As a parent, facing a child in recovery can be a devastating reality. When you only want the best for your child, accepting that circumstances have gone awry is one of the most painful things you may ever have to face.
Unfortunately, for too many families, addiction is a tragic part of life. With nearly 20 million Americans over the age of 12 living with a substance use disorder, addiction affects a significant portion of the population.
For some families, finding a plan of action is a struggle. Balancing the challenging feelings that accompany rehabilitation and life after treatment isn’t easy, and this leaves many parents feeling lost and unsure of how to proceed. Despite the pain, frustration, and disappointment you may be feeling, it’s your job as a parent to enable your child’s recovery.
Enabling as a Benefit
The term enabling, particularly with regard to addiction, often has a negative connotation. As the word is most commonly used, it refers to behaviors that facilitate the ongoing nature of addiction — behaviors such as ignoring warning signs, providing money that can be used for drugs or alcohol, or continuing to offer room and board to someone who won’t help themselves get better.
Many parents are guilty of this negative approach to enabling, choosing to believe that love and support will translate into sobriety. This is rarely the case; instead, doing these kinds of presumed favors will only lead to a problem getting worse over time, not better.
As a parent with a child in recovery, it’s important to think about enabling as a tool that can be used in a positive way, not a negative. It’s now up to you to promote the kind of behaviors that facilitate staying sober and living a healthy life. For those still navigating the waters, this may not be easy, but it’s an important part of doing your part.
Tips for Enabling Your Child’s Recovery
Your child went to inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab and possibly spent time in a sober living house or another transitory residence. Now what?
Watching your child struggle through the chaos that is addiction can change your perception of everything, from who your child is to the realities of addiction. However, addiction never means that your child is a bad person, a dumb person or otherwise compromised as a human being. Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone, including your own flesh and blood.
Instead of showing your child the cold shoulder, berating or otherwise pointing fingers, now is the time to follow these tips to improve the odds of lasting sobriety.
After your child has shown such uncommon or upsetting behavior, icing them out — or at least creating distance — may be tempting. This isn’t an unusual reaction; as a parent, you may be hurt or confused by the events of the last months or years.
However, this can be one of the worst reactions possible. The time following rehabilitation can be very isolating and challenging for those facing sobriety, and a support system is absolutely critical.
Your child may feel alone. They may be struggling to cope without drugs or alcohol. They may still be uncomfortable living life without a way to dull the pain.
Whether or not your child seems willing to open up, be there for them. Ask them about their day, ask questions about rehabilitation, ask questions about their goals for the future now that they’re sober. No matter whether you’re getting long or short answers, keep asking questions and make it clear that you’re available to listen, now and into the future.
If your child opens up to you, never show judgment, criticism or anger; supporting recovery without enabling should be your primary motive. Do your best to understand their circumstances, and be sure to remind them that you love them and are always there to provide a kind word.
2. Encourage Healthy Outlets
Recovery isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. And for those who coped with problems with drug and alcohol use, life in recovery can be extremely difficult. Should your child return home after treatment, it’s not uncommon to see a regression of behaviors.
They may spend prolonged time in their room, be unwilling to see friends or give up previously enjoyed hobbies. They may lash out, showing unusual signs of anger, frustration or agitation toward friends and family.
A replacement of coping activities is a big part of recovery, but there’s a difference between theory and practice. If your child is having trouble dealing with the emotions and hurdles that come after treatment, continued emphasis on healthy outlets for stress is a big component of staying sober.
While it may not be easy to coax a teen or adult child out of behaviors they want to perpetuate, do everything necessary to provide plenty of opportunities. Arrange to do physical things like hiking, doing a 5K or joining a gym, plan outings to get massages, go to the movies, or do anything else that can help relieve stress without drugs and alcohol. Your child may not always join you, but if they see you engaging in these healthy habits, they may feel less pressure and take it upon themselves to come along.
3. Promote Involvement in the Recovery Community
The recovery community is a vital part of success after treatment, providing a way to network with other people in the same place. For those newly out of rehab, it’s common to be shy about partaking in alumni activities, but staying in touch with those who are sober and in recovery can promote a healthier mindset to overcome addiction.
Recovery Community Organizations in many states and metro areas provide support for those in recovery from addiction. RCOs offer things like community meetings, group activities, outreach and awareness programs, and other events that can keep recovering individuals active within the addiction community.
If your child isn’t interested in taking this step, do your best to encourage them to at least stay in touch with friends who are also in recovery. A support network that has walked the same path can be very valuable, so continue to promote sober options specific to those working to move past addiction.
4. Keep Your Temper in Check – Even on Bad Days
Dealing with a child in recovery is sure to bring up many emotions, and it’s common for some of these emotions to be negative. You may be angry with your child, frustrated at their post-treatment behaviors or even irritated with their unwillingness to embrace new coping mechanisms or take on new and healthy hobbies. However, responding negatively is one of the worst things you can do.
When you yell at your child, berate them or simply act too tired to bother with supportive endeavors like listening or encouraging healthy habits, you may actually be hindering the recovery process. Those working to overcome addiction commonly feel guilt or shame over where they are, and a bad temper can only exacerbate these feelings.
If you feel ready to explode or fear the possibility of lashing out, take a few minutes for yourself to breathe and relax. Remind yourself that every sober day is a good day and that yelling or chastising is never a helpful way to express emotions. It’s okay to be stern or share feelings of concern, but always keep your temper in check when doing so.
5. Get Help for Yourself
If you are having conflicting feelings regarding your child’s recovery, that’s natural and normal. Confronting changes to your family structure, changes to your child’s life and the potential for relapse in the future can absolutely be frightening, and there’s no easy off switch you can hit to turn things back around. However, this doesn’t mean your child should ever see this side of you, which means that you need to find a way to come to terms with the situation without causing outside problems.
When you’re struggling to live normally or facing unusual anxiety or symptoms of depression, getting help for yourself is imperative. Many counselors specialize in family addiction problems and are positioned to help you process your feelings and come to terms with the changes in your child’s life. Groups like Al-Anon can also be helpful; as a family support group for alcoholics, Al-Anon can teach coping methods and offer tips and tricks to make the journey easier.
Regardless of your chosen path, your health is imperative in enabling your child’s recovery. If you are struggling mentally, it’s likely you will not be able to adequately support your child’s pursuit of health.
Dealing with addiction is never easy, but the challenges only compound when the affected individual is a beloved child. However, with a healthy viewpoint and a game plan to enable sobriety, you can do your part in putting addiction in the rearview mirror.
If you or someone you love is facing addiction, FHE Health can provide comprehensive treatment. Please contact us today to learn more.