<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1656550421284442&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Children are Mirrors: Viewpoints from a Parent in Recovery

11/18/15 10:38 AM | Steven Samra | Recovery, Families, Children

Parent and Child in Mirror

"It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself."  ~Joyce Maynard

As I enter my seventeenth year in recovery, the “buzzards” I set loose during the time I was in the grip of addiction, trauma, mental health challenges, poverty, and homelessness continue to come home to roost. One of my greatest accomplishments in spite of myself during this period was fathering four children. Just about any man can produce a child with a willing partner, but being a father requires far more, and it may take years to learn how to be the best parent possible.

Over the decades, I've learned that fathers are not supposed to be your friend: they are your moral and ethical compass, your source of learned responsibility. They pick you up when you fall, help you understand the reason you fell, and then gently provide guidance on ways to avoid falling again. They don't let their children manipulate them nor do they turn away when their children need limits. They stand as a testament to living one's life honorably—with dignity, love, and compassion while respecting the rights and differences of others. At least, that's how I see a father's role today. I had to learn this over the years since I did not have a father in my life.

But a wild early life carries both a price and a tax that may not become visible until years later. The price isn't a fixed one, but instead fluid, and it usually rises in direct proportion to the amount of time you engaged in what the experts call “maladaptive coping behaviors.”

You never know what the final cost will be for your actions because it's impossible to predict how they impact others. During the first years in recovery, the buzzards are in plain view, and if you're smart, you'll address them one by one and make whatever amends you can. All of them are challenging, but some are harder to rid than others. The "criminal record" buzzard has exceptional tenacity, as do the "Hepatitis C" and "bad credit" birds. That pesky "spotty employment history" buzzard also takes a lot of effort to bury for good.

During the first few years in recovery, you deal with a lot of avian assaults because you have to in order to progress. The good news is that as the years go by, the buzzards become fewer and appear less often. Sometimes you may even go for years without a visit, and life is good indeed.

Then one fine day or even years into your life of recovery as a model citizen, you're looking out the window and what's up in the sky? Why...it's a ....buzzard....and it appears to be homing in on your location.

Several buzzards have visited me over the last few years. They have followed me for decades, and if I looked out the window right now, I'd see them, lounging on my lawn, licking their chops and snickering to themselves as their beady little eyes bore into my soul, and they have a good laugh at my earlier proclivities. The procedure to eradicate them remains the same; I deal with them one at a time, the same way I did when I first entered recovery. But, these geriatric buzzards bring complex and sophisticated baggage with them: no quick fixes, and some are beyond my capacity to fix.

The most painful is the dreaded "mirror" buzzard who is roosting with one or more of my children. You know it has come home when you see your child doing the same or similar things you did when you were his/her age. Because of my own lived experience, I clearly see the cliff my child is rushing toward because I plunged over that same cliff years ago, and I can hardly bear to watch it happen. No matter how much I try to explain, advise, guide, critique, condemn, cajole, or demand that my child change his/her ways, it has little impact. It’s like looking into a mirror, reflecting back on my own early life and my inability to stop the downward spiral.

I have learned that I can't kill the mirror vulture. I can't break it or change the reflection. About the only thing I can do is to keep my hand outstretched to my child while I acknowledge and tolerate my own pain and vulnerability.

Living life in recovery is sometimes not an easy task, and as I mentioned earlier, the level of difficulty is directly proportional to the amount of time I practiced maladaptive coping behaviors. It is no wonder that successful recovery, and especially from addiction challenges, can be so difficult to achieve. The buzzards have a nasty way of reminding me just how challenging my life has been. My own children now have become a mirror of my lived experience and a barometer of my own pain. It takes a determined person indeed to stand in front of life’s buzzards with a naked, vulnerable soul without turning to something to help ease the pain.

Image by David Lytle(CC BY 2.0)

Steven Samra

Written by Steven Samra

Steven is an Associate at the Center for Social Innovation. After entering recovery from homelessness, substance use, and mental health challenges in 1999, Steven has dedicated his career to assisting and advocating for marginalized, disenfranchised populations. He serves as Deputy Director and Consumer Advisor on SAMHSA's Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS TACS) and has served in leadership capacities for SAMHSA on HHRN, PATH, and SSH consumer involvement roles. He lives in Nashville, TN where he co-founded a street newspaper, The Contributor, and serves on the Nashville Metropolitan Homelessness Commission.