Take Off the Training Wheels

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TRAINING WHEELS

One of the most nerve-wracking times for a family during the recovery journey is when your loved one moves from the treatment center to sober living and then to an apartment or house. At this time, managing your own recovery becomes critical, because doing so will help you take the training wheels off your loved one and allow them to begin riding their recovery journey without your interference.

One thing that will help you let go of managing your loved one’s life is working to improve communication, because many families suffer from dysfunctional communication. As your loved one makes the transition to sober living and then to an apartment, seek help from a therapist and attend Al-Anon, if you aren’t already doing so. The key to good communication is speaking the truth and being honest about your feelings. Feelings are neither good nor bad; they just are. Sometimes they hurt, and sometimes they are good. Developing the ability to express feelings to each other and accept each other’s feelings is crucial. When you learn to communicate more clearly and honestly, the entire family will benefit. Set the example for your family by being truthful and not continuing to hide or couch your words.

Another thing that will help you let go is to realize that while your loved one is immersed in addiction, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to protect them from real life. We fear saying or doing the wrong thing and causing our loved one to drink or use again. But the truth is that we are not helping them by protecting them. The things we hide and are afraid will send them over the edge may make things worse, because we are not being honest. During the recovery process, your loved one is learning to be honest, and they will appreciate you meeting them on the journey toward more healthy communication.

For parents especially, part of better communication means not offering unsolicited advice, which can be taken as criticism. As an amusing reminder of this, one speaker said “mom” means “masking tape over mouth.” Remember that everyone wants to peel their own banana, and your son or daughter wants to know you trust them to handle life and make good decisions, and that you believe they are capable adults. In fact, the only way they will become competent adults is by living their own lives and learning from their experiences. In the past, your inclination may have been to step in and help whether they asked for help or not. If they ask for help, it is fine to offer it if you are comfortable doing so. But if you interfere every time your adult child seems to be struggling, the lesson they might have learned from that experience will be lost, and they may have go through that experience again.

I learned this first hand when my son moved to sober living. It was unusually rainy weather for the first month he was there, and he did not have a car, so he had to walk to work. One day, I was worried about him walking from work to the apartment in heavy rain, so I asked his recovery coach if I should contact my son to see if he needed a ride. His recovery coach promptly said I should let my son have his own experience. That was great advice, and sure enough, my son worked it out.

Another reason to allow your loved one to experience the normal ups and downs of life without your interference is to take pressure off them. One woman’s daughter told her, “Mom, it’s really hard on me when you want to have only good things happen to me, because not only do I have to be happy for me, I have to be happy for you and make you happy too.” Your happiness and fulfillment depends on how consistently you work on your own recovery, not on how well your loved one’s recovery is going. Your loved one is only responsible for his or her own recovery. Whether your loved one stays sober or not, you can live a happy, fulfilling life by managing your own recovery.

As your loved one transitions from a treatment center to other living arrangements, take off the training wheels and allow them to ride on their own. Will they look shaky? Will they make mistakes and fall? Maybe. But that also gives them an opportunity to apply the recovery principles they have learned, so give them room to do that. Be supportive without hovering. Be honest about your feelings, including your fears and your joy at seeing them living on their own, and your confidence that they can learn to competently deal with life’s ups and downs. The biggest reward of taking off the training wheels is developing a more healthy, adult relationship with your loved one.

Your loved one can learn to handle daily life events, such as a flat tire or being late for work, without freaking out. And the best thing you can do is to allow them to learn to deal with adverse situations. You and your loved one will be much happier when you remove the training wheels from your loved one’s life and manage just one life – your own.

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Resources

Al-Anon Family Groups

Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children, by Allison Bottke and Carol Kent

Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie

Bradshaw On: The Family: A New Way of Creating Solid Self-Esteem, by John Bradshaw