Your Child’s Recovery from Your Addiction
Your child’s recovery from your addiction will be decidedly different than your own process. Of course, our children have a very different experience of our addictions than we do. They suffer the loss of us and all the related distress of that, for example, even when we remain with them during active addiction. We simply aren’t as available to care for them when we are intoxicated or recovering from a bout of intoxication. Addiction changes us in profound ways and our children, no matter what their ages, feel it and suffer because of it.
Be Clear about the Impact
No one wants to be responsible for a child’s pain. It is agonizing to come to terms with that. We’d obviously rather pretend it didn’t happen, and sometimes we have a very deeply entrenched and unconscious denial of it. We simply don’t see it and we don’t want to. However, it’s important that we tend to our children’s needs for recovery as we ourselves seek recovery. It’s also important to accept certain facts so we can better help our children. One is that a parent’s addiction is always a traumatic experience for a child. The trauma doesn’t simply go away because you are sober or have apologized. Another is that our children need help.
Many people reject the notion that a child can be traumatized if they have been well housed, clothed, fed and never physically harmed. Parents recovering from addictions can have difficulty accepting their children’s traumatization due to immense guilt. Consequently, they often narrow their view of trauma in order to exclude the impact of their addictions on their children. The truth is that all of us can be deeply wounded by another’s addiction. Children of all ages need predictable routines and stable adults who can be relied upon. An addict is not that.
The Child’s Feelings and Perceptions
It is helpful for recovering parents to remember that it is a child’s feelings and perceptions that matter, not your own interpretation of how things have been, or what a child ‘should’ feel about your active addiction, or your recovery for that matter. Children may not trust your newfound sobriety and consequently, have difficulty relaxing and reconnecting. They may also be troubled by memories that you don’t have, or that you recall in significantly different ways. It is often difficult for adults to understand a child or teen’s viewpoint, and our tendency, especially in early recovery, is to feel a lot better quickly. Those around us don’t share that sudden burst of health that we are apt to after a successful detox. They still have emotional pain to process. Include them in your treatment and recovery plan, and talk with your care providers about any special interventions that can help them.