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Raising a Teen with Mental Illness While in Recovery

I’ve been sober six years. I’ve often faced hardships, but nothing has challenged my sobriety, sanity, or mom guilt as much as watching my teen daughter struggle with her own mental illness. She was such an easy tween but three years ago something happened that tipped the scale in her life. The kid we knew wasn’t quite there anymore and I questioned everything we’d ever done as parents.

We started therapy, we tried to make sure she knew we were there, we watched everything she did, and every time we thought we’d gotten over the hump we took twenty steps back.

As I watched my kid go through this I struggled with my own guilt. I asked, “what did I miss, was it my drinking when she was younger, did I really cause this, how do we help, how can I fix this?”

The reality is I can’t fix this, there is no magic cure, and I can beat myself every day (believe me, I have) but it won’t change things and it won’t make it better.

There are times I let my resentment get the best of me. I questioned if she even wanted to get better. I lacked the empathy to help her in the ways I knew I should because I’d been there, maybe not in the same ways and with the same issues, but I too had felt that emptiness. I knew what it felt like to not feel good enough, to think I should be perfect and I knew more than anything the feeling that I’d failed and I might as well give up. So how, as her mom, could I be so angry at her? How as someone who’s dealt with my own issues be so so damn angry? Why? Because I’m human and I don’t always know how to handle every situation. I have feelings too, they don’t always make sense, but I have them.

Raising a teenager is hard—mental illness or not—it’s damn hard and there were so many times I wanted to drink those feelings of resentment and guilt away, to just shut them off just for a minute. Her anger always seemed to be aimed in my direction and I had nowhere to hide, not physically and not emotionally.

We still haven’t passed that hump, and as a parent, I try to take this day by day. I try to give her space and let her take control of things and figure this out her way with the help of her therapist. I can’t fix this; I don’t even seem to help make it any better.

At some point, I had to step back, or try to,  because I just can’t completely step away, but I have to let her sink or swim.

I can’t always be the safety net; she has to want to be better for herself and no one else. That is one huge thing getting sober taught me—I have to want it.  I had to hit my own bottom, and if and when that ever happens for her, I’ll be right there to help her pick up the pieces.

Recent Posts

9 Tips for Successful Homeschooling

Many of us have been forced into the role of homeschool “teacher” since our schools have been out of session due to COVID-19.
I am not a teacher.
I can help my second grader with his homework, but I didn’t get a degree in education. Some schools have sent out packets and others have switched to online work.
I know firsthand that it can be difficult to keep the kids engaged in schoolwork while we are at home with so many distractions. Here are nine tips to help with homeschooling.
 

Make a schedule

 
Being organized is so important. Trying to teach my son without a schedule was extremely hectic. You can print out a schedule online and fill it out or make your own. If you’re not a “schedule person,” you can plan out the order of your day instead. Instead of saying “Math is at 9:00am,” say “After breakfast we do math, then we read before we do an activity.”
 

Have a designated area for schoolwork

 
It is easier to focus when lessons are done in a specific area. Kids are less likely to be distracted when sitting at a table with all their supplies. If you’re trying to work while sitting on the couch in front of a television, your child may be distracted.
 

Take a break when needed

 
This is not a normal situation. You need to be patient with yourself and your child. It is so easy to get overwhelmed in a high-stress environment. If either of you is too frustrated, take a break. The lesson will be there later.
 

Use online resources

 
Here is a list of companies offering free subscriptions right now. Pinterest is also a great place to search for both activities and advice. My son loves experiments, so we like to search for fun experiments together. However, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of resources and activities shown on social media. Choose a few resources or website and a couple of activities at a time. You can always go back for more when you’re ready.
 

Do activities and projects

 
Not all schoolwork has to be lessons. One of the best ways to instill a love of learning in children is to nurture what they love. If your child loves science, try some STEAM experiments. If you have a child that loves animals, watch documentaries on Netflix or Animal Planet. If you have a child that loves to cook, have them help you plan a meal and cook it.
 

Exercise

 
It is important to schedule a daily recess or PE (or both). Go outside whenever possible, but you can also do exercises indoors. Taking a walk is a nice break for both of you. You can even include an outdoor lesson about plants, weather or animals.
 

