How involved should I be with my teens’ recovery program?

Posted on July 11, 2023 View all news

How does a family respond to a loved one with destructive behaviors, such as using marijuana or any drug? Cornerstone Team Counseling addresses these tough recovery questions from different perspectives. The following answers and opinions are from clinical staff, youth in recovery, and parents and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Every Brain Matters community. We encourage people to take what they like and make decisions that benefit their families. We provide a glossary of recovery terms below.

To learn more, please visit our family recovery resources here and find support meetings here.

How involved should I be with my teens’ recovery program?

Perspective from Clinical Staff: Parents should be VERY involved in the recovery process. Parents need to know what working a program looks like. I strongly encourage parents to ask for meeting schedules, signed winners lists, and to meet their child’s sponsor and exchange contact information. 

Parents need to understand the recovery process, the disease concept, the 12-step approach, and the role of a sponsor. The best way to do this is to be involved in YOUR own recovery and utilize every available resource that the program offers.

Perspective from a Parent: “Working a Program” was #1 for us. We had to know what that looked like in order to back up the SHOTs/rules we had and how to follow through with the consequences. We also learned how to acknowledge him when he was doing well.  We read the suggested material, went to the parent meeting, attended Climbers, communicated with the counselors, and worked our own programs with our own sponsors.  By doing those things, we were not only more equipped to hold our son accountable, but we were also sending a loud and clear message that we believe working a program is super important for all of us! 

Perspective from Teen: GET INVOLVEDDDDDDDD!!!! I know I was shady, manipulative, and often tried to see how much I could get away with. I was sliding through the cracks. I didn’t know better, though, and the more people I had in my life to really be involved in my recovery and understand what was going on, the more I was held accountable and the more I grew.

Being educated on what is the purpose of working a program could be the difference between life or death. Plus, the depth of your understanding of the present situation with your teen is so limited until you experience it.

So getting involved by attending meetings, getting a sponsor, getting a meeting schedule from your teen, hanging out with the kids, and hosting recovery functions will benefit your family. Let your kid work their own program, and apply positive pressure by really living a program can make a huge difference. Being a working member of the recovery group creates accountability that encourages growth. Walking next to them on their journey, not above or behind.

Perspective from Teen: I know that some of the times when I was the most consistent in my recovery is when my mom or whoever was hosting me at the time was following their shots with me. They knew who my winners were, had me check in with them daily, knew my schedule, knew what step I was on, completed commitments with me, and overall knew where I was at emotionally. I needed that structure and accountability. There is a difference, though, between trying to control their program and being involved in their program. You learn that balance when you go to meetings, climbers, and work the steps yourself.

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

Like many, my recovery journey started many years before I walked through the doors of a meeting. 

I grew up in the Northwest in a small rural community where the entire town is at the high school football stadium on Friday nights. I was raised on a small farm, and I was taught that the animals and work around the house came before anything else I wanted to do. My parents have been together since my mom was 13 and my dad 15. None of my friends came from divorced families, and most of my parents’ friends have been married for 50+ years.

My father had a very hot temper, and my childhood memories are full of him exploding in anger; there were many fights between my parents. I remember occasions when my mom would be upset over his drinking, but I did not believe then that he had a drinking problem (nor do I now). We were financially poor, but I  never went without anything I wanted. I now know how much my parents sacrificed for me and my brother. 

I was your classic over-achiever child. I excelled at school and was involved in many school activities, rising to leadership positions in most clubs or groups I joined. I experienced success early in life and learned that if I  worked hard enough, success was sure to follow. Upon graduating from high school, I served for a year as a state officer for a youth group traveling around the state, presenting leadership talks in classrooms, at retreats, and camps. In hindsight, I didn’t have close friendships, but it didn’t bother me at the time (and still doesn’t). I  enjoyed my life, liked myself, and believed I had a bright future ahead of me. 

I went to college on a scholarship and experienced similar successes while in college. While college was a great experience, it was in this chapter of life that I began to realize I didn’t really know what I wanted. I had been following a pre-determined course that those I respected (teachers) had told me would lead to success. On the surface, I had all the trappings of success – respect for professors, student leadership positions, internships, etc.  However, I didn’t have friends or good romantic relationships. It was while at university that I experienced my first “failure.” I was not selected for a team that I applied for because I “didn’t get along well with others and was not a team player,” even though academically, I was the most qualified. This hurt, and I was resentful for a  very long time about this selection process. As is with most things, it was a great lesson that led to self-discovery and tremendous growth. 

In my 20’s, I enjoyed life, had a variety of jobs, and had a couple of serious romantic relationships. However,  after years of being o.k. with being alone, I was feeling a relational void in my life. For the first time ever, I was lonely. I had started to think about wanting a mate and possibly children. It seemed like everyone I knew was married and had kids. I began to wonder what was wrong with me and think I was missing out on something.  That’s when I met my first husband and the father of my children.  

