Can You Give For Fun And For Free? The cost of addiction on families

I was with a group of friends last night and someone shared this quote:

“Recovery does not cure us of every human imperfection or eliminate all pain

in our lives, but it gives us tools to deal with our problems

and continually work to improve ourselves.”

These words have stayed with me, and I find myself repeating them over and over in my head. As I contemplate why this quote struck me so hard, I’m reminded of the pain that arises for me as a direct result of my daughter’s struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD) and the cost of addiction on families. Her addiction isn’t something I am going to be able to eliminate. Rather, I am going to struggle. I am going to wrestle with the right or wrong actions to take in any given situation that arises. And, I am going to make mistakes and deal with personal imperfections. But, I can use each interaction as a way to refine and improve how I engage my daughter and the disease. Each time I am forced to encounter the disorder, I can work to implement new behaviors and new ways of thinking.

My current struggle of late has been my desire, and thus my action, of trying to buy my peace of mind. It’s an old behavior that I wrestle with off and on when it comes to my relationship with my daughter and her struggle with substance use disorder. Somewhere along the line I begin to equate money to solution—and solution to peace of mind. Money became the vehicle for finding the “cure,” for “fixing” her. If I could just send her to the best treatment centers, find the most experienced and degreed professional to explore the demons she struggles with, hire a peer support coach to assist her in meeting life’s challenges with assurance and confidence, provide opportunities to participate in recovery, sober activities and events or enroll her in medical assistance recovery programs (on and on the list goes), then I felt relief and peace of mind. “If only I could pay for…” is where my mind always goes when I begin to feel the angst, fear and worry that exist for me as a result of my daughters struggles with SUD.

I’m not new to this journey. I’ve done a tremendous amount of recovery work, both personally and now professionally. Intellectually, I know I will never have enough money to cure my daughter’s struggle with SUD because money is not a cure for what ails her. For that matter, I will never have enough love or resources—mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually—to “fix” my daughter. No one who struggles with a mental disorder or disease has ever been cured or “fixed” by their loved one’s love, money or resources. That’s just simply not how it works. Mental and physical diseases are complex and complicated and require more than money, love and support to cure or mend. Yet, while I know this intellectually, I still find myself reverting to the desire to buy my peace of mind.

Do I Give My Addicted Loved One Money?

I decided a few weeks ago to explore the root cause of my thinking this way. Three things have become clear thus far. First, my initial instinct to any crisis, whether it involves my daughter or not, is to throw money at it. Money has a long history in my personal story of being the answer. It often was a substitution for love in my family of origin, making it no real surprise to me that when a situation or emergency arises I resort to trying to find a financial solution. Money offers me an immediate, albeit temporary, relief from the crisis at hand. Second, I cannot give money to my daughter without experiencing a series of negative emotions toward her today. And thirdly, throwing money at the problem or crisis is a way for me to avoid dealing with my feelings—the fear, guilt, disappointment or other unhealthy emotions I may be experiencing around the situation.

Here’s how that looks in real time. My daughter calls and asks for money for food, a hotel, to get basic necessities, etc. Without thought, I want to send the money because I do not want my daughter to be hungry, without shelter, or not have her basic needs met. If I send her the money she has requested or if I pay for food or a hotel, I get immediate relief from the feelings that I experience knowing my daughter is not suffering. The fact that I know and understand that my daughter’s life is hard and often extremely unmanageable as a result of her struggle with SUD doesn’t matter in that initial moment. What does matter is that my child, my only child, is hurting, wanting, struggling, and my motherly instinct is to prevent her pain, immediately, and at all cost.

What follows then is an inner dialogue that involves a flurry of questions. To name just a few:

Can I live with helping her or not helping her?

What may or may not occur if I do or do not help her financially?

Is sending her money or spending money on her requests going to help her or hurt her in the short-term and/or the long-term?

Am I contributing to the continual chaos and struggles of her life by offering monetary aid?

Will this money move her toward seeking help or something that will keep her from seeking help?

What will our family have to do without if I help her?

Can I assist her without feelings of anger or resentment?

Am I obligated as a mother to meet this need or request?

Am I a bad mother if I refuse?

What kind of mother am I to deny my sick daughter help when she asks for it?

