Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas Message 1944

A part of my year end ritual is going through the stacks of paper on my very large desk. I would like to say it is paper that accumulates throughout the year, but in some cases certain papers just seem to stay there for a few years. They are like sacred jewels I am afraid to part with and I found something I thought you might find fun to read. It was a 1944 Christmas message from Bill W., one of the two cofounder’s of Alcoholics Anonymous.

To all AA members
Greetings on our 10th Christmas, 1944. Yes, its' in the air! The spirit of Christmas once more warms this poor distraught world. Over the whole globe millions are looking forward to that one day when strife can be forgotten, when it will be remembered that all human beings, even the least, are loved by God, when men will hope for the coming of the Prince of Peace as they never hoped before. But there is another world which is not poor. Neither is it distraught. It is the world of Alcoholics Anonymous, where thousands dwell happily and secure. Secure because each of us, in his own way, knows a greater power who is love, who is just, and who can be trusted. Nor can men and women of AA ever forget that only through suffering did they find enough humility to enter the portals of that New World. How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness, that humiliation goes before resurrection; that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth. Knowing its full worth and purpose, we can no longer fear adversity, we have found prosperity where there was poverty; peace and joy have sprung out of the very midst of chaos. Great indeed our blessings! And so Merry Christmas to you all - from the Trustees, from Bobbie and from Lois and me.
Bill Wilson

As the holiday season approaches, I encourage you to practice self-care. This means knowing your limitations, such as setting appropriate limits and boundaries regarding the amount of time, topic of conversations, or places of gatherings with family. It means knowing and acting on your triggers ─ where you shouldn’t be and what you shouldn’t be doing. It means asking for help whether or not you think you need it. This is a time not just for giving but also graciously receiving. Keep realistic expectations and let go of the shoulds. If you participate in a Twelve Step program, keep up your meetings and telephone contacts. Do something physical. Physical movement relieves tension and promotes a feeling of well being. And make some quiet time for yourself and let yourself just be in the moment.

Friday, October 30, 2009


The Good Wife, starring Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth has captured the attention of many TV viewers due to both the talent of the actors as well as the content. The writers have captured many of the subtle nuances experienced by both the person who acts out and the partner. Having worked with individuals and couples impacted by sexual duplicity, and writing Deceived specifically for partners, I’ve been following this show closely.

Today in every neighborhood throughout every community, people are being challenged by the addictive nature of their partner’s sexual behavior. For Alicia on The Good Wife, her husband’s sexual acting out was made public through the media. While they had been married several years she had not suspected his behavior. For others, it may be the young bride who just discovered her husband was with another woman within days of their wedding. It could be the mother of two young children whose boyfriend has just lost his job due to engaging in Internet sex during work hours, or the partner who has masked her shame and confusion about her husband’s chronic pornographic activity, and is now horrified at the thought that her children are going to find out. It may be the man who recently discovered hidden computer files of sexually explicit photos his girlfriend has been emailing to a great number of men. It could be the wife of 40 years, husband soon to retire, who has known about his affairs from the beginning of their marriage; there’s nothing particularly different about the current affair that she just discovered; it’s just the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back.’

Influenced by both culture and family, my professional experience tells me that coaddictive behavior was well learned long before their partner came into their life. As much as the socialization and empowerment of women in Western industrialized culture has changed, women are still more apt to defer to men by giving them the benefit of the doubt; take on false guilt, believe they need a man to be okay, prioritize his needs over their own, acquiesce, be polite, refrain from showing anger, feel inadequate about their sexuality, and have a distorted and shame based body image

Yet this socialization of women, by itself, is not the strongest factor in their coupling with a sex addict. For both men and women far more influential is their family history. Whether or not the writers of the Good Wife get to this depth, looking at family history and dynamics will be significant in the healing process for those in the real world. It’s critical to examine the beliefs developed about themselves and others, the ways learned to experience connection and/or protect self, and the behaviors that helped to garner esteem.

The behaviors and belief systems of both partners and those who act out sexually in repetitive ways are strongly influenced by individual childhood experiences. It is common that one or both parents were addicts themselves, alcoholics or sex addicts in particular. It may not have been called addiction, but they often say their father was a womanizer, or their mother had lots of affairs, drank a lot, etc. There may have been a history of extreme parental rigidity, strict all-or-nothing parental codes. Messages about sex were shaming or distorted, creating confusion as a child.

