Acceptance Is Key to Family Recovery
About a year ago, at a graduation ceremony for a recovery high school, I heard a story from a mother talking about her experience accepting her daughter’s path down the road of addiction and recovery. It resonated with me so much I remember it clearly even a year later. I want to share a version of the story here in hopes that more mothers and families can have an open mind about the recovery journey.
The story starts with a family boarding an airplane for their trip of a lifetime to Italy. They had been saving up for years and had put a lot of energy into planning this trip. Highlights were to include seeing Rome, exploring the countryside in Tuscany and taking a gondola ride in Venice. During the flight, they pored over travel guides to make sure nothing was missed. As they descended into Rome, and felt the wheels thud down on the runway, everyone felt giddy. Finally, after anticipating this trip for years, it was about to happen!
Then, the flight attendant’s voice came over the sound system.
“Welcome to Akron, Ohio!” she said.
Bewildered and stunned, the family looked at each other and said, “What! I thought we were going to Italy?” The father stood up and said, “Is this a mistake? Did we get on the wrong flight? What’s going on here?”
As they slowly realized they were not, in fact, in Italy, and were not going to Italy, fear and panic rose up in all of them. Akron, Ohio did not sound fun at all. Also, they did not research and plan for Ohio. They knew nothing about Ohio. What were they going to do?
Journey of recovery
When my son was 17, we took that figurative and fateful trip to “Akron, Ohio.” We as a family had to navigate an unplanned journey: that of addiction and recovery.
High school was not the four-year path we had planned for and expected. Instead of the senior-year milestones that most kids go through, our son’s path was quite different. Family relationships were not as we had always dreamed of. Instead, expectations, consequences, reactions and feelings from our blended family were challenging, which we hadn’t planned for.
We were lucky to find the best recovery high school in our town, and my son did graduate, thankfully. But there were disagreements about what was next, how we were to support or not support our son, and many late nights up worrying if what we were doing was helping or hurting. We all had to work to get on the same page, or as close to it, in order to navigate this unfamiliar territory together.
My own journey of acceptance
When I sought support through groups like Al-Anon and a family support group through the treatment center my son spent time at, it became clear to me that, although I wasn’t in “Italy” like the majority of my peers, “Akron, Ohio” was a pretty great place to be. The first thing I noticed about Akron was that I was surrounded by people who really, truly, understood me. They accepted me for where I was on my journey. They did not tell me what to do. Instead, they shared their experiences, and through those stories, I could come to my own resolution about things.
In Akron, it was a supportive environment instead of a competitive one. Adults shared things about their lives I had never heard before. Those relationships and stories became the hope and inspiration I needed to continue on the path of healthy boundaries, love and support my son needed from his family.
For my son, Akron was a pretty cool place too. He found there a community of support like no other. Friends truly cared. Men expressed feelings and emotions. People had his back and weren’t afraid to give him the hard advice they had once heard. In Akron, my son not only developed a strong community of friends, but he found a meaningful job within the field of recovery, and the independence he needed in order to succeed. He has pursued his long-time passion of fitness and nutrition and is training to join the Navy.
What I have learned the most from being in Akron as opposed to Italy is that acceptance is key. Rather than fighting against the reality of our lives and the reality of what my peers are doing or choosing, acceptance has become a source of peace for me and others in my family.
Accepting our son’s successes and also accepting his stumbles has been healing and a new way of living. Rather than pushing against him, our job is to love and support him. I found that once I truly did accept, the relationships got even better. Through my experience in Akron, I have found lifelong friends and a career I am passionate about, working with people who are real and care. I have no intention of leaving Akron, and I am a better person (and mother) because of it!