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Do I Really Have to Start Spying Again?


lbell is seeing her husband slip back towards drinking, just 2 months out of inpatient rehab. He goes to AA only with her nudging and doesn't have a sponsor. Our member is experiencing lots of feelings as she witnesses what seems to be a gradual relapse…

© angelo mercadante via unsplash

"My Husband is approx. 2 months post-inpatient rehab (30 day stay) for alcohol use and I found out he missed one of his appointments for random testing (that was set up by him and his employer through a drug/alcohol monitoring program) as well as I found an empty wine bottle in his car. He admitted he has occasionally had a couple drinks here and there, but claims he is doing "really good" overall.

I am very upset and concerned; as this is pretty much how the pattern started back over the last couple episodes of hospitalizations for pancreatitis.

This is the first time that he went to in-patient rehab though. I want to be encouraging, but am again upset and back to square one with feeling resentful and betrayed.

I have read that many alcoholics have relapses and sometimes learn from it and can do better at trying to prevent it from happening again after a relapse, but if he is already slipping and falling back into the need/desire to drink, should I be very concerned? Does this mean he should possibly go back to rehab? He is also not consistently going to the AA Meetings (only if I ask or say are you going to a meeting this week) Also does not have a sponsor.

I just don't want to feel like I have to start being the spy and searching for the bottles again, but how do I know what is really going on? He is not the "drunk" that drinks all day and comes in drunk; it is very difficult to detect when he has had a drink. He has always been more of the high functioning alcoholic.

I just don't want to set myself up for unrealistic expectations; I just have a bad feeling that we are going backwards. I am worried that he still doesn't acknowledge that he ever had a problem to begin with."


Warning signs: despite episodes of pancreatitis and 1 month of inpatient, he's now sneaking some drinks

lbell, so glad you found us and so glad you wrote in about this issue. How old is your Loved One? Pancreatitis suggests a severe level of alcohol use, perhaps even chronic. We suggest you step in quickly if there is another hiccup. Chronic pancreatitis can be deadly.

Begin scripting and practicing the talk now (Key Observations #15 and #21 help you practice making basic requests & requests that they seek help):

"Love, I believe you when you say that overall you are really doing good. I can see it. You look good. I can tell you feel better. I also know we're not kids. We have been together XX years, and I'm more hopeful than I’ve been in a long time.

I love you. I know that even a drop of alcohol is too much for you. You cannot afford to chip.

Would you be willing to spend a minute here now, talking with me about what we should do if you have another bottle of wine? Would you be willing to go immediately back to X (inpatient program) should something else happen?"

Module 8 guides you through doing a low-key intervention and making a request that your Loved One seek more treatment. This may be what your husband needs: a return to rehab. He isn't attending AA consistently, doesn't have a sponsor, and depends to a certain extent on your nudges – this indeed feels a bit shaky. And you shouldn't have to be in that uncomfortable position of watching over him and reigniting his motivation when his own is insufficient.

AA is but one option — not the end all be all

This being said, plenty of people have had success in recovery without AA. One of the points Laurie MacDougall (guest blogger, creator/director of REST groups, and co-host of our podcast, Coming Up for Air) makes often, which I think is so important, is that we often have an idea of what would be the best types of treatment for our Loved One, and we know them so well that we can see clearly what they'd succeed at best.

But in the end, they're the ones living in their body and mind, and they must find their way, albeit through trial and error. It will be their own trials and their own errors, but their own success, too, when they find it. I recommend tuning in to the podcast for excellent explanations and examples of this stance that we, as family member practicing CRAFT, can learn to take:

  • supportive vs. directive

  • influencing them vs. controling them

  • partnering with vs. powering over

  • responsive vs. reactive

  • being their ally vs. doing things for them

  • communicating trust and confidence vs. doubt and mistrust

  • requesting vs. demanding

  • and the list can go on and on.

So, as I was saying, AA is but one option in a huge arsenal of treatment options. You may want to spend a bit of time researching what's out there and could be a good fit for your Loved One.

This post in our Resource Supplement provides a pdf doc that lists hundreds of online recovery meetings in all sorts of flavors — this is one of the silver linings of the current pandemic: online offerings have become much more varied and accessible!

Also, check out this podcast episode where Laurie interviews a recovery coach, it may spark some new ideas.

I don't want to have to spy again!

In your comment you lament the idea that you'd have to begin "spying" on your partner again. We get this, and we know it's an icky feeling. Perhaps it's a bit easier within the parent-child dynamic, as so many parents become habitual "snoopers" when their kids become teens.

But in a partnership, you desperately want to be able to trust your Loved One. The success of your relationship often feels like it depends on this. It may help to remind yourself that your heart loves his heart, and you deeply trust the person he is, in his essence … yet you don't trust the substances. And it's the substances that are wreaking havoc on his mind and body (and of course, consequentially on your relationship).

