Working in the recovery and addiction field on either side of the issue will inevitably result in an idea or two about the population. For the police officer who must protect personal safety, the drug environment is dangerous and those inside an enemy. For the medical community, the person has a disease and must be treated. The treatment professional sees the person as needed tools to abstain from use and learn to give back. The child protection investigator must respond to information that is given to them. Decisions about child custody are confused by lack of information, hearing responses that they need to hear from a parent. A safety plan written on a piece of paper may be the thing that sentences a child to more abuse and increased risk of harm.
With drug use, impairment impacts every aspect of life. The physiological need for a drug eclipses the need of children to have food, clothing, and a safe environment. When drugs are used for recreational purposes, the impaired person is checked out, unable to function or think clearly, and children are left to fend for themselves. The difficulty for child protection workers is stories that are told to them may be difficult to refute without supporting evidence from law enforcement. Issues of parental rights and not wanting to punish a parent who is impoverished, suffering from a disease are valid, but the ability of an impaired parent to protect even themselves from the “dope man” does not make it safe for a child.
When an adult gets into recovery and does well, the treatment professional sees only what is in front of them. There is pressure from the addict to maintain the image that pleases the treatment professional. The recovering person at times feels the need to be perfect. In fact, to live to a standard above those who have never experienced addiction. Others in recovery often place pressure on others to “do” recovery exactly the way *they* did it. For many, it can seem that everyone is controlling them. Perhaps even that everyone has a say in what they do except for themselves.
Placing the pressure to be perfect on an addict pushes them to pretend to be more perfect than they are. Life is hard and there are struggles. For those who were drug dealers, they are facing a significant decrease in funds and the temptation to remain in the lifestyle can be overwhelming. It is common for people to feel that the lifestyle is more addicting than the drugs themselves. It is where they can feel control and where they feel accepted. The high of taking a risk feels good to them. Ask those in recovery if they know drug dealers who are in “recovery” but continue to benefit financially from the drug trafficking activity they continue to pursue. Placing pressure and making a recovering person a “poster child” places undue pressure on the recovering person. As strange as it may seem, the emotionally “safe” place for an addict is right back in the drug world.
Children are the most difficult to control. Parents often place the same pressure on children to act happy and to say the right things to adults who may ask questions. They are taught to lie and to keep secrets. They know that if they tell, their parent may get in trouble and they may have to go live somewhere else. They feel responsible and their emotional needs remain unmet. Those working in recovery programs must give recovering parents the freedom to talk about their struggles. They must also be held accountable for their treatment of children. It goes far beyond discipline, it is about building up a child to be successful. Children should not be viewed as property and parents should not be forced to parent.
Professionals need to realize the difference between wanting to be a parent but not having the emotional connection with their children. Exposure to chaos and experiencing abuse and neglect creates stress in children. Many of them have terrible dreams, interrupted sleep patterns, and they can be clingy. Others have been so neglected they quietly go through life and may even be seen as “good”. Many moms were not sober during pregnancy, or even early in parenting and may not bond. Others may view their baby as the only motivation in the world that can make them want to get “clean”.
I urge every recovering parent to find a place where you can talk about your parenting struggles. There is a Board on this site for you and may be accessed at www.ndec-tac.org.
I also urge every professional and every treatment program to see these women–and men–as individuals. One size does not fit all. If a parent desires to make the necessary changes to achieve recovery that is one goal. Choosing to create a nurturing and safe home in which the child is central before all other social relationships is another.
There is more than way to give a child new parents. We are here to help professionals and parents work together to create new, safe environments for children. We are also there to advocate for children to ensure their needs are central in all decisions made. There should be no parental rights without responsibility.
For more information, please contact Holly Dye at [email protected]