When in the recovery process is my teen ready for school?

Posted on July 7, 2022 View all news

The Every Brain Matters community understands how difficult and painful it is when you have a child or loved one with destructive behaviors such as using marijuana or any drug. We also know that each family navigates recovery and healing in different ways, applying valuable tools from many types of effective support systems. Th information given here is taken from one of these reliable systems.

We are grateful that the Cornerstone Team Counseling community addresses these tough recovery questions and is allowing us to share their insight with you. Since it is beneficial to hear different perspectives, the following answers are from clinical staff, teens in recovery, and parents.

To learn more, please visit The Every Brain Matters Support Section or click under the meeting tab to find more information on our support meetings for parents and families.

My Child Is In Recovery, When Will They Be Ready To Go Back To School?

Note: The following are quotes from real people and some may use language and/or terms that may not be acceptable to some readers. To help others understand recovery terminology, a glossary of terms is included after the Parent’s Story.

Perspective from a Teen: I got into Cornerstone, finished the last 3 months of high school, and haven’t been back since. Now, I finally do want to go back to school. I think the biggest thing is that I’ve heard is people who are worried about their kid not going back to school, but I needed to have a strong foundation before I could focus on anything else. On a daily basis, I thought about using or harming myself, and if you put school in the picture, that’s going to be the outcome.

Perspective from a Teen: I dropped out of high school junior year to get sober. My dad and I talked about that all through outpatient. I finished up high school, and he came to the realization that I was going to do it when I was ready to do it. I found a job and tried to do school, at the same time, and it just wasn’t a good fit. For me, at this point, it’s more important to be happy and stable than to worry about school.

Perspective from a Parent: I think it’s a little bit different for each family, and I think there’s usually more to the question. I think this is where parent recovery comes in. Am I continuing to push my agenda? Where is the child at and what do they need? It makes it hard to see the child and where they’re at when pushing our own agenda. Most of the time it also speaks to a larger issue of lacking trust in the process.  

Perspective from Clinical Staff: Depends on the kid. There isn’t a one size fits all solution in recovery. What makes sense for one kid or family may not make sense for the next one. If you are paying attention to your kids behavior it will give you a ton of information about what your kid may be ready for. My recommendation is almost always to not send your kid back to public school. That being said, there are more online school options than ever. Utilize all your resources: counselors, staff, other parents, meetings, Climbers, Al-Anon, etc. Education is similar to recovery in the sense that when your kid really wants it for themselves they will make it happen. In times like this, it will become clear if you have a real and trusting partnership with your counselor and staff. If you do this will not be difficult to navigate.

We hope that you find encouragement from reading the parent story attached.

My Parent Story

“Came to Believe”

I came into the program in May 2009, just before the Wilderness trip. My first meeting was a parent/kid meeting and I was nervous and excited about being there. I wanted something to hope for and was really grateful for the warm reception both me and my daughter received when we walked in. Especially my daughter.

My daughter was 16 and had just completed another program in Clear Lake after several trips to a psychiatric hospital the prior year. I look back and see that things began to escalate the prior year with cutting/disrespect/drama/depression/acting out/poor grades and poor behavior at school functions.

At first, I thought our move to the Baytown area was the main contributing factor. In a typical fashion, I was going to find the reason behind the issues and find the solution to that problem. We spent a year and a half going from therapist to psychiatrist to hospitals and treatment facilities. I found out during intake at a psychiatric facility that my daughter had been heavily involved in drugs. I thought the extent of her drug use was exaggerated like everything else! However, even if she only used 1⁄2 as much as she admitted, we had a huge problem.

During this time I became mentally and physically exhausted. We both started the Cornerstone program with total dependence on those who came before.

Sending her off with a car full of kids to girl’s night was a welcome relief. I felt like my daughter had found a welcoming group unlike any other group she had been part of. I hung around in the pink cloud for a while!

