I get these comments from families all the time, why does it still seem like they are teenagers?
Families often expect that once someone goes to rehab, they get out and they move on with their life as if their drug use was nothing more than a bad dream.
“How have you been out of rehab for a month and not graduated college yet????”
I know that is a little extreme of an example, but not so far from the truth of the unrealistic expectations that families have.
Early recovery is like being a newborn with adult expectations. We wake up every day early on in our recovery with the overwhelming all-consuming thoughts of “Can I get through this day without using drugs?” Usually, we wake up from a nightmare of us using drugs that seems so real it shakes us to our core thinking we just fucked up once again.
We didn’t mess up, but we start the day off with anxiety, insecurity, and self-doubt on a regular basis and in the beginning, we may not have a strong support system to talk to anyone about what is happening, and when we try to talk to our only support system we have, our families, often we receive “Oh hell no, you better not be thinking about using. I will throw you out of the house, beat your ass, you’ll be on the streets.” Etc.
We feel isolated, alone, wondering if trying to do the recovery thing is worth it. When is it going to start paying off? We are riddled with doubt we will be able to overcome the anxiety and depression that can come with early recovery. Sure, we have moments of joy and gratitude. Enough moments that give us the hope that things will get better. Hopefully we are in a community of people who can remind us to keep holding on.
We get excited over the smallest adulting things we can do. Showing up to work only 10 minutes late, but hell, we are here and that counts for something. Paying a bill only two weeks late, but dammit we paid it before it got cut off and before we had to beg someone else to help us out. Showing up to work all five scheduled days of the week is a cause for a huge party (without substances).
That is about all we can muster for the first few months. We are so gosh darn proud of ourselves when we do the small things we want to rush to our families and celebrate with them and have them be just as proud of us.
Usually, we are met with glaring eyes and contempt with families going, “Uhm I’m supposed to congratulate you on doing the things you were supposed to be doing all along?”
We may turn around with our shoulders slumped in disappointment, or start a fight yelling “Why is it never good enough for you??” And those doubts and insecurities of wondering if it’s all worth it come flooding back up to the surface just as we began to get a little bit of confidence in doing something right.
But we keep fighting, and we keep holding on, we learn to not expect much from our families in terms of them being proud or happy for us for the small things that are in fact the biggest accomplishments of our lives at the time. And then eventually, we start reaching an actual adult level of maturity.
For me, that happened somewhere around two years clean. I know what the families are saying to themselves right now. “I can’t wait two freaking years for them to adult.” I am not saying that we should be given the leeway to shirk our adult responsibilities. It’s just that is how long it takes for us to have enough natural consequences of our actions to start showing up in an adult way.
If we keep showing up 10 minutes late to work, we get fired. We learn to not show up late to work anymore.
If we keep being two weeks late on our bills, they will cut service quicker, that is a natural consequence. If we park in the wrong place and we get towed, if we don’t put oil in the car, if we don’t pay rent on time, etc. the world teaches us there are consequences. If you want to have an adult to adult relationship with your loved one, let the world be their teacher. Instead of being their teacher, be their peer by sharing similar stories of the challenges you experienced in adulthood. Acknowledge the pain and frustration this world can have, and throw in seeds of wisdom hidden as experience and resonation.
We learn how to begin to be mindful and start thinking ahead. But why does it usually take us so damn long??? It’s not long in the grand scheme of things. It took about 18 months for the chemicals in my brain to balance out and I could think clearly again. Then another six months to be able to start becoming future focused and really be able to see the world outside of myself.
It also takes us that long to start being able to articulate our emotional needs. We got emotionally stunted at some point in our development. Recovery is the process of catching up to where our development stopped. It’s why you have 30-year-olds acting like 10-year-olds. That is when their emotional maturity stopped, and it take a while for the chemicals to balance out and then for us to learn how to get what we need.
It can’t happen much sooner. And I’m not even saying that at two years clean, I was perfectly mature, I wasn’t. I have over 13 years clean now, and on some days I still feel emotionally immature. Sure, I was paying all my bills on time in the first few months of recovery. I was showing up to work on time, doing all the small things, but in terms of my self-development, that took a while.
The biggest reason I tell families these things is so they can understand, and maybe give their newly recovering loved one a little bit of a break on some unrealistic expectations. Not a break on their responsibilities, but an emotional break. They need confidence, and sometimes praising them for the small things can give them the little bit of hope and inspiration they need to keep it up as they are getting their hard teachings from the universe.
You can’t know that they are going to stay clean, and it’s ok to be skeptical and mindful of that. I know you don’t like to get your hopes up only to be disappointed, so you stay cautious and protected emotionally, but you can also be aware of the duality of emotions. You can both be cautious AND proud of them. Being in the moment with your emotions and not future focused on what could happen, or past focused on what has happened, will help you to help them in the early stages of recovery.
Remember, they can’t clean up the complicated damage that has been done to the relationship yet. They are literally just trying to get through the day. And yes, they are still acting selfish and self centered, and to a certain extent, they need to be selfish in the beginning. The grievances will have to wait. They CANNOT handle it right now, and you may not like that fact, but their chemical brain imbalance in the beginning prevents them from being able to deal with complex emotions and anything outside of getting through the day. Time heals.
I hope this was helpful and if you want to talk more about how you can help them or how I can help support your loved one, it’s time to schedule a call. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.