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Help for Parents of Addicts: How to Keep Peace of Mind While Your Son is in Rehab

For some of us parents, we find out that something has gone drastically wrong with our child’s journey (often by police or school).  In crisis, we place him into a drug and alcohol treatment facility to avoid consequences or to fix whatever the problem (which we have not really identified) our child is experiencing.

For many of us, it is after painstaking sleepless nights and worrisome days, we finally place our child into a drug treatment facility we have thoroughly researched for to treat and fix our child.

Whichever route you took to get your child some help, we all seem to go through similar stages:

First, we find that we finally get a good night sleep.  After all, many of us have been sleeping with one eye open for months keeping an eye on our child, dressed in our clothes in case we need to run out to find him, or trying to remember where we hid the silver.
Then we breathe.  We don’t even realize that we had been holding our breath, until we find ourselves actually taking a deep breath and realizing that we had not done that, cleared our lungs, in ages.
You find out what has been going, what your child needs to change in his life and find out that you will need to make some changes as well.  You hope the treatment facility can “fix” your son and send him back to college, to work, to his old life….. And then you begin to panic once again as you fear discharge.

The truth of the matter is, when your son enters rehab, it is when you enter a stage of rehabbing your own life as well. We, as parents of addicts, must take this time to start our own recovery if we are going to make the most of our child being in treatment.

A few suggestions on how to regain your peace of mind while your son is in treatment.

  • Breathe.  Just take a few days to breathe.  You have just made a big decision for the health of your child.  Your head is probably spinning.
  • Sleep. It is impossible to make good decisions and look at changes you must make in your life if you are sleep deprived. Get into pajamas, get into a sleep time routine, and remind yourself that while all may just be beginning to unfold, your child is safe.
  • Educate yourself on the disease of addiction.  This is not generally an illness that we read up on in those “What to expect….” books.  Read as much as you can.  You will feel empowered by knowledge.  A great website to start with is NIDA.org.  There is so much valuable information in this website.  Good place to get started on your journey to recovery.
  • Share your journey only with friends and relatives who will support you.  You don’t have to share every detail of what your child is getting treatment for (that is up to him to share when ready).  You are going to need to do some work to get well yourself as this disease your child has can make you sick too.  But secrets keep us sick, so let others in to what YOU are going through.  (not what your child is going through)
  • Get help for yourself.  Go to meetings, lots of meetings.  Don’t like one Alanon meeting? Try another.  You can also try Naranon meetings and Families Anonymous meetings.  The rule of thumb is to go to 6 meetings before you decide it is not for you. If you are going to a private therapist, keep going, but do not think that this is all you need.  There is safety in number,s and it is with support and hearing how others are getting well that you will get you well yourself. (A few words about You needing to get well…. if you are to keep peace of mind while your son is in treatment and beyond, you must look at your own illness as being addicted to your son.  You have triggers, you are anxious.  Until now you have probably made yourself feel better by rescuing your son, enabling your son, blaming yourself and trying to keep you son from suffering the consequences of his illness.  You have to make changes in your own life in order to be able to hand your son’s recovery over to him.  This does not come naturally to most parents and therefore takes time and learning new on your part.)
  • Listen to the professionals you have hired to direct you on what works best in  being part of treatment for your child.  The truth of the matter is that what you have done in the past has not worked so well so TRUST the professionals.  You are after all asking your son to listen to them, why wouldn’t you?!  What kind of message does it deliver to your son when you pick and choose which suggestions you take? It may feel very uncomfortable, but any changes we make to our life feels uncomfortable at first.  You have to stick with it.
  • Finally, stay in the day.  Parents often spend a lot of time thinking about the “when he leaves treatment,,,,” “when he goes back to school or work….”  This is a long journey.  There is nothing you can do to speed this journey up.  In fact, slower is faster to sustained sobriety.  It took a long time for your child to get to the point of needing treatment for his disease, a disease he will have for the rest of his life.  It will take a long time to prepare your child to live his life as a sober independent man.  Don’t rush the process.  Preparing a young person to manage a life long illness is a life-long process.  Allow the rehab center the time it needs to feel confident that your child is ready to move on.

At some point, your child will be ready to leave treatment, so allow yourself time to sleep, breathe, get educated, find a support group, lean on others who will be there for you, listen  to others, stay in the day, and trust the professionals you have chosen to help your child.  ALL the same things that the treatment program you have chosen is helping your son to do in order to move on in a life as a sober, independent person.

By Lauren Springer, Family Liaison