Four months into the program, my daughter and her boyfriend broke up. At that time she took a handful of Trazadone and I drove her to the emergency room. The attempt was a shock to her and me. After spending one month at a mental facility in San Antonio, she came back home. She was home for a few weeks and decided to finally buy into the Cornerstone program. We went to orientation with the counselor and fully committed to all functions, satellite (Alternative Peer Group), meetings, and outside NA/AA meetings. Her sobriety began on November 11, 2009. That date, however, didn’t mean that everything was going to be aseasy and non-eventful as I thought it would.

The first month she was in the mental facility I got an amazing sponsor and attended meetings and Climbers. I read many of the recommended books for new parents. It felt different going through this with other people who understood, cared, and gave me constructive ideas -not just to deal with the situation at hand but to see it with new eyes – a new perspective. This time, the whole world wasn’t on my shoulders and I finally started to get it.

I recall being in meetings and seeing flyers. I picked up the one on codependency. Of course, I wasn’t co-dependent…that was a role my mother played with my brothers, not me. I remember seeing so much I identified with – not happy if others weren’t happy was totally me. If she was unhappy then how could I be? Also, wanting the help more than she did. It was like a jolt seeing myself described so accurately with the title Co-Dependent attached to it!

I had allowed my rule-following to overpower my common sense; a great attribute for the manipulator to take advantage of. If I made some crazy deal with her in order to get her to do something, then I had to keep my end of it. Setting up Shots (rules and consequences) in our home was one of the best tools at my disposal in early recovery. We worked on these together and I learned that manipulative behavior could extend to Shots if I made them too complicated or frivolous. The best thing I could do was to keep it simple: determine what was most important, write it out, have tangible consequences, and enforce them.

I believe that having the group and the counselors backing me up gave me the strength to hold on to the Shots and not get sidetracked. It helped keep me sane and helped my daughter have clear direction in what was expected of her. Asking her to go look on the fridge instead of standing in a toe-to-toe battle of wills was liberating! My first shots were all about counselor-driven recovery instead of parent-driven! I think I revised those shots at least 5 or 6 times.

Even though my child didn’t relapse with drugs, we went through a multitude of behavioral relapses. I remember sharing in a meeting that riding the roller coaster of any high school girl was not the smartest way to parent! I like the phrase – “Let Go or Be Dragged”!!! Knowing it in my head and applying it only happened after I was dragged around for a while and got pretty bloody. I am always surprised when I find my hands firmly on that rope, but Cornerstone has given me a voice in my head that shouts…”Let the damn rope go!!”

My daughter was not strong enough in her recovery to remain in her current high school. She wanted to go to Archway and began her IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy).

The schedule was rigorous. She was on medication that made her super tired. I had to allow God to take care of her on the Rail, the bus, downtown, etc. She fell asleep on the bus and Rail more than once. I remember the time that the GPS tracker I had on her (yes, I was still holding on to my codependent ideas!) showed that she was in the Houston Metro bus barn!!! I called them, they had already found her and were taking her to class. It was time for me to wake up too. I shared my weaknesses in my first step study and got support and understanding from those amazing women. I shared in the meetings, at coffee, with the counselors – I was ready for help.

Half measures availed us nothing. I was as vested in my kid’s recovery as I was previously in her schoolwork. I wanted her to succeed; I wanted her to benefit from the promises; I..I…I… One of the lessons I have learned over and over – I can’t want it more than she does. She was sober, but not always committed to the work that needed to be done.

I decided to adopt my sponsor’s philosophy. Just say “yes”. I knew that trusting the process meant getting as far away from my daughter’s program as I could and investing in my own. I attended 3 back-to-back step studies including co-leading the last one. I learned from working

Step 4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, is why I often behaved in destructive ways. I learned more about my family of origin and came to terms with my role in that family. I also connected with women who have been part of my life in good and bad times since then.

