Child care, tolerance, safety, and accessible treatment are essential to success
What do Solo Moms need when recovering from addiction? They need everything that every other person in recovery needs—along with some things that might not even enter the minds of someone in recovery who’s not a Solo Mom. Here are some basics, with the understanding that this is a topic that can fill a book, perhaps several volumes.
Accessible treatment and recovery support
For most Solo Moms, accessible means some combination of affordability, child care, and location.
Affordability. If a program or service isn’t free or low cost or covered by insurance, a percentage of Solo Moms will not be able to participate. Sometimes a program’s willingness to pursue a grant or provide a sliding scale makes all the difference.
Child care. Some Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups (all of which are self-supporting) have met this need by offering on-site child care during meetings, sometimes rotating this responsibility among participating moms or other volunteers. Some residential programs allow Solo Moms in recovery or seeking recovery to live with their children. These are just two examples. The bottom line is, if a Solo Mom doesn’t know her kids are being cared for, she is not likely to be emotionally or psychologically available to participate meaningfully in a recovery activity.
Location. Many Solo Moms in recovery can’t or don’t drive because of histories of driving under the influence or because of financial constraints. If a counseling center is not accessible through public transportation or some other means, a percentage of Solo Moms will not be able to go there. Similarly, a Solo Mom might be able to go to a self-help meeting only if someone will give her a ride.
Basic needs for safety and survival of Solo Mom and her children
Psychologist Abraham Maslow touched on this when he created his pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs. This means that if the basic survival needs of a Solo Mom in recovery are not being met, she generally will not be able to focus on higher-level concerns. And 12-step fellowships often advise members not to let themselves become hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (also referred to as HALT), as any of these can increase the risk of relapse.
Yet Solo Moms are at greater risk than the general population for experiencing one or more of these factors, as are her children, because of economic and social inequalities, such as the wage gap.
I can’t tell you the number of times, in the course of my work, I have heard a child protection worker, probation officer, or doctor say, “She must not want to stay clean and sober,” about someone who’s relapsed in a context of poverty, hunger, domestic or neighborhood violence, unemployment, unstable housing, and other such threats to her basic safety and security.
It’s technically possible to be in recovery amid horrible circumstances, whether they are short or long term; however, scientists have established that cumulative adversity—the combined effect of ongoing struggles—is a risk factor for a range of health conditions, including addiction.
What this means for Solo Moms in recovery is that it’s crucial to advocate for yourself about the adverse conditions you and your children are living with and ask for help in addressing them, knowing that many are complicated issues without easy or immediate solutions.
Those who work directly with or care about Solo Moms need to be on the lookout for serious life stressors that a Solo Mom might feel reluctant to open up about. Those supporting Solo Moms in recovery need to recognize that adverse conditions such as poverty, violence, untreated medical conditions, and homelessness are significant threats to recovery, and they need to advocate for organizations, programs, and policies to address and attempt to ameliorate these.
Acceptance, tolerance, and freedom from stigma
It is hard to recover from addiction when the middle-aged man at the noontime self-help meeting glares at you because you brought your infant when you had no child-care resources. It is hard to recover when you are a pregnant woman addicted to painkillers that were initially prescribed for pain; and you are terrified to seek medical care because you’re afraid that your child will be taken away from you and, as in some parts of the country, criminal charges might be pressed. It is hard to recover from addiction when, after your arrest for driving while intoxicated is published in the paper, you overhear a neighbor say about you, “People like that shouldn’t be allowed to have kids.”
Solo Moms with addiction need the same thing that Solo Moms with high blood pressure or diabetes or heart conditions need: recognition that they’re grappling with an illness they didn’t ask for, nonjudgmental and accessible treatment, and acknowledgment that their lives and their kids’ lives matter.
Connection with other Solo Moms in recovery
Solo Moms in recovery don’t just need a village. They need a village that includes contact with people who are living their story. They need to see some small part of the vast number of Solo Moms who stay up all night with sick children, apply for food stamps or fuel assistance, and maintain and enjoy their recovery, too.
I remember a poignant conversation with a recovering Solo Mom who told me that her hardest times during the early months of her recovery were the weekends and school holidays when her kids were underfoot for long periods. She said she had kept this to herself, fearing that it made her “a bad mother.” Then she went for coffee with another recovering Solo Mom from her self-help meeting who talked about having grappled with that very thing. In hearing this other mother talk about how difficult those times had been, how much they made her feel like drinking or using drugs, and how she managed to get through those days with her sobriety intact, the Solo Mom was able to have compassion for herself, as well as ask for specific suggestions to deal with this particular stressor. “I did not even realize how alone I’d been feeling, for months and months, before I had this conversation. Suddenly, it was like, Someone else on this earth feels the same way I do and is still clean and sober. It made me realize I need not only a recovery community, but a community of recovering Solo Moms.”
Self-compassion and self-care
This is much easier said than done in a society that tends to condemn mothers who acknowledge struggling with addiction. But if you can begin to recognize the enormity of what you are doing as a Solo Mom in recovery—how tough it can be, the courage it takes, how rewarding it is, and how much it matters for the well-being of your whole family—you cannot help but give yourself some credit.
Ask yourself what you need today to feel better—physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually—and give it to yourself. Consider it a strategy for giving you and your family the best shot possible at the gift of recovery. Consider it a challenge to show the world how to treat you.
If you are a Solo Mom in recovery or who wants to recover from addiction, you can seek out other Solo Moms going through similar challenges in our community of Sisters.
Susan Lemere is a Solo Mom of two, as well as a therapist, a writer, and an artist coach.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.