How can I hold boundaries and implement consequences if my spouse does not want to be involved with recovery?

Posted on November 7, 2022 View all news

Intro: 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.

How can I hold boundaries and implement consequences if my spouse does not want to be involved with recovery?

Perspective from Clinical Staff: Believe it or not this is a common issue. First off, the fact of the matter is that addicts/abusers have a much higher chance of achieving long-term recovery if they have significant family support.

Parents that have been educated on addiction, dysfunctional family dynamics, codependency concepts, Tough Love, and the 12-Steps, are parents that are equipped to actually help their child and the rest of the family.

Having said all that, if one parent refuses to support the recovery process, the other parent should not be deterred. They should forge ahead and aggressively pursue the knowledge and support that 12-step programs offer. This WILL create issues in the marriage and test the strength of the marriage. When one person changes through recovery and the other does not, it will change the relationship.

Parents that refuse to participate in recovery or treatment are parents that are usually in denial, filled with resentment, or afraid of confronting issues in themselves. This can affect long-term results.   

Perspective from Clinical Staff: First, if you are bought into the program, attending meetings, and begin to work the steps yourself then that is going to have an impact on your entire family, including your spouse. There have been many times when one of the parents has worked their program for them and became a catalyst of change in their families. The best way to display the benefits of the program to others is by showing them and leading by example.

That being said, it is important you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to accountability in your home. If it is not possible for you all to agree on what is best for the household then you can set up an appointment with one of the counselors for you and your spouse to discuss a plan, encourage them to attend (a group such as) Climbers, and have other parents reach out to them.

If none of that works, then work your program and trust the process. They will most likely come around to seeing things in a new light when they begin to notice the changes taking place in your life.

Perspective from an Alumni Teen: I had to learn that the program I worked was for myself and no one else. I didn’t have a spouse in recovery but my parents were both unwilling to work programs or follow the “shots” (consequences). They would let me drink and enable me by letting me get away with not following the plan outlined by the counselors and program.

When I became willing to take the program seriously and work to stay sober, I held myself accountable by sticking with winners, developing a strong relationship with my sponsor, and advocating for myself with my parents.

My parents still struggle today with holding me accountable and at times still enable me in my program. It was difficult to get sober without their involvement in the parent group but the group, other parents, and counselors have been a huge support for me in my recovery. If you are a parent who is hesitant to get involved in the program, I strongly urge you to attend meetings, Climbers meetings, work with a sponsor, and follow the counselor’s recommendations despite your hesitation. Your teen will thank you for it in the long run.

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

What It Was Like, What Happened, What It Is Like Now 

I can relate to many of the teens in the program because I first tried alcohol and drugs at age 14, and I never really stopped until I got sober in 2009. By the time my son needed to get sober, I was fortunate that I had begun my own journey of recovery. I had a sponsor who’d experienced the suicide of her teenage nephew,  which helped her guide me with sympathy and wisdom. I also had learned, through my recovery, to be  “willing to go to any length,” which, for me, meant doing what I was told. Learning to do what others advise has been a great gift that did not come naturally to me. Interestingly, the first thing my sponsor said when  she heard about my son’s problems, was “Cornerstone.” But it still took me a while to get there. 

What It Was Like 

In many ways, my son’s issues began when my recovery began. I left the family in 2009, divorcing his father a year later. By then the damage had been done. My son’s escapades included overdosing on drugs, fighting with others so that he was kicked out of school, and cutting himself… and much of it centered around a  devastating breakup with the girlfriend he’d met when our family split up the year before. My son went in and out of numerous hospital ERs and acute care centers. At one point, I even had to visit the county psych ward to sign him over to the state for a brief period—a terrifying experience. 

Partly because of the distance from our old home and partly because of my son’s need to be in a recovery-based home, his father threw up his hands in despair and let him live with me. However, we soon faced another challenge. When leaving the family, I had rented my own apartment—until I lost my job. Soon, I lost the apartment too and had to move in with my aging parents, along with my son. He and I ended up sharing a small bedroom with the same two twin beds that my sister and I had used when we were growing up. At that point, I hit bottom. I got on my knees and surrendered completely to my Higher Power. I  admitted that I had no control over what would happen to my son or to me, and asked for divine guidance and help.  

