My spouse & I do not see eye to eye in our approach to our child’s recovery. How do we resolve this?

Posted on October 11, 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. The 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 spouse & I do not see eye to eye in our approach to our child’s recovery. How do we resolve this?

Perspective from Clinical Staff: First off, this is a common issue and the real question is how to approach recovery for the ENTIRE family.

I’ll also say that a UNITED FRONT is crux; addicts only function with enablers in their lives, and enablers do not maintain united fronts.

I usually approach this issue in two ways because the resistance to recovery or treatment is usually based somewhere in denial.

  1. Get educated; parents that make it their personal mission to research and understand addiction are infinitely more well-armed than parents that don’t. I use the sponge in the bathtub metaphor.

Read and Complete all the related recovery material the program offers:

  1. Use and utilize the support group system, Parent meetings, Al-Anon, Workshops, Parent Step Study, climbers, and Retreats. In the first few years of recovery, there is no such thing as too many meetings and different types of 12-step meetings.

Knowledge is more than power in this case. It will also provide HOPE, and in that process I almost always see parents come together and form a united front for the child suffering from addiction and their self-destructive behavior.

Perspective from Clinical Staff: It’s very common for spouses to come into recovery and have their difference of opinion on how to make changes. Oftentimes, one parent is living in the chaos and enmeshment with their kid and the other is angry and disconnected. This isn’t always the case, but usually, parents fall somewhere on this spectrum.

The middle ground is being able to detach with love. There are many ways you can go about addressing this with your spouse, but first and foremost, come to as many meetings as you can! Regardless of if your spouse is coming or not, go ahead and start doing the work that’s possible for you to do – begin working with a sponsor, attend meetings, attend the Climbers meetings, and read the suggested literature. Start making the changes that are possible for you.

Also, sit down and meet with a counselor. Regardless of if both parents are bought into the program, the counselors can guide parents through the intervention process with their kids and help resolve any immediate areas of tension. If your spouse is either resistant to working the program or driving you crazy with all their newfound recovery language – it’s ok!!! We all face change in different ways.

Addiction is a family disease; it affects every individual in the system. The miracle of the program is that it works. Recovery can soften the hardest of hearts or give backbones to those of us who have been doormats. Sometimes it’s about being patient, sometimes it’s about fearlessly making that next move. Whatever that is, you can trust that you’ve got a support system in Cornerstone that is with you every step of the way. (Editor’s Note: this is a common role of recovery and family support groups like Al-Anon, Mar-Anon, PALS, NAMI, and others, and can also be fulfilled through your church or other support groups.)

Perspective from a Teen: I saw this dynamic happen in my parent’s relationship when I was in the group. I watched my mom work a program, but not my dad. My dad always had my back and enabled me because he was highly codependent. My mom was too, but I watched her work her own program and begin to break free of her codependency and enabling behavior regardless of my dad’s actions.

In the beginning, it was difficult because I knew who the weak link was at home, and I would run to my dad to co-sign on my justifications, victim mentality, and smoke screen issues when things got hard or I was being pushed out of my comfort zone.

In some ways, this left a back door open for me, but as I grew in my program and as my mom grew in hers, the dynamic changed at home. Even though my Dad never jumped into the program, he began backing up my mom because he began to see the change in me and my mom.

Perspective from a Parent:: This is a common problem, and you are not alone. There is no right or wrong way to do recovery. The HOW of the program is Honesty, Openness, and Willingness. 

Cornerstone gave me the opportunity to work on me. The better me I can be the better spouse and parent I can be. Dialogue is key. My wife and I were able to sit down and agree on the shots and consequences. This was key and a basic foundation stone for everything else. 

We kept it simple. This was good for both of us and our daughter. My wife did not participate so we did not host kids, but we often hosted functions. I know it was important to my daughter to see my participation in the program.

The bottom line, recovery does not have a cookie-cutter approach and there is no one size fits all. Work your own program and you will intuitively know what to do next.

See the parent story for more experience, strength, and hope.

My mother got sick when I was young and, through most of my teen years, I took on the role of supporting my father. I learned to feel my way around my father’s needs in an unspoken language of guilt and grace. When I grew up and started my own family, I brought to it my reliance on emotional intuition over explicit expression. I could detect and fix a bad day before it even happened. I became the family’s mediator, counselor (whether consulted or not), and cheerleader. Up until our youngest daughter was around 13 or 14, I thought I was a parenting genius, a family whisperer. 

