Healing After a Lifetime of Struggling with Addiction: The Senior’s Guide to Reconnecting with Adult Children

an elderly parent's handsSenior addiction isn’t a topic that’s widely discussed, but it’s estimated that about 2.5 million older adults in America have a substance abuse issue. Whether you’ve been struggling with it your entire life or the issue developed only after you became a parent, addiction can have an incredibly damaging effect on your relationships with your children. And unfortunately, those effects can linger even after you’ve entered recovery.

If you’re a senior in addiction recovery seeking to rebuild relationships with your adult children, this guide can help you navigate the challenging road ahead. It will help you before, while, and after you make contact and offer advice on the best ways to do so.

Each situation will come with its own complexities, so consider consulting your sponsor, recovery counselor, or another trusted (sober) friend for perspective along the way. It’s perfectly natural to feel nervous in the beginning, but often the first step is the hardest — and it’s one that you must take.

 Before You Make Contact

Whether you have an ongoing relationship with your adult children or haven’t spoken to them in years, there are a few things you’ll need to do before you can attempt to mend fences:

 Put Yourself in Their Shoes

When seeking to rebuild relationships after addiction, it’s important to abide by the old adage of, “Put yourself in their shoes.” Look at the events of the past through their eyes: for example, even if your daughter knows that you were in rehabilitation when her high school soccer team went to state championships, it doesn’t change the fact that you missed it. She might have a better understanding of the situation as an adult, but she still has a right to feel hurt over it — even years later.

Just as your adult kids won’t be able to completely comprehend everything you’ve gone through over the years addicted to alcohol or other substances, you may not be able to relate to their experience either. That’s OK. What’s important is that you each try.

 Accept That Your Kids Might Not Be Ready To Confront The Issue

accepting things that you don't likeDepending on a variety of factors, one or more of your children may tell you they’re disinterested in the idea of reconnecting. Some children feel emotionally abandoned by a parent who was addicted during their childhood, and will have trouble trusting you again.

The pain of seeing a parent battle substance abuse can also grow into anger, which unfortunately doesn’t always subside once you’re sober. There’s even the possibility for misplaced anger about your recovery: if you only recently attained sobriety, your adult kids might resent you for not overcoming your demons sooner.

Whether you have an existing relationship or haven’t made contact in several years, some adult children won’t want to open up old wounds. This can be especially true in instances where there was a major fight or traumatic event at the height of addiction; those feelings can fester, evolve, or remain stagnant over time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll never be able to make amends, but you should be prepared for the possibility that you’ll be met with an initial, “No.”

There Are Going To Be Multiple Tough Conversations

conversations can be devastating in recovery

You already know that attaining lasting sobriety means facing some harsh realities about yourself, but it can be especially difficult when it’s coming from your adult children. Even if you have a relatively cordial relationship now, you have to confront those past issues to truly rebuild, and that means having the tough conversations you’ve been probably avoiding.

 

It might not happen right away — in fact, you may want to plan to work your way up to those conversations — and more than likely, there will be more than one discussion. You might want to write down some notes about what you’ll say, but most importantly, you should be prepared to listen.

Know That Being Involved With The Grandkids Isn’t Always “Enough”

Even adult children with lasting feelings of anger or sadness over a parent’s past substance abuse may reach out when they start families of their own. You should absolutely embrace every chance to spend time with your grandchildren, but it won’t single-handedly repair your relationship with your son or daughter.

Focusing most or all of your attention on the little ones can not only make your children feel undervalued, it can create resentment. Make a conscious effort to stay informed of what’s going on with them, and don’t let every conversation revolve around the grandchildren. Addiction often sends the false signal to our loved ones that we don’t actually care as much as we do, so it’s important that your adult children feel like you’re making an effort with them.

 When You Make Contact

It goes without saying that you can’t simply dive into a conversation meant to rebuild an entire relationship. As you begin your pursuit, consider the following factors:

 The Format

reconnecting after addictionIf it’s been years since you last spoke to your son, reconnecting isn’t as simple as picking up the phone and asking him how he’s been. Additionally, if you only see your daughter at family functions but conversation tends to be stiff, you probably won’t have much success if you bring up old quarrels in the middle of your sister’s 90th birthday. It’s important to consider the way you’ll reach out to your kids; no matter how pure your intentions, the wrong format can come off as impersonal, insensitive, or jarring.

If there have been several years of silence, it’s quite possible that your child won’t want to hear you out if you call or visit out of the blue. Instead, try writing a letter. It can be sent through email or traditional snail mail; what matters most is that you let your child know that you love them and want to reconnect. Apologize for the ways that you wronged them, let them know you understand why they’ve stayed away, and offer to let them make the next move. You may need to apologize or explain things face-to-face in the future, but seeing the words written out can help your child begin opening up to the idea of reinitiating contact.