It's been almost two years since I lifted my head out the sand and discovered that harm reduction approaches offer me so many ways to be more effective as a therapist and addiction treatment consultant.
When I began using harm reduction principles such as 'people use drugs for reasons' 'meet your kid where she's at', I was worried that parents would think that I was condoning their kid's drug use. Well, I was pleasantly surprised that once parents understood the ideas a little better, they were more willing to embrace a different perspective and began to use these ideas to work at improving their relationship with their child.
As an addictions counselor, I'm inspired by the courage and determination that people are able to summon up to help them cope with chronic, complex, often life-endangering problems.
I'm sharing an example below from a mother who is kind (and brave!) enough and willing to share her story so others may have a better understanding of the rollercoaster journey that so many like her take. Her story is similar to many others with addicted children, but this is her unique path. The love of her child, her personal spirituality, along with courage and determination have supplied the hope for her to move forward in her life:
As an addictions counselor, it’s always a pleasure to work with parents who have the instincts and skills to maintain good communication with their teenager as well as the courage (and energy!) to set appropriate and consistent boundaries and limits.
Sometimes, however, these skills can be a double-edged sword and work against us, especially when the emotional and behavioral instability of our child keeps pushing us out of our parental ‘driver’s seat’ and into the passenger seat—or even worse, the back seat.
Being in the family back seat contributes to the fear that develops when we start losing control of a child’s behavior. This fear often motivates us to become even firmer in our resolve to ensure our child’s safety while keeping ourselves sane along with the rest of our family.
The holiday season is upon us in full force, and if we believe the media good-times advertising blitz, they'll be full of unlimited joy and good tidings. (I was never sure what tidings are. If anyone knows, let me know!)
Families with addicts usually dread the holidays, the constant worry of their struggling family member spoiling the family's good times with unpredictable behavior.
Here are some suggestions for not just 'getting through' the holiday season, but to help you and the rest of your family to enjoy it more.
Set firm and respectful boundaries. This guideline for boundaries hold true 365 days a year, but re-establishing them during the holiday season will lower the likelihood of your holiday being disappointing.
Look at the larger picture. The fact that there are many other occasions down the road to celebrate, reflects an aspect of addiction and recovery that my clients often have a hard time grasping: addiction and recovery are a process that unfolds over time, with progress and relapse, ebbs and flows.
Manage your expectations is another important concept. Having a realistic and flexible sense of what to expect can make adjusting to the normal slips and slides of life in recovery easier.
Pace yourself. Getting better at pacing ourselves with the expected ups and downs so we don’t lose sight of the larger picture of our lives is the idea. It’s easier said than done, for sure, but once we get the hang of it, we don’t feel as overwhelmed all the time, leaving more energy to enjoy ourselves.
Your child’s drinking or getting high is worrisome and often a challenge to figure out what steps to take. Flexibility and being open to different approaches to prevention, counseling and treatment for substance use is crucial. Harm reduction approaches can offer you an approach allowing you to get back into the ‘driver’s seat’ of family control if you find yourself in the passenger seat—or even worse, the back seat.
The philosophy of harm reduction is based on our knowledge that human beings will always be engaged in behaviors that carry risks, like alcohol and other drug use and unsafe sex. Harm reduction embraces the value of each person’s dignity and the respect of a person’s right to make choices. This shifts the focus from attempting to restrict or prohibit risky behaviors to reducing the negative consequences associated with them.