September is National Recovery Month sponsored by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). I could think of no better way to honor this month than to write about my own Dad's recovery from alcoholism. One of my earliest memories is the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass as I lay in bed and my Dad walked down the hallway past my room. He always had a glass in his hand. I was too young to understand that there was usually scotch or vodka in there, but I did know that his mood became darker and angrier the more he drank. He was not a happy drunk. Thankfully, he wasn't physically abusive, but he could say some pretty mean things as the day wore on.
My Mom and Dad split up when I was eight years old and our daily life became a lot smoother. We had a regular visits with my Dad, and they were always pretty scary because he was drinking and driving, and usually angry about something. Right around my 13th birthday, however, my Dad found his way to Alcoholics Anonymous…well, “found his way” in not entirely accurate. My Step-Mom, who was basically supporting him, took a stand and told him he had to leave and go get sober.
The first big lesson I learned about recovery is this: the people supporting the substance abuser have to take a stand and demand sobriety or else. My Dad had exhausted all his resources and was facing jail time for multiple DUIs, so with no real options, he turned to a local AA meeting. He went to a different meeting every night and spent his days at the "Alano Club," a place where people could just hang out, drink coffee and stay sober. I remember him telling me, "One day at a time? Heck, I was trying to make it five minutes at a time."
The is the second great lesson I learned about recovery: you've got to have a strong sponsor. Thankfully, my dad got an amazing sponsor. You need someone who doesn't buy your excuses and holds you accountable no matter what. My Dad's sponsor took him to hospitals where people were suffering from addiction and showed him how bad it can really get. As the months went by, he encouraged my Dad to share his story of recovery with others. Which brings me to the third lesson: you don't recover from addiction, but you can exist in recovery. In recovery, you share your truth with others and they share with you. It is this “truth telling” that keeps the recovery going strong. For the rest of my Dad's life, he attended AA meetings, sponsored other alcoholics in their recovery and made hospital visits to those in critical condition due to substance abuse. He told me this is how he stayed in recovery.
As a Resource Parent, all of the kids in my life are in need of recovery regardless of whether they are suffering from addiction. The dictionary defines recovery as:
1) A return to a normal state of health, mind, strength;
2) The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost
Kids in foster care have lost a lot—some have had their entire childhoods lost or stolen. Most of them haven’t felt a “normal” state of health, mind or strength in a long time.
I am thankful for the great lessons I learned from my Dad's recovery and I use these lessons every day. I take a stand with my kids—zero tolerance for substance abuse. I support them the way a sponsor would; I am there for them when they need me, but I don't buy their excuses and I make sure they know the consequences that their life choices can bring. I encourage them to speak their truth with the people in their lives whether it be family members, social workers, therapists, CASA workers, attorneys, etc. By strongly supporting my kids and empowering them to take a stand for their own lives, I see them recover a little more every day.