Parenting in Recovery
By: Tami Harper Winn
Blonde hair draped across her face, tears soaking my already salty pillow, my arms wrapped around my teenage daughter who sobs relentlessly unable to catch her breath and I am powerless once again. These are the moments I wished I could crawl inside her heart and kiss all the boo boo’s away.
It is her first heartbreak. She is seventeen. She is innocent in nature, but not innocent to the world. She has an alcoholic for a mother, brothers who struggle also, and a father still trapped in the Iraqi War. With all the pain and devastation, she has survived in her short years, this one threatens to rip a new and bigger hole into her already tattered heart.
His name is Jhon, a seventeen-year-old boy, who bought my daughters heart with a kiss on the cheek and sheepish grin. He has been her best friend, her right hand, and her first experience with love for almost a year. He is also the reason she cries tonight.
As I hold her I am in complete and utter disbelief and awe. Here lies a young girl, who holding true to her beliefs and values, despite the pain she knows she will now have to feel, follows her gut. This choice, which holds the end result of pain, is one that she has consciously made for her own well-being. She is being honest with herself, and most importantly true to herself.
No big event happened, no injustice was perpetrated, just values and choices that she is not willing to compromise no matter the cost. “What is that?” I ask myself. “How did this amazing young woman come from me, an alcoholic mother?”
It is no big surprise; I am in recovery. My life centers around the principles of a twelve step program and I practice and live this in all of my actions. She has grown up watching me take those steps, one by one, and grow up myself, right in front of her eyes.
Raising a little girl as a single mother is hard. Raising that little girl into young adulthood, as a recovering alcoholic single mother, has been even more challenging. How do you take a broken woman, just now learning how to put herself back together, and have her raise a successful and secure young woman in the process? Truth be told, I’m not quite sure myself.
Being a parent is the hardest job you will ever have. This is a truth. Being a single parent adds extra difficulties. Being an alcoholic in recovery, to boot, poses a whole other set of issues that when added with all of the above, can test a person’s sobriety to the hilt.
So, how did I get so lucky to have a daughter who honors herself first and lives by the code of “To Thine Own Self Be True?” How did she turn out so healthy coming from a once very unhealthy mother and family life? God. That’s how. Plus, a whole lot of work.
Struggling through addiction and the obsession to use absorbs your every waking thought in early sobriety. A person beginning their recovery eats, breathes, and sleeps sobriety. Every moment of every hour is focused on not using or drinking. Just doing basic everyday tasks can be overwhelming. So, it goes without saying that being a “good” parent is not high on the list of things to be concerned with in the beginning. But, be careful, all eyes are on you. Children are sponges and they are watching and waiting to see what your next move will be.
I took my daughter with me, from the very first day, to meetings. I haven’t stopped. She has been just as involved in my sobriety as I have. For many, though, I see the separation between family and their recovery. To me, that looks lonely and is just another form of isolation.
The disease of alcoholism is a family disease. Everyone is affected by it. I know that most of us have heard that said before, so let me reiterate it here. We are not the only ones suffering. Our entire family has suffered with us and because of us. So, doesn’t it go without saying that they need recovery too? Taking kids to meetings isn’t for everyone. There are sister programs that were put in place to help the family members of alcoholics like Alanon and Alateen. So take advantage of any tool or resource available.
I know early on that this should not to be our main focus. I am not suggesting in any way that you put others before yourself in the early stages. Your recovery must come first. But, in time the object in sobriety is to become less self-centered and more “others” focused.
When I first started going to meetings almost every hour of every day, I had no babysitter and my daughter was too young to leave alone. It is also important to mention here that she didn’t trust me either. Go figure. She had no reason too. I was a liar. So she demanded to be with me every time I left the house.
At first I was concerned about what she might hear in those meetings. There are topics discussed that are very “adult” and there is language used regularly that isn’t PG that’s for sure. Children are sponges, but I was willing to risk this exposure with the disclaimer that I had already exposed her to much worse in my drinking. This surely was the lesser of the two evils.
Night after night she went with me. She would color, read, play on her IPod, or just listen intently. She would go with me to the “meetings after the meeting” which usually consisted of meals and conversations with others in recovery.
At every event that the entertainment committee held, or that AA organized, I brought her as well. She went to karaoke nights, all of the dances, the picnics, movie nights, and what ever else that was happening. She was always by my side.
We talked about what was discussed after each meeting. If she ever had any questions, she asked and I answered the best I could. I was learning to be honest with her. She was learning to trust me. I didn’t want to hide anything else from her. She didn’t deserve that anymore.