I can honestly say that most of what I did, I did with love; but nevertheless, I went way down a rabbit hole of manipulation, entitlement, and enabling. When my daughter would leave a mess in the kitchen, I would hurry and clean it up so that she wouldn’t get in trouble. When she wanted to stay home from school because a friend was being mean, I would cover for her. If she was sleepy at school, I would leave work and bring her coffee. For good measure, I would bring her friends coffee too, just to make sure they valued and respected her. 

I thought that one day she would look back and think “my father was always there for me.” The reality was that she was going down her own rabbit hole of depression, low self-esteem, drug abuse, sex, and self-harm. I know now that I didn’t cause her to go into that rabbit hole, but I did actively take away important incentives and opportunities for her to climb out.  

I was very susceptible to manipulation and my daughter became a master at exploiting it. I made decisions (and failed to make decisions) in the fog of fear. I thought that if I could just find the right words, I could reason with her and make her choose a different path — the path I  wanted for her. We tried counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, and multiple forms of therapy but nothing seemed to help. Our home environment was a mess of enmeshment, entitlement, and enabling and as it turns out, the home environment is really influential. At the time, I truly thought we had tried everything and nothing had worked. 

One of our therapists suggested we check out Cornerstone. In our initial meeting with Joe, he made a comment to the effect that entitlement feeds the ego and crushes self-esteem. I  thought surely he misspoke. How could that be? How could helping someone destroy their self-esteem and how on earth could someone have a giant ego and no self-esteem? I had a lot to learn, but begin learning I did. 

My wife and I were more or less on the same page and supportive of each other; but, we were not able to provide all of what the other needed. Dealing with a child who has mental illness and/or addiction is extremely stressful. The shame and embarrassment had caused us to hide behind a façade. We looked around, and all of our friends’ kids seemed to be doing so well.

We became isolated. As my daughter’s struggles really began to escalate, our isolation took a  toll. When my wife needed to talk, I needed to sit and think. When I was ready to talk, she was mad and didn’t want to talk anymore. At the time our family needed us most, we were exhausted, frustrated, scared, and vulnerable. 

In Cornerstone, we found sympathetic ears, free of judgment. We talked to people who were, or had been, in the same boat. We learned that we weren’t bad people or even bad parents.  We made deeper relationships in weeks than many we had had for years. We also heard stories from parents who had tried doing things differently and had gotten different results.

Cornerstone takes a lot of the kids’ time. We were able to use the space that created to immerse ourselves in recovery. We read books, wrote shots, went to meetings and coffee, did one-on-ones, attended climbers every week, got sponsors, and worked steps. If there was an activity, we were there. We learned cliches, parables, and acronyms by the dozens. “Detach with love,” “progress not perfection” the stonecutter, the lighthouse, J.A.D.E.,  F.E.A.R., and so on. I read Monsters to Miracles and learned how to love more unconditionally.  My sponsor taught me to examine my character defects with kindness. I learned that sometimes the best way I could help my daughter was to take care of myself. 

We have had a lot of ups and downs since joining Cornerstone. Our first real trial came just a couple of months in. Our daughter’s plan going in was to bluff and fake her way through this program like she had all the others, but she was finding that the other kids in the program were masters at that game. They could read her like a book and were not shy about calling BS.  She decided we were done with Cornerstone. 

My initial reaction was fear and disappointment. I was not thinking like a leader. I was used to being manipulated and, despite all my newfound wisdom, I just thought “here we go again.”  We attended Climbers that evening and several parents shared similar stories. They had simply said, “I hope you make good choices but we’re sticking to the plan.” Our daughter was 18 at the time, and our plan was if you want to live here, you have to work a program to our satisfaction. Our daughter decided to give it a chance. For real this time. 

That was a turning point for us as a family. It established a boundary that gave our daughter a feeling of safety that she had not had in a long time. I was finally acting like a leader. It also gave me a healthy dose of parenting self-esteem that I sorely needed. I was terrified of what would happen, but, I trusted the process and made that leap. I did something different and something different happened. 

Over time, through practice, and by hosting, I learned to call shots without anger. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the plan. Testing limits is in my daughter’s nature, but the more consistent I  am, the less those tests confound me. I no longer feel like we’re in a perpetual state of opposition — I the warden, she the inmate. Having a plan and sticking to it hasn’t always been easy, but it is simple and has helped me begin to establish a new relationship with my daughter, who I love very dearly.

Glossary of terms:

Addict: An old term used to describe a person with a substance use disorder that is not currently socially accepted anymore.

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 is 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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