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Could Your Thinking Be Distorted?

boy in shadows mom reaching out
Illustration © Eleanor Davis

One Father's Experience

“My son’s grip on recovery is weak and should be stronger. But I don't know what to expect at this point…”

Recovery is a process, which includes more than just reducing or stopping a drug. Families place all their hope on the event of stopping, yet be prepared for hard emotions to continue, as this father recently described to me…

My 25-year-old-son remains in the sober house, and all is about as I wrote last week. That is, he reports going to meetings, admits he does not yet have a sponsor, says he is communicating with a sober coach from (treatment), he is not yet working (apparently looking though), and he realizes he has to spend more time in the house. We saw him for lunch on Saturday and he looked good and seemed more relaxed.

But I tell you, like nothing I have ever done before, this waiting and standing by as he ever so slowly moves forward is taking a toll on me in all dimensions—physically, spiritually and emotionally. It is all consuming, even though I know I have no control, and I should not, as he must do this, not me. I feel like I am walking along the edge of a deep, deep pit; an abyss. Ever more frequently, my mind falls in there and becomes enwrapped in the enormity and depth of this problem and the weight of that thinking tries to pull me down—almost into despair. I don't like that word because to me it signifies no hope and I do have hope and faith that this can straighten out. I suppose I am in some state of depression. I know I have become withdrawn, somewhat isolated, fatigued, and sort of emotionally flat. The gym and work are outlets. I don't even feel anger anymore about this situation. Maybe resigned. Ugh.

My wife thinks we need to sit with him and have an adult conversation regarding the toll this whole ordeal is causing us. I don't think he is ready or maybe even capable of understanding.

As you said, I see him still self-centered and not really focused on the needs of others. His communication with us is sporadic. Not that it was regular before all this happened. I just thought that by now he might see us as partners in his recovery rather than critics of his efforts. I feel this tension between him and us. I know I have said this before. I believe he sees our attempts at encouragement as a nuisance, an intrusion, rather than how it is meant. What person, or parent, would not offer encouragement and support when faced with someone, or their child, in his situation. But, is it productive? I don't know.

Well, on the good side, he is approaching 60 days in the sober house, 60 days of contact with others trying to make it, 60 days on a recovery road that can lead him to success. Those are all important things for which I am most grateful.

Distortions in Thinking

It’s important to remember that putting down a drink or a drug doesn’t instantly fix bad habits, low or no skills, or the other struggles of life, including mental illness. Your Loved One’s progress may continue to be a bumpy road and slower than you would like, and you may have uneasy feelings about this. Your feelings are also part of the process.

In Module 7: How Do I Care for Myself When Negative Feelings Get in the Way?, we talk about the distortions in thinking that can arise and how thought distortions can aggravate how you feel. Are you overly focused on the negative? Do you have a case of the shoulds?

In the scenario above, what’s the evidence? The son looks good, seems relaxed and is doing what is expected from him at his sober house: passing urine tests, and speaking to a recovery coach. He is 60 days sober! He knows he needs to find work but may not be moving on it. Maybe AA isn’t speaking to him since he hasn’t asked anyone to be his sponsor.

It is totally normal to want your son back whole as though the addiction were but a blip in his life. But the truth is, it’s going to take time for him to find his motivation to develop the skills, to find things that are rewarding to him without the need of a drink or a drug.

If you’re finding it difficult to pull yourself out from a place of despair, you may need additional support from friends, family, or a mental health professional.



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. It is easy to feel impatient with a loved one’s progress when we have been waiting, hoping and praying for so long for their recovery and now they are in it!

    I like this module’s comment about the ‘shoulds.’ it reminds me that it is my loved ones process, not mine and my “job’ is to take care of myself and stay present with the reality that is now not the past and not the future — the “one day at a time” approach.