helping family member with addictionProvided by SMART Recovery Family & Friends Facilitator, Sara Crosby, MSW, CSW-PIP

The salvation of man is through love and in love.” – Viktor Frankl

I love my son.  Classically, I don’t always like him, but I love him in a profound way that poets and philosophers, far more skilled at wordsmithing than I, have made heroic attempts at describing.  Loving your child should be the most natural thing for a parent.  Loving a child who suffers from addiction is at best a complex proposition full of wrong turns, dark, seemingly endless tunnels, and vortexes to fall into, leaving you fighting to stop the spinning that keeps you ruminating during sleepless nights.

In the beginning, 13 years ago, almost half his lifetime, my love for him left me feeling desperate, unable to function. He would call me from 1,200 miles away, flooded, spinning and I would step into this tornado of dysregulated emotion and circle talk.  Caught up in the storm of his chasing his dope sickness, I would have lassoed the moon if I thought it would have helped.  But what I did, in hindsight, was supply him with momentary “fixes” to his acute anxiety and addiction.  My love for him was keeping him sick.

Magic seems to occur within a second in time. In those moments, a shift occurs when all aligns just so and we are able to hear in a different way that can move us out of darkness and toward a light of new understanding.

What I remember of my first SMART Family & Friends online meeting is such a moment. I heard the faceless voice of the facilitator reading, “Some signs that we may need to focus on boundaries…” Feelings of depression (check), fatigue (check), anxiety (check), burnout (check), powerlessness (check), panic (check), and extreme anger (check). An epiphany, a light bulb, a small but soul-moving moment of clarity. Boundaries! I needed to focus on boundaries.  Never until this moment had it occurred to me that my boundaries were being stepped on. More important was the realization that I had never set any to begin with, and most basically, that I had a right to have them.  As a social worker, I work within boundaries daily, setting them, keeping them, respecting them, but when it came to dealing with my son, my lens was obstructed.  I was blinded by my love for him and my desperate need and belief that it was my job to keep him alive.  This was the beginning of stepping into my own recovery as a parent of a child with addiction.


“When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

Scientific research shows us that if you understand your loved one’s behavior in a different way you can create the conditions for change.  Jeff Foote, Ph.D. says, “Over 50 years of research and clinical experience have found that having kindness and compassion, toward your loved one and to yourself is a scientifically supported strategy for helping.  How do you do that?  You have to shift the way that you look at someone who is struggling with substances by changing your understanding of them.”

Changing the belief that it was my job to keep him alive, was key to finding a way out of the vortex of grief, fear and desperation. I had carried these things on my back for years and the weight on my heart and soul had all but suffocated the breath out of me.  As much as I wanted to, I could not change the reality that my son had a personal battle to fight with this insidious addiction.  It was time for me to change myself. Through a deeper understanding of his daily fight along with a deep dive into exploring my own beliefs and behaviors, I can, today, allow myself to freely love this beautiful person, my son. I believe and understand that he is the only one who can take responsibility for his living, for his life.  I have handed the reality of that control to him where it belongs.  He, in turn, has taken ownership and courageously meets the challenges he faces as he moves ahead on his own journey.


“To love someone is to learn the song in their heart and to sing it to them when thy have forgotten.” – Arne Garborg

Loving my son is not about fixing him or keeping him alive.  Rather, it is about understanding him at the core of his truth. It is about understanding his addiction, and then setting and holding boundaries, as well as honoring his boundaries with me. Through this understanding I am able to reflect back at him all that I appreciate about his heart. I have regained my compassion and love in a way that has set us both free to heal.


About SMART Recovery Family & Friends

SMART Recovery Family & Friends helps those who are affected by substance abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or other addictions of a loved one. Our program is a science-based, secular alternative to Al-Anon and the Johnson Intervention, and our method is based on the tools of SMART Recovery and CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training). CRAFT aims to teach family and friends self-protection and non-confrontational communication skills to help their addicted loved one find recovery.

You can find Family & Friends meetings in-person and online.

If you are interested in starting a Family & Friends meeting in your local area, we would love to hear from you. Please click here to learn more about starting a Family & Friends meeting.

Click here to read more about SMART Recovery Family & Friends.

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