As a parent or guardian, you have experienced a harrowing thing: watching a child you love struggle with addiction.
You probably felt a roller coaster of emotion. As unique as your situation was, feelings of guilt, fear, anger, despair, helplessness, and others are common among many parents. You may have exhausted financial resources to provide daily needs for your child, helped him or her seek medical attention or addiction treatment, and even dealt with legal issues.
And now, your son or daughter has completed treatment. A healthy new lifestyle awaits. What can you do to create a supportive relationship with him or her that isn’t codependent? How can you learn to build trust and understanding between the two of you? What needs to be resolved in order for you to also heal from the dysfunction of addiction? Here are some suggestions we hope will help you and your child recover better, together.
Start with Family Therapy
It’s possible that while your adult child was in treatment, the facility provided an opportunity for initial family therapy. For example, Twin Lakes offers a two-day family recovery program which helps clients of loved ones learn more about:
- The consequences of addiction as a brain disease
- Aspects of addiction and co-occurring behavioral disorders
- The definition of each individual’s family role
- How addiction impacts each family member
- How to support a loved one leaving treatment and moving on with recovery
This is just the start of the therapeutic process. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a free guide about family therapy that you can use to move forward with effective sessions. In it, you’ll learn how all members of the family can make “specific, positive changes as the person in recovery changes.” The goal is to help everyone heal from the trauma of substance abuse and possible co-occurring disorders.
SAMHSA recommends you to keep in mind that your child is moving through two phases after treatment:
- Recovery from addiction, or “attainment of sobriety”
- Adjustment to sobriety, or “long-term maintenance of sobriety”
The objectives of family therapy cover a lot of ground, and can only be accomplished effectively by understanding what phase your son or daughter may still be in. One goal of therapy is to learn how to give essential support to your child to reinforce positive choices and help him or her prevent relapse. Another goal is to strengthen each family member’s emotional health.
Certain conversations or topics may be appropriate to address once your child is sober for a few weeks. Others may have to emerge more slowly over an extended period of sobriety, as new thought patterns and behaviors help your child establish better coping mechanisms.
Family therapy can be enlightening and full of love and forgiveness. It may also be difficult, shocking, and hurtful until past traumas and other challenges are resolved. You may also determine that you need specific individual counseling in tandem with or before moving forward with more comprehensive family counseling. Issues such as abuse, abandonment or endangerment, domestic violence, terrorism, and other factors may need specific treatment before the family can come together as a whole.
Establish New Behaviors
You’ve been used to dealing with your adult child using old behavioral patterns. After treatment, he or she has changed. As you both move through individual and family therapy programs, you’ll discover you may relate to each other in alternative ways. This may be quite positive if the façade of negative or codependent behaviors falls away—but it’s also unfamiliar territory you have to navigate in order to make a real connection. Are you both different people? Perhaps. This doesn’t mean you can’t come together and form a new relationship.
- Be compassionate. We all make mistakes. To continue to reveal our best selves is a foundational part of being human. Extend compassion to your child—and yourself.
- Stay patient. This may be difficult after everything you’ve been through, but providing space for your child to heal will be beneficial for both of you. Find additional support from other caregivers who understand what you’re going through and can provide an outlet for some of your thoughts and feelings.
- Foster forgiveness. That rollercoaster of emotions mentioned earlier may make this hard at first, but the recovery journey must be honest and whole. The more you understand about your child’s addiction and why healing takes time, the easier it will be to open your heart.
- Be realistic. Statistics indicate that 40-to-60 percent of people will relapse within the first couple of years into recovery. Learn all you can about your child’s relapse prevention plan, and provide support when needed—or asked. You’re not a warden or judge. It’s important for your child’s wellbeing and your own to establish respectful boundaries. Relapse doesn’t mean your child has failed, but it’s a strong indicator that his or her treatment plan needs revising.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Your son or daughter may have a lot to process after leaving rehab. In these early stages of recovery, many emotions might still be raw and unexplored. You both have a right to your feelings—it’s how you share them that makes all the difference. This is when you can rely on techniques learned in behavioral therapy to help you relate to one another in a caring way.
Continue Healing Through Twin Lakes
Understanding your child’s struggles and accomplishments will take time, but it’s an important part of healing that benefits both of you. In addition to the family recovery program, Twin Lakes has a network of continuing care resources to help your family live stronger, healthier lives.