Parents, It’s Not Your Fault

Let’s take a moment to take a moment to talk about a famous scene in the film Good Will Hunting (no, not the one where Matt Damon slaps the phone number on the window of the bar and asks, “How you like them apples?”). It’s a scene that takes place toward the end of the film (spoiler alert), after the troubled genius character of Will (played by Matt Damon) has spent a good bulk of the film’s runtime reluctantly submitting to therapy sessions with Sean (played by Robin Williams, who won an Academy Award for his performance in the role).

Throughout the film, Will resents the time he has to spend with Sean, but as is the way in these types of stories, eventually the two form a sort of bond and each of them begins to see a breakthrough in their own stories.

The scene in question contains a riveting revelation: both Will and Sean were victims of child abuse. As the emotions pass over Will’s eyes, Sean looks deeply into him and tells him, “It’s not your fault.”

And then he says it again. “It’s not your fault.”

And again. “It’s not your fault.”

Over and over and over, Sean tells Will the truth. Hammering it home through sheer repetition, each utterance another blow against Will’s defenses and the self-defeating lies he’s been telling himself.

Eventually, Sean has said it enough that Will begins to believe it, and he’s left an honest, vulnerable man, aching tears billowing up and temporarily alleviating the pain he’s kept down for so many years.

“It’s not your fault” is a mind-blowingly liberating sentence, but it can be so incredibly hard to believe.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t make it any less true for you today.

You might have a loved one who is an addict.

But you are not the one who made them that way.

What Happened

There are about as many reasons people get addicted to a mind-altering substance like drugs or alcohol, as there are people. No one’s story is exactly the same, which is why I feel comfortable saying that there’s not a person in the world who is immune to the disease of addiction.

Yes, some people are more prone to it (alcoholism has been shown to be hereditary), but everyone, given the “right” circumstances, could wind up veering into addictive territory.

Addiction doesn’t care about anyone’s family history or upbringing; it doesn’t care about anyone’s economic status or genetic makeup; it doesn’t care about anyone’s race, creed, or color. Addiction is no discriminator and will go after anyone and everyone.

That’s why I can say it’s not your fault.

There’s a quote they use in Al-Anon, which is, to quote their literature, a “worldwide fellowship that offers a program of recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics,” and it’s a quote I love:

When it comes to addiction in your loved one, “you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it!”

Isn’t that liberating? Read it again and let it sink in.

The person who is in active addiction is partially there because they are lying to themselves, and one of the big lies they’ll tell to themselves is that their situation—when they even look around and have a glimmer of awareness that it’s not a good one—is not their fault.

No. They want to believe that someone—anyone other than them—is to blame for the bad choices that have led them down this path.

Maybe they’re trying to pin that blame on you. My advice: don’t let them. They want to make you think you’re at fault, and if you let that start to take root within your heart, the guilt can grow to debilitating degrees.

That’s why you have to reject it.

They’re the ones who are making the choices they make. Perhaps they made those choices out of a reaction to a terrible tragedy, or to a hurt or wound they sustained. While that’s somewhat understandable, it does not make it excusable.

People are victims of tragedies every day; not everyone turns toward addiction to handle them.

That’s why I can say with absolute certainty: it’s not your fault.

As much as I would have liked to blame my parents for my problems, at the end of the day I was the one shoveling pills down my throat.

Did I struggle come to terms with the way they chose to handle a few situations? Yes, of course—what kid doesn’t? But as I chose to accept them for who they were, I also began to accept my role in the play as well.

I was the chief problem, the main issue; I had something innately different about me, and until I dealt with that, I could never find sobriety.

Acceptance was and will always be the key to moving past all my problems.

Because it’s not your fault. It was mine.


This is an excerpt from my new book Finding Hope, to read more of this chapter and others, click here to pick it up.

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