Adjusting to Recovery: When Your Addicted Child Begins to Get Well

What happens when what you have hoped and prayed for finally takes place? After months or years of living in fear for the very life of your child, she decides either on her own or ordered by the courts, to get treatment. Or she begins to attend meetings regularly to pursue recovery and living a healthy life in whatever form that works for her?

Where does that leave you? The mom or the dad who has laid awake at night wondering how on earth you can help your child.  Wondering if she is alive? Wondering if she is using drugs right at that very moment, is she safe, warm enough, hungry, is anyone hurting her or taking advantage of her?  Now what is your role as the parent?

I will tell you that I, as a mother, still worry. Is she going to enough meetings? Is she really even at her meetings?  Is she being honest? Is she really working her program? Each time she left the house I was in so much fear I was literally sick.

I thought that when she got treatment our problems would be solved.  Little did I know that we were just beginning the most intense journey of our lives.  Treatment and recovery is where the rubber met the road for our family.  It’s where the real work began for all of us – the whole family.  There are no quick fixes.

It was during those times when my daughter Hallah was in treatment that I realized how enmeshed I had become and that to save my own sanity I had to begin making my own healthy choices. I had to set my child free from being the key to my happiness. Whether she was sober or not, I needed to continue on and be a happy, functioning part of my world.

The most striking lesson I learned along the way was that my fear was crippling her. I was inadvertently sending a message that I thought she was incapable of doing anything other than what she had been doing. I was afraid to see her fail, but I was even more afraid to see her stay in the life she was living. When I finally recognized this dynamic and chose to let her pursue recovery in whatever way she wanted, I was giving her the dignity to be true to herself.  The timetable for her journey was between her, her sponsor and her Higher Power.

As shocking as it was to me, I was not an intrinsic part of her recovery.  If anything my hovering, my constant questioning, my fear were hindering her recovery. My love, support and my quiet presence were important to her spirit. This was a whole new concept to me. Just because I had a thought or an opinion didn’t mean I needed to share it with her.  I began saying things like, “I am sure you will figure this out.” and “Hmmm, why don’t you think on that for awhile.” and “What do you know to be true?”

I began to nurture my own faith that something bigger than my maternal love was going to hold her together.  It was up to her to respond to recovery…or not.  No one else could do it for her. I had to step back and let her go. Let her walk her own journey.  I let her stumble and fall and even relapse at times because this was her walk to walk. I began to view the rough spots in her journey as opportunities for growth and learning.  I know that each time she worked her way through an obstacle she would feel stronger and more sure of her abilities.

I will admit that I could not have made these changes without the help, support and wisdom that I found at my local Alanon meetings. I am indebted to my sponsor who allowed me to call her anytime, especially when my fears were overtaking my rational mind.  My sponsor would listen for as long as it took and then she would direct me back to who ultimately is in charge – my Higher Power.   My sponsor helped me get my focus back all while allowing me the dignity to be wherever I was at. I learned a lot from her example.

In my opinion, a support network of people with whom you can be open and honest is crucial to every family’s drug addiction recovery.  We can’t make it alone.

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    December 12, 2012 at 8:43 AM

    I too am shocked to find I am not an intrinsic part of my daughter’s recovery/relapse. I find myself sending her little tidbits/quotes/wisdom (?) I find that I think might ‘help’ her or that she might find as inspirational as I do….She does not ask for these; she does not acknowlege them. I believe I am hindering her recovery. Thank you for your insight into a mother’s behavior! I will work on my own program and leave her to work hers, as hard as that may be for me. I worry more about her anorexia than I do her relapse, but my worrying does nothing to help either of us. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share. It has opened up my eyes.

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    Patti Herndon

    April 5, 2010 at 6:59 PM

    Annette, thank you for sharing your experiences in such a candid, heartfelt way. I identified with what you wrote and it really helped me reflect on my own experiences.

    Your post is great value for so many parents. It seems evident that your experience/perspectives have earned you peace and wisdom regarding the journey. I very much relate to your thoughts and feelings about the how, when, what and why’s we face in the role of parents of sons and daughters with substance dependency issues.

    There has been a realization for me, more recently, that the combination of having parented a son with a substance dependency challenge, along with the learning associated in my work in advocacy and my degree plan in counseling, that I have arrived at a better understanding of how important it is in the big picture that I acknowledge that I have done all I can do to responsibly parent in my particular journey.