This is just a sampling—and it is certainly not an exhaustive list—of the questions that roll around in my mind in the first 30 seconds that follow my daughter’s monetary requests. If you are a loved one or family member of someone suffering from substance abuse or addiction, you, too, likely know this litany of questions. It is long. It is exhausting. It is a struggle.

Is What I’m Doing “For Fun And For Free?”

Early in my recovery journey I was given a guideline meant to help me determine when and if I should financially contribute to my daughter and her struggles. I have tried to live by this advice, but sometimes I fall miserably short. The suggestion was simple: I was only to give money to my daughter if I could do it "for fun and for free.” Essentially, if I could not give financial aid to my daughter free from expectations, rules and standards, I was not to give her assistance. Although difficult, I have I tried to practice this recommendation in my dealings with my daughter and financial assistance. This practice requires complete and total self-honesty, which itself requires deep and intense self-reflection. The problem for me is that when a crisis arises I feel compelled to act immediately. Examining my motives in those moments rarely yields my true intentions. Immediacy and the compulsion to act with intense urgency often cause me to justify and rationalize the necessity of my actions. The ability to stand back, contemplate and reflect on what I am doing is lost, and even feels like a luxury—a luxury I don’t feel afforded in the moment. Even if it’s not an emergency or a crisis, it still feels like one and that I must react immediately. In truth, not everything is an emergency or crisis—in fact, most things are not. However, it’s common to lose sight of that when living with, loving and/or being in relationship with someone who struggles with SUD.

The needs my daughter expresses are often desperate and immediate for her, causing a reaction in me to respond with a split-second decision or response of my own. In truth, these situations create great angst in me, and I simply want to off-load my feelings of angst, worry or fear as fast as I can. This is when the temptation to “throw money at the situation” is the greatest. My daughter contacts me, shares her fears, needs or wants with me, and I immediately take on her level of anxiety. Of course I do; I am her mother, and that is a natural and normal response. However, I have to remind myself that I am not dealing with a natural or normal situation. Rather, I am dealing with an individual who has a very aggressive mental, physical and spiritual disorder. And, as her mother, a family member and a fellow human, I believe that it is my obligation, role and responsibility to act with kindness, compassion, as well as INTELLECT.

Intellectually, I know that I am responsible for my own emotions. I also know that it’s my responsibility to stop trying to find relief in, from or through my daughter, the one who is suffering. The truth is, at the end of the day, I want my daughter to get “well,” to get “better,” in part so that I can. I want her “healed” because with her healing could come my own. I would no longer have to worry. I could stop trying to figure out whether I should offer financial assistance or not. I would no longer have to do the deep, hard work of inward reflection and the thousand other things I do in order to live in relationship with her and her disease. Do I want my daughter to find sobriety or recovery according to her definition, YES!, of course. Is it purely for her benefit? No, and that’s the bitter truth.

Another truth I have recently discovered is that I cannot give money to my daughter without feeling angry, anxious or suspicious, and these feelings can cause me to be short-tempered with her. I ask probing questions and/or demand proof of evidence regarding the resources I give her. In other words, I am not in a space today where I can practice the rule of for “ for fun and for free” with her. I also realize that when I give her money I respond to her with criticism, condemnation and shame, which is in direct opposition to the very reason why I feel compelled to give her money or financial assistance to begin with: my need to feel better and to be a good, loving and compassionate mother. The truth, as it turns out, is I am not a good, loving or compassionate mother to my daughter when I give her money. That’s the paradox of this crazy compulsion I have to buy my peace of mind. It cannot be done, which is a hard and bitter truth to realize. My intentions and my actions are not aligned. It’s my sincere hope that I will not always feel this way, however, this is what it is for today. For now, for me, I must admit that if I want to act with authentic honesty, integrity and love, I cannot give my daughter money as a way to regulate my own emotions. I cannot operate from a place of immediacy when it comes to financial matters with my daughter. It’s not good for her, and it’s certainly not healthy for me.

My peace of mind and my daughter’s health and wellness cannot be bought, and the cost of addiction on families extends far beyond the dollar. Money is not the answer. I can still help my daughter in her search for healing, basic needs and health, but I cannot expect money to be the solution to my issues or hers. Money is not the cure for what ails her, and I have learned that giving when it is not for fun or for free will not bring me any sustainable peace of mind.

For more information on money, addiction and the cost of addiction on families and more, check out The Financial Toll of Addiction, an article posted on DRUGABUSE.COM, An American Addiction Centers Resource.

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