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How to Support Your Child in Meaningful Ways During Their Early Recovery

“In my experience, and in the experience of most people I have talked with, the family’s recovery often coincides with or precedes the recovery of the addicted individual.”-Beverly Conyers

There are about 20 million people in long-term recovery in America. Recovery means starting again from wherever you are, and becoming more creative, beautiful, wise, strong, and resilient than ever before.

Parents, especially, breathe a sigh of relief when they see that their child has made the decision to change their life for the better. It is a cause for celebration that your child is now beginning the process of learning how to live their life in a healthier way.

Principles of Recovery

When recovery is considered to be a personalized process, not a one-size-fits all approach, the chances of sustaining recovery improves.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identifies the following 12 principles of recovery:

  • There are many pathways to recovery.
  • Recovery is self-directed and empowering.
  • Recovery involves a personal recognition of the need for change and transformation.
  • Recovery is holistic.
  • Recovery has cultural dimensions.
  • Recovery exists on a continuum of improved health and wellness.
  • Recovery emerges from hope and gratitude.
  • Recovery involves a process of healing and self-redefinition.
  • Recovery involves addressing discrimination and transcending shame and stigma.
  • Recovery is supported by peers and allies.
  • Recovery involves (re)joining and (re)building a life in the community.
  • Recovery is a reality.

Addiction and recovery affect the entire family. When family members, who are often deeply affected by the problem, openly take part in healing, it improves their health and quality of life. They are in a better position to support their child in a positive way going forward.

“At the end of the day, our recovery must be based not on shame or perfectionism or the need to impress others, but on our willingness to be kind to ourselves.”-Erica Spiegelman

Here are five ways you can help support your child’s early recovery:

  • Fix yourself first. Rather than trying to fix your child, look inward and see what changes you can make to help support your child in the best way possible. Reach out to a professional and/or a support group where you feel comfortable and validated. Be willing to do the same hard work (for yourself) that is being asked of your child.In other words, do the work to find your own recovery! Make healthy choices, eat better, exercise, and have fun without substances or alcohol. Be the example for your child. If you struggle with your own addictions or issues, get help for them! You will be more of a help for your child during the recovery process if you help yourself first.

  • Have a positive attitude. Your optimism and positive attitude can make a difference. It is crucial to helping your child change. Ask what your child needs to be successful and realize that change takes time. Let him or her know that you are there and will be supportive. Be available for talking when your child feels the need. Take time to just listen, rather than give suggestions. Be respectful and considerate of the daily positive decisions that your child is now making. They will appreciate your compassion and understanding. Your child needs to know you are on their side, so that they don’t feel alone in the process.
  • Reinforce your child’s efforts. Notice and acknowledge your child’s efforts and hard work to change their life with kind words, or a small gesture. A special meal, a gift card, or a gift of something that your child would enjoy and appreciate, can be helpful when you are seeing a consistent positive behavior change. However, keep in mind that rewards are not bribes. Rewards do not need to cost a lot of money. Stay focused on the fact that you are supporting your child’s recovery, and allowing them to solve the problem.
  • Realize your child needs to stay connected with others. One of my recent favorite quotes is by Johann Hari who says, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is human connection.” It is helpful to have a support system of like-minded people. This may be a formal support group or people who get together casually. Either way, having support from people who personally understand what your child is going through is critical. Young people, especially, can feel isolated when dealing with the peer pressure to use, so staying connected can be key to staying healthy.
  • Understand that recovery is a personal process. Patience is required when it comes to recovery. Recovery can often feel worse before it feels better. While it can be a time of optimism and positivity, it can also be a time when your child feels fragile and unsteady. Recovery can feel challenging while your child’s brain relearns how to take in the joys of life. This can take time; weeks, months, and sometimes even years. Your child may feel relieved that they are now in recovery. They may feel that a burden has been lifted. However, there also may be times when they miss their drug and alcohol use or their previous lifestyle and/or friends. Mixed feelings are normal. That is why it is important to be patient and realize that change is a process.
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