    I really don’t think I ever gave myself credit along the way for my commitment to my son’s health until more recently in my life. I was very quick to assume that my son’s challenge could have been avoided “if only _____”. That thinking really did a number on me. Taxed by the resource drain that came with addiction, namely the depleting effect that fear created; there was almost a continuous current of dread during his adolescence and early twenties. Even when he was engaged in working his recovery, I still found myself feeling fearful that it wouldn’t last. What a way “not” to live.

    I suppose it makes sense to me, now. The fear response was activated by what I knew to be the realities and risks associated with my son’s addiction. There was also the daily sense of anxiety concerning the unpredictability and chaos that could and would, often times, rule the days.

    In reflecting on the beautifully communicated wisdom in your post I realized that, for me, the fear of my son dying had, over time, become the bedrock of most all of my interactions with him. And, we both lost our capacity to connect as mother and son…to just, “be”. The dynamic was insidious. It created its own momentum. Now, I’m more apt to give myself a break about the reality of that dominating fear by asking, “why wouldn’t it have been the major precept in the relationship”? When a parent is facing the reality that their kid is in serious danger of harm, of death… Of course there is likelihood that they will navigate the relationship in a fear-driven way. I’m a mom. After connecting the dots, it all makes better sense to me now.

    My son is 14 years into his journey. We have had some really meaningful conversations about his progress and our experiences as a family. Especially in the last couple of years, those kinds of conversations, as well his progress, are increasing. That unexpressed and expressed fear I lived in, even when I thought I was not putting it out there, was a red carpet that escorted him away from his developing a sense of his own direction. That current of fear served as one of the many barriers in him embracing his own awareness that he possessed the ability to make the changes “he” knew to be the best for him.

    With the help of some really good support along the way, I’ve been better able to see that dynamic as well within the frame of expectation when considering the realities associated with the addiction of a son or daughter. I believe my parenting has benefitted so much, too, via the shared experiences and guidance of others, just like you, who have traveled the road and arrived at that pivotal place of understanding: Substance dependent individuals must make their own argument for change in order to experience it as authentic and sustainable. It will not, in most circumstances, be productive for us, as parents, to force the discussion of change on them or attempt to make that argument on their behalf. As important, though, it is crucial that our kids have a strong sense of our dedication and of our unfailing belief in their ability to make the necessary changes. It takes as long as it takes. Just as each individual is unique, so is the process of recovery for each individual.

    In your unfailing dedication to try different methods of supporting your daughter, you gained a peace-giving wisdom; a philosophy and faith that served your daughter in the experience of mapping her own way. You have provided her with a consistent, clear message that you would be there for her and that you believed in her ability to decide how to make change a reality.

    Your acting in the role of her mom might not have been central to her decision to enter into the recovery process, but I would definitely stress that a son or a daughter who is witness to a parent “trying” everything in their power, (mistakes and all), is of profound value to the individual struggling to make those excruciatingly difficult and personal decisions regarding recovery.

    That “knowing” that you as her parent would “choose” to stick with her through it all creates a synergy. The result is empowerment…for the whole family.

    It’s wonderful thing… your instincts and approach concerning your daughter. Responses such as, “I am sure you will figure this out.” and “Hmmm, why don’t you think on that for awhile.” and “What do you know to be true?”, in many ways picks up on the tenets of the therapeutic model of Motivational Interviewing in counseling. MI incorporates empathy-driven reflective listening, open-ended questions, a less directive and quieter, collaborative approach to dialoguing with the addicted person. It facilitates the addicted individual in resolving their own ambivalence and resistance to the process of change.

    In bearing witness to ones own argument for change and in the mapping out of what that change will look like, an addiction-challenged individual is able to gain an empowering perspective –An inestimable perspective about the core “who” that they are. Addiction obscures that “self”. So the quest becomes, “How do I support my son or daughter in the way that allows them to discover the kinds of changes they will need to make toward their goal of sustainable recovery”?

    When we place our energies concerning advocacy in what that support looks like for the individual, we are then engaged in the healthiest way we can be. It’s a win win! Healthy framework and more meaningful, amplified connection along the way…

    I wish you and your daughter continued successes and happiness!

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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