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From Mother to Mother, Having a Child with Substance Use Disorder

Written by Cathy Miles
Published on May 12, 2019

There are certain “things” you can’t understand until you experience them. Being a mother is one of them. Having a loved one who suffers from Substance Use Disorder is another. The combination of the two was absolutely devastating. It occupied my every thought; it clouded my ability to enjoy normal activities and caused me to suffer from anxiety and depression. Yet through it all, I couldn’t be prouder of my daughter.

When I was little, Mother’s Day was about celebrating my mom with my brother and sister. From handprint cards, and pencil holders when I was little, to picnics in the park with my siblings and their children when I had my own family. As I got older, Mother’s Day slowly morphed into being about me. And Mother’s Day was always special, until it wasn’t. Not even Mother’s Day could alleviate the pain and worry.

Mother’s Day changed for me 5 years ago when I found out my daughter was suffering from Substance Use Disorder. She was 19. For years after that Mother’s Day was a painful holiday. For many it still is. She is now 24 and has been in recovery for over a year. I finally am beginning to feel like I can breathe on Mother’s Day. But her disease has taken its toll on our family and has left a hole that I fear won’t be filled. Yet, in many ways, she and her disease has brought about positive changes as well. I have become less judgmental and more understanding of others, have become an advocate in reducing the stigma and increasing the treatment, and have become involved many other causes surrounding the disease. I too am learning coping skills, how to set and respect boundaries and about my role in who my daughter is as a human being. I have learned how strong she really is and how her disease has taught her courage, perseverance, strength and compassions.

Now on Mother’s Day, I honor all the moms out there who like me, love unconditionally and never give up. It is a day about holding on to hope, because these moms, like me, belong to a club we never wanted to join. It is a day to be thankful for the many moms I have met along the way who have shared their journey with me.

Mother’s Day is also a time to reflect and mourn. I can’t forget about the Mothers who have lost children, about the children who have lost their mothers and about those still struggling with the disease. For them, Mother’s Day is not a holiday. It is a reminder of what could have been; of dreams lost, and lives forever changed. Through tragedy and others’ journeys, we often make lifelong relationships and form the strongest bonds. I have met some incredible people, heard some amazing stories of strength and endurance and have developed close relationships with so many people. I have shared my triumphs and tears and told my story of hope so others may learn, just as I have learned from others before me.

Substance use disorder is a family disease. It is also a community disease, and its effects are long lasting. Family gatherings and extended family gatherings often include one or the other of my children but rarely both. There is much stigma surrounding the disease and stigma brings shame. Although we are learning to forgive and trust, my daughter has to learn to forgive herself.

As moms, we have trouble letting go of our fear and worry. We spend  little time taking care of ourselves. We often shut down or develop abuses of our own such as overeating or overspending. We have trouble sleeping, concentrating, or maintaining relationships with family and friends. We are left with a feeling of powerlessness that does not go away. We hold on to each other, because of her struggle is my struggle and her loss is mine as well. But with time, knowledge support groups, and lots of counseling, life has gotten better, and easier.

Recovery has a way of putting things in perspective. My relationship with my daughter was rocky at best during her adolescent and teenage years. But things are different now. We are closer. We appreciate each other. I understand her everyday struggle, and she understands my concern. I am a more tolerant person. Oddly, I worry less. I allow her to learn from her mistakes and have faith that she will know how to fix them. I know my mom was right when she told me “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Today Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate life, love and my daughter’s journey to recovery. Not just today, but every day. I am no longer ashamed and instead am bursting with pride, for this is not a disease that is easy to overcome. Mother’s Day is also a day to take care of me and to give my racing mind a rest. It allows me to cherish what I have instead of what I am missing. My daughter is alive, is present and is here to celebrate another Mother’s Day. And for that I am grateful.



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