How can I live free if someone I care about is addicted? I was raised with an alcoholic parent. When this parent drank she said terrible things. She was out of control, sappy, and said things she will never be able to take back. I’m a mom now and she’s still drinking. If I forgive her, then she will think she can be in my life again and that of my children, and I won’t let that happen.
Dear friend, thank you for your honest question. You are asking this not just for yourself but brave enough to ask for others in the same situation. First of all, I want you to know that I’m not a counselor. I don’t have all the answers but this is what I do know:
Every child deserves a safe place and you didn’t have one.
Every child deserves to feel loved and nurtured, and you didn’t receive that.
I’m so very sorry. I want you to hear that before you hear anything else. You didn’t deserve to go through that. I also want to tell you how brave it is that you stepped out of dysfunction to give your children safety and stability and a home that is loving. I don’t know if anyone has told you lately what a courageous act that was.
Your question to me was much longer, but to protect you I am not sharing those details. The gist of what you shared is that you want to live free (which involves forgiving), but that seems impossible when a parent is still dysfunctional. You also want to keep your children safe.
So, let’s start with forgiveness.
Why is forgiving even in this conversation?
Because freedom comes as we live without resentment tied to the past. This means we give our children a mom that isn’t burdened with anger. We give ourselves permission to discover who we are, separate from the past. Forgiving allows you to receive those beautiful gifts, whether your mom changes or not. It releases you from unresolved anger. It acknowledges what took place and that it shouldn’t have, but tells the world that you aren’t bound for life by another person’s mistakes or choices or words.
As you forgive, you set loving boundaries.
This is where it can get confusing. Some people think that forgiving means total access or pretending that there’s not addiction in the picture. They might even think it’s allowing abuse to continue.
No, no, no.
Instead it’s a mixture of grace and truth. A loving boundary is not put in place to punish, but to have the healthiest relationship possible due to the very real circumstances. A loving boundary might be, “If you are drunk we won’t hold a conversation on the phone.” You aren’t saying that you’ll never talk, or that she’s out of your life. You are simply stating that you it’s not healthy to engage in conversation where you are talking to the effects of the alcohol instead of your mom.
Is it okay as a believer to set boundaries?
There are many examples of Jesus setting healthy boundaries with grace and truth. What a beautiful combination. He wasn’t afraid to speak truth to the Pharisees. He wasn’t afraid to acknowledge brokenness. Jesus loved the person standing before him, but also acknowledged their need for transformation.
How do you do create loving boundaries?
- Write them out.
Pray over them. This invites the Holy Spirit into the process.
- Take a good look at the motives behind them.
A punitive boundary might look like this: If you berate me in front of my children, you’ll never see them again. A healthy boundary might look like this: If you berate me in front of my children, we’ll quietly leave every time.
It might look like this: As long as you continue to drink, my children cannot be alone with you. We can meet at a park together, but you cannot show up drunk.
These are considered mutual guidelines. It means that if you expect that person to act or respond a certain way, you’ll do the same. For example, if you are asking them to speak to you respectfully, you’ll do the same.
The hardest part of mutual boundaries
Now, this is the hard part. You stick with it. If you say you’ll leave when things become abusive, you do just that. Every single time. Over time, your mom will begin to understand that if she calls you while she is drunk or tries to berate you in front of your children, then you will gently get off the phone, you will quietly leave, you will refuse to engage.
What she does with that is her choice.
If she’s used to you getting angry and involved in a fight (then she can feel justified because you both were “at fault”) or she’s accustomed to you shutting down or giving her what she wants, there’s a good chance she will react in a negative way. But it also creates a new normal as she soon realizes that she’s all by herself in the dysfunctional cycle. She’s also loved. You aren’t closing the door completely. You aren’t holding the past over her head. You aren’t remaining in a cycle that keeps everybody trapped.
Something supernatural happens when we remove ourselves from the cycle. We begin to live free as we offer compassion for her brokenness, but we stop living it with that person.
This gives you space previously occupied by anger or resentment to start to reach for the new that God wants to do in you. It allows you to pray for that person, rather than try to fix them. It allows you to take your eyes off the past to see what you do have. Your mom may not be healthy, but you are healing. You are giving the next generation a gift of wholeness. This is worth celebrating.
Thank you for asking your question. Thank you for your courage and for giving your child something more.
These books gently come alongside you in that process. Discover the joy of living without brokenness, as a forgiver, and as someone who gives the next generation more than what you’ve received.