For quite some time now, my life has been literally immersed in recovery. My current hubby is also in recovery, and we both attend meetings on regular basis. We also quite often, bring our kids to many community and fellowship functions that promote recovery. Yet we have never discussed recovery with our kids!
Recently, I have agonized over what to tell our children, or even if to tell them anything at all. Especially since it most likely would involve some clarification about my past drinking behavior. The thought of sharing this information with them has brought up some feelings of shame and guilt, again, and as a parent I often worry that our kids will lose their admiration for us!
Lately, my preteen daughter, has been increasingly curious about life! I believe that she knows much more than I think she does, but I don’t think that she necessarily understand it all. Needless to say, I have been getting ready to explain recovery to her, still a bit worried that I will have to face her questions and feelings about my past actions. At the same time, I believe that being honest about my alcoholism and letting her know that it is okay to talk about it, will help her understand addiction, and show her that people do recover and live normal happy lives.
But… Where do I start? Do I have to tell the entire story? Can I just explain the recovery part? How in the world do I explain addiction/alcoholism? When preparing for the difficult talks with my kids, I always remember the advice that I got from my friend who is a child psychologist. These are the three basics of communicating with children that she suggests:
- Make sure the time is appropriate for the conversation
- Give explanations according to your child’s maturity level
- Do not give more information than necessary unless asked
So one day last week, I was getting ready to go to a meeting and my daughter asked (again) why I go to these meetings and what do I do there. I was ready to throw my usual answer – I go to see my friends and get some hugs! – but I saw an opportunity and asked her to sit down in the kitchen with me. I took a deep breath, and I am not sure how this all came to me , but I started by telling her that I had an allergy to alcohol, sort of like people who have an allergy to nuts. Then I asked her if she knew anyone that was allergic to nuts and what would happen if they had any. She said yes and that they get very sick and have to go to the hospital. I then explained that this is sort of what happens to mommy; if I drink, I can get very sick, or I fall asleep for a really long time. Then, with a certain understanding, she said – “Like that one time when I was little, and ….” OMG. My heart sunk, she had just described my last drunk!
Scrambling for words I tried to explain the nature of alcoholism, and that some people are able to have some alcohol to drink and be ok, just like some people can eat nuts. But than some people cannot have any alcohol at all because it makes them really sick, just like the people who are allergic to nuts. I also explained how alcohol made me behave in a way that I would not normally behave, and that it was not my choice, but the alcohol’s effects on my body and mind that made me sick.
I also apologized, profusely! I told her that I was very sorry that she had to see mommy that way, and that I hope that she will never have to see me that way again. I told her that sometimes it is very hard not to drink alcohol and that is why I go to meetings. I told her that I was now sober, which means that I no longer drink alcohol, and that meetings also help me to continue to stay sober.
When it seemed like she seemed satisfied with my explanations, I gave her a hug and went off to my meeting. And thankfully so, because I was feeling pretty lousy and my head was filling with self-hatred. Oh, I didn’t want to hear that she remembered anything! I thought I was hiding it so well! But yet again, I am reminded that people all around me knew, they just knew!
Nevertheless, I do feel proud that I have finally talked to my daughter. I also feel that there will probably be a few more of these talks with her and possibly with my younger sons too. I am still feeling a bit strange about it all. I know that in the old days I would have built up so much anger and shame about this, I would have gotten drunk for sure. But today is different. I am different. I can see the positive in this difficult situation. I can see how important it is for my kids to have a sober mom, and today, I can take this knowledge and use it to give me another great reason to stay sober!
Have you had a talk about recovery with your kids? Have you though about it? How did you handle it? I would love to get some feedback! Thanks!
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