The Child’s Change Cycle- how children feel during a parent’s recovery
I came across the Child’s Change Cycle in Fiona Harbin and Michael Murphy book, ‘Secret Lives: Growing with Substance Misuse – Working with children and young people affected by family substance misuse’ in 2006. It’s a fantastic book and in it they developed the Cycle of Change to add further context to it in terms of how children might feel during their parent’s recovery from substance misuse.
I previously wrote about the Cycle of Change- How to use it to support a loved one’s recovery. This was an introduction to the cycle of change and how to understand it to support a loved one’s recovery. In this blog, I’m taking it one step further to consider children on the change cycle. Here’s a reminder of what the Cycle of Change looks like.
Substance Misuse and Parenting
It is no surprise that parenting capacity is affected by a parent who is drinking or taking drugs. I do not like to drink in front of my children and I don’t like other people drinking around them either. Why? I know that after a couple of drinks, my guard is down and my parenting is not as good as it is when I’m not drinking. I also know that my tolerance levels these days are critically low, so I can feel the effects from one drink. I recognise that when adults drink around children, the conversation can change to inappropriate topics, swearing freely and that children can see a difference in adult behaviour when drinking (or have the time of their lives because they have fewer boundaries!). So wherever possible, I keep my own children away from it.
It is important to remember here that SUBSTANCE USE DOES NOT MAKE PARENTS BAD PARENTS! How everyone manages their own use is up to them, I have formed my own view from over fifteen years of working with children, young people and families and helping many of those families recover from parental substance use. Many people use substances and manage and function very well in their daily life, including in their parenting capacity. Many parents still go out at the weekend, ensure their children are safe and cared for and have a great time using recreational drugs or drinking and slip back into their routine when they’re done.
In my work, however, the parents I supported had significant problems with their use and there was not one child who has not known about their parents’ problems with drug or alcohol use in one way or another.
A friend of mine told me a few year’s ago that she had given up drinking when her son told her she drank too much. She described that this was a realisation for her and she decided to have a break months ago. She feels so good from giving up that she has continued. Is she an “alcoholic”? No. Was alcohol causing her some problems? Yes.
Children and the recovery cycle
It would make sense that when a parent stops drinking or using drugs, that everything in family life will be happy and there would be a great deal of positive changes. There will be positive changes, but a parent stopping using is the very start of that change in a family. For a child, having a parent that is more present than they have been in a long time, perhaps actually parenting for the first or a long time can be confusing and needs to be handled with care.
So, Harbin and Murphy, created an additional layer to the Cycle of Change to reflect how children may feel at each stage of the cycle (diagram from Children and Young People affected by Parents’/Carers’ or Siblings’ Drug or Alcohol Misuse Guidance for Professionals)
When a parent is in active use and has no intention of changing, a young person can experience neglect and emotional abuse. This sounds harsh, but in reality, when a parent’s priority is drugs or alcohol, their child is not. The relationship is affected and the child will not understand why.
In contemplation, a child has hope that things might change.
In preparation/decision, there is further hope but also anxiety about change.
In action/active change, this hope and anxiety increases.
Liane Goryl, who has managed young people’s services and is now managing locally commissioned contracts said, “If the parent is in the maintenance phase and living a substance free life, the young person will have been impacted upon during other stages of the parental cycle of change. As the adult moves through the cycle of change, so does the child. They experience their own worries and concerns which can impact on their mental wellbeing. Even when the parent successfully stays in the maintenance phase, the young person can wonder why all of a sudden their parent is putting in boundaries and rules and interested in where that young person is. This can contribute to a young person trying to regain control and pushing back and not obeying rules that are now being implemented by parents. Where there are much younger siblings that have only known the parent to be drug free compared with an older brother or sister; it can be difficult for that teenager to understand why the parent could become substance free to look after that child but not them, causing an emotional response in the form or anger and depression”.
As Liane states, I have seen young people react in this way to their parent’s recovery. The shift easily moves to their behaviour rather than anyone actually considering the change for them and why their behaviour is occurring. I have sat in many child protection meetings which have focussed on the behaviour of a child without a connection being made that that behaviour is due to a parent’s substance use. Please bear this in mind.
Lapse and Relapse cause disappointment, fear, confusion and sadness.
How can we help?
At each stage of the cycle, we need to consider where a child is at too. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? Families think they hide a loved one’s substance misuse well, but the best thing to do is speak to children in an age appropriate manner. A good starting point is to ask them how they are, what makes them happy and is there anything that makes them sad. I explain more about this in my blog Helping Children with a Drug and Alcohol Using Parent.
