Having a parent with addiction means that your life is full of chaos, pain, confusion and fear and not necessarily full of care, concern, nurturing and love. The children of addicts get a lot of things they don’t need that follow them into adulthood and often are left with a big emotional hole that should have been filled with nurturing. The hard truth is that those things that were missed we can’t get back: once childhood is over it is over; what we can change is what we get today and what we get tomorrow.
Growing up with or being raised by an addict, whether they are functional or not is traumatic. If it does not leave a physical injury it certainly leaves emotional, psychological and spiritual injuries. Imagine a young child sitting on the beach shoveling sand into a bucket. No matter how much they shovel the bucket just doesn’t fill up, because there is a whole in the far side that they just can’t see. As children grow many on the beach fill their buckets and walk off with a great deal of what they need to support them in the future. But the children of addicts get up and walk off the beach with a bucket only partially full, they don’t have the emotional tools or resources they need to move healthfully into the next stage of their life.
If you grew up with an addict, if you are growing up with an addict right now you can’t change that reality: you bucket has a hole, the person responsible for nurturing you, for giving you the skills to help you in the future doesn’t have the ability to give you what you need. It is horribly sad! But you have a choice about what you do with that bucket, how you take what you can and use it and where you need to let go of what doesn’t work so you can make room for something that will.
We start by bringing ourselves to understand what is, then we have to hold onto that reality and accept out feelings, the facts and the truth, finally we get to make a choice about what we do with those feelings, that information and our future. Most of us will do this exercise over and over again with different parts of our experience, the important part is to care enough about ourselves to do the work and to give ourselves that love, attention and care that we always deserved. We can’t fill a broken bucket, but we can learn how to make patches or find replacements so that we can carry the things we need!
Try this exercise to explore healing for the past and create opportunity for the future:
Be Aware: What was (or is) in your bucket? Make a list of only the positive things you received from your parents. The list does not have to be long, in fact if you can only list ‘my life’ that’s a fine place to start, but focus on only the positive pieces that fill the bucket so far!
Accept: How do you feel about your list? Does it have all of the things that you would want to give a child? Are you angry that there is not more on the list? Are you sad about what’s missing? There is no right or wrong answer this part is only about feeling. Who filled or fills your bucket? Are they different today than yesterday, do they have anything else to offer right now?
Act: If you were sitting across the table from the person who just made that list and shared their feelings what would you do, what would you say? Comfort that part of yourself that needs it, love yourself as you should always have been loved, open yourself to the opportunity to get the things that you need today instead of focusing on what you missed yesterday! You can’t make love come into your life, you can’t make someone care about you, but you can start with yourself, accept the tools you do have (that part of the bucket that is full) and choose what you are going to use, how you are going to act to fill the bucket for yourself for the rest of your life!