Updated: May 11, 2021
So, you finally got your daughter into her first recovery program and last night you slept for the first time in months, maybe years. Or maybe it’s been thirty days since she went in and you have done the counseling, the soul searching, the amends and you’re ready to move forward. Maybe it’s been longer—sixty days, ninety? And you’re finally beginning to trust her again. Well, there’s something you should know and it’s going to frighten you. In fact, it’s going to make you want to break down and scream, no, no, no! I can’t do this again!
Addicts relapse. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease from which there is no cure. Recovery and sustained sobriety, is however, achievable. What this means for most addicted individuals is that there is no such thing as one and done when it comes to treatment programs. That’s the bad news. But there is good news, too. The good news is that your child took the first step. A first step leads to the next step—and the next—in this terrifying journey to long-term recovery. There are likely to be more recovery programs in her future. They may be residential, outpatient, therapeutic counseling, sober living… But there are likely to be more (at least seven on average according to some in the industry). Don’t hit the panic button. Instead, educate yourself about what to expect.
My son started and failed a court-ordered outpatient program. Following that program, he fell deeper and deeper into his addiction. He finally put himself in an inpatient recovery center for thirty days. We were certain we were on the other side of the worst experience of our life. For the next year and a half, he relapsed on an eerily predictable schedule of roughly every ninety days. And over that year and a half following his first in-patient program, he went to two sober living homes, two outpatient programs, and three more inpatient programs. Some of these programs he went to because he had relapsed and some he went to because he thought he was going to relapse. His last sober living home led the way to long-term recovery and he has maintained that recovery for more than six years now. His journey is not unusual. What would have been more unusual is if he had fallen into the one-and-done category.
I thought I knew of one individual who had found sobriety after a single stint in an in-patient recovery facility. I just learned that after three years he has relapsed. His mother is heartbroken. I get it. But the good news is that he has had three long years of separation from drugs and alcohol. He has, because of this long period of abstinence, been able to see what his life looks like on the other side. He is better armed to make choices about what kind of life he wants to lead and whether or not he wants to do the work to stay in recovery. I’m betting he will go back into recovery again. There are no guarantees, but I’m willing to bet on him turning this into a win.
The first step in recovery is the separation from substances. Separation allows the brain the time it needs to adjust to managing one’s mood without drugs or alcohol. Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure) is a very real side effect of early recovery. Thus your daughter, newly separated from drugs and alcohol, may understand intellectually that she is better off than when she was using, but her brain is screaming at her—why am I so sad, why can’t I feel anything, why am I not happy, why am I so overwhelmed? It can take a year or more for the brain to heal and for the addict to begin to be able to regulate their own mood. Yes—a year or MORE. During that time, relapses may (are likely) to happen. The question becomes, what are you as a parent going to do about it? How are you going to cope with the threat of possible relapse? Your nerves are frayed and you’ve been worn down to the barest bones of yourself. You cannot do this again.
Believe it or not, there’s some good news in all of this. Each time your child chooses to go into recovery they are healing and learning. This is no longer your problem to the degree you thought it was. You, if you are lucky, have begun to understand through counseling and support that you did not cause this and cannot control this, and, most importantly, YOU cannot cure this. You have handed the reins of recovery to your child. Thirty days in a recovery program has given your daughter access to what I think of as The Beginners Guide to Recovery and she now has many of the tools at her disposal to take control of her own recovery.
All this is not to say that it’s going to be easy for you or your daughter. But if your child went willingly to recovery in the first place, and if you are able to condense your message to them in the days that follow, there is a good possibility she will continue on a path to recovery even when there are detours along the way.
Condensing your message means that instead of focusing on your disappointment, your anger, your frustration, you take a step back and remind them that you love them but have nothing else to give them other than your support in their recovery. It means telling them you know they have the tools, but you can’t make them use them. It means reminding them that recovery support is available, but they have to want it.
What can you do to help? If you can afford to support her recovery financially by paying for recovery options, by all means do so. You are a lucky parent to be able to do so. If it means helping her find resources, do so, and then leave the choices in her hands. If it means driving her to AA/NA meetings or therapy or outpatient meetings, go for it. Let her know you’re in her corner. But the work that goes into long-term recovery is hers.
One and Done is not a real thing, but that first recovery program is a beginning. It’s a start. It’s something to celebrate. Go ahead and sleep. She’s safe. It’s been a long and hard journey to this first step. And there’s more work to do in the days ahead. Take care of yourself. Be grateful for where you are today as opposed to where you were before she went into a program. Get the support you need to take care of yourself and condense the message when darker days come again. We’re in this together, but this may not be your fight anymore. It’s up to her.