on their own balancing act. Your child is unaware of your attentions, too caught up in staying on the tightrope but that is Ok by you, you do not want your child to fall. The crowd is caught up in your child’s struggle, they watch on in what, Anticipation? You hope it is for your child to make it and not to fall. You are sure that it is the former but are unable to ask them. They are there but only on the sideline.

....And so the story of a parent whose child struggles with addiction goes.

Mine is a story told in hindsight and so far it is a story with a happy ending. I say so far, not to undermine the success my Son has had but to highlight the fact that this is so often not the case and addictive behaviour is a constant companion.

In the eye of the storm however, I could not have seen things being the way they are now and still remember all too well the struggles on so many levels that it threw in my path. It wasn’t until I did some research and started to be proactive that I started to work my way out of what felt like a totally hopeless situation. I had people wanting to put him in rehab NOW but after looking into rehabs and knowing that he needed to be the one to want to make changes in his life I knew this was not the answer. When I asked for the less extreme action of just calling him regularly to remind him that they cared and reinforce to him he was part of a bigger force than the addiction could ever be, they struggled. I found people to be scared of addiction, it is a territory usually unexplored in the journey of self discovery and to talk to an addict dredges up our own demons which most would prefer to leave be. I did not judge them for this as I understood that struggle myself.

There were other demons too. Was I and am I a good parent? With it hard to define exactly what a good parent is this demon was a doozy! Self doubt fuelled by an overactive and all of a sudden abundant memory of instances that could have caused my child to go down this road. I have failed my child. All this way of thinking did for me was to isolate me from my support networks. I feared their judgement and having seen raised eyebrows and experienced silence when mentioning difficulties I backed away from more disappointment. Again I did not judge them, I knew there were plenty of times I had enabled my Son’s addiction when I thought I was helping him. How would I react in their shoes? And again it was research that helped me out.

After reading about tough love I found the strength to be able to say no to the things that put my relationship on the line with my Son. No, you cannot borrow the car, have money nor have a key to the house. Yes, you can have all the love, food and shelter you need and then some. I felt empowered without feeling guilty. I was saying no to the addiction but still providing my child with the things he needed. But I digress, I keep wanting to share the positives but you need to know it wasn’t just all breakthrough moments and, unlike the child on the tightrope, times often felt like one step forward and two steps back – but that would never get us to the ending.

The refusal to talk was a big one for me. I have always talked with my kids and like to think they can talk to me about anything. Talk times were usually when my Son was desperate for help but not the kind of help he would have me believe. Promises of making changes broken once he was helped out of a tight situation haunted me and it was hard to believe him when he finally was ready to make those changes.

Then the light at the end of the tunnel – rehab was a saving grace. It was such a relief to have someone else dealing with my Son’s addiction. I wasn’t wondering where he was at night and he was with experienced people who deal with addiction and all its foibles on a daily basis. The pressure was off not because I didn’t want to deal with it anymore but because I didn’t know how. Well maybe a bit because I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. If there is one thing you have to be it is on your toes and one step ahead. I didn’t realise until he went into rehab how exhausted I was.

And so we come to the ending.....

The child makes it to the other side. And as the lights come on and the spot light diminishes you become aware of your surroundings. It is only then that you realise that your close loved ones have been juggling the balls for you as you stand there clinging to the net. Your friends and family are in the audience and yes they are cheering and crying and hugging each other. The sheer joy is overwhelming and you are filled with a sense of awe for humankind in all its complexities. You suddenly realise how tired you are and curl up on the sawdust and allow just enough doubt to creep in to have you hope that the feeling of awe is still there when you wake tomorrow.

- Cathy Gellatly

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