Patience for recovery is something we don’t talk about much. Having a chronic, progressive, relapsing brain disease (or Substance Use Disorder) sounds pretty serious, and it is. The reality in a nutshell is that a short stay in a rehab, or even a year or so in sober living communities, is not going to insure long term recovery success. That’s what’s driving the nation crazy. We don’t understand why a treatment system based on a concept of instant recovery isn’t working.
Recovery doesn’t happen in the first year or two
This is a myth about addiction that needs to be debunked. If a child or teen uses drugs, his development stops at the beginning of use. His brain function has been altered. You’ll notice behavior changes, irritability and anger, for two. He or she may seem like a different person. And he is a different person.
Stopping use does not instantly reverse brain damage or behavior
Say you have a fifteen-year-old who drinks, takes drugs, and smokes pot. There will be changes in the whole family as her behavior worsens and habits progress. When your child is twenty-three and wants to get sober, she is emotionally still fifteen. She needs to start building a new foundation on which to grow. She has to play catch up and let her brain both heal and begin to develop again. This takes a long time. We haven’t accepted that basic fact about addiction yet.
Patience for recovery is like having patience for coming back from a stroke
SUD is a brain disease with a psychological component. It doesn’t doesn’t mean that loved one who has been a drug user can’t develop and become the best person in the world. It happens all the time. It does mean, however, that he/she won’t be restored to the cheerleader or A student or loving offspring that he was before he started. He’ll be something different, and that’s okay. It also means the family has to adapt to a new normal that includes changing its own behaviors to become healthy and functional. How many families have developed patience for recovery?
Chronic diseases prompt changes in lifestyle
If you discover you or a loved one has cancer, or heart disease, or diabetes, you have to change your lifestyle forever in order to conquer the disease. That’s a fact. You’re different now. Your dinner table is going to look different. People will be sensitive to your new needs and may even join and to help keep you healthy. If your child had cancer, would you do everything in the world to help him get better? Of course, you would.
I had to develop patience for recovery and change myself
When I was a mom coping with teens who were experimenting with drugs and alcohol, I was drinking a martini every night. I thought that drinking was their problem, not mine. Why should I give it up? After all, my young people were drinking in bars and getting sick and having consequences, and I was not. In addition, I was an adult. It was legal for me to drink and have a Xanax when I was afraid of flying. I did not make sure my teens were where they said they were. I did not check their backpacks, search their rooms or drug test them. I didn’t call their friends’ parents. I believed all the misinformation I received. When situations worsened, I kept remembering how my loved one used to be, and had magic thinking that we could get back there somehow. I didn’t accept the now.
Accepting the now
The now meant I had to be a different kind of parent. I’m not a good policeman. I don’t love confrontation. I hate having to check up and deliver consequences when people don’t tell the truth or are unreliable. I want everyone to be good and nice and reliable. I didn’t know how to be supportive without being directive. I didn’t know how to insist we have conversations without fighting. And I wasn’t so great at listening, either. I had to become a different person, just as my loved one had to become a different person.
With addiction, I had developed into a blind, hopeless and helpless mom. With recovery, which meant I had to change, including giving up my evening martini, I became a better person and could support lasting recovery.