Teaching the Language of Recovery to Children and Families

Father and son walking after playing a game of basketball. Young man and teenage boy having fun, talking and chatting while staying fit, active

Jessica was reluctant to raise the conversation about addiction with her children. She didn't want to scare them or expose them to inappropriate details, but they needed someone to talk to about their dad. They needed some way to express themselves and feel safe. Then they attended the Children's Program, and they learned the language of recovery. Now they join host William C. Moyers and children's counselor Robby Bruza to talk about coming together and healing as a family.

So I have a ten-year-old and a nine-year-old. Emi is ten, Lina is nine. And we are dealing with addiction in our family.


0:00:13 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, our podcast series produced and delivered to you by Hazelden Betty Ford. I'm your host, William C. Moyers. Thank you for joining us today. For you, we have a story of hope, a story of help, and a story of healing. Welcome, Jessica, Emi, and Lina. A family from Minnesota. Hello!

0:00:35 Jessica

0:00:36 William Moyers
And welcome, Robby Bruza, my colleague and a counselor with Hazelden Betty Ford's Children's Program. Robby.

0:00:45 Robby Bruza
Hello, hello! Thanks for having me.

0:00:46 William Moyers
Thanks for being with us today. Why don't you share with us, Jessica, just a little bit about your family's story.

0:00:53 Jessica
So I have a ten-year-old and a nine-year-old. Emi is ten, Lina is nine. We live in Long Prairie, Minnesota. And we are dealing with addiction in our family.

0:01:06 William Moyers
And how did you get to Hazelden Betty Ford?

0:01:12 Jessica
So about three years ago, somebody came up to me and asked—it's their dad that we're dealing with addiction and they asked if I would do an intervention. And that was already a year and a half after we'd been divorced. Something I wasn't too excited about. I thought we were on the healing process by ourselves. After going through a few interviews with them, he said that we needed to get into the Children's Program as a family. Even if Dad doesn't go into treatment. And that surprised me. I didn't think that that was something we needed. And I was real reluctant on it. The kids were young when our family did end up breaking apart, but they didn't see a lot of angry addiction behaviors. And so I didn't feel—I was real nervous about what they would be exposed to I guess.

0:02:23 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. So Emi, let me ask you, what did you learn in the Children's Program?

0:02:31 Emi
That I'm not alone.

0:02:34 William Moyers
And what about you, Lina?

0:02:38 Lina
Pretty much the same thing. It's not just me.

0:02:43 William Moyers
So let's ask Robby Bruza—Robby, what is the Children's Program and why is it important for families like theirs?

0:02:53 Robby Bruza
You know, the Children's Program is for kids between the ages of about 7 to 12 who have been impacted by a loved one's use of drugs or alcohol. We offer services in person and virtually. This lovely family here has participated in a lot of our Virtual Services. Like Lina and Emi are getting to some of the really important things about kids coming to a program like ours is to really learn that they're not alone. To learn that there are lots of kids, lots of families, that have been impacted by drug or alcohol use. They learn like Jessica is saying that as much as we can continue to hope that our loved one will get better from their addiction, that that's not something that we can always control. And what we can control is some of our own recovery. So our program really focuses on helping kids have their own recovery journey, their own recovery program. Because we really, really strongly believe that kids deserve that. Kids deserve the healing and the hope that, you know, adults strive toward when they enter treatment programs.

0:03:54 William Moyers
Jessica, what did you learn as you went through that process?

0:04:00 Jessica
Oh I learned a lot. You know, whether the family comes apart and that's just a painful experience for the kids, and then they're still dealing with somebody that has addiction too. That's like a lot to handle for a kid. And then as a parent, you're trying to figure out how much to tell them. So it's not too much and you don't want to scare them. So this just really slowed the whole entire process of my anxiety down. Beamer is a major part of the work that they use there. And the girls can talk a little bit about that. But, when they went through the Beamer Books and then we received them back at home, that was something that we got to go over on our own. And I was just like oh my goodness, all the answers are right here! And it was presented in such a safe, non-scary way. And Robby knows that we go back often to those books. And I saw the big picture. Of the Beamer story. And the girls just see pieces for the age that they're at. And they would ask the question maybe on this page, or maybe a week later they asked on a different page. And so it just gave us a real slowdown of not too much information too fast or overwhelming. But I also had that security of like knowing that they're gonna get the answers when they need them. And I didn't have to come full-force with them.

