The following was posted on “The Addict’s Mom” a Facebook group I recommend for all moms of addicts.
Addiction and Homelessness
Homeless. We dread letting our children go homeless. After all, a mom’s first job is to provide a home for her child. We feed them, change their diapers, keep them safe, protect them from danger. So when our beloved child turns into an adolescent addict, we naturally get confused. Addiction turns our children into abusive, unloving strangers, someone we would never let stay in our house…except that person also happens to be our son/daughter. So we don’t know what to do.
First we have to recognize that addiction has indeed taken over the life of the child we once knew. They are not who they were; it’s as if Dr. Jekyll (the rational person) has become Mr. Hyde (the monster). Family has no place in the heart of an active addict who has only one thing on his/her mind: where to get the next drugs. So family is only a means to an end and stealing and manipulation are what they do to get that compulsion satisfied. Any recovered addict will tell you this: they could not control their compulsion to use drugs and could not, therefore, also care about those who loved them. They just can’t. It’s just what the disease does to them. In active addiction, they have no choice but to use, abuse, manipulate, coerce, defend because they are COMPELLED to use.
Underneath they are being eaten up by guilt, the kind of terrible guilt which would tear them apart with pain if they ever stopped to feel it. So they don’t; they just bury the guilt along with all the other bad feelings they are trying to drug themselves out of feeling. … Keeping an abusive young person (over age 18) in your house just ADDS TO THE GUILT he is already feeling. The more guilty he feels for what his disease is compelling him to do the less likely he is to pursue recovery.
Letting him/her abuse you or take advantage of you makes it less likely that he will experience the FULL natural consequences of using. ONLY when the pain of using drugs becomes greater than the pain of not using drugs (which includes the pain of withdrawal from drugs, and the pain of guilt along with the pain of whatever emotional distress he was avoiding in the first place by using drugs) ONLY THEN will he seek recovery.
This is what they mean when they talk about the addict’s “hitting bottom.” He realizes that his life with drugs is just going to go from bad to worse, whereas his life without drugs, which will include all the pain he will have to feel along the path of recovery, at least offers him hope of a better life.
We did not let my daughter live in our house when she was using drugs. (And later, during her early sobriety, when I financed her housing, I drug tested her randomly and frequently, as a condition for receiving my support, to make sure she stayed clean.) On two occasions (totalling three years) our daughter lived “on the street.” Sleeping under bridges, eating out of dumpsters, panhandling for change, and all the rest of it. Yes, it was horrible, but it was also the NATURAL CONSEQUENCE of her drug use when we stepped out of the role of rescuer.
On the street our daughter learned a lot. She became a survivor. And finally she’d had enough. We always kept the phone lines open and we always financed any effort at rehab. (5 rehabs, 6 relapses, now 7 years clean time). We always said “I love you” and we meant it. We always said “we’ll be there when you are ready to get clean” and we were. But we never let her live in our house when she was using.
She affirms today that this was one of the best choices we made in support of her learning what she had to learn from and about her disease. Until it was done. I was one of the lucky ones because she did finally hit bottom, and she was ready, and she did, eventually get clean (but remember recovery includes relapses…for most addicts anyway).
Her experiences with homelessness were (I hesitate to say it) good for her. She is an immensely grateful person today. No challenge is ever too much now, because she has faced such intense challenges on the street that she knows she can handle anything. When it’s cold out, she’s so grateful to have a house. When it’s hot out, she’s so grateful to have air conditioning. She is no longer the “entitled” complaining, blaming child; she’s a very grateful young woman. Odd as it may sound, she grew up on the streets. She became a person, not just a bundle of psychological issues. She handled some very challenging situations…on her own. She found her strength. I can’t say what will happen for your son or daughter, and, as I said, I’m one of the lucky ones (which is entirely due to God’s grace).
But don’t be terrified of your child becoming homeless. It just could be exactly what they need.