Trauma Repetition
Kate was raised in an alcoholic and violent family. She is divorced from two different alcoholic men, and is now married to an active sex addict. Her husband has had multiple relationships with other women and now he is flagrantly acting out in a manner that she cannot totally deny. She knows he visits pornographic bookstores, but on a recent visit he had their four year old son with him. Yet she still had the ability to rationalize. He is stressed by our two young children. He wouldn’t do this if he wasn’t on drugs. She would deliberately not ask questions. If she didn’t ask, then it was as if she wouldn’t have to know. She wouldn’t ask for help, because as she said − I just need him to stop. She wouldn’t assert any limits because her fear is he would leave her. In ultimate desperation she found herself left alone in a hotel room with a baby just a few weeks old and a four-year-old, no car, no food and no money while he went to get more drugs and meet up with a girlfriend; and she just wanted him back.

Kate didn’t get to this place overnight. Her childhood history was her training ground long before she entered any of her three addictive relationships. Dysfunction ruled her original family. As a child, she learned to:

  • Overlook (deny, rationalize, minimize) behavior which hurt her deeply
  • Appear cheerful when she was hurting
  • Make excuses for the hurtful behavior
  • Avoid conflict to minimize further anger
  • Tolerate inappropriate and hurtful behavior
  • Prioritize the needs of others over her own
  • Caretake others
  • Fault herself for her family’s problems
  • Discount her own perceptions, give others the benefit of the doubt
  • Believe she had no options available
  • Believe she is at fault, it is her job to find the answers
  • Not ask for help
  • Accommodate

She was reared to be the perfect candidate for partnering with an addict, one whose codependent traits enable him to act out his behavior with little disruption.

While the names change, the stories of repetitively partnering with an addict are common and span generations. What Kate and other coaddicts experience is referred to as trauma repetition. Trauma repetition means you create behaviors and situations similar to those you experienced earlier in life. You are reliving a story out of your painful history. Replaying your past trauma is often repeating what you know, the familiar.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I've joined the Central Recovery Treatment team

I am extremely pleased to announce that I have begun a new chapter in my professional life with Las Vegas Recovery Center, (LVRC) a subsidiary of Central Recovery, as their Senior Clinical and Family Services Advisor. LVRC is a private, free-standing chemical dependency and chronic pain facility established in 2003. I encourage you to look at their website. The center specializes in providing services for those suffering from chronic pain and abuse/dependence on drugs. It addresses this complex situation with a comprehensive opioid-free rehab program. The team at LVRC is both professional and passionate in their work. All of their programs are individually tailored to the needs of each client.

I’ve also taken a position as Senior Editorial Advisor for Central Recovery Press (CRP). This is a young, progressive publishing house addressing issues of addiction and recovery. As my relationship develops I’ll share more with you as to what this entails for me. As my first contribution, I wrote the foreword for a kid’s book. CRP already has two books for children who have a parent in treatment. Examples of other books would be Recovery A to Z: A Handbook of Twelve-Step Key Terms and Phrases, and one of their most recent, Pain Recovery: How to Find Balance and Reduce Suffering for Chronic Pain that speaks to a substance-free way to live with chronic pain and minimize suffering.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Responding to questions about Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards...

Is she a victim?
She has been hurt, betrayed, and deceived. In that light she has been victimized, but she does not have to stay in that position. When she trusts her own intuition and is willing to believe her own instincts, versus the words of her husband, she moves out of the victim position.

Why does she stay in the marriage?
As she says, it is complicated. It's so easy for outsiders to say, leave. Her children, shared history, religious beliefs and certainly her illness influence her decision to stay. Her staying may also be the decision she has made for now and could change depending on her health and his behavior. Women more often stay in light of infidelity; men are more apt to leave. A woman's identity is more connected to having this relationship.

Was it wise for them to talk openly with their children?
It was the only prudent decision they could make because of the public disclosure. They offered what is referred to as a shared disclosure, sharing that the marriage was in difficulty, there was an infidelity and they were working together to work things out. Children need reinforcement that their lives are stable.