0:05:41 William Moyers
All by yourself?

0:05:43 Jessica

0:05:44 William Moyers
Right. So I wanna talk to Emi and Lina about that in just a minute about Beamer. But Robby, would you explain the role that Beamer and those books plays in the healing process?

0:06:00 Robby Bruza
Sure! So Beamer and his family and his friends is an animated book series or a drawn book series created by the man who founded this program, Jerry Moe. And these books were created originally as kind of a continuing care resource for families who would complete our in-person services. They would get these books and like Jessica is saying, get to keep reading, keep reflecting on this character and their story. And then once we went virtual, you know, Beamer become a little bit—became more into the center stage. Our virtual program, our two-day weekend program, is really driven by Beamer. We read the stories with the kids and like Jessica is saying, it's a really safe way to start exploring ideas around addiction and recovery. So that kids don't always have to be talking directly about their experience, their life, because we know. We know it takes time to get into that space with kids. So to have a relatable character who kids can talk about, who kids can learn from, and again, can keep pushing that messaging that they're not alone is just such a valuable resource for us. Kids from the youngest age of our spectrum to the oldest age continue to really connect with Beamer and enjoy his stories. And we're so grateful to have a special character like that as a part of our program.

0:07:12 Robby Bruza
Yeah so Emi, do you like Beamer? [smiles]

0:07:15 Emi

0:07:18 William Moyers
Lina, what do you like about Beamer?

0:07:21 Lina
The story.

0:07:22 William Moyers
And what does the story mean to you?

0:07:28 Lina
That he's a lot like us and scared. But he also has treatment and that helps him.

0:07:40 William Moyers
Yes. And how important was it, Jessica, for the children to learn what treatment is or what it isn't?

0:07:53 Jessica
I think it was important because I think kids are still in their whole dream world when they're little. So, they have really big expectation. And so if somebody says they're going into T&R or treatment, it's like oh my gosh, they're fixed! But we know as adults, that it's a really long, continuous journey. And there's highs and lows and so I think that the journey through Beamer shows that Beamer has highs and lows. And so, it's helping the kids understand that there's not this great expectation. And it's not like one-and-done; it's something that they continue to work through.

0:08:37 William Moyers
Mmm-hmm. And how do you take care of yourself, Jessica?

0:08:41 Jessica
I do the continuous care also on Thursdays. Where parents are connecting. And that has really helped a lot, too. You know, I've been in other Twelve Step programs which have been very supportive. But where I'm at in my area, there's not really people that have young children. So, this has been a great outlet to connect with people. Again, children—when you have children, they are not the same. [chuckles] And so, one is at a high, one is at a low, one is, you know, average. So it just—it's nice to talk with people because it's not just so much about addiction, it's just about feelings that kids go through and questions that come up. And it's been good because they're hearing the same talk, the same lingo, and we can connect that way.

0:09:41 William Moyers
Yes. And when you talk about that connection, I'm intrigued, Robby, about the importance of establishing and nurturing that connection, but having to do it virtually. How does that work?

0:09:56 Robby Bruza
You know, the virtual opportunity has been really wonderful for us to be able to keep people connected. That big word connection, right? You know, our program has always been established as sort of an intensive workshop model where people would come for four days, in person, they'd travel from far away. And then, you know, they'd go back home. And we would offer continuing care services in person but not everyone can come back to those. So the idea that, you know, virtually we can keep people connected around this topic, around these important subjects, has just allowed access to just really blow up. So we have people, you know, from all over the country who come into this Thursday meeting that Jessica's talking about. Talk about parenting, talk about the common issues that come up when a loved one is in their addiction or in recovery. And we just connect as best as we can. You know, we're in our boxes, we're in our little screens and our homes typically. And you know while there's a separation, that's not in person, I think there's also in some ways like an intimacy of being able to be in your space and connect with other people in their spaces. And it's just the convenience factor, I hear it time and time again from caregivers. It's just so convenient to be able to connect in this way. So we're really glad to have been people to step into it.

0:11:10 William Moyers
Robby, it's convenient, but it does come with a cost. Does insurance cover the Children's Program?

