08/21/2014 03:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Parents of Addicts and Their Unexpected Change in Citizenship

If you didn't know this about me already, I will tell you now that my favorite author, bar none, is Anne Lamott. I discovered Anne and her writings about four years ago through my wife, who was a longtime fan.

This may sound silly, but I often times consider Anne to be my higher power (hence the first-name basis). Reading her words is like therapy and church for me. Her writing is so honest and thought-provoking, full of themes like hope, faith, grace, and spirituality. She also has a wicked sense of humor. For me the connection to Anne is there on so many levels. (She is the reason I have "HOPE" and "FAITH" tattooed on my arms, near my boys' names.)


Recently I decided to re-read Anne's books on my Kindle so I could refresh my memories of her work and highlight the many passages that are so meaningful to me.

One morning I was in the middle of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, reading the essay called "Barn Raising." In it Anne writes about some friends whose 2-year-old child had been diagnosed nine months earlier with cystic fibrosis.

I came across a passage in that essay that really resonated with me as the father of a child afflicted with the disease of addiction:

Now out of the blue, the family has been plunged into an alternate world, a world where everyone's kid has a life-threatening illness. I know that sometimes these friends feel that they have been expelled from the ordinary world they lived in before and that they are now citizens of the Land of the Fucked.

I couldn't help but think how that passage likely rings true for so many parents who are experiencing a child's addiction.

"Expelled from the ordinary world they lived in before."

"Now citizens of the Land of the Fucked."

I know that's pretty much how I felt when my son's addiction first presented. It was as if someone had toggled some master switch from "Ordinary Life" over to "Challenging Life" without my permission. Things in my life -- my whole family's life -- changed that quickly. All of the plans I had made in my mind for my son, all of the things I envisioned happening to him during his late teenage years and early adulthood, were now changing on the fly. ("Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans," right?)

It took a while to adjust accordingly, but eventually I did. I won't lie: It's not easy changing your life's "itinerary" at the drop of a hat. But looking back, what choice did I really have? It was either adapt or die. Well, maybe not that drastic, but almost. I could either adjust to the new life that had been given to me or crumple myself up into the fetal position and wallow in self-pity. At some point, I chose to adapt, although I freely confess to spending a lot of time as a depressed adult fetus early on.

Parents of children who suffer from addiction are a special group. They're members of a club nobody wants to be a member of. In this case, membership doesn't really have any privileges. But over the years I've found that the best approach is to accept your induction into the club, live in the moment, and do the best you can.

While I initially most certainly felt like the newest citizen of the "Land of the Fucked," I eventually moved on to the "Land of the Challenged," then finally to the "Land Where You Truly Learn Unconditional Love."

Our children don't become addicted because of anything we do. They become addicted because their brains are wired differently. Unlike most young people who may drink a beer or smoke a joint or snort a line of cocaine and not have their lives turned upside down because of it, our kids' brains behave differently. Once our kids experienced that first high, their brains started screaming, "Give me more! Give me more!"

The screaming was too loud for them to ignore. Our kids lost the power of choice and were overcome by the power of addiction. If I've said it once, I've said it ten thousand times: nobody wants to be an addict. It just happens. Our kids were part of a cruel game of "Russian Roulette," and they lost; and addiction was the bullet in the chamber.

Parents who have been in the club for a while know this. But until the whole world knows it, the stigma associated with addiction will continue to serve as a barrier for people trying to get the proper treatment they so desperately need. And more parents may have to visit the "Land of the Fucked" before they -- hopefully -- find their way out.


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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.