I played Cornerstone softball and scraped my kneecaps over first base more than once! I went to parent retreats, led topics, hosted girls, had Girl’s Night, went to functions, began sponsoring, worked on Serenity Saturdays for the moms, and participated in 3 talent shows, which I absolutely loved. I grew so much because I was surrounded by winners. I was enjoying life and learning to breathe.

My kid had her own path and I had mine. I began to understand the addicted brain and some slogans that helped me were – “Time Takes Time”, “God is Everything or He Is Nothing”, “Let Go and Let God”. The Serenity Prayer has been the failsafe tool for me. It reminds me that I have a part, but I don’t have to take care of everything.

My family is better off by going through this program. My husband was part of the group the first year we were here and had a sponsor and went to meetings and step study. He then had a better understanding of our daughter, and we made progress in our home. When my daughter left our home with a stranger on the first day of her senior year, I was terrified. I had the support of counselors, kids and parents. I remember telling my husband that if he wanted to see me he would have to be at a meeting because I couldn’t go one day without one. He was there. We did not go through this alone. When I reached out, there was always an answer to my call.

When we started making it through the crisis I remember asking our counselor if I should start arranging to get my daughter back into IOP and Archway and he gave me this simple advice – you’re getting ahead of yourself. Wasn’t that my fall back mode of operation? Hadn’t I learned better than that?

I realized that this program was one of Progress not Perfection. I stayed connected with the people that showed me when I was slipping back into old behavior. I was able to change that and correct my course. I was relieved that I didn’t have to be perfect for the program to work, and neither did my daughter, my husband or anyone else in our world.

Step 2 in AA starts “Came to Believe” that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. Cornerstone Step 3 says “realized”. This program has strengthened my belief that I am not the higher power. That God cares about my life and the lives of those I love. It has strengthened my faith and has shown me that I can trust something other than my own capabilities.

Our lives have changed so much. The tornado that had us holding onto the Cornerstone rock has subsided. My daughter is 20 and in college. She lives at home and we communicate on a real level. I am aware that I can slip into codependency so I stay connected to those who can hold me accountable and remind me of the tools that I have learned.

It was hard starting over with an AL-Anon group after Cornerstone. How would I ever feel as connected to anyone else as those who saved my life? The reality is that God is with me in the new program I am going to just as he was in Cornerstone. He meets me where I am and provides me with what I need at the time. One day at a time – not getting ahead of myself. I am celebrating my progress and happy that I am able to work on that every day.

Glossary of terms:

Addict: A term used to describe a person with an addiction or a substance use disorder that some people view this term now as socially unacceptable.

Al-Anon: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.

Awakening: A term used after Completion of the 12 steps and the requirements of the Cornerstone community. Like a graduation but it’s viewed as a “spiritual awakening”

Climbers: an interactive educational group for family members to bring issues, questions or concerns, and receive direct feedback from a counselor and other family members. As well as learn tools of recovery to help you and your family. The Every Brain Matters community offers a Climbers meeting every Wednesday.

Destructive Behaviors: Self-destructive behavior is when you do something that’s sure to cause self-harm, whether it’s emotional or physical. Some self-destructive behavior is more obvious, such as: attempting suicide. binge eating. compulsive activities like gambling, using harmful drugs, gaming, or shopping.

IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy): treatment programs used to address addictions, depression, eating disorders, or other dependencies that do not require detoxification or round-the-clock supervision.

Mar-Anon Family Groups: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.

Parent-Driven Recovery: Tools that Work is a must-read for parents of substance-abusing teens. You’ll learn how to maneuver through the chaos to create a harmonious family life. Even if your teen is not ready or willing to change, there is help and hope.

Recovery: A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. A healing process.

Shots: A term used in the recovery community called Couerstone Team Counseling. It’s a customized list of rules and consequences each family makes for their homes. To learn more, attend the Every Brain Matters Climbers meeting on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm Central time. A list of our meetings is at this link.

SO: Stands for Significant Others, a term sometimes used when graduating from an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) after making amends to our “significant others”, or people we have harmed.

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