Can (and should) I Be Happy When My Child Is Battling Addiction with Brenda Zane

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Can (and should) I Be Happy When My Child Is Battling Addiction with Brenda Zane

Having a child at-risk with emotional or substance use issues can consume every part of you. It’s a daily struggle that often robs parents of even the smallest joys in life. This episode is for you if you’re wondering if and how you can ever be happy – and is that even ok when your child is so sick? 

I share 3 things to consider if you haven't smiled (genuinely) in a long time, if you don't recognize your life as it used to be, and if you're feeling guilty for wanting some time to yourself, to relax, to forget about the problems your child's issues are causing in your life. 

I dive into key (difficult) questions like:

  • can I be happier than my unhappiest kid?
  • is it ok for me to have fun while my child is battling addiction?
  • my life is falling apart…why does it matter if I'm happy? 
  • what if my addicted son or daughter sees me having a good time?
  • even if I wanted to have fun, I can't let go of the worry

This is a must-listen episode if you or someone you know has lost their spark and ability to have any joy or fun in their life due to their child's substance use. 

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Today’s episode is one that is very personal to me. I very much struggled with this topic when my son was in his darkest days and still struggle to some extent with it. And I think a lot of moms in particular do I believe dads do as well. I can’t speak for dads obviously. But I do work with a lot of moms. And I know that it’s it’s a topic that’s very important to them. 
I also want to quickly apologize if there’s any weird sound issues. I’m mid-move and I have lost a key component of my podcasting equipment, which means I have to hold my microphone this entire time instead of having it on a kind of an arm that holds itself so if the sound is a little funky today, that is why and hopefully by the time I record the next episode, I will have this resolved so apologize for any thumps or bumps that you might hear along the way today. 
So our topic this week is, is it possible, and is it even okay, to be happy when my child is struggling? And this might be a struggle with addiction, it may be a struggle with, with severe emotional issues. There’s lots of reasons that our kids become and stay unhappy for a long period of time. And I know that this is something that people struggle with. And so I wanted to address it. And as it goes with most things in this category, there is no right or wrong answer. So I’m not gonna say yes or no, it is or isn’t, but I’m going to give you some things to think about. Because it is something that affects our lives so, so deeply. And it’s really important also, for people to hear this message if you are not struggling. So if you know somebody who has a child who is struggling in some way or another and they have changed, you’ve sort of noticed a change in their overall demeanor, their level of happiness, their level of joy. Maybe you haven’t seen them smile in a long time. It’s really important for you to hear this because it can be confusing to understand. And it can also be kind of frustrating, especially if you’re a family member who’s dealing with somebody who has just really sort of that that spark has gone out in them. You know, it affects everybody’s lives. And so when we can’t, as moms in particular one we can’t carry on with our own life because we’re so sort of consumed with helping our child. It obviously has a downstream effect on everyone else. 
I work with lots of lots of moms, and they often talk about how they don’t even recognize their life anymore. They don’t take care of themselves. They have usually either gained or lost a significant amount of weight, which impacts them not only physically, but psychologically. They usually have brain fog and they can’t focus on anything. They don’t really see their friends anymore. And they’ve stopped going to like exercise classes or book clubs or other groups that they belong to. And basically, their life today looks nothing like it did before their child started having problems. And if this has been going on for years as it does for a lot of us, this becomes your new normal. So you kind of forget that you used to be happy and that you used to have a life and that that life wasn’t, you know, completely dominated by fear and anxiety and sadness. And then usually at some point, something happens and you get this thought that Hmm, I wonder if it’s okay for me to do something fun. I wonder if it’s okay for me to laugh or to go and have a good time or at least try to go and have a good time. And maybe something triggers this like you’ll see an old picture of yourself when you looked great. You were smiling or you are laughing. You might have been with some friends or some family and you really, really missed that or Maybe you get to a point with your son or daughter, where you’ve realized that you really need to refocus some of that energy that you’re channeling 100% to them back to yourself, but you feel guilty, because how could you go and do that and go and have fun when you know the situation that they’re in? 
And again, there’s really no right or wrong answer to this question. We’re all so unique, and we all have unique situations with our kids. But what I can do is give you some things to consider, and to think about when you’re in the state of ambivalence of sort of wanting and needing more happiness in your life but not really being sure a Is it even possible to do and B? Is that okay? Is that something that you should be doing? 
So the first thing to consider is there’s the same and I know you know it, you’re only as happy as your unhappiest kid, and I totally believe this and at the same time, I think it’s totally wrong. And here’s why. If you’re only as happy as your unhappiest kid, you’re assigning your emotions over to somebody who is not in a good place in life. Right? You’re basically saying, “hey, you’re really sick, and you’re causing problems in my life. So here, let me give you my mind, and here’s my heart. And then just let me know when we’re happier.”
