In our experience, parents usually think that their addiction has not really impacted their children in any significant way. Also, in our experience, this is not true – actually believing that the children are not affected by addiction in a family is part of the addictive denial.
Kids are highly sensitive, their growth process is dependent on it. They feel, taste, absorb and internalize what’s around them, including the toxic soup of addiction. Kids love their parents. Since they sense that the parents are not in control, they begin to take ownership of the problem believing it’s their fault. Shame, blame and guilt rule in addicted households. And addiction is cunning: the desperate and repeated attempts by family members to ‘fix’ the problems are doomed to fail, over and over again.
A simple yet powerful exercise we use at Hope Trust’s Family Support Program to help children is we ask them to write a letter to addiction, not to the parent(s). Children share this letter with parents and it’s often the first time parents understand how damaging addiction has been in the lives of their most cherished ones.
Children are explained that addiction is a disease and their addicted parent is not bad, but sick. Surprisingly, children accept this fact readily and are on the path to recovery themselves by forgiving the huge ‘betrayals’ by the parent. A rehab is a place to heal, not a punishment – this they can actually see and feel as they visit their parent and also interact with other members. They can sense the sincerity and genuine help being extended by the professional yet friendly counsellors at Hope Trust. They begin to understand that recovery is the gift of freedom, not a label suggesting you’re broken or faulty.
And they discover the joy of having their parents back in the family – a truly priceless gift!