How could she go on the road with him after the public exposure?
She was still in shock and there are so many decisions after a surprise and public disclosure that at the time she was most likely trying to keep her family life as stable as possible.
Was it healthy for her to do that? No not necessarily, but human.

Would it be helpful for her to know the paternity of the other woman’s child?
To not know helps her stay in denial about the seriousness of the problem.

She acts like he has this problem to deal with, can she just forget this?
That would be cheap forgiveness, forsaking her own integrity and self-respect to just forget this. The public is not aware of her true thoughts about her cancer, and it is possible all of her energy is more focused on attending to her cancer and her children.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies & Secrets

Deceived: Facing Sexual Betrayal, Lies, and Secrets is my newest book in which I offer women in relationships plagued by sexual betrayal the care and guidance to create a new path of clarity, direction, and confidence. I show them how to proactively emerge from emotional isolation, shed secrets and shame, and discover their power to incite positive change in their relationships.
Deceived is available at my website

I'm in a support group for women whose boyfriends or husbands are acting out sexually. As I listen to other's stories and their feelings of anger, sadness, and resentment, I wonder what's wrong with me. More than anything, I'm just tired and numb. Shouldn't I be feeling something more?

The challenge with letting go when you're at the end of your rope is that you quickly get in touch with deeper feelings. For women like you, the depth of your pain and anguish or fear may be so profound that you don't know how you will survive. The breadth of anger you feel is so pervasive you are convinced you won’t have any self-control. The natural response is to scramble for any type of control. Think of the adage, "To make lemonade out of a lemon is great, but to refuse to acknowledge the lemon ever existed is denial,"--denial of yourself and your experiences. It is when you own and accept your feelings--whether you feel irritated, fearful, sad, humiliated, or joyous--that you will be able to embrace life, to move forward. To be whole you need to be able to access a range of feelings. Part of your recovery is learning to identify a wide scope of feelings and then learning the healthy expression of those feelings. The following are some initial suggestions to begin this process of owning your feelings:

Journal. Carry a notebook with you. Throughout the day, or at a specific time every day, write about what you've been feeling.

Create a feelings list. Make a list of feelings and carry it with you. Bring it out three times daily and ask yourself what you have been feeling.
For example:

  • I am feeling guilty about_______.
  • I am feeling sad about ________.
  • I am feeling afraid about ________.
  • I am feeling angry about _________.
  • I am feeling embarrassed about _______.

Share what you are feeling with someone you trust.

Affirm your emotional self. Identify two affirmations that will support you in acknowledging your feelings. For example: "I have the right to my feelings" and "My feelings help me identify my needs."

Breathe deeply. People close off their feelings when they take shallow breaths. Check your breathing throughout the day and particularly at times of vulnerability. Take a deep breath in for three seconds, exhale slowly for three seconds; repeat five times. In time expand this to five seconds, five times.

Learning to own your feelings won't be easy because you have probably spent a lifetime not being safe with your feelings. It is likely that you gleaned your understanding of what to do with your feelings from people who denied them, people who contradicted your perception of reality and generally could not express positive or negative feelings in healthy ways. That modeling then became reinforced in your relationship with someone who sexually acts out. He is not there to listen, to validate, or to offer support. In fact he most often discounts, ignores, and denies your feelings. He rages in anger or walks away in silence. He tells you there is no reason for you to feel the way you do. It’s possible he tells you that not only do you have no reason to be fearful, angry, or sad, but in fact you should be grateful. With so many previous negative experiences, it is likely you have a lot of fears of what would happen should you show feelings.
Fears such as:

  • Others won't like me.
  • People are going to be able to see how bad I am.
  • I'll be seen as weak, and that is bad.
  • People will tell me I have no reason to feel this way.
  • I will be out of control, and that is not okay.
  • I will be vulnerable to getting hurt.
  • People will take advantage of me.

You may be at a stage where you have difficulty expressing your feelings because you have difficulty identifying them. You may not recognize anger as you stand with your fists clenched and arms tightly folded. I have worked with women who had tears rolling down their faces, and when asked what they were feeling, they didn’t know. Many coaddicts smile broadly through their fear, humiliation, and anger.

