Q&A: How Can I Help My Son in His Recovery?
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Q&A: How Can I Help My Son in His Recovery?

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It’s Q&A time! Get excited. From here on out, AfterPartyChat will be answering questions about sobriety, recovery, addiction and everything else (well, maybe not everything else but definitely everything addiction-related). For our first edition, Lisa sent us the following question:

Q: “As the mom of a 20-year-old with almost 8 months of sobriety, how can I best support him in his recovery?”

A: First and foremost, I’m going to state upfront that I’m not a doctor or a certified addiction expert. But I have years of personal experience with recovery. Here are a few of my suggestions…

1) Listen.

Many parents of addicted children look back at the way they handled their relationship and wish, simply, that they’d listened more instead of constantly trying to step in and “fix” their child. As one mom writes, “I spent years of trying to fix him, despite the fact that he was telling me not to. ”

An addict isn’t broken, and a recovering youth or adult doesn’t need to be “fixed.” A recovering person simply needs the support and encouragement of the people around him. He doesn’t expect you to do anything, necessarily—every person’s journey through recovery is uniquely his own, and uniquely unique, and as the aforementioned mom also notes, “Getting answers to questions or ‘what to do’ solutions assume that there is a single answer or methodology that will awaken not just you but also your addicted loved one from this nightmare.”

Every recovering person’s solution to alcoholism and addiction is different. For some it’s AA or NA; for others it’s an intensive rehab; for others it’s a spirituality-free program like SmartRecovery or Moderation Management. Your son is probably learning new skills in recovery; asking for help and reaching out when necessary are a couple of the ones that were encouraged in me. Let him find his own answers and go his own way; just let him know you’re there and you’re proud of what he’s doing.

2) Get support on your own.

There’s a recovery slogan for family members of addicted folks. That saying is “You didn’t cause your child’s addiction. You can’t control it. You can’t cure it.”

Take that saying to heart; maybe try memorizing it or repeating it as a mantra. Then start reaching out to other parents of recovering addicts—either through a program like Al-Anon or maybe another kind of support group. Do a Google search for groups in your area or try email listservs. But do reach out; feeling alone in all this won’t help you and it certainly won’t help your son.

You may have noticed that other “regular” folks out there aren’t necessarily as supportive when they hear about the parent of an addict. As noted in this article, “If a child has cancer or a chronic illness, family and friends typically step in and bring meals and offer support. But if your child struggles with an addiction or mental illness, parents see their phones go silent, and no one brings meals by or offers you any support at all. You’re on your own.”

You want to avoid that sensation of being on your own because though it may feel true, it’s actually not. Many, many families of addicts (both recovering and non) have found immense relief through programs like Al-Anon. Look for one that works for you.

3) Remember that addiction isn’t necessarily a person.

Addiction is a disease, but “not a person,” as stated in this blog post on ParentPathway. Many addicts and their families may view addiction as a disease—this is the belief system emphasized in the world of 12-step. But whether you do or don’t subscribe to that idea is entirely your call.

Regardless, one line of thinking that might be helpful is to try to separate your child’s addiction from your child himself. Yes, he may indeed have an incurable disease. But that doesn’t mean he’s diseased through and through. He’s many other things, too; maybe he’s smart and funny and talented and sensitive. Maybe he’s moody and irritable and easy to anger. Whatever else he might be, he’s definitely one thing: your son.

So if you feel more serenity when you try to internally separate the child from his addiction, hey, go for it. As eloquently explained in that blog post above: “When we detach with love from our children and view their chemical dependency as an event and not a life sentence, we have a different perspective. We gauge their recovery by their actions—today. We stop acting as if we can make them sober because—news flash—we can’t make them sober. When we get out of their way and let them manage their lives, mistakes and all, they have a chance to live as healthy people and not as a disease.”

If you have an addiction/recovery question you’d like us to answer, email us at [email protected]

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.