Without questioning yourself too much, or adding on extra unneeded layers of guilt ("I'm spying") or regret ("we're back to square one") or resentfulness ("I feel betrayed"), you'll be more effective if you can keep coming back to the CENTRAL question (each day, and in the moment you're interacting): Is he using right now? or Is he not? Modules 5 and 6 spell this out for you.

The answer to this question is going to determine how you respond in that given moment.

Hold up your CRAFT sieve: only the essentials remain in focus

CRAFT asks you to hold a sort of sieve to each interaction:

  • Your own emotions, worry and distress will have to fall through the holes for now;

  • What your Loved One was doing a few months ago after completing treatment will have to fall through the holes too;

  • Even his behavior or using patterns from last weekend are no longer so relevant.

Being able to determine/decide if indeed he is using (or isn't) right now, then acting accordingly, is the control you do have over all of this.

You do have the ability to behave and respond in a way that addresses his drinking, or a period of not drinking. It will certainly be a relief for both him and yourself to release some of the worry and feelings about his use/recovery/relapse from the past, and only focus on today. It will lighten the atmosphere for everyone.

Stay in the day. Look for positive change. The principles of CRAFT will help you to do this.

He (still) doesn't acknowledge there ever was a problem

You mentioned that "he still doesn't acknowledge that he ever had a problem to begin with." This is par for the course. Even during early recovery. We are categorical in encouraging our family members to drop this question/expectation altogether. Our Loved Ones feel backed up against the wall. It's often more than they're able to talk about.

Ironically, many of our Loved Ones are able to seek help, undergo treatment, and move into early recovery, all without acknowledging to those they love (and have hurt) the most, that  — so, let it go. You know it's a problem. You know he knows. So, do your best to lay those concerns and expectations to rest for the time being. Recovery is very hard. He's got his "work" cut out for him. It's not a linear process and it's far from being quick.


You, you, you … sweet precious you

At the same time you're practicing and preparing for a conversation about more treatment/next steps, we want to urge you to bring you and your own needs back into the spotlight.

You have probably been holding things together. You've been supporting him (for years?) and probably had something to do with his going into inpatient treatment. You've been worried, and hurt, and most likely living inside a tornado of difficult feelings.

A big pillar of CRAFT is guiding the family to take a closer and closer look at their own piece. By this we don't mean "what you did to create this substance problem" — not at all. What we mean is, every relationship, every family, is a system. A system works, and keeps working, because each piece/player has a role, and they keep playing it. Whether that role was attributed to you, or you took it on consciously, or semi-consciously, you have a role.

Kayla Solomon, another co-host of our podcast since Winter 2020, is an Imago Relationship Therapist. She brings this angle into the conversations and it's very enlightening to hear her explain this stuff. Without bringing any blame or guilt, she explains how when we make moves to look at our own piece of the relationship, all sorts of good things start happening. To name a few:

  • We take our hyper-focus off the "Identified Problem" person (ie, your husband) and they experience relief from being out of the hot seat;

  • We start benefitting from the attention we're bringing to our own struggles and needs (Yes! We exist too! We may not have SUD but we're humans, and we've got stuff to work through!);

  • While taking care of our own issues and learning to self-soothe in a pro-active and compassionate way, we are modeling everything we are hoping to see happen in our Loved One. Humans are very susceptible to modeling – especially when it feels organic, not pedantic;

  • Our age-old patterns of communicating and relating, which may no longer be so beneficial to anyone, start crumbling away, leaving new room for new pathways, new growth, new identities, new systems.

A couple of articles/podcasts we've published recently might be worth your taking a look at/listen to:

Finally, keep in mind that our Sanctuary is set up as a mini-retreat for families. If you know you need a moment for yourself, but there's too much static to see clearly what you could do, head to the Sanctuary and see what appeals (you'll find humor, music, inspiration, poetry, yoga, meditation and plenty more…).

Thanks again for writing in. We encourage you to partner with your Loved One on a plan for if he drinks again. Learn your own agency in this. You can influence the situation. Keep us posted.



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. Hello, I haven’t written in quite a while. My husband just passed his 6 month percent sobriety. Our life is changing and healing before our eyes. The concepts I learned on this site about natural consequences and how and when to talk with my husband has dramatically changed my life. I have peace and stability, before he ever changed. Then I was able to really help. I encourage you embrace and apply the learning here.

    1. What beautiful news, E320. We are beyond thrilled to hear of your husband’s progress, and we are of course so gratified to know the Allies program has been a life-changing part of the adventure. Thank you, thank you, and congratulations to you for all of the learning and willingness to change. OX