Feelings are cues that signal what you need. If you pay attention to your feelings, you will become more adept at knowing your needs. Feelings also help you determine the boundaries you need to set to provide security for yourself. They are your signals to comfort, safety, discomfort, and danger. A mark of recovery is the ability to know what you feel when you feel it; to be comfortable with your emotional self, and then determine whether or not and with whom you share feelings.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Parenting Under the Influence

In this rapidly changing world, there’s one thing that never changes: we all want to make sure that our kids grow up healthy, happy, and most of all, capable of dealing with life in the 21st century. How can we, as parents, educators and care-givers help them?

I recently took part in a webcast panel discussion on the ways that drug and alcohol abuse affect children.

In “Parenting Under the Influence” myself and co-panelists Christine Sloss and Steve Hall discuss issues such as:

When does parental substance use become a problem?
How many substance abusers are parents?
What is life like for kids of substance abusers?
How does parental substance abuse affect kids’ learning?

Visit the website to view the webcastalong with my list of indications that a child may be living with family substance abuse., is a community resource for advice, news, interactive tools, and the latest educational research. It’s all designed to help you help your kids succeed in learning, and in life. brings together parents, care-givers, and education experts in a welcoming, online community.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Disclosure to Children

What and how should children be told of their parent’s sexually addictive behavior? How does disclosure impact the parent-child relationship? Do children want to be told, and if so, what age is appropriate for the disclosure? Are there protective factors, such as a therapist’s presence, that promote healthy disclosure? How much information should be shared?

Keeping a secret is like sitting on a time bomb. Powerful events initiate the need to keep a secret, but once kept, the secret itself becomes an explosive device. When and where will the explosion take place? Will it happen in my home with all my family present, in front of the media, in the courtroom, or in my mind? Can I escape the explosion, move to some other place in the world, or into some other place in my mind? And will I survive the explosion?

Addiction professionals have long recognized that addiction flourishes in isolation and secrecy. It is a common therapeutic belief that secrets not only interfere with recovery; they preclude the possibility of recovery, or fuel relapse. The questions remain: who is the recipient of the disclosure, how much is disclosed, and when does it occur?
For the addict, disclosure: reinforces accountability in recovery; reinforces honesty with others and self; and facilitates the letting go of shame. Most sex addiction professionals believe disclosure is beneficial to the addict, their spouse and the “couple-ship.” Truth telling is an important step in restoring trust.
Such disclosure has the potential to:
  • Allow for an adult-to-adult relationship on an equal basis;
  • Empower the spouse/partner with truth;
  • Give the spouse/partner the ability to make healthy choices based on the truth;
  • Allow the spouse/partner to embrace recovery; and
  • Break the addictive system.

Disclosure to children regarding sexually addictive behavior is undoubtedly a situation that no parent wants to anticipate or face. Yet, for the health of the family, there needs to be a time and manner in which to discuss sexual behavior. In reality we live in a highly sexualized culture. Children are bombarded with sexual messages through the media, television, music, and the Internet. With so much cultural shame attached to sexuality, sex has become a major source of acting out behavior. When sexual addiction exists within a family, the need to dialogue about sexuality surfaces earlier than parents would have chosen, but the disclosure can be looked at as an opportunity for children to gain an awareness of what is healthy sexuality and intimacy.

Children Know
Prior to disclosure, children knew of their parent’s behavior or they suspected it. Parents seldom want to share their secrets with their children. They want to protect their children from pain. Yet many children knew, suspected, or would learn of their parent’s acting-out behavior. As much as parents wish to protect children from their own mistakes or hurtful behaviors, keeping secrets does not provide the sought after protection.

I was surprised that my mother was not aware that I knew. I carried this secret with me my entire adolescence and no one knew!

I knew. I had read my father’s diary. It was quite a shock. I told my best friend, but I never told anyone else.

I can’t be totally honest about anything anymore because I am bound to keep his secret. So a good part of my life is a big fat lie now.

Sure I would rather have not known about any of this. I don’t think any of us who have had this experience want to know this stuff. But that is impossible because in my case I was living in a house with two addicts, my father a sex addict and my mother addicted to him.

I don’t know which part is the most unfair, that he is doing what he does or that he doesn’t know I am like the fair princess who has to keep the knight’s honor clean.

