By Heather Rolland, LCSW Can you imagine applying to become a parent as if it…
Have You Let a Child Down With Your Addiction? She’ll Be Watching Your Every Move
Recovery from addiction is a difficult road to travel. Not only do you need to resist temptation and stop yourself from relapsing, but you also have to learn how to live all over again. Living as a sober person and as an addict are two very different things and, once in recovery, you have to learn what it means to be sober.
Along with your personal and internal battles, life after recovery also means dealing with the people around you and their perceptions of you, feelings toward you, and their trust or lack of trust in you. At work, people may now be looking at you differently. Your sober friends may tiptoe around you. Most importantly, however, are the feelings and attitudes of your family.
Undoubtedly, you caused a great deal of trouble for the ones you love while you were an addict. Maybe you lied to them, hurt them, cheated on them, or neglected them. If you have kids, their experiences may have been especially painful. Now you have the difficult task of winning back their trust. If you have one child who just cannot seem to believe that you will not go back to drugs or alcohol, this job will be even more challenging. Work with your child to help her understand that you are healing and that you will never go back to being an addict.
Your Vigilant Shadow
It is not uncommon for a child of a recovering addict to watch her parent very closely. You put her through a huge ordeal. Even if you were never abusive during your addictive years, you still caused a lot of damage. You led your child to believe that you cannot control your actions, that you cannot be trusted, and that you are weak-willed. Now that you are sober, she wants to ensure that you never return to that version of yourself.
This manifests as a shadow that keeps watch over you constantly. She may follow you around the house, go through your things to search for contraband, or even follow you when you leave the house. She wants to know that you are not keeping secrets and that you are not sneaking off to use again. This behavior is not healthy for her and it is not helpful for you.
What to Do
Simply telling your child to get off your case is no help at all. She is hurting and she needs to know that you are not going to abandon her again for your drugs or alcohol. Getting angry with her will only cause her to retreat further. Do have an honest talk, though. Sit down with your child and speak to her about her behaviors. Ask her to share with you how she feels and to tell you what will make her more comfortable about your recovery. Simply showing her that you are listening and that you care is a great start.
Include in your talk with her a frank discussion about addiction. Help her to understand addiction in the framework of a medical condition. When she understands that her parent has a disease that requires treatment, she may start to feel better about it.
Talking is just the first step. You also need to show her with your actions that you are clean for good. She has lost her trust in you and you must earn it back. Do not let her down on even the smallest of things. If you tell her that you will play a board game with her later that day, do it. Do not make excuses and show her by your actions that she can trust you completely.
Also, consider getting your child professional help. Individual or family counseling may help to resolve some of her feelings about your addiction and the trauma that it left her with. If she hesitates to open up to a therapist or balks at the idea of counseling, try a support group for family members of addicts. Groups like Al Anon are great places for spouses, siblings, and children of addicts to share their experiences and support each other. Besides the support the group will give her, she will learn the very important lesson that she is not alone in her situation.