And I will be the first to tell you that I was guilty of this syndrome for years while my son was was dealing with his addiction. And I would put on the quote unquote, normal act while I was in my corporate job, and I would participate in events and I would travel and I would go to happy hours and everything that was expected of me in that world when I was in work mode, but that wasn’t really me. That was me in coping mode. And once I was away for more, once I went back to the hotel, I traveled extensively in my job. I would go back and Get away from work and I was genuinely miserable. And I didn’t smile. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t do anything for myself because I actually thought that I was only allowed to be as happy as my unhappiest child, I kind of felt like that was a thing.
That was sort of a law when you have a kid who you know, is very, very sick has a life threatening condition, I’ve kind of in a way felt that it was wrong to be anything other than miserable and sad, and scared and and really, totally consumed by his problems. So I do believe at times that we are only as happy as our unhappiest kid. But I also believe it’s really important for you to give yourself permission to be as happy as a happiest person, you know, even if it’s just temporary. And I know it’s impossible to be cheery and smiley and positive all the time when your child’s going through these huge challenges. And I wouldn’t even try to tell you that that’s possible. What I do want you to think about is planning sometimes when you can let yourself go when you can let yourself breathe and smile, put your face in the sun, and set your child aside in a safe place in your mind, find something that’s positive and makes you feel good. And do that. 
And the amazing thing about doing this, if you sort of plan this time, for your own joy and your own happiness is that your child isn’t going to get worse, and they’re probably not going to get better. But the important thing to know is that they’re not going to get worse. So if it helps, you can do what I do. And this is what I eventually started doing. when things were very, very off track in our family. And that was to visualize my son being held really tightly by a higher power. And for me, that’s God, and I would literally in my mind, say okay, for the next hour, he is yours, I’m going to free my mind for this hour, and not worry or think about him because I know you’ve got him. 
And if you can do this with whatever higher power you might connect with – it doesn’t have to be God – it will free you up to focus on your time for yourself. And when you start to see this working sort of hour by hour as you build this into your life, what you realize is that you can have some emotional autonomy from your child. And that’s a very, very huge gift that you could give yourself. So I would really encourage you to think about that. 
And the second thing to consider is that it is really good for your child to see you happy. So if we have spent every waking moment tangled up with our kids and their struggle and everything that’s going on in their life, and everything that they’re not doing and everything that they’re doing wrong. It kind of starts to feel like we’re living one blended life. Instead of To the formal term for that is enmeshment. And it’s a really big reason why we don’t give ourselves permission, or we can’t find happiness when our kids are sick. And what you might not realize is that it’s really important and good for your child to see you living your life. And you are having fun, and you’re smiling and being happy, again, not every second of every day, but occasionally, and they need to see that you live your life and that there’s a separation between the two of you. They already know that their life isn’t on track. So if they only see you sad and depressed and scared and angry, it can actually create more sadness and guilt on their part. Which then often leads them to want to escape those feelings because they don’t like seeing you sad and depressed and scared and angry. And so they escape those feelings by using drugs or alcohol or self harm or whatever. They’re doing and then that cycle goes on.
Now, I am not saying that by you enjoying little bits of your life that your child has just magically going to stop using that. That’s not what I’m getting out here. But what I am saying is that it’s healthy for them to see you purposefully taking care of your life, taking care of yourself and spending some time, being happy and happy, again, has lots of different meanings to lots of different people. So what makes me happy and the way I express happiness might look very, very different from what it is to you, but you know, inside what that looks like, 
The third consideration, it kind of dovetails off of the second point, and that is to consider the ripple effect of you not having fun or not spending time with yourself and getting some joy into your life. If you have other kids in addition to your special project child who’s causing problems in your life, what are they seen happen to their mom or dad Think about how scary it would be for them to only see you as a wreck and only see you sad and not taking care of yourself and not seeing their mom or dad smiling and not seeing them have some happiness in their life. This is such a hard thing when siblings have a brother or sister who are involved in some sort of struggle, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, emotional problems, and then to also then witness your mom and dad only being sad, only being angry only being exhausted. It just adds to the impact that happens on them. 
And if you have a spouse or a partner that’s going through this with you, I can guarantee it is having an impact on them. They want and need to see you be happy and the impact of living with somebody who is always consumed with sadness and pain can be really really serious and many relationships. don’t survive it. So really think about the person that you live with the other children in your home. And just think about what that ripple effect looks like. 
