What do you do about delivering important, urgent, or grave news to an alcoholic / drug addict in recovery? It is definitely a hard call and one that differs with each family and situation.
We know firsthand as in 2013 we were faced with that dilemma. Were we going to tell our son, that his grandfather was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer? To complicate things further, our son was adopted at birth and it was his biological grandfather. Our son had reconnected with his biological family a couple of years ago.
At the time our son was in a sober living and had been there almost three months. He was doing okay, but was in the early stages of his recovery. Were we going to risk the progress he had made so far and possibly send him in a spiral of anxiety and emotional discomfort or were we going to delay the news in an effort to protect his ongoing effort until we felt that he would be in a stronger position to handle the news and deal with it in a more rational way? Of course, there was never a question about delivering the news, he had to know. It was rather a question of timing. Also, by delaying the news, we knew we were taking some risk with our still rocky relationship with our son. We decided we were willing to deal with it later, if need be.
We were often told by the sober living management not to talk about family members and friends that had participated in his addiction, and to keep family news to a minimum. So we definitely didn’t want our son to abandon his recovery just because he would find reasons in the news of his grandfather that would give him validation for saying “the hell with it” and walk away from the house.
Yes, our lives were a little complicated, at the time it felt like a complete mess. We wrestled with this for days with little sleep. Finally we decided to delay the news, but wanted to confirm with the sober living that we were on the right track. We contacted management and they were very receptive and agreed it was not in our son’s best interest to hear this news. Our son needed more time to grow in his recovery and have more maturity in his sobriety.
To tell you the truth, we should have called the sober living first rather than try to wrestle with the problem ourselves. If you don’t have access to people like that, talk to your sponsor, someone in al-Anon or a trusted friend. There are others who have gone before us with similar situations who can help you.
When our son was about six months in the house, with the help of management we delivered the news. Our son understood our decision not to tell him sooner and contacted his biological family to get an update on his grandfather. He handled it with a very grounded point of view; we were relieved and proud of his progress. His grandfather passed away about six months later. At that point in his recovery, we knew he was mature enough to handle the news and we contacted the house right away. They shared the news with him and we were able to talk with him about it the next time we saw him.
Trust yourself when faced with these difficult situations. Seeking help and guidance is okay. There are many Al-Anon parents who’ve been through the same or very similar situations and can offer comfort and experience. We are all here to help each other.