The thing to remember is not to feel guilty if you have children. The key with family support is communication. Talk to your children about the problem, create an open forum for them to talk and ask them how they are. Discuss any changes and make sure they have good quality time with you, your loved one and their friends and family. I always advise to let school know about the situation so that they have someone to talk to that they can trust outside the family. Use this model to establish how they might be feeling and work through those feelings. Not all children will feel the same but they need someone to talk to.
I can help you!
We work on this and more in my one to one programmes. This month, I have an offer on for 10 sessions for £997. This is a low investment for the changes that I help my clients make.
My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I help my clients reduce stress and live a better life.
Sign up to my mailing list here and get my free 10 Steps to Family Recovery download with my top tips for family recovery.
“They’re not ready”
“They haven’t hit rock bottom yet”
“They aren’t motivated”
“They are treatment resistant”
“They are hard to reach”
“They will get help when they’re good and ready”
Heard any of these phrases? They are used by many of us to describe people who appear to be or are refusing to change. When we apply this to our loved one’s who are using alcohol and drugs, what exactly are we talking about?
Let’s take the example of “rock bottom” how do we know what this means for an individual person? What it means to me might mean something else entirely to our loved one. Have we asked them what it would take for them to stop using? My rock bottom would be losing my relationship with my husband and my children because I value them so much. Somebody else’s might be losing their home or possessions, the next person might be on the streets and still not want to change.
I said that these phrases can be used to describe people who appear to be or are refusing to change. I have worked with clients where people have never even spoken to the individual about their drug or alcohol use, but everyone else is fully aware of it and is discussing it in vast detail. I get it, it’s tough, but we cannot then describe someone as ‘unmotivated’, ‘treatment resistant’ or ‘not ready’ when they might not even realise the extent of their problems and we haven’t even tried to talk to the about how we feel about it. The first thing we need to do is to find a way to speak to them. I teach this on my Vesta Programme, but we can cover that another day!
I have heard and used these terms in the past in drug and alcohol treatment services that I’ve worked in and now I think that most of the time, it’s a load of rubbish, an excuse or lazy practice because it’s easier not to work with someone who is ‘treatment resistant’ that it is to find a way. I’m not calling individual practitioners lazy- it’s usually to do with money (funding) and time constraints that prevent us from trying new techniques with potential clients. Sometimes, it’s true, an individual might be treatment resistant or not ready. Fine! We only truly know this if we have evidence. That evidence can come from assessing an individual in services, or from you.
So, maybe there is a way that we can influence change?
Here are 5 points we need to consider:
1.Recognising a change is needed
If you are living with a substance user, you might have been waiting for them to change and/or trying your hardest to get them to. They might have had attempts at abstaining from their substance use. False promises and lies will have occurred. Think about those attempts at changing them for a minute.
I discussed change today with a good friend of mine and she said that sometimes, we don’t even know the extent of our problems while we’re living in it. She has had some life changing experiences, and so have I. She said that whatever the situation is, when we’re in it, we sometimes don’t even realise we are. We normalise situations, especially within families. ‘Sweeping under the carpet’ becomes the norm! Waiting for people to change becomes a way of life and accepting situations we’re in just seems to happen as we are ground down by the toll it takes on us.
How can we recognise a change is needed? If we identify a problem with our lives, we know it’s there. The only thing we can do is act on it. Even just speaking to one trusted person about what’s going on in our lives can help. Talk about how your situation is making you feel. Ask for their opinion. Ask more than one person and look around and listen to what other people are telling you about themselves. Is what you are going through in comparison a, dare i say it ‘normal’ way of life? Everyone is different but trust your gut as those feelings won’t go away until some sort of action is taken.
Ask yourself ‘what am I going to accept?’, ‘what am I not going to accept?’ and ‘what needs to change?’
Going back to your attempts at getting your loved one to change- what if we could look at new ways to do this?
2. Waiting for change
‘Rock bottom’ doesn’t happen to every drug or alcohol user. Some will experience losing everything and some won’t. Rock bottom can be described, however, as the turning point for a substance user, rather than what we perceive. What are we waiting for then? Waiting for the day that they are going to change might mean we are waiting for eternity. What if there was a way that you could influence them to change? My advice is don’t wait! Taking action might not make them stop using or drinking, but what it will definitely do is show you a way to lead a less stressful and happier life yourself.
3. Motivated or not?
The cycle of change is a fantastic model for working out where your loved one is currently placed around their motivation to change. There has been loads of work around this and it shows us that someone is not either motivated or not. Levels of motivation can change, even day by day and there are techniques we can use to motivate them at each stage of the cycle. The key point to remember here, is that motivation is influenced by social interactions, among other things. Most people enter treatment for substance use because of their families. It is also influenced by the quality of the professional they end up working with (just so you know- I am top of the range!)