0:11:19 Robby Bruza
So, you know, fortunately thanks to generous donors and families who are willing to give as much as they can, we're able to run our services, really all of our services, at a sort of pay-what-you-can sort of model. Our in-person services we do have a cost attached. But, no child, no family, is ever turned away due to inability to pay. And then as long as our virtual services have been up, you know, since they were a new thing, we haven't charged for any of it. So, our weekend programs are totally free at this point. These continuing care services, weekly group meetings, are all free of cost.

0:11:51 William Moyers
Lina, I have a question for you. And I know we're doing this podcast, we're recording it today, and you all are in your home in Minnesota and I'm here in a studio in the Twin Cities, and Robby is on the East Coast—but this podcast will go out all over the country and really all over the world. So the question, Lina, I have for you is what is a message that you would give to other children? What is it that you want other children to know about your experience?

0:12:24 Lina
That I'm—that you're not alone and that you can't make them [your loved one] better.

0:12:35 William Moyers
That's a wonderful message. That's truly a message of hope. Emi, what about you? Do you have a message for other little girls or little boys who might have the same family dynamic of addiction in the family? What's your message?

0:12:51 Emi
That you're not alone and it's okay to feel sad. And have all your feelings.

0:12:56 William Moyers
Yeah. To have those feelings. Wow! That's an important message. And the ability to do that and to give yourself permission to have those feelings. When I was growing up, I didn't have that same permission. We didn't know that that was important. Jessica, how does that feel to you as a mother? To hear your children with that level of awareness and to be able to express it so publicly?

0:13:23 Jessica
Huge relief. Huge relief. When the decision was, you know, that we weren't in a safe environment anymore, I was so scared of how do you explain this to children? And how do you get them through the pain? Because you know as an adult, this is gonna be a very hard transition and it's gonna be painful. And then you have these little ones that, you know, it's tough for them. So, I am just so proud of them and the work that they have done. And, you know, I do have to say that the counselors have been amazing. The questions that they ask the children, just the follow-up questions that they can ask at a certain time, just makes such a world of difference. I think the other thing that is great that the counselors is because they're adults, this shows the kids that they're still working as adults. They had a lot of these same feelings as kids and they're working through that, too. And so I think it shows them that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. But we continue to work on ourselves. And I just have to say quick too that I would say they've been in it just over two years. I would say within the last six months is when it's connected that it's about them. And not about the person with addiction. And so they're starting to make that transition about looking at themselves.

This has also made them think of the person with addiction in a very loving way. Sure they get angry, they get frustrated, but it's not for very long. And I feel like they've just been able to keep loving that person in a positive way the best that they can.

0:15:18 William Moyers
Yeah, Jessica, that is a powerful story of hope indeed! Robby, I wanted to ask about that before we wrap it up. We just have another minute or two. And what Jessica said that it's about them and not the person who struggles with addiction. So, tell us about the access to the Children's Program. You don't have to have a loved one who is active addiction or in active recovery right now! You don't even have to have somebody in treatment themselves, you can access the Children's Program no matter what, yes?

0:15:52 Robby Bruza
Most certainly, yeah. Like I said earlier, any child who's been impacted by a loved one's use of drugs or alcohol. So typically, it is a parent, you know, who has struggled that brings their kids into this program. But it can be extended family, older siblings, Grandmas and Grandpas, we know that addiction does live in the family and moves generationally. So this is for any child who's been impacted by it. So we just encourage families to reach out no matter what position they might be in. Our counselors are very available to talk about their situation, talk what might fit right, whether it's now, whether it's later. We just really encourage families to reach out and to start getting some of that help. Again, like Jessica keeps saying, so important for themselves, for their children, because they deserve it. The whole family does deserve healing.

0:16:37 William Moyers
Healing. And healing of course is what helps to foster even more hope. Thank you, Jessica, and Emi and Lina, for joining us today with your message of hope. Robby Bruza, thank you for bringing your passion and your professional expertise to our audience today as well. Thank you all for being with us.

0:16:57 Jessica
Thank you.

0:16:58 Robby Bruza
Thank you.

0:16:59 William Moyers
[to camera] And thanks to all of you for joining us today for another edition of Let's Talk, a story of hope. I'm your host, William C. Moyers, and we hope that you will join us again. See ya soon.

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