September is National Recovery Month. In honor of this month I am reprinting an earlier post about a child I worked with many years ago. Whenever I wonder if what I do matters, I think of Josh....
What does it really, truly mean to be "in recovery" from addiction in your family?
Let me tell you about Josh.
Josh was in a group I co-facilitated about ten years ago. Josh's father is an alcoholic. He had been in and out of AA, but couldn't seem to pull together even a week of sobriety. There was a good deal of fighting and turmoil at home. Josh had been acting out and having trouble in school, and Mom brought him after a referral from the school district.
This bright young man was an eager and active participant in group. He bonded quickly with the other kids. He openly shared how much he loved his father, but worried about his drinking and the safety of himself, his mom and sister. He talked about worrying that his dad might die.
Josh listened intently to the messages in group. He quickly realized that he was not alone, that there were other kids with the same problem, and that it was okay for him to love his Dad but hate his addiction. He learned that talking about your feelings and problems are important, and that all of his emotions were okay. Josh struggled with feeling responsible and guilty about the problems in his family. He shared his pain and struggles with the others.
On the last day, Josh was sad to leave. His mood brightened a bit when we told him that he could come back each week for an hour-long aftercare group on Wednesday nights. He was pleased to hear this and assured us he would make his aftercare a priority.
And he did. Josh was one of those kids who attended religiously. He was also one of those kids who would occasionally call us to check in. His messages generally sounded like this,
"Hi guys, it's me, Josh. I'm at the Boys and Girls club, having a good day, and I got an A+ on my spelling test. See you soon!"
We thoroughly enjoyed hearing from him. But one morning we came in from a weekend off and heard a different kind of message. The voice had a strange tone and was quavering a bit:
"Hi guys, It's me, Josh. I just wanted to let you know that about 15 minutes ago my dad was arrested for drunk driving. It happened right in front of the house. All the neighbors saw, and all my friends too. I want you to know, that I'm okay, but when I come on Wednesday night I'm going to need to talk about this. See you soon."
And sure enough, Josh came on Wednesday night. During group check-ins he took a deep breath, and told the others about his father, how upset he was about the incident, feeling scared and embarrassed all at once. His peers listened and nodded, a few shared their own experiences. They sat with him as tears rolled down his face.
After a brief silence, I asked Josh how he had taken care of himself when this situation happened. A smile broke out on his face.
"Well, I knew I needed to let my feelings out and tell someone about it. I was feeling guilty about it, but I knew it wasn't my fault my Dad had been drinking. So I called here and left a message, just to hold me over until I could come and talk about it with you all. It made me feel better just to say it."
The other kids were quite impressed, and gave Josh a round of applause as he finished. The night went on as usual.
What had Josh really, truly done? And what does it have to do with recovery?
Number 1 - He knew what happened wasn't his fault and he deserved help just for himself.
Number 2 - He knew he needed to talk about his problems and his feelings.
Number 3 - He knew where there was a safe place to go and safe people to talk to.
Josh was nine-years-old.
That is recovery. As far as I know, Josh's Dad never got sober, but that didn't prevent Josh from embracing his own healing journey.
At nine-years-old, Josh was able to use the skills he had learned to process his feelings, get what he needed and ask for help for himself. That's something that many grown-ups have trouble doing.
I truly believe that if more people had received the help they needed as kids, we would have a lot less people requiring it as adults.
Addiction can make people feel hopeless. It can tell families to keep secrets. It causes many to feel like the struggle will never end. But know this - what happened for Josh, at nine-years-old, can happen for anybody.
Recovery means being open to learning new ways of dealing with the world, ways that may be different than what you learned from your own family. It means making a commitment to practice the skills that you have learned. It's about being brave enough to ask for help when you need it.
Recovery is possible for anybody, even kids. Josh proved it to me ten years ago.
Names have been changed to protect anonymity.