The Difficult Road to Closure and Growth
The idea of forgiveness is one deep-rooted in our society. For millennia, followers of religions across the world - from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism and to even more ancient faiths - have placed a high value on the concepts of forgiving and of refraining from judgement.
Outside of religion, we see the positive aspects of forgiveness every day. The humanist concepts of altruism, empathy, sympathy, release, and closure are all closely centered on forgiveness in one form or another, and only the most cold-hearted among us would ever completely turn their back on the possibility of absolution.
So, no matter which culture we come from, no matter which faith we follow, if any, forgiveness is universally understood and is accepted as necessary in many cases. However, when it comes to our own parents - when it comes to facing up to a household damaged and fractured by the trauma of addiction - the path of forgiveness is not always so easy to walk.
This is something we will be exploring in more detail in this article, as we examine how to forgive parents whose lives have been blighted by drug addiction.
The True Meaning of Forgiveness
There is no universal experience of growing up in a home where drug addiction is a real factor. No two peoples' stories will be the same. However, there are common elements which are reported time and time again.
Children growing up with drug-addicted parents will very often be neglected. This ranges from a parent 'forgetting' to pick a child up from school or from a friend's home, to a child not having access to necessary food, sustenance, and medical care.
In many cases, children growing up in homes like these will be actively abused. This abuse takes many forms and can be emotional, physical, or sexual.
At the very least, children in these situations have been exposed to a world that should not have been allowed into their young experience - which should not have been allowed to touch upon their formative years. So, while, yes, it is true that no experience can be compared to another, the implications for a child with drug-addicted parents are often very grave indeed.
And so there is trauma. There are wounds which are left unhealed - wounds which refuse to be healed - of both a psychological and an emotional nature. There are underlying issues and simmering resentments which do not fade away. This makes forgiveness a difficult issue and an awkward concept to reconcile.
It should be made clear from the outset - forgiveness is not a minimization of suffering or trauma. Forgiveness is not a means of 'explaining away' or 'sweeping under the rug' the horrors of what has been before. Instead, it is a method of healing; a means of stepping beyond the pain and ugliness which went before, in favor of something new.
Understanding and Moving Beyond
We have established that forgiveness, in this instance, is something which needs to be carefully negotiated by both parties. Forgiveness must not be seen as a concession or a defeat on the part of the son or daughter, nor can it be received as a validation or an endorsement on behalf of the parent. Mutual understanding is vital from the very beginning.
The act of forgiveness involves letting go. It involves a conscious process of moving beyond the trauma and casting off any hang-ups or anxieties which may have become associated with this. Consider it this way - by holding on to the pain and resentment, you are only causing further anger and torment. You are not fighting back against your parents, you are worsening the damage they have done and exacerbating the problem.
There must also be a process of rationalization involved. When you work to forgive your parents, you must first be able to place their actions within a logical framework. In the vast majority of cases, it was never your parents' intention to cause harm or pain to you or to other children in their charge. The damage done came at the end of a long line of mistakes and negative influences. Working to understand these influences is a good place to start.
A parent may have suffered abuse as a child themselves or may have been neglected by parents and guardians. This may have led them to normalize such behavior and then to carry this behavior forward into adulthood and into their relationship with their own kids. They may have even become consumed with anger and resentment of their own, to the extent that they were unable to assume the responsibility of parenthood - this understanding will serve as an impetus to break the cycle of abuse and neglect for the next generation.
Remember, at every step, forgiveness is about understanding; it is never about excusing.
Dispelling Misconceptions of Forgiveness
Forgiveness, by its very nature, is a difficult subject. It is a concept which many of us view as being simple and straightforward, but is in fact extremely complex. As a result, there are many misconceptions which have sprung up around forgiveness - particularly in relation to drug-addicted parents.
These misconceptions only serve to muddy the waters further, making it even more difficult to negotiate a way towards a positive outcome. We have covered some of the most common misconceptions below, to help you better understand your route towards a happier, healthier, and more whole you.
Forgiveness and Apology are not Linked
An enormous misconception surrounding forgiveness is that the concepts of forgiveness and apology are in some way linked. The idea that forgiveness should follow an apology, or that it must be followed by an apology in order to be valid, is simply not true. In fact, by waiting for an apology or by expecting an apology, you are only doing yourself further harm.
