When a parent is going through recovery for an addiction the emotional toll it takes on the family is different from when the family member was in the throes of addiction. Despite these differences, the recovery process is no less difficult. When there are children involved that are old enough to understand that something is wrong, the parent not going through recovery must talk to the child about the recovery process in ways that differ from the parent going through the recovery. First and foremost, it is important to explain to children that the process of recovery takes time and can have many bumps along the way as they rebuild and stabilize their lives. Recovery is a good opportunity to talk about those challenges, help children process what they have experienced, and help them prepare for the possibility of relapse.
Keep in mind that the child has been through a roller coaster of emotional changes brought on by the behaviors of the addicted family member in the midst of their addiction. Helping them understand the differences in emotional behaviors such as anger, sadness and even joy as the family member goes through the recovery process is an important start. These emotions may appear to be similar to when the family member was in the grip of addiction, so it’s important to explain how the emotions are rooted in different behaviors of the person in recovery. As the recovery process continues, the child will be dealing with the reemergence of old familiar traits that remind them of the loved one before addiction as well as the emergence of new traits that are unfamiliar to them. Helping them understand the old and new traits and put them into context of recovery is very important.
This is an ongoing communication process that gradually helps them come to grips with the fact that the best of the old person may gradually emerge, but they are now a different person in many respects. Learning to understand, love, and trust that person takes time and open communication. Children will likely need to talk about their feelings, and to have those feelings understood and accepted. By normalizing the act of open communication about addiction as it pertains to the family member and the family as well as the recovery process, the child can gain a sense of personal control that is essential to their own stability. This communication avenue also provides the necessary support that they need to know that you will be there for them no matter what may happen. As the family member begins reaching goals in their recovery process, they will begin to reach out to the child. The child will need assurances from the sober parent that the parent in recovery is now available and genuinely interested in them. The process will be scary for the addicted family member as well as the child. Consequently, the non-addicted parent must ease the fears of both the child and the addicted parent as they seek to move closer with trepidation. While the parent in recovery will need to address past behaviors with the child, the other parent will need to provide support in terms of helping to interpret those behaviors for the child.
Constructive and active family engagement in the recovery process is essential if the family is to heal from the destructive impact of addiction. Moving forward with a strong sense of hope requires access to a variety of supports, information and skills. By and large, families cannot go through the recovery process alone. Outside support networks starting with the experts and counselors at the chosen recovery facility can provide additional support and counseling as the family moves through the recovery process. Having dealt with hundreds of families going through similar situations, these caring professionals often have the language and approaches that can aid the sober parent in bridging the necessary communication gaps with the child during recovery. Although the recovery process can take years for the addict and their family, the end goal of a healthy and happy family is ultimately attainable. The greatest skills that the sober adult family members can provide to children is a listening ear, open communication and the love and support that helps them to better cope with life’s challenges as they come. Ultimately, the family as a whole can emerge more genuinely healthier and happier than ever before.