Children’s Reactions
At the time of the disclosure, many experienced anger: anger for the pain caused to the other parent, anger for the embarrassment, but predominantly, anger over their lives having been turned upside down.

I felt like I wanted to punch them. But I just sat there.

They were often fearful of the financial ramifications.

My dad was going on about his being a sex addict and treatment and steps and other stuff that I could care less about and the word bankruptcy came up because at the time we were being sued, and that really struck a chord with me. What did that mean for me? Would I lose my bike?

For many children the term “sex addiction” created a picture of their parent being a pervert or a child molester. They frequently found themselves in fear of a parent whom they had previously trusted.

I felt sick, horrified. What are other people going to think? Can I be left home alone with him?

Confusion was a predominant feeling about the impact the behavior would have on the child or their family.

I was only seven! I was too little to understand. And now we had to move, and I had to leave my friends. That is what I understood. The last thing I needed was to feel different from other kids.

I was really too young (eleven). I didn’t know much about sex and it was foreign. I really couldn’t imagine my dad doing the things he did and that was hard for me.

This made my relationship with my dad very awkward when I didn’t find it that way before. I felt very uncomfortable being left alone with him.

Children often acted compliant or even reached out to emotionally take care of their parent(s).

I knew my dad was feeling forced to tell me. If he didn’t tell me, my stepmother would. She was really angry and was divorcing him. He was crying and so embarrassed, I didn’t know what to do or feel, mostly I felt sorry for him. He really was my only safe parent, and I knew what he did was suppose to be bad, but how could I be angry? I was more scared I would lose him.

I felt like I had to defend and protect my father.

While some children were shocked and confused, some found immediate relief.

I was initially so shocked, my stomach kind of dropped. I had this dialogue going on inside. I can’t believe I am hearing this. It just blew me away and at the same time incredible relief, wow.

Some children experienced immediate validation. There were reasons they had lived with the confusion, anger, and mixed messages.

I was not crazy. I had known all along!

I think a lot of parents think that their kids don’t know. I think that is a huge mistake. We know almost everything our parents’ do. We aren’t stupid. We may not know exactly what it is but we know enough to wonder why our parents are doing this. I think disclosure is a good thing.

Rationale for Disclosure
Why do we tell children? There are four pertinent reasons to disclose to children.

1) Validation: Disclosure validates what they know. Having their unspoken perceptions validated takes away the “craziness” of knowing but not knowing. It diminishes the additional shame and anxiety that comes with secrecy.

2) Exposure: Children will find out. Others who know will tell them, such as a parent, a sibling, someone in the community, the media, or another source. Thoughtful disclosure can be offered in a healthy manner to counteract a mean spirited, or otherwise simply thoughtless act.

3) Safety: If a parent has engaged in sexual behavior with young people, and the child lives in the addict’s home, or visits the addict, the child needs to be educated on how to protect themselves and what to do in case of a suspected or known behavior. If a child’s safety is threatened, he or she may be better able to protect him or herself if they have prior knowledge of the behavior. Children need to know they are not at fault if an act or behavior occurs. The departments of social and health services within the states and the courts are often involved at this stage and it may be that visiting is not allowed or allowed only with supervision. It is always the responsibility of adults to protect the interests and welfare of the children.

4) Breaking generational cycle: Addictive behavior is a cycle that repeats itself generationally. To be able to discuss the addiction honestly, to offer an understanding of addiction and recovery sets the stage for the potential of the cycle to not be repeated.

Appropriate Age
At what age is disclosure most appropriate? Ideally, a minimum age of mid-adolescence. If the children are pre- or early adolescent, the issues of the child’s safety or exposure to the information via another avenue are the strongest reasons to talk to them. It is my bias that even though pre- and early adolescents say they were aware, developmentally they need a greater belief in the stability of the family. It is the child’s own sense of security that is most challenged at this moment. To have sexual data about their parent prior to mid-adolescence is too confusing for them to be able to derive positive meaning or value from having that information. Certainly maturity varies greatly and the professional involved needs to assess the maturity level. By mid-adolescence, as much as children don’t want to be told, being told validates their knowing and they can better cope with the information.
There is no negating the difficulty of the decision to disclose. There are times when a pre-adolescent’s behavior may be the greatest indicator of the need to disclose. They may be acting-out confusion, fear, or anger in aggressive or otherwise destructive ways; they may demonstrate sexual behavior premature to their development (e.g., a nine-year-old hiding pornographic magazines). They may be repetitively asking questions that point to some knowledge on their part (e.g., “Is Dad still working late with that woman again?”).

