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He Doesn’t Show An Ounce of Gratitude

Mom disgruntled son leaving with walkman

readr has been able to successfully use CRAFT principles to shepherd her son into treatment and support him during early sobriety. However, her son's ingratitude is beginning to feel unbearable…

"AIR has been a lifeline for me. It has enabled me to deal effectively with my son who has struggled with alcoholism for over 10 years. Three months ago, he left a house I own that he had been living in alone, he went to detox, finished a rehab program and is currently in a Sober House. I have refused to allow him to return to the house and he is seeking an apartment. He has a job in a restaurant. Financially, I must sell the house. I have been paying all the expenses and do not want to continue. Living there has isolated him and allowed him to slip into past patterns of alcohol abuse.

He is extremely angry with me. I’m okay with that. As long as he maintains sobriety, that’s enough. I continue to offer emotional and financial incentives for sobriety (for example, I pay to board his large dog on a long term basis) I check in and offer support for good decisions.

However, I, too am now becoming angry and it’s difficult to remember his thinking is not yet clear as he shows zero gratitude for anything I do. I want to lash out pointing out the damage he has caused, relationships damaged, etc although I know that is not productive. So what can I do instead? Thank you for any advice you can offer."

I’m glad Allies is a lifeline. You have made some major changes that have effectively shepherded your son towards early recovery. He is in a sober home, working, and sober. Very hopeful.

But you’re angry at his lack of gratitude for everything you have done and want to let him have it.

When a Loved One is in the throes of active addiction, family members feel the need to focus almost entirely on the Loved One and their situation. When I meet with a family, I like to start with the question, How are you doing? How quickly the answer turns to an account of how their Loved One is doing. I understand why, of course.

In the family member’s eyes, the Loved One is the reason for the tremendous upset.

Just this week, I told my sister her daughter was showing serious signs of relapse. We needed to get her more treatment. Immediately, my sister felt the danger to her peace of mind, to her pocket book. Our peace of mind is transitory when our Loved One suffers from addiction. Her reaction was so quick, it was like she had touched a hot stovetop. She was triggered into a familiar space where life had been taken over by a dark chaos in the shape of her daughter.

All this to say that you, the mom, have been and are clearly affected by your son’s addiction but you’ve let the grievances go by, focusing more on what he was doing, and what he needed to do.

Completely understandable. However, these grievances don’t actually go by, they build up, right? For many of us, not just families affected by substance problems, the grievances build up until something makes us snap. The outburst is huge, and encompasses much more than the current issue that leads to the outburst.

What would it be like when communicating with your son to consciously think and add in a line or two each time about how this chaos makes you feel.

Learning Module 4 provides some basic communication skills, one of which is “I” statements.

I am tired

I need a little time

I am scared

I can’t let the addiction win. I love you

I’ve done what I can

I am doing what I can

The build-up from the past is harder to address, and just three months in from active use may not be the time to address it. A family meeting with a counselor and your son might eventually help facilitate a discussion.

Three months of sobriety doesn’t automatically get you gratitude either. Forgive him for his lack of insight. Taking away the house in which he could isolate and relapse forced him into a sober house after treatment. Checkmate.

Three months of sobriety, and the fog is just clearing. There is no spontaneous maturity or emotional health. That all now needs to be fostered through a continued self-exploration.

I predict your son will realize his gratitude for all that you have done. He will come to realize the harm that addiction has caused to those around him.

Your son is safe. You now have the house back and can sell it. Give us your anger. I am sure there are many on this site who could use a little space to vent. Please feel free to share.



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. I have to say it’s been awhile and just when I think he’s clean I have my suspicions. If he can sit next to me and start to nod off but tell me it’s cause he hasn’t slept. C’mon now really. He doesn’t work and I had all summer off and now I’m going back to work. I can retire at 60 this month but feel like I’ll go crazy staying home with him. He needs therapy but won’t go he needs help but won’t go. He also has ADD. He wants ME to pee in a bottle so when he goes back to suboxone clinic it will test clean. He says he’s clean but the lab is screwing up everyone’s test results to positive. When I know he’s high I can’t stand him. I ACTUALLY wish there was someone to call to get him out of my house. I seriously don’t want him around anymore. It’s not fair to me or my significant other. He’s not high everyday so I can’t have him sectioned. He’s NEVER going to get clean. I don’t know what to do. I want out. How bad is that?I got to the point where my heart aches for him but if he’s not going to do anything then why should I suffer. Why??

  2. I am so lucky to belong to one particular support group that has has made all the difference in dealing with the built up trauma I and my husband have experienced from our son’s addiction. It is unique to my town and was started by two moms. Rather than segregating substance users and their loved ones into separate groups, it includes parents, siblings, significant others and the people working on recovery all together in one weekly meeting.

    Like readr, I found as my son got better, I could finally start letting myself feel my anger at his lack of gratitude and recognition of the hell he had put us through, instead of focusing on how he was doing. Sharing in this group, I began to recognize how my hurt had caused me to push my son away as a form of emotional protection when what I really wanted was to have him whole and back in my life.

    Fortunately, the other recovering people in our group expressed that they felt immense shame and remorse for what they had done to their families and the pain of it became more acute as they recovered. They helped me understand that it was their inability to forgive themselves that often held them back from expressions of gratitude. They couldn’t yet accept that their families could still love them. And the parents like myself in the group helped those in recovery see that even though their actions had caused so much damage, how willing we were to reconcile and forgive. I was able to feel compassion and forgiveness for other people’s sons before I could mine own. Likewise, those in recovery could accept our love for them as worthy persons as a step toward reconciling broken relationships with their own families. We helped each other see each other, beyond the specific grievances of each family’s situation, as fellow travelers on parallel journeys of recovery.

    My son is a year in recovery now. I think he is doing better than we are at this point. My husband and I continue to go to several groups plus counseling because we still have so much to work through. We continue to be wary and easily jump to fearful conclusions. As the death toll from overdoses continues to rise, I try to live each day in a way where I express gratitude for one more day where he is alive and living a full life. I am all too aware it can all change in a heartbeat. I have found that the gratitude I once sought is not something I get from him, but a gift I give to myself.

    1. Oh Momdog, a giant thank you for taking the time to share this testimonial. It is extremely poignant, and I think absolutely anyone can benefit from reading it. The support group sounds amazing, I am so glad you’ve had this resource in your town, available to you and your husband and all of the others it has helped. Your comments on gratitude seem to be right on, from my point of view—indeed, it makes so much more sense to practice giving this gift to ourselves, daily, rather than waiting for it to come from someone else. And of course, when we manage to truly cultivate that state of gratitude, it becomes contagious, affecting those around us in a beautiful way. Best, Isabel

    2. Momdog,

      Thank you for your response. It echos my feelings and probably predicts my future responses. I am also wary and keep my son at a distance to protect myself. It is very helpful knowing others share my feelings. I wish us all continued progress in coming to terms with our loved ones and ourselves.