We need to really understand what our loved one is getting out of using their substance. Once we unpick this, we can start to understand their individual problem, their individual drivers and what individual help and support they need
4. Influencing change
Change occurs when the cost of something outweigh the benefits. So, if this is the case, I can tell you two things
a) that it is possible to tip the balance for your loved one so that the costs of their substance use outweighs the benefits and that stopping using or drinking can be more attractive to them than using.
b) If they wont change, you can! You can learn new skills and re-align your approach to your loved one when they use to influence the change. The best thing about this is that you can do that pretty quickly. Changing the environment that a substance user is living in can change their behaviour. What have you got to lose?
Just so you know, you are not to blame for your loved one’s substance use and you cannot change them, but you can change the environment to become a catalyst for them to accept help.
5. Change for you
I keep banging on about this, I know! You need to listen to me though. You need help too! I go to Slimming World because I know that without it, I will not sustain the changes I’ve made with my weight loss. Substance users in recovery might continue to attend meetings because they need ongoing support to stop them relapsing, or support them if they do. Poorly people take medication because they need it to recover from or stay well with their health problems. You are no different.
I can help!
If you are living with a loved one’s drug or alcohol use, I can help you.
My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area. You can also get help via Skype and an online group therapeutic programme.
I share lots of great information and advice on my Facebook page.
Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free 10 Steps to Family Recovery download.
See you next week,
I’ve made some connections this week with The National Family Support Network in Ireland. They provide information, support and advice to family members living with substance misuse. If you live in the UK, ADFAM do similar work here.
A study was undertaken in Ireland in 2007 by Dr Carmel Duggen, for the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD). She looked at the ways people coped with a family member’s heroin use. She identified seven stages that family members go through, regardless of their economic or social background. It was found that going through these stages helped affected family members to move on from a role of a victim into a role of support and recovery. This applies to their own recovery, regardless of whether their loved one chooses to continue using substances or not.
This study identified seven different stages of how family members eventually come to manage heroin use within the family. This way of thinking is now applied to family members in a wider context who are living with a loved one’s drug or alcohol use.
There are lots of models to explain recovery and, as you probably know, the cycle of change is a fabulous one. I wrote a blog about it here. It really is a good idea for people living in this difficult situation to familiarise themselves with tools to use that can help.
Here is my interpretation of the stages in line with the Vesta Approach’s method of supporting family recovery.
Stage One: Unknowing
This is when families are not aware that a family has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Either that, or they don’t know the signs. As this period goes on, the substance use will usually worsen prior to the realisation that something is wrong.
Stage Two: Coping Alone
Once a family member finds out about the problem, They will often try and cope with the situation alone, trying all sorts of methods to help them to change. This is so hard to do when you are not a trained professional and when you worry about what people think or try to hide the problem. The best thing to do is to ask for help.
Stage Three: Desperately Seeking Help
Families at this point reach out for help from services as a reaction to their loved one’s substance use. This is difficult because they do not know where to go for help. In my experience, many families think rehab is the only answer and focus on help for the person using substances rather than themselves. Getting help for yourself is the best course of action because you cannot force your loved one to get help. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
Stage Four: Supported Learning
Family members begin to research addiction, substance use or the drug their loved one is taking. They may be starting to get some structured help and support for themselves. Families will start to learn about how to respond and not to react when their loved one uses their substance and learn new and effective strategies to cope. Strategies will always be unique to your situation.
Stage Five: Reclaiming the Family
At this stage, affected family members have engaged in support for themselves and begin to understand that they cannot change their loved one, they can only change themselves. NFSN say, ‘Part of this is separating the needs of the family and their own needs from those of the drug user. Families begin to separate the family dynamic from the drug dynamic and start to address the wider family needs.’ So, this is a case of practising the new strategies over a period of time, setting clear boundaries and giving own needs priority attention.
Stage Six: Supporting Recovery
Families have found the strategies that work for them and have learnt the skills to change the environment in which they live so that they can influence change and tip the balance so that drug or alcohol use becomes less attractive than sobriety. Strategies such as ‘rewarding your loved one when sober’ or ‘withdrawing when your loved one uses’, while, at the same time, providing love, support and encouraging their loved one to make better choices.
Stage Seven: Contributing
Once a family member is in a recovery process from their loved one’s substance use, they will be able to support others who are going through the similar experiences. I set up a mentoring programme in a previous project. The families can contribute by telling their own story and guiding others through the recovery process which is invaluable to those who are struggling to cope themselves.
Tell me in the comments what stage you think you’re at.
I can help
My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype worldwide.
I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here
I have a closed Facebook Group called Vesta Confidential. If you are affected by a loved one’s substance use, come and join me.
Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.