By Trish Caldwell, MFT, LPC, CCDP-D, CAADC, CCTP
A friend’s daughter once told me, “The family is always healing.” I take those words seriously because in my 27 years in the recovery field, I am taken aback by the fact that adults in treatment were not getting any support on how to help their own children recover and heal. I also was struck by those working with children or teenagers who did not include their caregivers. I spent years working with the families and their children in the behavioral health field, educating them on what was going on with their child’s depression, anxiety, ADHD, or behavioral and school related issues. I supported them in the ways they wished their families would heal. I empowered the parents to trust that they inherently had what their child needed.
The first 15 years of my career exclusively focused on children, adolescents, and families. I started to become known as the person who “works with kids.” Many adults who were in their recovery were coming to me to “help with their kids.” They asked: Why are the kids acting out? How do I help them when I have so much shame? What am I supposed to say to them when they ask me where I was? And what do I tell them about why I used? They were looking for answers, assuming I was “the expert.” While I always met with their children, I did it with the understanding that I wanted them to be there too.
There is no better expert on a child than the person who is raising them. The more I did this, the more I began thinking to myself, your children don’t need me, they need you! So, I pivoted the work I was doing. I created a Parenting in Recovery course for family members impacted by addiction. The notion behind this was that parents do not need to be taught to be parents – they need to learn how to understand their children’s behaviors so they can support their healing and growth as a family. This also helps reduce the multigenerational pull of addiction.
I want families to know that when you are okay, your children are okay. As we launch into this next phase of being able to support families through our Shoutout offerings and groups, I want you to know that honesty in recovery does not mean telling your children that you will never drink or use again. Honestly, is sharing with them what you are doing today for your recovery. I want you to know that you and they are both worthy of fighting this disease. And I want you to know that Resiliency is built through adversity.
Your children watched your addiction, we can’t change that. But you can invite them into your recovery. You can show them the lessons of never giving up, of fighting hard for what’s important, that shame has no meaning and relevance in healing, and that people can and do recover every single day. What greater gifts of resiliency are those gifts?
The lesson is in the battle not the diagnosis. I would always tell my families this is the most beautiful part of recovery. Your children, whether they are young or an adult child, get to watch you heal. It is not perfect; it is not linear, but it is real and an honest depiction of life. That’s the story your children and your family need to know.
Join us for the Shoutout™ Parenting In Recovery online educational group. Run by our experienced Marriage and Family Therapists, we’ll help you answer all the questions.