Parenting in Recovery
Let's face it, parenting is not for the faint of heart. It just isn't. Sure, a few parents have those Pinterest-perfect kids, but most of our offspring are a little more interesting than we'd like to post on Facebook or Instagram at least 5 days out of the week.
And recovery withdrawals? Forget about it. Put me in a coma and wake me when this business is over! Not doin' it!
Then some crazy wants you to parent those little darlings and kick compulsive, addictive, obsessive thoughts and behaviors all at the same time?! Now ya'll are just nutty!
Oh boy do I get it. That's why I'm giving you this "Everything I Wish I Knew about Parenting through Recovery Survival Guide." Let's just call it "Parenting In Recovery" shall we? In all seriousness, it's not recovery that's the problem. Your brain is trying to tell you that you will die if you don't watch it, call him, see him, talk to him, touch it, have it, whatever. It really, literally acts like it is dyyyyyiiiiiiing like a 15 year old girl who was told she can't go to prom. Silly 'ole amygdala. We love you. Thanks for keeping us alive all this time. You've done a great job. Now, time for Mommy's frontal lobe to take over. And no, little amygdala, we are not dying. Yes, you think we are, but we really aren't. It will all be fine...soon...right?
YES! It will be fine soon.
First, you need to put on your stall mucking boots, grab a high protein, low sugar meal, and take a few calming breaths. Read through, practicing each tool separately, not worrying too much about stringing them together. This will make it easier to create the individual pathways in your brain, then string them together later. Plus, it's less intimidating to take them one at a time. The last thing you need right now is more to stress out about.
Tool #1: Breathe!
Let me teach you a little about combat breathing, because you are entering the battle ground of your life, and you will need it. You might think, "Hey, breathing, I know this one." I used to think that as well. Then I learned how to do this...
- Find a comfortable place to sit quietly.
- You will be counting to 4 four times, the pace doesn't really matter.
- Keep it consistent: inhale, hold, exhale, hold. All counts of four.
- Breathe slower than normal, but not so slow you pass out from lack of oxygen.
- Focus on relaxing muscles, in your neck, back, arms, legs and head. Breathe.
- Four in, hold for four; four out, rest for four.
- Repeat until you feel centered and ready to move on.
That's it. See? No danger. You're not going to die, your amygdala just doesn't know that yet. It will learn. Be patient with it. Poor thing, it just wants to keep you alive! It did it's job, now you get to do yours: learn to manage it.
Once you get the hang of combat breathing, you won't always need a quiet place. This is good, because quiet and kids are rarely synonymous. Ready for Tool #2? When you are, go ahead and read on.
Tool #2: Calm the Mental Chaos.
After a few mind-clearing breaths, you're going to think you are ready to think again. Nope. One more step before we go there. No thinking just yet, you're still cluttered. First, you need to clear the chalk board. Seeking a completely clear slate here isn't going to be easy without a lot of practice. No problem, you don't need 100% empty, just seriously de-cluttered, and way calmer than you are used to. Focus on slowing down those spinning wheels in your mind. Visualize things slowing down, like literal wheels, a flock of birds, swirling wind, whatever works for you. Practice taking control by giving your mind something to focus on, then slow down. Speak out loud if you need to (I do!) "Slow it down. Shhhhh... Slow... Slow..." don't use complex sentences, the simpler the better. That's why I like just repeating "Slow..." as I exhale, calming, unwinding, letting go. Thoughts and ideas will flow in and out, that's totally normal. slow them down too by not engaging, but speaking calm into them. "Not now...slow it down....shhhh..." Look for a place of rest at the bottom of your breathe, where you totally relax, then at the top, where you release the tension of the inhale and let it just flow out.
This is my favorite place to just sit and breathe for a while. My mind is never totally blank, but I get pretty close here, so I just enjoy it. Once you are calm, reengaging your kids will be much less triggering. If you get ramped up again, step back and do more breathing, more calming of that amygdala that is convincing you they are a threat. They aren't. They're just kids, doing what kids do. It's not personal. Taking out the intensity of recovery on them isn't going to help anyone.
- Call another adult
- Take them to the park
- Do something to engage their energy in more constructive ways that will not require a whole lot of brain power from you. You just don't have it to give at times, and that's okay. It will get better. For now, your job is to not make things worse.
After you've gotten the sense for how amazingly centering this can be, you can try out a little brainstorming in Tool #3!
Tool #3: The Muse
You have an inner voice that can only be heard when you are calm. It is trustworthy, smart, and represents your inner wisdom. New ideas can come through this voice, if you can calm the chaos and give this voice space. You also can't judge in this space, you are learning to tap into and trust your inner self. Let's call her your Muse. She might sing, she might paint pictures, she might write you beautiful prose. She might deliver a play, or a monologue, or graceful dance that weaves ideas into your heart. Mine has been known to unfold solutions much like a choose your own adventure, only so much more the voice of a poet than a children's book. She shows me multiple paths at once, letting me explore them at will. I'll follow one thread to conclusion, or as far as I need to know if it isn't the right choice, come back to another, then another, letting the threads weave and flow, without judgement or coercion from my dramatic inner voice (who thinks everything is a catastrophe.)
