Lessons learned by parent of a person in recovery

I too am in recovery- not from a substance use disorder- but from the constant anxiety and fear on behalf of my daughter that was my life during the time of her active using.  The key to regaining control of my spiraling emotions and to gaining some joy and balance in my life was my attendance at the Saturday morning parents’ group (and now partners as well) run by Johnny Allem, Nike Hamilton and other Aquila Recovery staff to include Robin Turner and Steve Donovan.  I have been regularly attending these group sessions since September 2015.  At the meetings, we focus on the parent, partner, and family recovery process.  I’d like to share with you 10 lessons (in no particular order) that I have learned from Johnny and Nike and from other parents in attendance.


  1. Recovery is in the hands of your child. You did not cause their substance use disorder and try as you might, you cannot control their process of recovery. We parents often try so hard to get in the way of our child’s fall that we delay their willingness to own the issue and do what it takes to live a sober life.
  1. Time and again I have heard that the successful child (and that person may be in their 30s or 40s: they are still your child) is the one who fully embraces a recovery program. That program typically involves therapy, some form of a 12 step approach, and medication as needed. Many if not most of the children have a dual diagnosis of depression/anxiety that led them to use and then misuse addictive substances. Those who refuse to acknowledge that they have the disease of addiction often are those that keep relapsing.  A hard truth.
  1. Young adults who suffer from a substance use disorder are often quite immature. Johnny often reminds us that their emotional age reflects when they began using.  So, a 24-year-old may act more like a 17-year-old teenager.  Maturity begins when the substance use is discontinued.
  1. Setting clear boundaries with your child is a must.  You should not have to walk on egg shells. State what you will or will not do, pay, tolerate in the way of language, etc. in a calm non-threatening voice (boy, easier said than done!).  The boundary must be agreed upon by both parents to be effective.  If the substance user can manipulate one of you to work around the other, you lose as does the child.
  1. To paraphrase Johnny, trust is lost in buckets full and comes back in thimble’s full. I lost all trust in my daughter during the time of her active using. It took me 6 months of her sobriety to begin to trust her again. Now I have faith in her honesty and judgement.
  1. Even when your loved one is solidly in a period of recovery, a small thing can happen that can throw you back into “that dark time”. We in the parents’ group consider this a form of PTSD.  A realization that the triggering event is just that and not a move backward by your loved one allows you to stop the negative thoughts and stay in the present.
  1. Parents and partners must do everything they can to take care of themselves. Living with or dealing with an active user is a wrenching experience that can, and often does, continue for years.  So, finding things you love to do and not isolating yourself are ways of maintaining your equilibrium.
  1. Everyone needs to have a community of friends with whom to talk.  For the child or partner in recovery it is often their AA or NA community, their therapist and/or their therapy group members. For parents and partners of the user, our Saturday family group is one such community.  We support each other by listening and reminding each other that we are not alone.
  1. Substance use disorders are diseases. Talk openly about them with acquaintances, friends, and family.  We need to “mainstream” treatment and prevention.  This disease is everywhere as all of you know. Talk about it and get it out from under the rocks of secrecy and shame.
  1. Recovery is a life- long process, but its attainment is a badge of courage and tenacity. My husband and I are so proud of our daughter for doing what many consider the hardest thing they have every done: changing from a life driven by a need for a substance or multiple substances to get through the day to a life of sobriety.