“Alcoholism and other drug addiction tend to run in families. Children of addicted parents are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are other children.”
– National Association for Children of Alcoholics, “Children of Alcoholics: A Kit for Educators”
As a child, I grew up in a family that was affected by someone’s drinking. I did my best to figure out how to show up in the midst of the dynamics that were created. I found out later that I was experiencing the subtleties that occur in all families living with addiction: don’t talk about it, try to do something so that you don’t have to feel your feelings, and trust no one. These survival mechanisms kept me safe, but also shaped me well into my adult years. I often have wondered what my life would be like if I had experienced family recovery earlier.
When I meet with those in early recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, I find that they are often reluctant to discuss their relationship with their children (in keeping with the “don’t talk” rule). Sometimes they make up reasons why their children haven’t been impacted, stating that they never used with their kids around or they waited until the kids went to bed. If we have the conversation about how patient they were as a parent at bedtime if their child asked for another glass of water or to hear another story, sometimes the denial they’ve been carrying gets broken. Of course, if it does, that awareness often releases the deep, deep shame they’ve been carrying with them. Our hope is to move them from shame to understanding and action.
Jerry Moe, the Director of Children’s Programs at Betty Ford Center, is a big proponent of talking to children about alcoholism and drug addiction. Moe states that kids need to know that this disease is not their fault, as they often take it personally. They also need to know that they aren’t the only kids that are experiencing this, and that there are safe places to talk about it. These children also need to know that their primary job is to be a kid, which isn’t always easy to do when you are so worried about Mom and Dad. Moe has been working with children from families impacted by addiction for 40 years.
Many of those who are struggling with their addiction have also been affected by someone else’s addiction at some point in their family. When their fear comes up about talking to their kids, we often harken back to how it was when they were children. What would it have been like if someone had talked to them about what had been going on in their family? How would they have felt if they knew they could get some help? What do they think would be different if everyone in their family had been invited into recovery earlier? These conversations can be an opportunity to break the legacy of addiction, and allow the healing of recovery to begin.
For more information about this topic, please join us for a workshop on May 12th with Jerry Moe, “Through a Child’s Eyes: Understanding Addiction and Recovery”. Click Here for Details!
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