Practice ignoring any catastrophic, fear-based chatter, focusing on the wisdom, potentialities, hope, seeing the fear of your inner worry-wart, and validating it, without being distracted. Look at empowering options, follow powerful, solution based threads, not those that end in pain, heartache, or fear. See new ways of interacting, talking to your children, nurturing them. Envision what you want, without shaming yourself for not being there. Create, dream, hope.
As you practice this, it becomes second nature to follow hope and light, letting fear and worry fall away. If fear, regret, and anger start to threaten your inner brainstorm, slow it down again, calm it, and reengage choices, options, intentional decisions that nurture solutions and hope. Follow the melody and rhythm, or dialectic prose of your Muse. She knows how to teach you, your job is to hear her without judgement, and trust her.
Often, as we sit quietly, oxygenating our brains, and calming that anxious amygdala, ideas flow. Let them. Don't judge them, see them. Some are better ideas than others, just let the ideas go that won't bless or nurture. engage more fully those that feel they will lead to honest, empowered, responsible fruition.
- Jot a few ideas down, just a few words
- Reengage your Muse
- Ask her what else she might have for you
- Follow her.
- If you wander into fantasy or daydreaming, manage it.
This gets easier, too. Fantasy distracts, pulls you away from pain, keeps you from solving anything. This tool will move you to resolution, peace of mind, and hope. What I want you doing is empowering yourself. Fantasy does just the opposite, hiding and breading irresponsibility. Slow it down, send it away, and re-engage solutions in the way that works for you. Keep moving, keep leaning into the solutions your Muse wants to show you, following the threads into fearless, peaceful resolution. It is there, and you will learn to find it. Then you can begin to envision the potential for future interactions.
Tool #4: The Potential for Better
Your kids deserve your best. You'll learn to give it to them faster, more smoothly, but never without any effort. The best inspiration for anything, especially in the most important relationships, is never without effort. Effort never means perfect, but it does mean continued progress when used properly. Let's start with a look ahead at what you want to create. Having a vision of a better life helps. Sure, things go haywire, kid don't forgive, spouses leave, really crappy stuff happens. And you can still find peace. There is always the potential for a better life, even if it isn't exactly what we hoped for. So create that vision of what you really want to work towards, being flexible about the agency of others. Plan for a future while remaining open to what comes along.
- What feels compassionate for you, your child(ren) and the relationship right now?
- How do you want to do better than you have, and can you love yourself even though you haven't been perfect?
- What one step towards that resolution can you take?
- What are you ready to change in how you parent, just in this situation?
- Do you know what your child needs?
- What you need?
- What future possibilities can you keep in mind as you fight through these painful days of withdrawal, memories, and regret?
- What will give you hope and resolve to keep fighting for you, for your kids, when the choice to stay sober feels impossible to make?
Gather visuals, write down your commitments. You are almost ready to take action.
Tool #5: Focus on What You do want
It can be easy to get lost in the crazy of every day. As you try to develop healthier coping strategies, life and emotions get out of control even faster. At times like this, do some combat breathing, re-center, and let go of the mistakes. They are over. All we can do is fix what is fixable, say we are sorry when we are truly ready for change, and do better. Focus forward. Whatever takes our attention most is what we get. If you stay stuck on what you don't want, it will hang around a lot longer. I'm not talking about pretending there aren't changes that need to happen. Focus on what you do want though. Review how to handle a situation better next time, and keep working towards that ideal. When we are not living what we imagine, our minds get to work to make what's inside happen. It can be fear, anger, resentment, or hope, compassion, and change for the better. We really do decide by what we focus on. Face the fear, the distraction, the fantasy, then replace it with the truth. Choose what you want, and hold on tight as you start making real changes.
Tool #6: Make one Move, then Make Another.
The first move will be towards self-care and compassion for you. It will probably start with acknowledging you may not be at your best, but what can you offer now? What can you let go of now? What expectation for yourself, what judgement of not having the perfect home or family, can you release? How can you stop shaming and beating yourself up, so you can use that energy to repair relationships and recover forward faster?
The second move is toward your child.
- How can you see her as hurting, confused, and in need of love?
- How can you forgive him for having no idea or capacity to understand what you are going through right now?
- How can you wrap him in your arms, recognizing he needs recovery, too?
Children learn to forgive themselves by seeing us forgive ourselves and them. If we blame them, they will absorb that. If we take personal responsibility, teaching them to manage themselves by watching us, they will grow up with far less shame.
Tool #7: Let go of the Past, let everyone move forward.
You have made serious mistakes. So has everyone else. Just like focusing on what you don't want, focusing on teh past will not move you forward in recovery. Learn what you can, take the positive memories, and move forward with new resolve to create a life you truly want. I've learned that sometimes forgiveness is too much to ask from ourselves or others for a while. That's okay. It will come. It may not manifest in the ways we want most, but it will happen as changes are made. Even if the forgiveness of another person isn't ours for the taking, we do not need to stay stuck. It is possible to move forward, living in better and better ways. When restitution can't be made directly, our psyche keeps reaching out for ways to make those amends, even with our children.
- Keep hope
- do your best
- become ready to fully apologize
- own your part without excuse or expectation of relationship renewal
- forgive yoruself
- let yourself be happy
- accept when you do your best
- see everyone as someone worthy of love
- protect yourself and your kids
- acknowledge your weakness without self-hatred
- let go with love.