October 14, 2014

In Recovery, too

By Michelle Horton

“Addiction turns the people we love into strangers.”

An 11-year-old girl came to that profound realization during her second day at the Betty Ford Center’s Children’s Program — a camp designed for kids with parents or family members in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction.

The kids come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some have been exposed to scary situations or drastic life changes, while others barely remember life when mom or mad wasn’t regularly attending meetings and living a recovery lifestyle. But no matter what a child sees or remembers, his or her life was affected and continues to be affected by the disease.

Jerry Moe, vice president and national director of Children’s Programs for the Betty Ford Center, has dealt with countless children and parents over his 30 years working in treatment, specifically through these programs. He’s sat with children as they drew pictures of how addiction tore apart their families, and watched kids role-play dysfunctional family dynamics. He’s heard tearful stories of love and confusion and hurt. He’s seen children understand — for the very first time — what the disease of addiction or alcoholism actually is, and how they didn’t cause it to happen.

Because that’s the thing; when kids don’t understand what’s happening around them and no one explains what’s going on in a way that makes sense, they’ll make up stories and scripts to fill in the gaps. Painful, damaging life scripts. Growing up in a family where there’s an addiction is often like trying to put together a puzzle and only having bits and pieces. It just doesn’t make s