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Are Her Attempts at Sobriety a Means to Manipulate us?

father on front steps talking to daughter

AiR member GudgeonPintle wrote in with this comment:

"Not allowed in my house unless she can pass a drug test. Mother asked her to move out after driving her younger sister under the influence. Boyfriends parents were filled in (boyfriend also probably using). Lying to everyone where she is and staying at a "friends". Two years, 4 relapses and I am just so tired yet I want her to want to live and don't know how to reward her attempts at sobriety when they seem only a means to manipulate us."

Trying to tease apart genuine efforts at sobriety from those designed to get something from you can be maddening, partly because even your daughter couldn’t tease them apart if she tried. 

Life Under the Influence

Life under the influence happens minute by minute. One minute you’re fed up and scared and you reach out. The next minute your internal “evil twin” appears to talk you into a scam that will help you score. People you love be damned.

Annie Highwater writes in her recent memoir (Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching From The Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction):

"I was fighting for Elliot’s life more than he was; in fact, I was fighting for Elliot’s life against him. At some point, you realize you can no more prevent your child’s death by overdose or any other drug-related situation than you can from a car accident or cancer.  I could do everything possible to not make it easy for him, but I could not pull him out of it.” 

Measure your influence in degrees

Measure your influence in degrees. Create the best immediate environment for your Loved One that is possible, and then do your level best to let go of the rest.

You can’t protect or control your Loved One out of addiction.  You can work to clean up your part:

  • stopping the ways you may still be enabling the use,
  • stepping in and rewarding moments of non-use,
  • getting that list of treatment ready, and
  • watching for the right moment to bring it up.

While your Loved One’s behavior is victimizing, try not to feel like a victim. While your Loved One’s behavior is clearly directed at you, try not to take it personally.

As your daughter spins around in active addiction, take a small step back to see it as it is, to see it as its own cluster of powerful behaviors. Relapse, attempts at sobriety, manipulating family in order to use…. This is the cyclone.

Your comment has to do with deciphering efforts at sobriety from something that looks similar but is designed to manipulate you in order to use. If you’ve been tricked, don’t despair. You are up against a cunning adversary.

What is their behavior like right now, in this moment?

So much of what is taught on this site is to be done in the moment. We ask you to forget yesterday and to not focus on tomorrow.  What is their behavior like right now, in this moment?  Make those rewards small and easy to give and to take away.  A scrunch on the back, a look into her eyes and a smile. 

I believe though, that your comment may have to do with the bigger rewards, like a place to stay, money for food, gas….the material things. These are indeed tricky rewards as they are much harder to take away, when you discover she wasn’t sincere.  Material rewards can free up the dollars she needs for her next fix. Almost anything can be converted to cash to buy drugs. An item of clothing can be returned to the store.

Perhaps she is saying yes to some form of treatment, only she continues or starts to use again. Reward the desire for treatment, perhaps dinner after a session with the therapist…pull back when she pulls back from treatment.  All of this should be assessed day to day. 

Realizing your influence is in degrees can be freeing. You're responsible for what you can do in response to her: a small step in when she appears to be sober, a small step back when she’s using.

Make your rewards smaller for now

Let her struggle with the living situation and the material needs.  Since you’ve been burned, make your steps smaller and more immediate for now. When she gets a little more stably sober (90 days+), perhaps you can then start to support her need to get back on her feet.

The hard part is holding this line for what feels like an eternity. You’ve been at it for several years, and you may be at it for several more. The modules on this site provide the framework for the stance that works best for your Loved One, and for you. The long-term goal is peace and a good quality of life for both of you.  Find a measure of it for yourself today. This will give you a little more strength when responding to your daughter today.

Our thoughts are with you. 



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"...)