What Happened 

Within a surprisingly short time, I received a job offer at a recovery-based organization. A place that understood my son’s issues and, although I had no idea at the time, would later provide guidance and support that opened the doors to the best place my son could be early in his recovery. 

Because of my financial losses, we continued to live with my parents for several more months. One night my son came into the room we shared, laid across my lap, and started weeping. “I need help,” he said, “Help  me.” I was dismayed to see he had used a cigarette to make several circular burns on his forearms. But the help he sought was not for the cigarette burns. It was for the emotional pain that he could not escape: the pain of our family breaking up, and the loss of the girlfriend on whom he’d focused his affection when our family fell apart. 

Following the advice of my sponsor and other trusted advisors, I put my son into long-term residential treatment right away. He spent seven months there, which put him solidly on the path of staying clean from drugs. He was committed to staying sober and living in recovery, but he still faced the emotional issues at the heart of his dual diagnosis and continued to act out despite attending Archway Academy (sober high school) and belonging to an APG (alternative peer group). 

Initially, I supported him joining an APG that was known for being less “strict” than Cornerstone. I thought my son wouldn’t do well with too much structure and too many expectations. I had a lot to learn! I later discovered that my son needed, and wanted the accountability of a more stringent APG. For us, that turned out to be Cornerstone! 

In April 2010, the first APG asked my son to leave, because of his antics with another boy (who eventually ended up going to jail on drug charges). That same day, I wrapped up a major fundraiser for the recovery organization where I worked. I couldn’t believe that I’d spent exhausting weeks raising half a million dollars to help people in recovery, yet my own son was being thrown out of his APG. Later that same afternoon, my son was invited by his friend in Cornerstone to attend one of the meetings. And since the boys needed a ride, I was invited to go along and attend the parent meeting.  

I arrived angry, frustrated, and afraid. And I shared those feelings with the parent group that night. At the time, I assumed they all thought I was crazy. I later realized that most parents come in feeling the same way:  confused, fearful, and at a loss for what to do. As painful as it is, that pain actually brings us to where we need to be—ready to seek and accept help. For me, that was the beginning of my recovery from co-dependency. 

What It Is Like Now 

Over time, I felt more comfortable sharing. Early on, I got a Cornerstone sponsor, who was always there for me, infinitely patient, and good at helping me stay centered and focused on myself (rather than my son). She also held me accountable when I started to fall back into old habits of justifying my son’s unacceptable behaviors or allowing him to slide because of my worry about his dual diagnosis. I began to understand that many of the kids in the program had emotional issues similar to my son’s, in addition to their reliance on drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors. 

On numerous occasions, I called my sponsor or other parents and gained the strength to enforce my rules.  On a few occasions, I told my son he could not live in my house if he would not honor my “shots” and respect my boundaries. He now knows I mean business when it comes to my boundaries, and we share a mutual respect for each other. Last June, we shared the joy of his high-school graduation ceremony. At  Cornerstone’s Labor Day softball tournament, my son, his father, and I experienced the fun and healing of being on the same team (which went pretty far in the rankings)!. My son is now in college, and he and I  each plan to “awaken” from Cornerstone on the same evening, a few weeks from now. 

Over our two-and-half-years in Cornerstone, my son and I have hosted several teens who needed a place to stay during their early days of getting sober, when returning to their own home might have allowed them and their parents to fall back into old, unhealthy behaviors. I also have been honored that other parents have asked me to sponsor them. What a gift! I have learned so much from the privilege of helping others to face their fear and confusion, while I also observe my own responses. 

I have gained so much from the relationships I’ve formed in Cornerstone. Each time I opened up and shared how I felt and what I was learning, I felt less afraid. I could see the other parents truly cared about me, and I  felt the support and love of the group. I feel accepted for who I am, and free to say what I feel without fear.  I have learned to make friends and to be one. 

I have come a long way. A few months back I traveled with Cornerstone friends for a weekend in Colorado.  Today, I am looking to move out of my apartment and buy my own house. Recently, I bravely sang an  acapella version of “Amazing Grace” at the West U Talent Show… Amazing grace is, indeed, the theme of my recovery. I have been blessed with grace that has saved my life, helped my son and my entire family to heal,  and blessed me in experiencing the love of the group and sharing it with others. Grace has brought me peace and shown me happiness in being who I am. The self I lost so long ago has been found, and that is truly amazing.

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 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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