When Your Child Turns to Drugs: An Interview with Anne Spollen
Telling the story of a child's addiction
Nothing can prepare a mother for discovering her child is abusing drugs. Anne Spollen has not only navigated this difficult terrain herself but also made it her mission to help other single moms facing similar situations.
When I found an essay Anne had written on addiction in the family that appeared in Brain Child Magazine, it took my breath away. Besides being well written and informative, it was gutsy and candid in its exploration of one of the toughest challenges a parent can face.
Anne is an accomplished writer and experienced professor. But if all I knew about her was her essay, I would know she has something very valuable to offer other Solo Moms.
Susan: Anne, you’ve said that although single parenting can be challenging, it has also been a source of strength and joy for you. Would you elaborate?
Anne: A Solo Mom has a special bond with her child or children that a partnered mom does not. It’s kind of a you-and-me team spirit that I never had when my children’s father was present. I have done things, like driven across multiple states, managed money, handled tools, and taken on jobs that I previously never would have thought I was capable of managing. That’s where our strength comes from: Solo Moms face significant challenges every day for the sake of their kids. I know that everything I do, I do for my kids, and they know that as well. For me, that knowledge is a constant source of both strength and joy.
Susan: You’ve written about difficult decisions you’ve made parenting a child who has an addiction. I know from discussions with clients and friends that this is a very challenging situation, with no one-size-fits-all approach to “helping.” What would you say to other Solo Moms who are concerned about their son’s or daughter’s drug abuse and are faced with similar decisions?
Anne: I have a bit of a different take on what the experts on addiction might advise. They say that the person has to hit bottom before anything really works. To me, when a child shows signs of substance abuse, they are beginning a descent that will only end in death or jail, so you need to fight an all-out war against addiction. You absolutely cannot enable. Even if it means calling the police on your own child, do it. You should show your love by getting them help for a disease that means to kill them.
It has always seemed paradoxical to me that professionals have told me to wait until my child is “ready” for treatment—as if my child, who is injecting poison into his veins, is capable of making appropriate decisions. Also, drugs change brain chemistry. How can a person who is addicted, who is making decisions that summon damage and death, be expected to suddenly grow reasonable?
That does sometimes happen, but I think your child is worth a shove in that direction. As a Solo Mom, you may not have the support that two-parent families do. Stage an intervention, take your child to the hospital when he or she is high, and get that child into a detox program. Fight for your kid in whatever way you have to; let your child be mad at you. It’s not your child who is angry—it’s the addiction that is angry.
Susan: Some of this is so hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it personally. What would you say you have learned about addiction through your experiences as a mother that you didn’t know before?
Anne: I did not understand how addiction impacts the people around it to the degree it does. And I did not understand how deeply rooted it becomes in the addict. To sum that up, I would say I never understood the strength of addiction, the power it has over us.
Susan: Addiction is powerful, and often mothers facing addiction feel alone and overwhelmed. How do you think Solo Moms can support one another, both in general and with specific concerns like addiction?
Anne: I think sharing experiences—what worked, what didn’t work, what was miraculous, what was a disaster—helps everyone. Simply sharing experiences can be therapeutic, and, of course, the shared knowledge of resources is also vitally important.
Susan: For many people with addiction, telling their story is an important part of recovery. What has writing about addiction meant to you, and what has been the response to your essay in Brain, Child about addiction and the family?
Anne: Writing about addiction is my therapy, at least for now. I have come up against just about everything addiction has to offer. My experience with addiction completely changed my life, but, more important, it has changed my expectations and my assumptions about life. I know I can’t be alone in this.
The responses to that essay were positive: Many women (yes, they were all moms) wrote to me, some in sympathy but most in desperation about a child they suspected of using drugs. I am not a mental health professional, but I know what Solo Moms are feeling and going through. A heroin epidemic is ravaging our kids, but parents have little access to information or resources about where and how to begin to combat substance abuse in their children. I want to contribute to narrowing that gap in whatever way I can.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Susan Lemere, ESME’s Addiction Resource Guide, is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
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