One of the most sensitive cases I sometimes take on are the ones involving children. I don’t work directly with children, but through applying the principles of Get Your Loved One Sober, I have been able to be useful as consultant in situations where children might be involved by providing help to them as well. I have a wide variety of clinical and professional contacts, therapists who are trained in working specifically with young clients, and especially those affected by addiction. Not all children-specific counselors are trained to work with all children, so it’s important to note that a child’s age and developmental stage also play roles in how they are supported during the course of therapy.
I had met the Nelson family after they approached me looking for help for their daughter, Kathleen, who was also a mother to two children, ages 6 and 14. Kathleen had been living with her parents since her separation from her husband who also struggled with addiction, but who was not present in the children’s life at the moment. The family consisted of two grandparents, the mother, and the two youngsters. The 14-year-old was having more trouble than his younger sibling dealing with his mother’s struggle, having grown up with her frequent attempts at getting sober only to witness her relapse. He was very sensitive to her moods and identified in the family meeting that he didn’t trust her. He was adamant that he himself had no desire to ever touch alcohol, and he referred to it as “demon” and said he saw his mother almost helpless when it came to the “demon” overtaking her again. When we met as a family, Kathleen had been sober for a short time and intended to stay that way. She had no formalized recovery program and didn’t attend any support groups and preferred to approach her sobriety “cold turkey.” But she was open to exploring what else was available as she resolutely admitted that her methods would usually fail her.
The grandparents were both calm and loving, and neither of them used substances. The mom (grandmother) said she sometimes suffered from anxiety and wasn’t sure if she wasn’t occasionally depressed, but she pointed out that her sadness was usually related to the circumstances directly.
Initial efforts thus focused on stabilizing the grandmother as well as getting help for the younger members of the family. The younger sibling seemed very happy and attached to his mother, but the grandmother reported that he was acquiring a lot of strange habits such as making sure the mother went to bed, making sure there was a glass of water on her night stand, and he was also very sensitive to how the door opened and closed when the mother would come home. The grandmother said the child told her he could tell by how the door closed if the mom “was not okay.”
I was able to quickly find a counselor for the younger child through a treatment center in the area that catered to young parents and offered separate groups for children. The therapy was mostly based on Play therapy and Art therapy, and the children would meet once a week to spend two hours with the counselors talking about their family life while participating in various activities helping them to come up with safety plans and ensuring that the children never saw themselves as responsible for what was going on at home.
It was also through that treatment center that we were able to find an individual counselor to work with the 14-year-old who had expressed a lot of anger and anxiety over his situation. He did not feel safe, but he felt that a lot of what happened in the past had something to do with the type of son he was to his mother. His belief system was formed by a lifetime of interaction with a parent who was unable to provide stability. He talked about how he was always prepared to have to leave wherever he was, having grown up on the move before setting with the grandparents. He also had some trouble respecting authority, fighting with the grandfather at home and teachers at school. After speaking to a couple of counselors, he decided he felt comfortable with one of them and expressed wanting to get back to sessions. They worked out a plan and talked about how his own behavior had to be independent of what mom does or doesn’t do at home.
Kathleen entered a rehab facility and made a commitment to getting better and expressed interest in finding more and regular support groups once she completed treatment.
Her mother signed up for a number of online sessions that would help her deal with anxiety, as well as joined a group of parents of people with addiction that was not AA-based. She said she found the social supports very helpful.
I would regularly meet with the family and check on their progress. I had some access to the clinician’s notes who met with the children and the mother—I was given that access and it was supplemented by the reports that the family provided as well; they were very good at chronicling their journey into sobriety.
At this point the family was on their way to recovery beyond just leaving alcohol behind, but their relationships improved greatly and they were able to enjoy each other in a way that was not possible when mom was drinking before. Kathleen remarked that having both of her children and her mother in therapy showed her just how seriously her own problems were affecting those around her and it became the main motivation for wanting to continue on her recovery path.
I worked with Kathleen for several months as she transitioned back into her home environment and ensured that she felt she had built a community of accountability and support to assist in her ongoing healing.
Read the other case studies in this series here: