I’m afraid if I’m too tough on my kid he might drop out of his recovery program. Is this fear warranted?

Posted on January 1, 2023 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 and opinions are from clinical staff, teens in recovery, and parents and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Every Brain Matters community. We encourage each person to take what they like and make their own decisions that benefit their families.

The Every Brain Matters community also does not recommend specific treatment programs but we are grateful to share the content from the Cornerstone community as a resource.

To learn more, please visit the support and resource page for families and find support meetings here.

I’m afraid if I’m too tough on my kid he might drop out of his recovery program. Is this fear warranted?

Perspective from Clinical Staff: Depends on the family dynamics to tell you the truth. Some families have lost control of their home to the addict/abuser and need to take drastic steps (intervention, treatment, authority) to regain THEIR home.

Some families are afraid to practice Tough Love (holding themselves and their kids to EXACTLY what the SHOTS/consequences call for) because they are afraid of rocking the boat or don’t see other parents being as tough.

Most people in the program preach tough love but do not truly understand tough love. Addicts NEED tough love to get sober. But Tough Love is not loud, angry, authoritative, cocky, or arrogant.

Tough Love IS consistent, has boundaries, will allow the addict to suffer the consequences, and is driven by Love. Tough Love does not stop when the crisis is over.

Addicts/Abusers NEED tough love for YEARS, if not a lifetime.

NEVER EVER Make decisions based on FEAR when dealing with Addiction/Abuse…It will ALWAYS blow up in your face.  

Perspective from Teen: The meaning of “too tough” is relative. I can tell you that no matter what, your kid has a better chance at being in Cornerstone than the alternative – regardless of what his/her circumstances are in (recovery).

That being said, there are rules in recovery, and in most households to protect the integrity of the group and the home, to help ensure that each is fostering growth. Most kids don’t like rules. I speak as one. I had to get to a place where I thought I needed help – before recovery and in recovery. If I didn’t think I needed or didn’t want it, I never would’ve accepted it.

I spent half of my first year in Cornerstone with a host family, because I couldn’t go back to my family without being a wrecking ball. I almost got kicked out of my recovery program twice in that same time because of my lack of respect for people and the rules warranted such action because my presence was causing great harm to others.

Whether your fear is warranted or not, you have it. Some kids do leave because they don’t want to accept help or have accountability. I tried to but had nowhere to go. I had hit the end of the road, so I came back and have never looked back.

Most kids, who give it a shot, stay. Your fear that your kid might leave is a possibility, but I have two last comments. One, I would work with your sponsor and other parents who have experience on the issue of what is too tough. Second, Henry Ford once said, that “experience is the thing of supreme value in life,” provided that we use that experience to grow. Can you do wrong? Maybe, but I don’t think so if you’re willing to accept help and grow. I needed really tough love; I wouldn’t be here if people went easy on me. I think I’ve seen more death and destruction from enabling parents rather than those who are “too tough”.

Perspective from a Parent: Fear and denial are warranted it just doesn’t serve us. When we start working the program and we are surrounded by other strong parents it feels only natural that we should be as tough in our love and choices with our kids as they are with theirs.

You hear progress, not perfection and that is one of the questions to whom this certainly applies. The absolute worst thing that a new parent can do is to make a threat or give an ultimatum that they are not ready to carry out 100%.

All that said, being afraid is just part of your program. If we as parents are working our program we will overcome our fears and we will make the right choices in giving our children the structural love and the implementation of the consequences behind their choices.

We set the shots; they choose the consequence. Attend Climbers, and talk with winners. The steps are simple, but they are not easy.

Perspective from Teen: I think it’s important for parents to be involved in the parent program and work the steps themselves. I think that being around healthy families will help build a healthy family.

I think that “too tough” is controlling. No faith. All fear.

It took me a while to learn how to have a voice and give/receive accountability. I feel like finding my voice took a lot of trial and error. 

Something that I heard and really liked was to ALWAYS say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t be mean when you say it.

Please read the parent story for hope and inspiration.

He was my second and last baby born. A pleaser, especially to me. So many times, he would end his sentences with “Right, mom?” He rarely walked by me that he didn’t grab my hand or slide into my lap. He was my easy-going boy who loved everyone, and they loved him. School was easy for him, and all the teachers gave glowing reports about his work and what a great kid he was. Puberty changed his appearance drastically. His hair went from blonde to brown, his voice got much deeper, he got quite a bit taller, and he had grown hair all over his body!! All of a sudden, he was a teenager.