Night after night, our home was filled with strangers who talked of recovery, did step work, or just wanted to visit. She watched me work with sponsees and with my sponsor. I did my step work with her and even showed her, when she was ten and struggling with something, how to do a fourth step inventory.
She went camping with us, prayed with us, went to campfires with us, Fourth of July’s with us, BBQs and bonfires with us. There wasn’t one part of my recovery that she wasn’t riding with me on.
Days would turn into years, and she would become a teen. She would watch our “new” family suit up and show up to our tragedies, our triumphs, and our regular family events. They shared every holiday with us, every birthday. They taught her what a sober life looked like, when all I had ever shown her was what a drinking life looked like. For that I am extremely grateful for.
There were times when life got really stressful for her and she would say, “Mom, I need to go to a meeting,” and off we would head. I would sit baffled as to why my non-alcoholic daughter would ask to go to a meeting. When I asked her, she replied, “Because in those rooms are where people are honest and out here in the real world mom, no one is.” She needed honesty, even if it was as brutal and raw as we get.
She saw people embrace each other, pray with each other, celebrate with each other, talk about tough topics, accept each other, nurse our wounded, get mad at each other and then walk through it together. She saw a group of people, who despite all their horrid pasts (and in those rooms there aren’t the best characters for sure), she learned things that the real world couldn’t provide her. It took terrible tragedies and doing some horrible things to others for those people in the rooms to be some of the best representatives of forgiveness and hope to her.
She saw success there and strong women who are role models to her today. She saw defeat and what it looked like when we had to bury one of our own. She saw real life happening and I let her experience it with me. She grew up in the rooms with me, and to all in our community, she is part of the family - someone they have embraced and loved. They tell me continuously how they have enjoyed being a part of the journey.
Today, she may be in pain, but she has a solution. This isn’t something I could have ever given her out there in the real world. Out there I had no tools on how to be a good mother. So I surrounded myself with those women in recovery who had what I wanted. They taught me how to be a mother, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a woman. They taught me and in return I got to give it back to my daughter.
She has turned into someone who has survived self harm, perfectionism, and depression. She has risen above all of her demons and today, searches for the truths and the gems in life. Despite the pain she knows she must feel in this life, she also knows that she gets to feel the joy too. She has been given permission to feel. One of the greatest gifts I could show her, because I gave myself the permission first.
Everything that my beautiful daughter has seen, she saw in me first. I had to be the example. I didn’t even know that she was watching, not that closely anyways. She just smiles big at me all the time when I ask her, “How come you are so wonderful?” When I say to her that, “When I grow up I want to be just like her,” she simply replies, “Who do you think I learned it from?” Then she grabs me, hugs me, and loves on me.
We don’t always get along, but that’s the beauty of it. We learn how to reconcile and resolve differences. We learn how to argue healthy. We learn how to weather this thing called life together with all it’s bumps and bruises.
How I have walked through sobriety is a true testament to how she has managed to turn out so well. How she saw me walk through the death of both my parents, nearly losing my son, burying friends, the break up with my fiancée, finishing college, and suiting up and showing up to my life, have all been pivotal in her development. It is also important to point out here as well, that she was able to watch me make amends to people through the course of this. Through those acts, she saw the healing that took place in her life as a result. She watched this program in action and the miracles that come from it. The evidence was there and there was no denying it.
So, if you don’t think they are watching, you couldn’t be more wrong. Let them see you imperfect (trust me they probably already have), let them see you resolve differences, let them see you grieve, learn how to live sober, search for solutions, fall down and get back up. Let them see you recover, so that one day they can do the same with whatever life throws them. It’s the greatest gift you could give them.
I don’t know if she will ever find herself on the wrong side of the bottle, but I know that she will always know there is a solution and where to go should she. My angel may be experiencing real life today, but how she deals with this will set the course on how she will deal with life when she is far from my reach.
I reach over and brush my fingers through her hair as she lays crying and I think to myself, she’s going to be okay. In fact, I know she is. She’s my daughter. I am a survivor and so is she. We recovered together. I thank God every day for getting me sober when he did. She will tell you the same thing. He caught me in the nick of time. He caught us both.
Today my daughter trusts me fully. No longer is she afraid every time I leave the house. She believes me when I tell her things. She respects me and my opinion as her mother. She allows me to parent her (and trust me kids allow you to parent them or not to), and she hardly can believe that the life we once lived was once very much a reality. “It’s like two other worlds,” she often reminds me. So, today one of the greatest gifts she gives to me is the chance to be a healthy imperfect parent to her. One of the greatest gifts she has given to herself though is even more important - she trusts herself. Wow! What is that? It’s called a miracle and I’m so glad I didn’t leave before it happened.
~Tami Harper Winn~
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.