The phone rings and it’s a call from an upset parent of a substance abuser. “I don’t know what to do, we have tried everything and nothing is working”.
My experience in working with parents of substance abusers has been that the most common mistake is repeating the same approach with the child even though the approach is ineffective. We’ve heard of Albert Einstein’s quote, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. It is as if the parents have become as “addicted” to an approach as the child is addicted to a substance. It’s kind of a crazy phenomena that when something isn’t working, we tend to try to increase the frequency rather than to explore other options. The same scenario plays out over and over again, perhaps for years, exhausting! Meanwhile the child’s use continues and the chaos over time becomes an accepted household routine. It is not uncommon for the ongoing chaos to start to chisel away at all relationships in the family unit which causes additional stress to an already stressful situation.
Parents I have worked with are usually surprised when I recommend that they attend counselling. A common question is, “Why do we have to attend when we are not the one with the problem?” I explain that parents have a key role in promoting recovery due to their relationship with their child: they understand their child better than anyone else, and they usually have the most contact with the child. Parents then see the importance of attending counselling. Common feedback from parents is that they wish they had gotten help sooner, but coming earlier may not have changed anything if the parents were not ready to make a commitment to change. Sometimes we stay as we are -stuck- until change seems less painful than staying the same.
During the counselling session, questions are answered and options for interventions are reviewed. Parents find new motivation to focus their energy on doing things differently to create different outcomes. In the meantime, parents feel supported by expressing their feelings, learning about addiction, and most importantly, engaging in self-soothing activities to combat stress. Parents are comforted by knowing that they have explored all options in order to help their child. At the end of the session, I take time to reflect, and I always feel honoured to have had the opportunity to witness the love that parents in recovery have for their children.