I now know he is an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, and I believe he is a “functioning alcoholic.” However, I missed all the signs while we were dating and throughout our marriage!!! I knew his dad and his granddad had both been alcoholics. I also knew without a doubt that his mom had played the victim role for years and enabled her adult children to the fullest extent. However, I was so uneducated about the disease and the insidious destruction it wrecks on families and would on my marriage and on my family. 

Fast forward 15 years, 11 moves, and 2 children later, and our marriage and family were a mess!!! Denial and avoidance had become a way of life. I had developed an increased tolerance for bad behavior and disrespect from my spouse and my children. Everyone stuffed emotions and stuffed emotions until the only way out was for the volcano to erupt in a deluge of hate, anger, and spite. And it frequently did from my mouth!!! My children’s father was rarely at home, and when he was, he and I were frequently at each other’s throats. My children’s memories are filled with turmoil and chaos, and then pendulum swings to the other side of entitlement and extravagant vacations on the other extreme. I was distraught, fearful, hopeless, and exhausted.  But mostly, I was ANGRY!  

And then the first of our life-changing moments happened. In the heat of one of our fights, my ex-spouse hit me in front of my daughter and my son in the next room. I called the police and had him arrested and then immediately bailed him out of jail. However, this was the beginning of the end of his military career. An investigation ensued, and in addition to his arrest, they discovered infidelity (unknown to me at the time) and alcohol violations. He was dismissed from the service, and we followed him to Houston, where he started a post-military career in oil and gas. 

Upon arriving in Houston, we continued the charade of our marriage for a few months, but the anger and resentment festered. Shortly after arriving, I discovered he was having another affair and exposing our children  to his mistress (whom he subsequently married.) I was done, and our divorce was soon in process. 

During our marriage, I took the blame for everything!!! I was frequently told by my ex-spouse (and later my children) that my anger and explosive temper caused my marriage to fail and my daughter’s downward spiral,  and subsequently later, my son’s mental illness. Additionally, I was frequently shamed & blamed by his family. I  felt an incredible amount of guilt for staying in the marriage and an incredible amount of guilt and shame for staying and exposing my children to such high levels of toxic dysfunction. 

Round two of life-changing moments was closer than I knew. During the divorce process, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was terrified I was going to die, and my children would be raised without a mother. But I was about to get another of those “a-ha” moments about life. A nurse at MD Anderson told me that my cancer was stress induced by the emotionally dysfunctional life I had been leading. That I probably would have got cancer later in life, but the reason it came so early was the unrealistic stress level of the last few years. I knew from then on that I was going to deal with my stuff and not live that kind of stress-filled life. 

My family was torn apart, and my life was out of control. I had lost my identity and sense of self in my marriage and in raising my children. I spent the next year in therapy gutting myself and re-learning who I was and what I  wanted from life. It wasn’t until years later that I would know that he was following the principles of a 12-step program. Most importantly, I healed emotionally and spiritually. I began to put the pieces of my life and my family back together. Soon thereafter, I met my gift from God – my current husband. 

But God wasn’t done with His lessons for me, and thus begins our journey to Cornerstone. During the tumultuous years after our move to Houston, our divorce, and my cancer journey, my daughter was beginning her challenging teen years. During this time, her moods fluctuated primarily between anger and acting out to isolation and depression and occasionally glimpses of happiness. I didn’t understand her anger and aggression towards me. I wasn’t the one who had the affair and ended our family (nice victim mentality!). In hindsight, I  know she was emotionally hurt and had been taught to suppress all of the “negative” emotions and had no healthy tools to cope with her world that had been turned upside down.

Her negative attitude, abusive language, and out-of-control behavior escalated through junior high and into high school. My gifted student was now failing classes, writing very dark stories, and hanging with kids I wasn’t sure about. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it. And I never suspected drugs and alcohol in the early years. During her senior year, she had 2 boyfriends that I suspected smoked pot, but I wasn’t sure she did. (DENIAL!!!) I did know they didn’t respect her, and I believed she was using sex to get attention.  Again, I didn’t know what to do about this. By this time, she had been in and out of my home and back with her dad numerous times. It was like a ping-pong game. Whenever she didn’t like a rule or discipline at one house, she would bounce back to the other. He and I were rarely, if ever, on the same page. I would later learn of additional traumas beyond our family issues that escalated her self-destructive behaviors. 