Soon it seemed that he cared much less about our family and more and more about his friends. He started talking back to us disrespectfully. Screaming, actually. His clothing changed. His friends changed. His grades changed drastically. He snuck the car out. We got calls from teachers and other parents about his behavior. He would lie about who he was with and where he was going. We thought it was all part of being a teenager. But then I started finding odd things in his room: pieces of foil, empty bodies of writing pens, lighters, empty liter coke bottles with holes punched in them, and beer bottle caps…

Some of the consequences we gave him included grounding him from his friends and from going places, no computer use, and no phone. Sometimes we did all of those things at once but nothing worked. We set the house alarm to try and keep him from sneaking out. He came home drunk and started a fistfight with his dad in the yard. He yelled curse words at the top of his lungs in the front yard. We found alcohol in his car and we sold the car immediately. He didn’t care. For some reason, we still tried to believe that this was just a temporary situation and that “boys will be boys”. We gave him drug tests, which he continually failed. We tried talking to him. We would beg him to stop. He denied having a problem at all. We wanted to believe him…but the evidence and his behavior told a different story.

We took him to several counselors and tried talking to the school. He began to run away every time we had a confrontation. We got the police involved, but they were no help. He would finally come home but the nightmare would start all over again…we could not recognize this boy as our son!!! Our life as a family, and my life personally, had become unmanageable.

The last time he ran away I talked to a friend of mine who said I should call a woman that she knew who had gone through something similar with her son and had found help. I called her and she told me about Cornerstone, and that her son was doing so much better. I called immediately. In the next three days, we had our son picked up and taken to Sundown Ranch, where he stayed for the next 50 days. He continued to deny he had a problem. His aftercare would include intensive group therapy.

My husband and I had already started attending recovery meetings while he was away. We were advised to learn as much as we could before our boy got home from rehab. We kept going to the meetings, reading all the literature, and talking to as many people in Cornerstone as possible. The parents in the meetings were basically telling our same story with different details, but they also talked about SOLUTION. They were not crying – they were LAUGHING!! For the first time in a long while, I felt hope. I learned about the “tools” of recovery and about focusing on myself and my own program. I listened to what other parents were saying that worked for them. It was in the Climbers meeting that I discovered I was taking everything that had happened personally – as if it were being done to me or because of me. It helped me so much to be reminded that it was not personal, it was a disease.

Once our boy got home from rehab, he bounced out of the Cornerstone program immediately saying he did not have a problem. He ran away and relapsed, came back to the program, and tried again but would then run away and relapse again. He bounced from host family to host family for a long while and finally landed at a host family home on the south side and was attending IOP. Eventually, it became apparent that he was just going through the motions and not really embracing the tools and principles of the program. He got kicked out of Cornerstone. The only alternatives we gave him were to live on the street or to go to a halfway house and continue working a program. He went to a halfway house.

At about this same time, I realized that though I was attending meetings and Climbers, I was still an emotional wreck. A friend in the program brought to my attention that I was being “hesitant” and not really getting involved. The fact was that I, TOO, was just going through the motions. I was basically just showing up. I was not really embracing the tools and principles of the program either! I got busy. I went to all the meetings and coffee fellowships and started feeling a part of the group. I worked on my own personal steps with my sponsor and enrolled in step study which gave me a new understanding of a Higher Power who could do what I could not do alone. I started sharing in the meetings and soon I had sponsees of my own whom I helped through the steps. I participated in all the functions. Getting involved and really doing the work suggested by the program was my turning point and the springboard to my real recovery. I started feeling at peace. I was making changes in myself and getting to the point where I was going to be okay no matter what choices my son made. I had a new understanding of a Higher Power and the support of a solid program to help me make some very difficult decisions. I began to see the next right things to do. I had learned to do things differently and found a new way of living. One day, I realized I was finally able to laugh again.

While in his second halfway house, my boy realized that his life really was out of control and that he wanted real recovery. To get back into Cornerstone, he also had to get busy. One of his requirements was to do 90 meetings in 30 days, which he did with no phone or car. He went to another host family. He started working his program. He got back into IOP with his heart in it this time. He then decided to go back and graduate from high school. He started sponsoring other kids. He has awakened from Cornerstone and now has a full-time job, lives in an apartment, and is paying for his own car. He has self-esteem written all over his face and actions. He has also found a new design for living. Now he, too, can laugh again. Today, I’m happy to say, I have a good and loving relationship with my son again.

Some of the things I have learned through this process are that “love is not accepting bad behavior,” that I just need to try to do the next right thing and leave the results to God, and that God has his own perfect timing and this – don’t give up before the miracle happens! There were many times that I could not have kept going or made the decisions I had to make without the support of this group. Looking back, I don’t know what would have happened had we not found Cornerstone. But we did – and I don’t think it was a coincidence. What started out as a complete nightmare has turned out to be a miraculous gift for which I will be forever grateful; it may have saved my son’s life. But one thing is certain: through Cornerstone, our family and our lives have definitely been changed for the better.

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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