Children: The Real Victims of Addiction
“Train up a child in the way they should go: and when they are old, they will not depart from it.”
See Proverbs 22:6
“Matthew, your mom is here. Do you want to go see her?”
“Yeah…I guess,” I say hesitantly, as I walk forward out of the room, led by an employee of the children’s shelter.
Mom didn’t always come to visitation day. Grandma did, Dad did, but rarely did she. Most of the time Grandma and Dad just couldn’t find her because she was at a crackhouse in Hibiscus Park, or who knows where.
As a ten-year-old boy, walking into the visitation room and hugging Mom was always awkward. I resented her very much because I knew that if she wasn’t so busy with her addictions, she could easily get us back. But no matter, Mom had finally come to visit, so I had to put on a fake smile and act like I was happy to see her.
When the supervised visitation was over, they’d shuffle me back to the main area with the other kids. I’d always go to my room after visitation day and lay on my bottom bunk. While breaking down in tears of sadness and anger, I remember how unfair it felt to be in that place. “It’s all her fault! I’m here because of her!” I hurt. I hurt so bad.
Fast forward to today. As I write this, I’m a 36-year-old man. It is 5:23 am on Friday, November 10th, 2017. However, 26 years ago feels like yesterday. I can even remember the smell of that children’s home–I hated it. I hated that place, I hated the mean kids who tried to fight me every day, I hated the employees who should have been arrested for what they did to us–everything about it, I hated.
Let me be clear: my spirit hated no one, but my soul sure did–my thoughts. When you are abandoned by your own mom, and then treated like a second-class citizen because you are a ward of the state…well, I’ll just say this, the enemy starts to work on your thought life at a very young age.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has taught me to forgive and love. Not forget, but forgive and love. If I choose to focus on it, the pain from back then can be just as real, right now, today. Satan wants that, God doesn’t.
The memories we have from childhood are more vivid than the ones we form as adults. We are sponges at that age. That’s why, if we aren’t careful, the very same things that hurt us so badly, we too can hurt our own kids with, so badly.
That’s what happened to me.
When I used to drink, Saturday mornings were the worst part of my week for two main reasons:
1. Debilitating hangovers
2. Embarrassing regrets
Sure, I drank nearly every day of the week, but Friday nights were the heaviest drinking times for me because I didn’t have to get up for work the next day. Therefore, all bets were off, I’m getting smashed.
I always planned on getting drunk quickly, even if I tried to fake it at first by going slow. But once that fuse was lit, forget about it. I’d continue to drink until I passed out, or I’d binge eat and then pass out. My alcoholism had made me fat because of the huge amounts of caloric intake before bed. It didn’t matter though, I was in denial.
In my denial, on Fridays, I’d ignore the hangover I knew was coming the next morning. Not only that, because we problem drinkers have incredibly short memories–wink, wink–I’d also overlook the stupid crap I knew I’d be saying and doing while drunk. No matter, “I’m drinking! So mind your own dang business! It’s legal!”
Where was God this whole time?…In me. Right where He is right now. I had been a Christian since single-digit age, so the Holy Spirit was in me in full. However, I ignored Him as He tried to counsel me about my inability to drink like a gentleman. For this reason, my heavy drinking would never be okay with me; an inward battle happened each time I did it. There would never be a possibly of actually enjoying getting drunk, no matter how much my flesh and unrenewed thinking tried to convince me otherwise.
“Matt, why’d you drink? If your mom was an addict, why would you become one?”
It snuck up on me. What started out as a way to socialize and relax, morphed into a monster. Honestly, I wanted to feel different. Those of us who have a problem in our souls with an addiction to alcohol, we are trying to feel different. This is really the bottom line. You can call us weak, you can say we are people who lack self-control, but we just want to alter our feelings. Strangely enough, while deep in my own addictions, I finally understood my young mother’s poor choices. Mom wanted to feel better.
Further, I’m not a weak person whatsoever when it comes to fleshly effort. I rarely talk about it in my ministry, but I’m a very successful business owner. From the age of 19, I’ve built up the largest home and business security company within a 45-mile radius of my hometown–second place is not even close. I have employees, I have a storefront, a fleet of vehicles, and Alarm Security is a household name. This has taken more work, self-sacrifice, and determination than anyone who’s not done the same could possibly understand.
So it’s not a self-control issue that I had, it was a soul issue. It was my thinking. Truth be told, I will outwork anyone, but at the same time, I can’t stop drinking once I start. I tried for years and I just can’t do it with any consistency. Drinking is not for me, my off-button is broken, and I’m at peace with that.
