Redefining Your Role in the Household, Post-Recovery
Chemical dependence is always a family problem. If you have an addiction disorder, chances are other members of your household have unconsciously encouraged it, usually in one or more of the following forms:
- Talking in terms of “needing” or “deserving” a drink or pill
- Subjecting you to stress in the form of unreasonable expectations
- Predicting you were “bound to” or “always would” be a “drunk” or a failure
- Reacting to your drug use with nagging or blame
- Covering up for or otherwise enabling your addiction
Hopefully, your decision to get treatment was accompanied by a whole-family decision to get involved in therapy and make changes in household dynamics. A major point of concern will be: As a recovering addict, what future role will you play in the household? Chances are you’ve been either the chronically dependent soul or the proud and overachieving head of household—or the former when you were high and the latter when you were sober. Unless you take steps to avoid sliding back into those roles, the household won’t get much healthier and you’ll be in worse danger of addiction relapse.
IF YOU’RE A SINGLE PARENT OR THE HOUSEHOLD’S PRIMARY BREADWINNER
You’re likely the “take-charge” type, feeling obligated to handle everything and show no weakness. Since the most gifted of us are only human, trying to be beyond reproach will quickly raise your stress levels into the “intolerable” zone. You don’t have to abdicate as family leader, but do draw on democracy rather than monarchy for your leadership principles.
- Regularly ask other members of the household—even the youngest—for input and ideas.
- Eliminate “Because I said so” from your vocabulary. Think through the “whys” of instructions, and always be ready to hear the other party’s point of view.
- Never hold back on apologies or other reparations you owe—in making amends for addiction-related wrongs or in making up for the ordinary mistakes of everyday life. Your family will respect you more, not less, for admitting you aren’t infallible.
- Especially if you lack an adult partner in the household, beware of trying to do “everything.” There’s nothing unreasonable about expecting kids to clean up after themselves or fix their own supper (as long as you don’t micromanage their work and demand flawlessness). However, even the most responsible seventeen-year-old isn’t ready to be your full-time chauffeur or psychiatrist. Connect with outside adult help.
IF YOU’RE AN “AT-HOME” PARENT
You’re likely accustomed to thinking of yourself as “just” a stay-at-home parent, and of your partner as the “smart” one who does the “important” work. Assuming your partner isn’t toxic or abusive, you can build your self-esteem (and reduce relapse dangers) by taking more of an equal-partner role.
- Reevaluate who’s actually doing what, and what’s fair to expect from everyone, in terms of household maintenance.
- Remember that “I have to be perfect” can be no less a temptation for you than for someone in the “head of household” position. Let a little dust collect now and then. Serve microwaved meals if you’ve had an exhausting day. Unless your children are under kindergarten age, let them be responsible for their own bedrooms. If things are still overwhelming, consider hiring outside help.
- Cultivate interests outside the home. This will reinforce your self-esteem and your commitment to sobriety.
IF YOU’RE HALF THE INCOME OF A TWO-INCOME HOUSEHOLD
Chances are you’ve still taken either the “leader” or the “dependent” role. Consider which of the above points apply to you, and implement them. (Family therapy is helpful here.)
IF YOU’RE A DEPENDENT MINOR
Your parents may be tempted to “baby” you in the name of helping you recover. Resist the appeal of basking in such pampering: it’s detrimental all around.
- Take your share of responsibility for keeping the house in order.
- Commit yourself to doing your best in school and other outside activities.
- If you’ve stolen or damaged your parents’ property, insist on paying them back through money or labor, even if they say, “Forget about it.”
- If you have siblings, make whatever amends you owe them as well. And do what you can to defuse hard feelings over the “special attention” your illness and recovery have brought you.
IF YOU’VE BEEN AN ADULT DEPENDENT
If you’re reasonably able-bodied and sound-minded, make alternate living arrangements as soon as possible: relying on family for basic needs will hurt your commitment to staying sober. If you need caretaking, find other ways you can make active contributions to the household (e.g., reading to the children or recording an oral history for the family).
- If you’ve been harboring any resentment over your role in the household, get things out in the open and resolved.
- Develop interests that appeal to your passions, not just your sense of obligation.
- Look for regular opportunities to help with chores, do favors and show love to your family.