I also know that parents have discretionary recall, blocking out everything that contradicts our carefully edited recollections—an understandable attempt to dodge blame. Conversely, children often fixate on the indelibly painful memories, because they have made stronger impressions. I hope that I am not indulging in parental revisionism when I say that in spite of my divorce from Nic's mother; in spite of our draconian long-distance custody arrangement; and in spite of all of my shortcomings and mistakes, much of Nic's early years was charmed. Nic confirms this, but maybe he is just being kind.

This rehashing in order to make sense of something that cannot be made sense of is common in the families of addicts, but it's not all we do. We deny the severity of our loved one's problem not because we are naive, but because we can't know. Even for those who, unlike me, never used drugs, it's an incontrovertible fact that many—more than half of all children—will try them. For some of those, they will have no major negative impact on their lives. For others, however, the outcome will be catastrophic. We parents wrack our brains and do everything we can and consult every expert and sometimes it's not enough. Only after the fact do we know that we didn't do enough or what we did do was wrong. Addicts are in denial and their families are in it with them because often the truth is too inconceivable, too painful, and too terrifying. But denial, however common, is dangerous. I wish someone had shaken me and said, "Intervene while you can before it's too late." It may not have made a difference, but I don't know. No one shook me and said it. Even if they had, I may not have been able to hear them. Maybe I had to learn the hard way.

Like many in my straits, I became addicted to my child's addiction. When it preoccupied me, even at the expense of my responsibilities to my wife and other children, I justified it. I thought, How can a parent not be consumed by his child's life-or-death struggle? But I learned that my preoccupation with Nic didn't help him and may have harmed him. Or maybe it was irrelevant to him. However, it surely harmed the rest of my family—and me. Along with this, I learned another lesson, a terrifying one: our children live or die with or without us. No matter what we do, no matter how we agonize or obsess, we cannot choose for our children whether they live or die. It is a devastating realization, but also liberating. I finally chose life for myself. I chose the perilous but essential path that allows me to accept that Nic will decide for himself how—and whether—he will live his life.
FROM: Beautiful Boy: A Father's Heartache, An Addict Son
Published on January 01, 2006


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