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How can I be supportive and forgiving when I am so hurt?



Dear Joe,
JoeHerzanekDear Joe,

My 18-year-old daughter has had drug and alcohol problems off and on for the past four years, trying to deal with being molested and tensions in our marriage. This fall she did heavy drugs and narcotics as well as selling them at college. She came home after her first semester of college, in debt, flunking the majority of her classes, and unable to continue her education until she repays in full.

We are unable to afford paying and think it’s a good life lesson for her to be held accountable for this debt. She is living with her grandmother now after much tension at home. How can I trust and forgive her when she doesn’t feel sorry for hurting us after detox? She is frustrated that we seem to have cut her off. She wants support and credit for “supposedly” staying clean and working although she has refused any more treatment or support groups.

There is very little communication between us since she won’t respond to any texts or phone calls from my husband or me. The only time she does reply is when she wants something from the house. I feel rejected, betrayed, and distrustful with the way she treats her brother. She had become physically as well as verbally abusive with him the last fours years. It is tearing me up for our family to be like this.

All I do is pray and keep my distance, guarding my son and myself. How can I be supportive and forgiving when I am so hurt?

–Carrie H., Bend, OR

Dear Carrie,
Sorry you have to deal with so much from your young daughter. I’m not sure where to start but I’ll try to offer some advice that I pray is helpful.

You mentioned a sexual assault that occurred, I’m assuming about four years ago. This is a very big issue that, all by itself, requires lots of time (a few years or so) and wise counsel to work through. Many, many young girls and boys have this background and it is a major problem and instigator for substance abuse.

She is psychologically damaged but can, at some point, accept that it is part of her past and move on with her life. The wound can heal but the scar tissue will remain. Obviously she should receive lots of sympathy and empathy for this. It is imperative that she receives wise counsel from a professional. Help is out there but there are no quick solutions. The memory of this must be crushing to her. Again, drug use will ease the pain for a short period of time but the consequences of using them just creates one more thing to cope with. Seek professional help for this. It may take time and work to find the right person.

Next, you have the fact that she is an adolescent–which is a phase of life that has its own unique challenges. Her brain is “under construction” and she does not yet have the coping skills of an adult. So many questions that need answers are going through her head. Add the assault on top of that and you have a combination that will only get resolved with time and counseling.

Regardless of all the above, the drug and alcohol use must stop. Your challenge is to find the right combination of empathy and tough love to help her see the light. For now empathy should be on the top of the list. Her anger, outbursts, and even rage at times is her way of saying life’s not fair and why did this happen to me? (which has no clear answer). In reality, as an adult we all come to realize that life is not fair and we find ways to accept this sad fact of life. She is screaming for answers that are just not there.

For the family, it is important to accept that right now she is broken and needs to heal. She will not always be this way; she does not like being in all of this pain and will change back to her old self over time. There is a solution and she will eventually find it–but for now this is the way it is.

So what can a father, mother, or sibling do to help? As hard as it may be–you must not react to her angry hateful attitude. By that I mean you should think–and then act. Think more long-term; tell yourselves “this to shall pass.” She is young–too young to be handling all she has on her plate. The future will be better. Work on your own self-talk. Get counseling for the family as you wait for the process to work itself out.

She needs to be in some type of support group for her (supposed “past”) drug use.

She would benefit greatly from a mentor–another young woman who is a bit older who could come alongside her and just be a friend–someone who listens without judging and in a way, holds her hand while she walks through the dark valley she is in. This too may require much effort to find the right person, but the payoff could be huge. This must be another female. The 12-step program talks about getting a sponsor and this mentor could be in the program but in my opinion does not have to be. I believe the “right” person is out there. Just start the search.

Your daughter is struggling with PTSD. She went through an extremely horrific event that will be with her for some time (most likely, forever). The substance use is her way of coping with memories/flashbacks of the assault. You can’t tell someone like this to just “get over it.” Talking with a trained counselor over several sessions is a must. Each session will hopefully drain more poison out of her wound. Eventually she can get to the place where she’s worked through it enough that she can mentally move on. Many young women have lived through the same sort of thing, their wounds have healed and they were able to reach a point where they could trust again.

Finally, and I have no idea where you or your family are spiritually, but prayer is anther powerful resource to take advantage of. Some churches have youth group leaders who might be able to help find a mentor as well.

You really can get past this time in your family’s life and come out stronger on the other side. As far as being supportive and forgiving when you are so hurt–just remember that as long as you are supporting anything positive regarding her recovery, it should be fairly easy. Of course, you aren’t going to support anything that hinders her recovery. Forgiveness and trust may take time, but just take it one day at a time. Never give up hope!

I’ll keep you in my prayers.

Best regards,

Don’t bail them out. A few nights in jail
could be the best thing that ever happens to them.
~Chaplain Joe Herzanek

Joe Herzanek, Author, Addiction Counselor and Interventionist
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