Determine your child’s learning style

 
Everyone learns differently. The seven types of learners are visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary. If you aren’t sure, check out this article that describes the seven learning styles. Once you determine the type of learner your child is, you can determine the best way to approach lessons. My son is a physical and visual learner. We focus on activities and drawing out pictures/diagrams when necessary.
 

Dual lessons

 
If you have multiple children, think of lessons to involve everyone. You can do one lesson and ask age-appropriate questions to each child. If you have an only child, try to set up a Zoom or FaceTime lesson with one of your child’s classmates. Many students miss the group work at school, so this option is great for them.
 

Be flexible

 
This is especially important if you are also working from home. You may have to do some schooling in the mornings and again later in the afternoon. Homeschool doesn’t have to take place during the same hours of regular school. If you have set hours for working from home, plan around that. Some days will have a different schedule depending on what you are required to do for work. On those days, you may have to be extra flexible.
 
The most important thing to remember is that this is a very stressful situation. It’s not a competition to see how much can be accomplished. Take this opportunity to relax and spend quality time with your family.
Sober Mommies Ask A Sober Mom Posts

Ask a Sober Mom: What Can I Do About My Drinking

I don’t know where to start on my journey to not drinking. I’m sad and depressed and feeling hopeless. It is a horrible feeling and my children are becoming more aware of my problem. What do I do? Signed, Unsure

Dear “Unsure,”

The good news, Sweet Sister, is that you’ve already started! Reaching out and asking for support is, quite literally, the scariest part. Admitting that drinking is problematic and not working for your life anymore is a huge, brave step. I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling sad, depressed and hopeless. Those are all really tough feelings to walk through. I wish I could show you from where I stand how you are the beautiful, shining opposite of hopeless right now though.

It sounds like you’re starting to think about a new life and making changes to better to take care of yourself and, if you can stick with the hard feelings, there is so much hope there. My anxious brain gets overwhelmed pretty quickly and says, “Nope….that’s too much. I can’t do that.” So, it’s important for me to take baby steps. Step one might be simply I won’t drink today. I will take care of myself and treat myself gently; the way I would one of my children or friends.

Self-care may mean showing up to a 12-step meeting, calling a doctor to assist with physical steps necessary to detox safely or admitting mental health struggles.

For me, it meant picking up the phone to call a treatment center for inpatient care and reaching out to someone to help with childcare. Anything beyond “I will dial the phone” felt like too much. Looking back, I can see that each of those baby steps helped me get closer to the person I want to be.

Each day I choose to not drink or use, I’m modeling change for my kids. It means saying, “I’m not proud of this choice, but it’s not irreparable.” I want them to understand there’s always hope and a chance to improve. The beautiful part is that while you have noticed your children are becoming aware of the problem, they also get to be aware of the possibility for change.

Baby steps count. Think about one thing you can do today to make your life better—a call, a meeting, talking with a loved one about your drinking, or quite simply just not reaching for something to numb a hard feeling.

There’s no step that is too small and we are here to help support you every step of the way.

Sending you lots of love and support,

Nicole #askasobermom

11 Ways to Practice Self-Care While Stuck at Home

Many of us are currently stuck at home either because we’re self-isolating or quarantining.  Whatever the reason, it can be difficult to practice self-care. I have a tendency to stop caring about things like my appearance and relationships. Self-care is extremely important to maintaining my recovery and mental health. When we think of self-care, many of us think of going to a spa, getting a massage or being pampered in some way. While those are all wonderful, self-care is so much more than that. Here are eleven ways to practice self-care while you’re stuck at home (some of these can also be done with children).

Take a walk

There are many benefits of walking, but one is that it boosts endorphins and improves your mood. A short walk also decreases anxiety and depression. Now that it is springtime, you can get fresh air and sunlight while you take a walk. Walking allows you to take a break from stressors and connect with the outdoors.

Create art and/or music

If you’re an artist or musician, then this is an easy thing for you to do. You can paint, draw or sculpt. But if you’re anything like me, you may need a little help being creative. There are tons of adult coloring books over many different topics. It’s such a relaxing way to destress. Music is also something creative to do. You can sing, play an instrument, or do both.