Healthy Disclosure
While there is no ideal situation, the following criteria support a healthy environment for disclosure to children.

  • Disclosure is facilitated with a clinician or therapist
  • Both parents are present and participatory
  • Both parents are in agreement to disclose to the children
  • Both parents articulate why this is important and of value to the child
  • Both parents have strategized and agreed upon what is and is not disclosed
  • Parents speak for themselves. The addict and co-addict each speak about their own behavior
  • The addicts speaks in generalities about addictive behavior, not specific details
  • Parents display signs of recovery
  • Neither parent takes on the role of victim
  • Child is not used as a confidant
  • Parents are clear that it is not the child’s responsibility to fix or take care of their parents’ needs. It is very easy for the child to become caught in a triangle of choosing sides and then reacting on behalf of the person or one who is perceived to be the victim-parent at the moment
  • An ongoing openness for dialogue and discussion with a clinician is demonstrated
  • Set the tone for the child to know he or she can discuss it with you as they need to or as you believe it is appropriate. To say or imply, “We’ll talk about this today and never again talk about it” reinforces the shame of disclosure and the behavior. Disclosure is not a one-time process.

Historically the disclosure process to children has been the sexually addicted parent sharing information about their behavior. It is my belief that the co-sex addict also has a role in the disclosure process. While this is not a time for an educational presentation on coaddiction, children frequently want to know how long the coaddict has known, how he or she is feeling, and if a divorce is imminent. Their main concern is how their life will be affected.
Upon hearing disclosure, most adolescents and certainly pre-adolescents don’t understand addiction even when it is explained to them and, consequently, are more concerned with the sense of emotional betrayal. Children want to hear and feel hope, thus, it is the responsibility of parents and helping professionals to reassure children that the adults are handling and taking control of this painful situation.

Basic Rule: Parents must exercise caution whenever they intend to disclose sensitive information to children. Always consider what is best for the child. Whether or not a child asks directly, there are crucial questions that need to be answered.

What Does it Mean to be a Sex Addict?
The word addiction or compulsivity doesn’t make sense to most children. It is important that the parent share how engaging in the addictive behavior was about garnering control and power to overcome feelings of powerlessness, responding to unhealthy anger, medicating and anesthetizing pain, or bolstering self-esteem. Addiction is when someone engages in behaviors repetitively in spite of negative consequences. Children can be told how denial and rationalizations are used to maintain the behavior; or how the need for power, to control, to medicate emotional pain, or to bolster esteem became greater than anything else.

Examples of actual behavior in child sensitive language might be:

  • I was unfaithful to your mom/dad and our marriage vows.
  • I was having extramarital affairs.
  • I have been engaging in sexual behavior that is wrong (such as…).

These explanations might be used for a mature early adolescent and mid-adolescent.
The following examples are brief but often sufficient explanations of sexual activities.

  • Pornography: looking at sexually explicit pictures of people or behavior in magazines, videos, the Internet
  • Voyeurism: viewing people unknowingly who are undressed or are being sexual
  • Compulsive masturbation: frequently touching one’s own genitals to a state of arousal. (Note: Parents and professionals need to use caution to not distort what is healthy adolescent sexual behavior. Key to differentiating unhealthy and healthy masturbation is when it is used as a response to anger or pain, used to medicate, dissociate, or results in physical self-harm.)
  • Extramarital affairs: being sexual with someone other than your spouse/partner
  • Exhibitionism: exposing yourself sexually unexpectedly to unwilling people

When children ask for specific details, such as whom, where, or when, it is advisable to say that this is information shared only with their other parent unless the answer has a direct impact on them (the children). An example in which the need for greater detail could be indicated would be when it explains the reasons the family is moving as the sexual behavior was with the next-door neighbor. Or, the reason the family is not seeing a certain relative this holiday is because the sexual behavior was with a relative.

