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Parents in recovery

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Parents in Recovery: Worth the work

Local parents share their experience + where to turn for help

According to a 2023 report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about one in ten children live with a parent who has alcohol use disorder. That means as many as 11 million children in the U.S. live with at least one alcoholic parent. Alcoholism can result in children’s needs for nutrition, safety, structure, consistency, affection, and healthcare not being met, chaos and uncertainty in the family home, and children feeling they are somehow to blame for their parents’ drinking.

Addiction that impacts generations

I grew up with an alcoholic father. As a teenager, I thought his drinking was annoying and embarrassing. But like most family dynamics, there was more going on. Addiction often passes from one generation to the next — I struggled with my own addiction for decades. 

Parents face some unique challenges when it comes to getting sober. From freeing up time to learn how to stop drinking to finding childcare to do that work to finding time and space for self-care, sobriety can be a daunting prospect. Seattle parents who have achieved sobriety, however, say the hard work is with it. 

Drinking to relieve perfectionism

Katie is a Seattle mom in recovery. As a child, she says she was a high-achieving rule follower. She was surprised when her first drink of alcohol at age 18 provided relief from the pressures of perfection. Working in restaurants for 15 years, she was surrounded by alcohol. It was part of the fabric of her life.

Note: In keeping with the anonymity tradition of alcoholism recovery programs, some names of parents interviewed for this story have been changed.

But when Katie started experiencing pass-outs and blackouts, she knew that drinking had become a problem. Still, she thought she just needed to learn how to drink better.

An unplanned pregnancy gave Katie a reason to take a break from drinking. “It saved my life,” she now says. But after her child was born, she returned to drinking. She repeated the pattern with her second child. “But now there was more guilt and shame. I wanted to be a good mom,” Katie says.

Parents in recovery AA assessment

First four questions on the AA assessment. Courtesy AA.org

A discovery: I need help

When one of her children started struggling with mental health issues at age 10, Katie realized she didn’t know how to help.

 “My coping mechanism was to numb myself,” she recalls. “My child’s teenage years were right around the corner, and I wasn’t equipped to parent a teenager. I wanted to be a good role model, and at that point, I wasn’t.”

A friend invited her to a meeting focused on alcohol recovery. Katie was reluctant; She didn’t expect it to resonate with her. 

But then, she says, “I heard my truth there, it was a miracle moment.

“I wish I had known there were people all around me, living sober sparkly lives,” she adds. “I had no idea what a vibrant community was right there.”

Becoming the parent she always wanted to be

Sobriety changed Katie’s parenting: 

“I drank to numb my feelings, and that comes from a place of fear. I was living in fear and drank to cope. I was parenting from a fearful place. Recovery means hope, faith, and trusting in the universe. Now I’m not afraid of my emotions or my kids’ emotions. I can be present for them.”

Now approaching her sixth year of sobriety, Katie says she is happy to be present for her kids. “I don’t have to worry if they’re out that I’ll be sober enough to go and get them if I need to,” she says. “I am actually thrilled to be able to pick them up at the end of the night.

“It’s amazing how something that seemed like such a big hurdle has become the most beautiful thing in my life. I had to work so hard to break up with booze, thinking it was an end, but it was really a beginning.”

Katie eventually left the restaurant industry to open the West Seattle wellness center Mama Be Well. She describes the center as, “a safe and sacred space for experiences of deep peace, energetic healing, and spiritual awakening.” Katie’s journey was not easy. She discovered that it was difficult to be in recovery when a co-parent is not.

Parents in Recovery

Graphic courtesy of choosingtherapy.com

When both parents need help

That was Chris and Diane’s experience. The Seattle parents are now both in recovery. But five years ago, Diane found herself at the end of her rope. When she was dating Chris, the couple had high-flying jobs and engaged in serious partying. But Chris’ partying continued after starting a family and then began to increase.

Chris says alcohol took on a new role in his life after marriage: “We moved. We had a house and new jobs. We started a family. I was depressed. I turned to alcohol not for fun, but as a coping strategy. I didn’t have the tools to deal with all of these changes.”

Diane began attending Al-Anon, a recovery program for friends and families of alcoholics. 

“I kept thinking his problem was going to get better, but it never did,” she says.  Eventually, the two participated in an alcohol evaluation, and Chris began to understand the depth of his problem. He was sober for seven months, then relapsed.

For many, treatment is a doorway to recovery

Diane insisted it was time for Chris to enter an inpatient treatment program. She drove him to a facility for a 38-day stay “fully expecting that we were heading for a divorce,” Diane recalls. 

Instead, the program led “to a complete transformation,” says Diane. “Chris went from someone I couldn’t rely on, to someone I exclusively rely on. He became a true partner in our marriage.”

Parents in Recovery

Use this QR code to connect with the greater Seattle Alcoholics Anonymous community.

AA: The nation’s largest recovery community

Chris’ recovery left Diane questioning her own relationship with drinking. As a result, Diane turned to Alcoholics Anonymous. 

“I heard that the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking and I knew I needed the fellowship and the support of others to follow through,” says Diane, who recently celebrated her first year of sobriety.

“I wanted to be a fully present parent,” she says. “Kids take a lot of energy, and alcohol sapped me of the energy I needed to be a good parent.” 

For all three of these parents, one of the greatest hurdles to recovery was taking the time to focus on themselves and do the work necessary to get better. Says Diane: “It’s like being on an airplane, you have to put your own mask on first before you can help anyone else.” 

Where to turn for help 

There are a number of organizations in the greater Seattle region that help people address alcohol use disorder, many are free of charge. 

  • Washington Recovery Helpline. For parents who need treatment, Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) covers the cost. 
  • Alcoholics Anonymous/Seattle offers self-assessment, resources, and both in-person (some with childcare) and online meetings throughout the Greater Seattle area. You don’t have to define yourself as an alcoholic to attend AA “open” meetings. “Closed” meetings are for those who have decided to identify as alcoholics. 
  • Recovery Café, a Seattle offers help and hope to people traumatized by homelessness, addiction, and other mental health challenges
  • Sea Mar Turning Point Treatment Center offers rehabilitation services as well as integrated and multidisciplinary health treatment. 
  • Bellevue-based One Step at a Time melds outdoor activities such as climbing, hiking, and biking with recovery, including events for families with children.

Read more at Seattle’s Child:

Anchor it! A mother turns a tragedy into advocacy

Bedtime routines for kids

When ‘I’m Bored’ Means ‘I Want Screentime’

 

About the Author

Ruth Purcell

Ruth Purcell writes and recreates in West Seattle. She digs being with family and friends, wildlife (especially birds and harbor seals) gardening, and anything on the water.