Her senior year proved to be a pivotal point. About 6 weeks before graduation, after yet another battle to get her to go to school, we had one of those knock-down fights where words are said you regret for the rest of your life. When I got home from work, she was gone. She had called her boyfriend from school, and he picked her up and she packed her things and left. I didn’t see her for 9 months. After the initial anger and fear had passed,  there was also a sense of relief that I didn’t have to do battle every single day with someone who seemed to despise me. She was 18, and I figured she would figure some things out and ask to come home or…….Yes, my mind went to that awful place of the police knocking on my door to inform me she was arrested or dead. (Little would I know it was her arrest that led to her sobriety! So much for my fears.) 

Close to the holidays in 2013; I received a call from my daughter asking me if I would have lunch with her. I  agreed, and at that lunch, she ‘shared’ with me about her arrest, her addiction, and her involvement in  Cornerstone. “Oh, and by the way, can you come to a meeting tonight and a family session Monday?” 

My first meeting was a parent/kid meeting with 50-75 people and more tattoos, piercings, colored hair, smoking, and F-bombs than I had heard in years. And I was married to a sailor! I was terrified, mostly for myself! I began to attend meetings and Climbers. I was amazed that these people had been living my life, yet they laughed and smiled and genuinely seemed happy. How could that be?! I soon was comforted that I was not alone, I was not crazy, and the journey I had been on for the last 10 years was not the way it had to be for the rest of my life! 

I began to read all the literature to learn the facts and educate myself. I learned to accept that alcoholism is a  disease – a disease that permeates the entire family for generations. I learned the symptoms of alcoholism/addiction and the characteristics of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. And with education came acceptance – acceptance for who my daughter was and who her father was. And with acceptance came forgiveness and compassion.  

The summer after we came to Cornerstone, my daughter elected to go on the wilderness trip. One of the components of going on the wilderness trip is fundraising. This meant her telling her story and asking for donations from other people. This would be the first time we let people outside of our immediate circle know what had been going on, and it was a little scary – o.k., a lot scary! I could imagine all the judgment and  “poor me” comments coming our way – there were none. And quite frankly, by this time, I was just thankful she was home, alive, and working to get healthy!  

The process of getting ready for the trip had many ups and downs. There were many times I thought she was going to self-sabotage the trip and not be able to go. Sometimes I think I wanted the trip more than she did!  She was still on probation, and she had to do a lot of extra things to be allowed to go out of state. We didn’t know until Friday at 5:30 p.m. before the trip left on Sunday that she was going. It was a very stressful week and day!!! 

For many of our kids, the wilderness trip is the pivotal turning point in their recovery. I was hoping for this with my daughter. Unfortunately, after she returned, I still saw many behaviors that concerned me. She was no longer living with her dad (who was marginally on board with Cornerstone at this time) and had moved in with me. She had been sober for a year, but I didn’t believe she had really dealt with her issues and trauma. I  believed she had learned enough to get by with Cornerstone boundaries, and she could give us the “program answers,” but she wasn’t really getting healthy and moving forward. So, I “raised her bottom.” In order to live at my house, she had to go to group therapy. She was soooooo angry!!! However, this was the absolute best thing  I could have done for my daughter. She addressed her issues, opened up and let others in, leaned into the group and learned to trust others, and began to develop self-esteem. It has been remarkable to watch her journey of self-discovery as she learns who she is and how to be a strong, independent woman. I am very proud of her hard work. 

My journey in Cornerstone had many life lessons as well. I have always been a strong person that dealt with whatever the next crisis. I didn’t really think about it, and I rarely felt anything beyond anger at having to take care of “one more thing.” It was just life, and life happens to everyone. However, inside my soul, I needed to learn to feel. I needed to learn to release my concern for looking good, my expectation of what life “should”  have looked like, and to release the fear of being judged as a failure. I had held so tightly to these expectations and judgments in my own heart for so long. I learned to release the guilt and shame that had been my (unhealthy) friend for so many years.  

I learned to trust myself and others as my sponsor took me through another journey of self-discovery as we worked the steps. Her wisdom, honesty, and acceptance were essential in my recovery. She allowed me to grow and learn but also to be kind and forgiving to myself. I learned gratitude and appreciation for the small things in my life. And I learned to truly trust God by letting go of the most valuable things in my life – my children. 

Cornerstone has allowed me to learn to experience a peace & serenity that I never knew existed. Life still happens and will continue to happen. In our home, we now know and live the promises. We have a new way of living and outlook on life. We have new attitudes and restored relationships. We know freedom, happiness, and peace. Pity parties come, but they are temporary and no longer have a hold on us. We have tools we use to develop and maintain healthy relationships among our family and with others. We serve and love others by sharing our experience, strength, and hope. God has done what we could not do for ourselves – He restored our faith in ourselves and our family. He brought my daughter and son back to me. And for that, I am grateful!

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 Cornerstone 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.

Sponsor: A peer who guides another person through the 12-steps.

Winners list: A list of peers who are working an honest active recovery program.

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