Grand Futures: What not to expect when your child is in recovery from addiction
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a parent of a child with a substance use disorder, witnessing the unknown from a front-row seat. The hope of seeing your child enter recovery, quickly followed by a whole new set of uncertainties. After treatment, the main question is usually, “What now?”
As a young person in recovery myself, I might not be able to tell you what to expect — but I feel I can at least tell you what not to expect.
Myth No. 1: Our lives will return to normal after treatment.
Reality: Everything — from routines to relationships — will shift.
It’s going to be awkward. Your relationship with your loved one will not return to the exact way it was before they used drugs and/or alcohol. Try to have lightness with them, and don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s no right way to support a child in recovery, so you’ll probably feel weird and self-conscious sometimes.
Myth No. 2: Recovery can be measured by benchmarks.
Reality: Life looks more like an EKG with ups and downs than a straight path forward.
The definition of recovery success is as subjective as recovery itself. Ask your child how they define their well-being and learn about their specific goals. Be quick to celebrate when they reach those goals because it will affirm that these achievements are the result of their self-directed life in recovery.
A whole new set of challenges are presented to young people once they enter recovery. Many of us use substances as a coping mechanism for co-occurring mental health disorders, and we need to learn different, unfamiliar methods of dealing with these issues. Others may have normalized our substance use through a party-centric social circle, and we need to rediscover how to develop healthy relationships outside of substance use. These types of obstacles are to be expected.
Myth No. 3: A relapse means starting over at the beginning
Reality: It’s just a setback — it doesn’t erase your progress.
I try to avoid the word relapse. Why? Because a lapse suggests returning to square one no matter what. The milestones achieved still exist, even if they occurred in the past.
Recurrence of use doesn’t necessarily mean that treatment was unsuccessful or that recovery is lost. The sooner a person reaches out for help, the easier it will be for them to bounce back on track. You can create a safe space for your child to open up when they struggle by simply expressing your love and support.
Spend time doing an activity you both enjoy together, encourage them to define recovery for themselves, say “I love you” a lot and ask how you can support their journey. Discuss the ground rules and expectations in the event of a recurrence of use before it ever happens, so that everyone is on the same page. You can even put your agreement in writing and have each family member sign it.
Finally, make sure you carry Narcan because if you witness an overdose, you could save your loved one’s life.
To parents everywhere: I believe in you! Take care of yourselves too, okay?
Molly Smith is a young person in recovery. To read Molly’s full blog post, visit Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Parent Blog at drugfree.org.
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