Try a new skincare routine

Maybe your skincare routine is complex with many steps, like mine, or you may have a simpler routine. Either way, it is important to keep it up while stuck at home. Doing my skincare routine every morning is a refreshing way to start the day. At night, it’s a great way to unwind and prepare for bed. This is also a great time to try new products (sample sizes are great) or change up your routine. I usually try one new product at a time so I am better able to gauge how my skin responds.

Get dressed

This is the first thing that I stop doing when I’m stuck at home. I will wear pajamas all day for days on end. On the mornings that I make an effort to put on a casual outfit, I notice that I feel better all day. It is such a simple thing to do that can improve your whole day.

Meditate

Meditation and deep breathing are quick, easy ways to improve your overall well-being. I do deep breathing exercises multiple times throughout the day. It has such a positive impact on my depression and anxiety. Google is a great place to find information on meditation and deep breathing. You can try different things until you find what works best for you.

Exercise

You don’t have to go to a gym or own exercise equipment to workout. There are countless videos and workout plans available on social media (many for free). I love searching YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest for fun workouts that keep me engaged. Yoga is also a great way to get exercise and destress at the same time. You can find workouts to fit any amount of time, ability and type.

Take a bath

Bathing is something that is frequently pushed to the side when you’re stuck at home. It doesn’t always seem necessary to bathe when you don’t have anywhere to go. However, taking a bath or shower helps you relax and clear your mind. I tend to feel sluggish and depressed on days I haven’t showered. Taking a bath is always a great way to relax.

Read a book

I have always loved reading. Books transport you to another place and time, which can be a much-needed escape from daily life. I prefer physical books, but nearly every book is available for download too. You can find book recommendations for any genre you enjoy. Sober Mommies has recommendations of books about addiction and recovery too.

Cook your favorite meal

Cooking our favorite meal isn’t something many of us do often. Many of us are busy and eat on the go while driving to children’s activities. You may be restricting calories or eating only certain foods because you’re on a diet. If you have a picky child, you may be used to only cooking meals he/she will eat. Taking the time to prepare a meal you love can be relaxing. Eating your favorite meal is a great way to bring happiness to your day.

Phone a friend

Connecting with other people is so important for your well-being. Spending your day talking with children can be draining. When you’re stuck at home, it is easy to feel lonely. A short call with a friend gives you the chance to connect with another adult. It is also the perfect time to talk through anything that is causing you stress. Speaking with a close friend can provide a much 

Spend quality time

I am writing this while quarantined, so I have been with my son 24/7. However, not all time spent with your child is “quality time.” I make sure to set aside time every day to focus all of my attention on him (without my phone). I found a list of questions to ask your child and we try to answer one of those every day. It is so much fun to hear his answers and learn more about him. We also play games, watch movies, and do projects together. I have noticed that both of us are happier on the days that quality time is a priority. 

I hope these tips have been helpful! If you have any others, leave them in the comments! I always love new ways to practice self-care.

Recent Posts

It Takes a Village to Raise an Addict

I started saying I never wanted children around age fifteen. It’s not that I didn’t like kids, I adored them, and they adored me. I was great with kids and made a great aunt and babysitter. I believed myself to be far too damaged to ever pass that DNA on to an innocent child. This was a lie I carried with me.

I was an addict long before I picked up a drug or drink. I was selfish, self-centered, dishonest, and unhealthy from an early age. I knew I couldn’t stay clean long enough to be any good to myself, let alone a baby.

Thank God I found recovery when I did.

Imagine my surprise when, with 60 days clean, I found out I was pregnant. My fiancé and I were using protection, but on my 30-day clean date (God wink!) we forgot. So, now I am a mommy in recovery. Lies shattered, dream realized. My daughter was born on my 10-month anniversary.

Being a mommy in recovery has been so emotional. Being pregnant and newly clean was really hard on me emotionally. Being sleep deprived and confessing the true nature of all your wrongs is well…interesting. A teething infant at a meeting is an experience. A toddler at a meeting is always a good time. No matter what, with some help with a team of other mommies in recovery, I’m doing it.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes one to raise an addict as well.

Many experienced mommies were happy to lend a hand or shoulder to help me, and I am happy to help other mommies today.

Staying clean does come first, but I can take it further today. By practicing the principles I’ve learned, I can be the best mommy I am capable of being every day and shed the damaged picture I’ve always had of myself.

I’m simply, beautifully flawed.

This post originally appeared in September 2013.