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How to Talk to Your Kids About Your New Sobriety
Quietly, you’ve managed to string together just over 30 days of sobriety. Few at the wedding noticed that you sipped sparkling water from your Champagne flute. And the neighbors smiled and waved as you slipped away early from the block party.
Your abstinence from the booze in your home seems unnoticed too. After you told your husband that you’d lost too many days to blinding hangovers, you dumped all your liquor down the drain and with it, the dreadful, drunken craziness. Then bravely, you set sail on your new life, free of drugs and booze.
A Sobering Reality Check
It seemed all so simple, until today. Standing in line at the grocery store, your 5-year-old reminded you of who you were a month ago.
“Mama?” he said, trying to help. “You forgot your ‘go-juice.'”
Your heart sinks. Mercifully, there wasn’t a huge event that jolted you into sobriety, such as a drunk driving accident. But that moment, standing in line, you knew that your son knows this: Mommy bought wine every trip to the grocery store. You also know that he saw you drink a lot daily.
What do you say to him now?
No one is watching your dance with this demon more closely than your children.-Polly E. Drew
No doubt, the hardest part of giving up drinking or drugging is avoiding that next hit. Symptoms range from a life-threatening physical detox to psychological cravings that can last for weeks, months or even years. These symptoms can sneak up, become crippling and send the most motivated people back to their drug of choice.
But the second hardest part of sobriety is talking to your kids about a topic that is both complex and shaming. No one is watching your dance with this demon more closely than your children.
Kerry’s Brave Conversation
Kerry, a Denver nurse and mother to a son, 3, and a daughter, 8, has been living alcohol free for seven months.
“I know that my kids notice the difference because I am much more present at bedtime,” she said. “And we play a game called ‘favorites.’ In the past, my daughter would say that my favorite drinks were wine and coffee. Now she says that they are La Croix and coffee.
“She’s also started to ask questions about other people’s drinking. In her rudimentary way, she may be asking about me.”
Dr. Donna Brehm, board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, said that talking to your children about your drug or alcohol use will be a relief to them.
She said, “When kids don’t say anything but, instead, give you a look of sadness or show nonverbal distress, take the lead and start talking to them no matter how young they are. Children understand more than people think.”
Children understand much more than most people think.-Dr. Donna Brehm
Facing your kids may seem almost impossible with the fresh feeling of craving a drink, guilt and exhaustion hanging over you. Getting through a day is hard enough.
But addiction is a systemic issue that affects the entire family. Talking to your children lifts the burden of the secret and strengthens your relationship. Some suggestions for opening the conversation:
4 Tips for Talking to Kids About Sobriety
- Create plenty of time and space to allow for openness. Children will have many questions and if unanswered, their versions of the truth can be outlandish. Carefully listen to their language and repeat it back when you answer. Keep it simple.
- Understand and explain the disease of addiction and its progression. If you had high blood pressure or diabetes, you would not talk about your failing moral compass or your choices that led to your diagnosis. In fact, you’d say very little about how you got the illness and a lot about how you are actively changing your lifestyle to combat the diagnosis.
Some kids, especially mature tweens and teenagers will try and act adult-like in an attempt to take care of their hurt or their ailing parent, but it is your task to take care of them.-Polly E. Drew
- Never treat your child like a friend or your therapist. They may seem as though they want to know every single thing, but most kids, at least unconsciously, want to hold on to innocence. They want their parent to stay the parent. Some kids, especially mature tweens and teenagers will try and act adult-like in an attempt to take care of their hurt or their ailing parent, but it is your task to take care of them. Reassure them that you are going to a support group, have hired a licensed psychotherapist and have plenty of friends to talk to.
- Keep conversations ongoing and an organic part of your family’s schedule. Remember that you didn’t get here overnight and it’s not going to be fixed overnight. Despite some kids’ eye-rolling and seemingly bored exasperation, they are listening. Your voice matters the most in your child’s life. It is the clear voice above the din.
As A. A. Milne’s Christopher Robin said to Pooh: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
An apt lesson for us all. And who better to teach it than parents?
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