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Coaxing the Little Scared Animal…

hand extended

AiR member esta4 has been working on how she communicates with her Loved One. She recently wrote in with an update and some questions:

Dear Dominique,

I actually have seen my son drunk only twice since he left detox at the end of January with lists of potential programs for him to consider. (During his stay, the social worker tried her best to get him to commit to a program so she could call and schedule it for him, but he said he would take care of it after he left, and, of course, he did not.) This is a part of the problem-he drinks alone in his apartment. He does not drink socially because he rarely goes anywhere or sees anyone, and he does not drink on family occasions when he attends them. He is clearly embarrassed by his drinking.

Since my husband sees him every day, he has seen a pattern since detox. He does not appear to drink every day, but seems to binge on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The communication skills between father and son are poor at best due to my son's attitude. When he gets belligerent, my husband just walks away (and shares it with me later).

So, I told my son I needed company for dinner on Monday because this is one of his sober days lately, and he agreed to go out with me. I had previously read module 4 and made a plan to start with small requests and work toward bringing up rehab. While our conversation was pleasant enough, he stonewalled me. It went something like this:

me – I feel you are bothered by something. Is there something you want to talk about?

him – Not really.

me – You were able to talk with me up until a few years ago, and I'm still ready to listen without comments.

him – That's good, but I have nothing to talk about.

me – You don't seem very happy about your life.

him – It doesn't matter.

me – Can we plan on going out together once a week?

him – I don't know, maybe.

By this point he seemed to be getting a little irritated so I backed off. I had hoped to bring the conversation around to looking at the programs that have been suggested for him, but it seemed like he was done. So, was my conversation too much like a parent? He did contribute to the bill. He had to stop at the grocery store on the way home, but I did not go in with him as I might have done in the past. I'm struggling between my need to parent my child and his need to get help.

Thanks for "listening."

You’ve made some small but essential changes

Dear esta4,  You’ve taken some important first steps in changing parts of your relationship with your son that are under your control. You took a page out of the Module 4 playbook, and put in place some critical changes. These changes may seem small, but they are exactly where your influence lies for helping your son.

1. You are figuring out the patterns of his drinking. With the help of your husband, you are more sure of which nights he drinks and when he doesn’t drink.

2. You picked Monday night, a night he is unlikely to drink, and created a situation that is rewarding to him (a meal out in a restaurant). The meal out is also an opportunity for you both to connect and share a light moment. You created a moment when your son can perhaps enjoy time with his family while he isn’t drinking. It’s a moment for him to perhaps notice that there are other things besides drinking that can feel good, maybe even a little.

3. You sat in the car while he went in to get groceries. In the past, you might have gone in with him and been tempted to pay.

I applaud your efforts.


To sum up:

  • You created a rewarding situation for your son when he wasn’t drinking;
  • You created a moment to connect and remind him of the good feelings that come with family;
  • You reinforced that bridge between you, an ease in communication that will help him speak to you when he is hurting;
  • And finally you pushed the responsibility for providing food back onto your son by staying in the car when he needed groceries.

I commend you….hurray!!!!!  Well done.

We worked with a father who likened the building of a bridge between himself and his son as “coaxing the little scared animal out of the woods.” We were working on ways to connect with his son, ways to show his son that a loving hand was there, reaching in, ready to pull him out of the woods in a moment when his son felt scared.


Become an ally, let go of the parenting

Your Monday evening dinners are a great example of setting the stage for “coaxing the little scared animal out of the woods.” The hard part with this coaxing, and as you describe with that dinner, is this overwhelming urge as a parent to force your way into the woods, by getting heavy and asking your son about his hidden life. The moment you do, your son backs further into the woods.

Any parent would want to step in and fix what is so obviously broken. An ally, conversely, does things a little differently by creating a safe environment that is conducive to getting help to fix what is broken. 

You are rewarding non-drinking moments, reinforcing the bridge of communication, and you have given him the list of treatment and recovery options. You are creating that environment.


Once the stage is set, you wait

Now, you wait. This is the toughest part. Conversation at dinner should be kept light. Wait for your son to poke his head out (wait for the wish or the dip)…. You’ve got treatment as ready as it can be.

With all this in place, you’ve done what you can to provide an important pathway out of drinking for your son and help towards recovery.

You’ve made it as easy as it can be for your son to turn towards you when he is ready to ask for help.

It’s quite a dance. The social worker at the detox reached in at the wrong moment and got rebuffed. Similarly, you reached in and got shut down at dinner.

Your son is embarrassed by his drinking – good. He’s gone to detox, a sign to him that things are indeed serious with his drinking. You and your husband are creating THE most conducive environment possible for your son to get the help he needs.