As for self-control, all Christians have self-control. Self-control is built into us as a part of our supernatural DNA (see Galatians 5:22,23). When you received your new spirit–from the moment you first believed Jesus forgave you–you inherited in your spirit, what God Himself has: the ability to control yourself.
If a Christian says, “I have no self-control,” that’s a lie. God lives in us, and He has plenty of self-control to spare. However, self-control cannot be worked out of us through our own power. It has to be coming from a state of rest (see Hebrews 4:11). As we relax and stop trying so hard to overcome our addictions, the Holy Spirit works through us, producing self-control. Paul told the Philippian Christians about this spiritual epiphany:
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13)
God in us is giving us the desire and power to stop making stupid choices. So I had to learn to relax and stop trying to do His job. That’s not easy for me because I get things done!…But, I had to learn to feel my feelings, relax in Him, and simply be a branch connected to the vine of Christ (see John 15:5). By doing this–resting–God’s wisdom in me came to life and I finally gave up drinking for good.
Most of the time I drank to get rid of boredom, or to celebrate a great work-week. But at other times, I’d drink because of the poor treatment coming from others and the pain which came from such. Getting buzzed was my way of ignoring or masking the suffering from being severely codependent. Because of my abandonment issues, I allowed a lot of bad things to happen to me when I shouldn’t have. Codependency recovery is something that I’m also well-versed in. I’ve studied it hard, and if a toxic relationship is your drug, you might want to as well.
Most boozers struggle with people-pleasing. They can’t change the bad choices of others, so they drink to make those frustrated feelings go away. The problem with this is when we sober up those frustrated feelings are even worse.
The good news is, the Holy Spirit’s desire is to teach us how to not cover up our feelings about being taken advantage of. Instead, He educates us on how to establish healthy boundaries with firmness, respect, and love–both for the other person and for ourselves. God wants to get us to a place of balance. For this reason, He will counsel us away from enabling others without turning to an addiction to cope. This process is not easy, but possible through His strength! (See Philippians 4:13).
My parents didn’t pass down any healthy relationship skills. From a young age, I was taught to handle my relationship problems with rage, yelling, abandonment, the silent-treatment, and brushing terrible behavior under the rug as if it never happened.
Because of this, I had no real expertise when it came to standing up to unacceptable behavior as an adult. To soothe myself, I’d drink. This only made things worse, as painful issues piled up like junk in an episode of Hoarders. I had to change how I handled my relationships with others–as well as myself! And I had to do this without drinking! As an adult child of an addict, history was starting to repeat itself in my own home, so on May 8th, 2014, I decided to never drink another drop. Had I known life would be so much better this way, I would have given it up a long time ago!
As for Mom and I, we have a somewhat normal mother/son relationship now. From the rubble of the war-zone that was my childhood, God has healed the pain. She is sorry and I know it. I’ve completely forgiven Mom, and I hope she understands that.
So today, my friends, know this: Our addictions are not fair to our kids. Rather it be alcohol, drugs, food, men, women, work, hobbies, religion–whatever–ADDICTIONS HURT OUR KIDS. They are the real victims. Our children suffer silently as they witness us being controlled by something in which we shouldn’t be. Or worse, they begin to turn their pain and frustration inward. When this happens, there is a lot of stuff they will have to unlearn as they grow up. I was that kid. So please, please, if you are reading this and you are struggling with an addiction, ask God to teach you how to break free from it. Make no mistake, He will. The sooner you do this, the sooner your kids will get to see the real you, the sober you, the free you, the loving you. They are worth it.
A prayer for you: Father, thank you for another sober day. My daughter, Grace, thanks you for another sober day for me as well. Friday used to be a day of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Thank you for teaching me how to be myself by walking according to your Spirit! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. Many of them are adults who had addicted parents. Because of the pain they felt as a child, some have never touched drugs or alcohol. They’ve made a wise choice and their kids have benefited greatly. However, there are others who have followed in their parent’s footsteps and become addicted themselves. God, let them know you are not disappointed in them at all. Let them know you love them unconditionally, exactly as they are. Help them to feel your love right now. But at the same time, speak to their hearts and remind them of how they felt as a kid, and that now their own kids are witnessing and suffering the same. Reveal their children’s pain to them. Help these dear readers to begin exuding the self-control that every believer has inside! In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 3. Get your copy here!