A 12 Step Program For The Special Needs Family 

Everyone needs a 12 Step Program- you’ve heard it here first! And perhaps no one needs this more than special needs families. But what exactly does this mean?  How would 12 Steps make a difference in my life? Now, you may or may not agree with this premise, or even understand what  I am saying, so let me further explain.. 

I’ve attended Alanon support group meetings for many years  in order to understand those beloved ones in my life who struggle with addiction, as well as those who are now  in recovery. The Alanon program is based on 12 powerful, life-changing principles. These steps are truly “a blueprint for living” for those of us who have been profoundly affected by the addictive behavior of others. Over a very long period of time, I slowly came  to understand  how my own behavior could also have a positive or negative impact on these relationships. I also learned  what creating healthy boundaries with others meant and how to take care of myself. It was all about “keeping the focus on me”and not interfering in others affairs. This was definitely not easy! I wanted to give unsolicited advice to be helpful,  but I learned repeatedly that this practice  would hinder the recovery process. Over time, I realized that these same 12 Steps could also be successfully applied to other  life challenges. Sooner or later, each one of us will need a life raft to navigate stormy seas, lest we drown…

It was during a low point last winter,  when  I realized that the 12 Steps could be my roadmap to parenting my special needs son. I  had felt a great deal of despair  and  depression earlier this year- the dark, cold weather certainly didn’t help, but it was much more than that. My husband travels frequently for work and during that particular time, he was in Japan.  The long distance exacerbated my loneliness and feeling of isolation. Brian was having severe sensory issues and transition problems last winter. The school day was being adversely affected, as well as the Home Therapy program during this time. Brian kept throwing things, turning lights on and off, getting frustrated, etc.  I felt so utterly powerless and out of control. It’s especially during moments like these that I wish with all of my heart that Brian could just speak- any words at all! Like a doctor, I just wanted to “cure” my son of what was ailing him in that moment. I fell asleep hard one night  out of sheer exhaustion and really did not want to get out of bed the next morning. Once I got Brian off to school, I went about my daily routine and happened to open up one of my Alanon daily meditation books to the page where the 12 Steps were listed. Although I had read them hundreds of times before, this time, my interpretation of what I was reading was different..Call it a “light bulb moment”( I truly believe it was Devine Intervention), but I was prompted to go back to the Alanon 12 Steps and read them again, gaining a new perspective..I concluded that these very same steps could be applied to raising a child with disabilities. Or any major challenge in life quite frankly, but since this is a special needs blog, I will explain from this point of view, so here it goes: 

Step I

“I admitted that I was powerless (over Brian’s disabilities), that my life had become unmanageable.”

This is absolutely true.  I am powerless over my son’s disabilities; I can’t make them disappear. I wish I could! The fact that I can’t frustrates me, especially when Brian is adversely affected by his challenges. I feel life becoming unmanageable when these episodes happen. I hate that out of control feeling, but, I have to remind myself that I am not helpless. I try to provide my son with the love, support, and resources that he needs, to be the best person that he can be- this is emPOWERing. My life becomes more manageable when I know I am doing my best, one day at a time. It’s all about progress, not perfection. I must remind myself of these truths when the going gets tough. Feelings are not facts.

Step 2

“Came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity”

I believe this with all of my heart, even when I don’t feel it. I call this Power greater than myself, “God”.  I have seen evidence of God’s Power throughout  my life, both in trials and tribulations. I believe God restores my sanity in the special needs journey with Brian and will always continue to do so. He made  Brian, loves him more than I can imagine, and has created him with great purpose in mind. I have been privileged to witness Brian’s powerful impact on others, just by being who he is. Most of these encounters have been heartwarming, but certainly not all of them. Regardless, I see and understand that Goodwill Ambassador Brian has an important job to do during his time on earth, and is a vital link in the chain, just like each one of us. I cling to these truths like white on rice and remind myself of them when I feel I am going insane during those very difficult times. Like a new exercise, it takes time, patience, and practice for these things to take root. I’m relieved that I can be restored to sanity, well, at least most of the time! 😊

If you have read all the way to this point, you are to be commended!  I will continue with the remaining 10 Steps in the next blog and pray you may have been encouraged in some way by this one. Until we meet again, thanks for reading! 😊👍🏻

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