I suggest the parent connect the addictive behavior to the consequences for the family by describing the impact on the child. Is the child impacted by financial consequences, the possibility of marital separation, divorce, the changing of schools and friendships, or possibly public exposure? For example, as a consequence of the behavior:

  • I wasn’t home spending time with you.
  • When home, I was preoccupied.
  • I spent what was family money on non-family activities.
  • There are legal problems that are public and create embarrassment for the family.
  • I have not been available to model healthy sexual or relationship behavior.
  • There have been arguments at home because I’ve been dishonest with your mother/father.

Do You Still Love Mom or Dad? Does Mom or Dad Still Love You?
Children want to know how the parents feel towards each other. These may be difficult questions to answer. While the answer may be a clear yes, if this is not a reality, a parent might say, “Right now your (other parent) is very angry and is questioning how she or he feels.” Or, “I do not know how I feel at this time.” The parents need to have empathy and be sensitive to the child.

Do You Still Love Me? Did I Do Something Wrong?
Children need to be reassured that they are loved and that whatever happens between mom and dad, they will always love them. Children need to understand that this is not about them or their behavior.

How Does This Affect My Life?
The parent must be honest and tell the child what he or she knows. The greatest concern is usually whether or not their parents will remain together. Perhaps there will be a temporary separation. Perhaps the parents will be home more often and more involved in their life. If the parent is not sure of what may happen for the family the uncertainty may be expressed, and then the parent needs to commit to tell the child when they do know.
Other concerns may be: Are there things they can or cannot talk about at home? Are there television shows or movies they can or cannot watch? Are there any restrictions regarding going places or seeing certain people? Can they ask more questions if they arise?

Who Else Knows?
It is important to discuss who else knows. The disclosure itself does not have to become the “family secret.” Recovery is not about replacing one secret with another. Recovery is demonstrating healthy boundaries and discriminating with whom one does and does not share. If others know, prepare children with an honest response to questions and remarks of others.

Can I Tell any of my Friends?
Anticipate this question. Parents are encouraged to support children in their own support system that may be one or two close friends, a counselor, or another trusted adult. If the child needs to keep what you have told them a secret, you need to seriously question any disclosure.

Are You Sorry?
Children need to hear that both the addict and the co-addict are sorry for their individual acting-out behavior.

What are You Doing so it Won’t Happen Again?
Children need to hear of the recovery plans of their parents, as individuals and as a couple. What are the parents willing to do for the relationship, the family, and for recovery? Children need to have reasons to be hopeful.
When children were asked to offer feedback to improve the disclosure process, they commented:

A little humility would have made me feel better about my dad. He really let Mom do most of the talking.

Not so much detail.

My step mom went crazy, she shouldn’t have been so angry in front of us.

More resources like reading material about sex addiction.

Questions should be accepted, even welcomed so the family unit can face the problem in its entirety.

Disclosure would have been better had their been help for what his behavior did to us, rather than everything being centered around his recovery.

A qualified therapist present would make the disclosure much easier.

A counselor who didn’t just work with my dad.

I should have been taken to counseling again when I got a couple years older.

Disclosure opens up the process for a multitude of feelings. At the time of the disclosure and after, parents and clinicians need to be willing and available to listen and validate those feelings. This may be very painful for parents, but is a necessary part of healing for the family. As an adult child said, “Truth, even if in very small pieces, can lighten the load. Shame is a burden we as children should not have to bear.”

Parents do not want to cause their children pain, but that possibility was lost in the act of the addiction. The parents must forgive themselves for their behavior, move on in recovery, and learn greater recovery skills. Those recovery skills begin with honesty to one’s self and then to appropriate others. They cannot change the past addictive behavior but they can influence their children by example in their recovery practices. If the commitment to changing the family system does not exist, disclosure alone will not break this addiction cycle. Changing the family system begins with the parent’s individual commitment to recovery. Then, at the appropriate time, disclosing secrets to children is effective in breaking the generational cycle.

It is in recovery that adults will find the strength to be the parent their children need them to be. It is likely the parents will always feel sad their children have been exposed to addiction, and that their behavior has caused them pain. It is normal for parents to be concerned and fearful of the consequences for their children. With support from others in recovery and with the guidance of skilled helping professionals, parents can do their part by taking responsibility and being accountable to their children. Then, as they say in Twelve Step language, there comes a time to “let go, and let God.”