So I would love to offer an experiment for you if this is an area that you struggle with. And it’s a very simple experiment. So it’s not not complicated, doesn’t take a lot of time. But what it is, is to start writing down three to five things that make you truly happy, or at least they make you smile. And it’s okay if they’re unrealistic right now. Right now we’re in lockdown with COVID. So I know there’s a lot of things that used to make us happy that we’re not able to do but write down those three to five things. And you know, that could be spending time on vacation, it could be spending time with a special group of friends that maybe you’re not normally able to be with. Or it could just be getting an extra special cup of coffee that you love. 
And then out of those things that you’ve written down find one that’s doable right now, just one and start with that. And again, it might be really small, especially today in the time that we’re in and the restrictions that we’re living under. This might just be something that we used to take for granted. And it might be something that you’ve forgotten about. So spend a little time on this and really kind of rewind in your brain and think about what are the things that you used to do that would make you smile that would just make you feel good inside, decide that that’s the one that you’re going to work on. 
And then I want you to look at your calendar for the next seven days. And the next seven days, find one hour that you’re going to block off as your “happy hour.” And if you can block off more than that, go for it. You know if you’re especially if your child is in treatment right now, maybe they’re in a wilderness therapy program, maybe they are in a residential program or a 30 day rehab, whatever it is if they are out of your home. At the moment, this is your time to pounce on this experiment, because you’re going to have even an easier time of it than if you’re with them day to day. So if you can, if you can take more than an hour, take it. If you could take up to a half a day, that would be amazing. 
But take as much time as you can, and then remind yourself of the positive ripple effect that’s going to go through your family and your friends, and even the people that you work with. And if it helps go back to finding that higher power and find a way to hand over that time. And I I kid you not, write it into your calendar, write it in and say this is the time I’m going to hand over. This is the one hour I’m going to let it go. And at first, this is kind of feel really weird and you may even spend the hour that you’ve scheduled wondering what the heck you’re doing. But at least you’re giving yourself a chance and then the next time you schedule that hour, you might be able to let go little bit more, and then the next time a little bit more. 
And also, as you schedule in this time, you’re going to start to notice that it can creep out into other times in your life where you find yourself smiling or maybe laughing a little bit more freely just because life kind of offered that moment. And trust me, I know this isn’t going to change everything, and all of a sudden, you’re going to just bounce back to your old self. I’m honestly not sure if that does happen after you’ve gone through a very, very traumatic experience with your child for year after year after year. So I don’t know that it happens, and I don’t know if it does, how long that takes. I am definitely not there yet. So I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. But I do want you to just try this. Do these very small steps in this experiment. Just break it down. Think about it in the bite size pieces one hour, one day at a time. Remembering the key three key things:
you don’t have to be only as happy as your unhappiest kid. 
it’s healthy for your struggling child to see you focusing on you, and 
consider the ripple effect of your emotional state, because it’s not just impacting you, it’s impacting everybody in your life. 
And I know this is so hard to separate yourself from your child’s problems. It is absolutely critical, though, for your own health, and also is really, really important for the growth and health of your child to see you making an effort. So if you were wondering if you have permission, Yes, you do. Absolutely. And this is your life. You need to remember that your child’s life is their life. Your life is your life. And yes, this is a part of your life. The anxiety and the fear is all a part of your life, but it is not your entire life. And so finding some separation from that is really, really important. 
If this is resonating with you, I want to invite you to check out The Stream. It’s an online space for moms, who are all struggling with our kids and trying to figure out how to live our lives when kind of all craziness is breaking out when they’re battling emotional issues when they’re using substances when they are wrecking havoc in our life. Everybody in this community is searching for answers to those things and we’re searching for support. So The Stream is a safe place for you to exhale to connect with other moms to find resources to help you through this really challenging season in life. And you can find out a lot more about it and find out about the membership options at my website. Just go to
And you can also download a free ebook that I wrote. It’s called HINDSIGHT: Three things I wish I knew when my son was addicted to drugs. It has really practical and helpful information that might help you in your journey. It’s also on my website
So that is the quick episode today. Thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate your support. If you have 30 extra seconds right now, I would love it if you would rate and review the podcast wherever you’re listening from. If you’re listening on Apple podcasts, which I know many of you are, you just go to the main screen for the podcast, not an episode but go out to the main podcast screen. Scroll down a little bit and you’ll see some stars and a little section where you can write a review. What that does is it just helps more parents find the podcast so it means a lot to me if you can do that. So again, thanks for listening and I will meet you back here next week.

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