To most addicts, the idea of adulting in rehab may come as a shock as they begin to sever the enmeshment between their childlike, immature addict selves and their all-to-eager-to-enable parents. Why is it that we insist on clients doing chores? Making their beds each morning? Cooking and shopping for themselves? Paying for their own cell phone?
There are plenty of reasons why “adulting” in rehab is so important—not just to the overall recovery of the addict, but to their entire family system. As we embrace sobriety with a new mindset we do so with an intent on a new way of living. We attempt to move away from old, self-serving, self-seeking behaviors and embrace a life of service and humility. And part of that is allowing mom and dad “off the hook,” so to speak, for the life responsibilities they have been “taking care of” for us for years.
How do we help a family break free of these old habits? Well, it definitely requires work and commitment from all persons involved, but the most important leader in this pathway to change is the recovering addict themselves. We begin by asking how mom is doing when we make our weekly call from treatment, as opposed to belaboring the fact that we have run out of our favorite shampoo and how we simply cannot go on unless mom orders it for us. Or maybe we ask Dad about his recent recovery endeavors, as opposed to going on about how annoyed we felt with a peer the other day in group therapy.
Surely, this type of attitude change—a shift in focus—will take our families by surprise. “Where is my Susie that was always running to mom and dad with problems, asking for money and for us to fix it?!” Mom and dad may even need some coaching in order to embrace the addict’s newfound independence. As we know, the codependent, enabling behavior that came from parents was always in an effort to control the outcomes of the addicts lives, and thus, (in theory) releasing them of the anxiety of the thought of the addict making poor decisions for themselves. This (obviously) did nothing more than create a strenuous relationship between parent and adult child. As the parent tried to control more and more, the addict relied less and less on themselves for solutions in life as they became accustomed to mom or dad “fixing it” for them.
What other ways can we adult in rehab? By simply trying. We are not likely to gain full independence from our families in the short time we are in treatment, but we can surely make a start at it. By offering to pay for our own cell phone bill, being reasonable about our purchases (and requests), and making a commitment to earning and saving our own money, we take a step in the direction of adulting. And mom and dad, the take home message here is: LET THEM DO IT!!! At this point in the game, parents should be used to their children making mistakes—after all, they have wound up in rehab! And they are going to continue to make them throughout life. But parents who continue to try and always “fix it” end up doing their adult children a large disservice and inhibit the addicts “adulting process.” The idea of your daughter being more independent may be scary given her track record, but a little faith, support, and guidance (including attending Al-Anon), can go a long way in helping the addict discover a part of themselves they may never thought they possessed. And with this new attitude and confidence, they will gain momentum and believe that they can achieve their life goals (and then some) on their own after all.