Thank you for writing in. Your experience is so important for all of us.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Dear Members of Allies,
    I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Dominique has been a great help during the last three years as we watched our son’s life fall apart due to alcoholism with some drug use, mainly pot. Sadly, our son passed away in April just two weeks after he tried to return to the program he has been in and was told he had to start from the beginning. He had gone days at a time without drinking and had decided it was time to turn his life around and get the help he needed. When he realized it would take weeks to return to the program, he got drunk on ethanol extract which he purchased easily over the internet. Ethanol extract is easy to get; any computer-savvy teen can acquire this 150 proof alcohol. The label says not for human consumption and may cause organ damage if consumed. We now know that this was not the first time he had consumed ethanol extract which is currently not regulated and is shipped through the U.S. Mail.
    We found him drunk because he missed an appointment. The next day he contacted a private therapist and made two appointments. One was March 30th and the other was April 5th. He was finally making a commitment without being pushed. I give you these details because on April 3rd we found him in his apartment laying on his floor begging us to help him. We called an ambulance and sent his most recent purchase of ethanol extract along with him. He died on April 6th of methanol poisoning. The ethanol had been contaminated with methanol. His symptoms were not recognized until it was too late to give him the antidote because methanol poisoning is not common or is not recognized.
    There is currently a federal investigation and the manufacturer of that brand of ethanol extract has been closed. The FDA recalled all of that brand. I tell you all of this because the product is still available from other companies, and I believe my son is not the only alcoholic to do this. I have devoted many hours to providing information to the government in the hopes that some day this product will be regulated, and no other mother will lose her son this way. Before my purpose in life was to help him find his way; now my purpose is to educate others and find justice for my son.

    1. Dear Esta4,

      Thank you for making us aware of the passing of your precious son. It has been a long road for you, what a terrible, tragic loss. We grieve alongside you as his journey has come to an end. I don’t believe any of it is without meaning, there’s purpose in all things—even the dark, sorrowful experiences.

      It is so important for you to share your story, when you are ready. Many do not know or believe that this is possible, or that alcohol use can be deadly. Lots of people believe they are invincible – or maybe too smart about it – to be at risk. But this is not the case at all – for anyone! I hadn’t heard of straight ethanol, let alone ethanol that might be contaminated and fatal, or that there is an antidote if correct information is known. So already you have educated at least one family.

      Your son’s life is important, your family’s story matters!! Your sorrow is not in vain, you have such important information to share. Please know that your Allies in Recovery family will continue to stand beside you, we are here to give as much support, strength and comfort as possible.

      When someone we have great hope for passes, the hope transforms to honor. You are proof of this already, with your courage and kindness directed to the education of others. What a treacherous alchemy…but I believe you will give great honor to your son with your efforts.

      I don’t know what you personally believe, but I believe our Loved Ones will be with us again one day and in that I find comfort and hope.
      We grieve your loss with you and are just a call, message, email or text away if you need someone.

      With respect,


    2. How devastating to hear about your son. I am so sorry. The fight to overcome addiction is traitorous. Along with the dangers of tainted ethanol poisoning, which few know about, your account details the grips that addiction had on your son. He tried repeatedly. Your account highlights the desperation, the efforts to reach out for help, the ambiguity when the available treatment wasn’t right or wasn’t immediate.

      The pain of finding your son. It is hard to even think of what you went through.

      While the experts, politicians, and funders argue over which program should be funded and who shall pay for it, I ask all of us to fight for one solution: treatment on demand.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to esta4 here:

    3. Dear esta4,
      My thoughts and heart goes out to you and to your family. You are amazing to be thinking of others while dealing with your loss. I wish there was more I could say or do to make things better for you. Just know that there are many of us out here that care and appreciate all that you are doing. Sending thoughts of love and caring to a family that continues to give of themselves when faced with such difficulties.

  2. After 12 years of coping with our adult son’s alcoholism with the last 3 being the most difficult, a police officer directed us to an involuntary section 12 at our local hospital because our son was harming himself and his behavior while drunk made us fearful. While I knew about chapter 35, section 12 was new to me even though we had taken him to the emergency room several times. The emergency room had a behavioral pod which knew how to handle his issues, however, they were going to release him the next morning, and that is when I made them listen to me. I told them I would not come and get him, that his behavior made me fearful, and that he would be right back there within the week. They kept him on an involuntary section 12. Yes, he was angry with me for a few days, but once the detox became less severe, he realized the value of where he was and extended his stay with a voluntary section 12. He is in the locked behavioral health ward which is somewhat intimidating, but leaves there next week with an entire rehab program in place and the understanding that slipping means another stay in that ward. Until the police officer gave us this information, we were floundering. A quick email to Dominique also brought the support I needed. AIR is a Godsend and so is our local police department. We are praying for a full recovery with the knowledge that we now have the tools for that possibility.