This is because of the convergence of pride and denial. Many people, even if they know they have done wrong, are too hung up on notions of pride and self-importance to admit this, even to themselves. Meanwhile, the nature of drug addiction and the lifestyle that comes with it makes it difficult to think precisely and to be honest. This means that many people suffering from addiction find it difficult even to recognize that any problem has ever existed.
So, why would you put yourself through this? Why would you delay your own healing simply because someone else can't admit that they have a problem, for whatever reason? Don't worry about the apology - forget about meaningless words like 'sorry' - and do what you have to do in order to step beyond the trauma.
Forgiveness is not a Validation
One factor that many makes people who have been wronged baulk at the idea of forgiveness is the sense that to forgive is to somehow accept or even validate the behavior of the wrongdoer. For example, if your parent has neglected and abused you, you might feel that forgiving this behavior is to somehow send a signal that this is ok - that this is a normal way to be.
No - this is not the case. Forgiveness is a necessary step on the road towards healing and towards personal growth. You are not excusing the actions of another; instead, you are simply releasing yourself from their power. You are stepping beyond, to a place in which you can no longer be hurt.
Don't be held back by this fear. Do not feel that you are somehow delivering power, or victory to those who have hurt you in the past. In fact, you are severing that power, and you are laying the groundwork for a successful and fulfilled future for yourself.
Forgiveness is not the Beginning of a New Relationship
What comes after forgiveness? Happy families? A new beginning? A clean slate?
No, of course not. This is simply impossible. Just because the torment that you have been put through has been dealt with and has been processed does not mean that it ceases to exist. The hurt that you have experienced is still there, even once you have moved on.
Drug addiction is a terrible thing. The toll that drug addiction takes on the human body, on human life, and on society as a whole, is similarly terrible. Drug addicts are often victims of circumstance. Often, the weight of a few bad choices made and left unrectified gets too great, and, quickly, the situation gets out of control. A degree of understanding is important when dealing with people who have fallen victim to this kind of personal tragedy, but that is all.
Wounds do not fully heal, unfortunately. Just because you have forgiven your parent or parents does not mean that you should allow them complete access to your life once again. How much of this access you do decide to allow is up to you, and up to you alone. Do not feel pressured into having an active relationship with your parents going forward, or even any relationship at all.
The Practical Route to Forgiving Drug Addicted Parents
Even when equipped with prior knowledge of the nature of forgiveness, the actual process of forgiving can be difficult. We have compiled a list of some practical tips you can use to move forward and to achieve the life that you deserve.
Consider Personal Growth
Nothing in life is in vain. Even the most unpleasant or negative experiences bring us opportunities for growth and personal development. What you have gone through will never be positive, but it has made you what you are today.
Consider this. Consider how you have grown as a person over the years. Consider your achievements and the things you can be proud of, in spite of everything. This will help you as you transition to the next phase of your life.
Take as Long as You Need
There is no set time frame for forgiveness. There is no single accepted route towards letting go. There are simply individual people, each with their own way of processing emotions and dealing with personal issues.
This means, take as much time as you need. There is no right or wrong way to go about this - you simply need to get the closure you require to move on. Cut yourself some slack and do not put yourself under pressure.
Speak to the Experts
No one needs to suffer alone. If you are having trouble with the process of forgiving, or if you are not sure precisely how best to go about it, speak to a professional team. One of the services we offer at Pemarro is expert and warm family counseling, ideal for those processing the trauma of growing up with drug-addicted parents.
We also provide individual counseling and other services if you feel that this would be a better solution for you.
Prepare for What Comes Next
We have already discussed what doesn't come next, or what doesn't necessarily have to come next, but what does come next, after forgiveness? What can you expect in this post-forgiveness landscape?
A new world, perhaps. A new outlook on life. The person that you are once you have experienced the release of forgiveness will still be 'you', but it will be a version of 'you' with greater potential and with a world of possibility just waiting for you.
It will be at this point that you begin to recognize forgiveness for what it is. You are not absolving anyone of their sins. You are not explaining or excusing anyone's behavior. You are simply lifting a weight from off your shoulders. You are drawing a line under the damage done. You are saying: "no more!"
What comes next is up to you, but no longer needing to carry that weight around your neck will leave you feeling freer and more attuned to your potential than ever before. Take your first steps towards forgiveness, and never look back.
Need help from our professional counselors? Want to embark on one of our detox programs? Simply need further advice regarding drug addiction and abuse? Our team are always here to help. Get in touch today.