klsochocki seeks help with her 29-year-old son who's in early recovery but not engaging with the family, not really helping out. They've had several arguments, which feels so hard to accept, given they used to be the best of friends. Does Mom need better boundaries or are these behaviors to be expected in early recovery?
"My 29 year old son has been sober since December 30th, 2020, and lives at home with me. Received 3 vivitrol shots, and just started taking antidepressants for his MDD with anxiety. It does not seem to be helping. His has totally withdrawn and is barely engaging with me (we live alone together) and I am not allowed to ask questions, or when I do, I get snippy answers. We have had several arguments and he recently accused me of texting about him to his sister, which wasn't true. He will not get into talk therapy, or do IOP, so I had to give him a deadline of March 20th to get some help, or I will have to get some support to take my next steps and hold him accountable for his behaviors. We were very good friends before all of this, so part of me feels like I am being punished because he is uncomfortable, and part of me wants to believe he is doing this to be independent of me which he hasn't been able to do for 10 years, secondary to his addiction. He has No job, no money, and no friends, so he sits at home everyday doing nothing but watching TV and looking at his computer. He will help me out if I asked, but usually forgets. HELP!! I want to scream at him to WAKE UP! His father (my x-husband) was very much like this as well, NO motivation at all, and we are estranged from him because I set boundaries when we found out he was cheating and no longer cared for the family, after 30 years of marriage. Any advice?"
Your son has started working on his recovery, has been abstinent for 3 months, and is struggling terribly with motivation for anything in life. You've been setting out expectations for his behavior but he isn't responding well, and this is not resulting in any improvement — in fact, communication problems are starting to deteriorate the relationship. You have the added experience of similar behavior with your ex (his father), which compounds problems and creates confusion around what is driving this current situation.
I hated when people told me to step back but now I see the gifts of taking a break from the chaos
There are so many feelings, emotions and thoughts present, and I would encourage you to take a pause and work towards untangling the chaos, piece by piece. Taking a break to think about each separate part of the situation can give you a more logical, deliberate and directed plan to improve the situation.
What I've found on my journey with my son is that it's very important to find all the positives I can in each situation. However, it can be extremely difficult to identify them with all of the mayhem created by my thoughts.
So, to start, I would like to point this out: you have expressed some real positives with your son:
1. For going on 3 months, he has been working on not using. What an incredible feat.
2. He is receiving meds for both his substance use and depression/anxiety.
3. In order to receive these meds, he has to be consulting a specialist or two.
4. You two have a historically positive relationship of connection and communication. You may not feel that’s a benefit right now, but I see this as an excellent foundation to build on.
5. Finally, you clearly love your son and want to be a support to him, even though you’re frustrated and not yet clear on how you're going to do that.
All of these positives are a real foundation to build on.
The more educated you get on SUD and recovery, the better you can support them
The first step you might want to consider is to continue getting educated on Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and recovery. If you would like to read more about supporting a Loved One's recovery, see this post I wrote in response to Allies member Rhylie84. It's called "It's Okay Not to Have Hope."
I have found that the more I know, the better understanding I have of what's driving my Loved One (LO) and why he behaves the way he does. Often, people believe that once a person is ‘sober’ or stops using drugs, they'll immediately be able to just get back to a 'normal' life.
This belief that so many of us have turns out to be so far from the truth!!! In fact, a person in early recovery (and each person’s experience is individual) experiences depression and anxiety (levels, intensity and length of time vary for each person) for up to a year. It takes time for the brain to do some healing, but the good news is it can and does heal.
It’s not a surprise that your son’s struggles and behavior around early recovery from SUD — depression and anxiety — mirror his Dad's. His and Dad’s lack of motivation, extreme irritability, and difficulties dealing with life, are very much par for the course. It was that way for my son, and I hear the same from most other families I interact with who have a LO in early recovery. Because much of this behavior is a symptom of the illness, it’s important to move away from comparing him to Dad and pledge to yourself that you'll practice treating him as his own individual person.
His medications for depression and anxiety don't seem to be working
You wrote that it doesn't seem as if his depression and anxiety meds are working. This is another area I suggest learning as much as you can about. It can take months to feel the full effect of these meds. It can also take time and patience for the doctor to adjust for the correct molecules, doses and combination that will work for you son. It took a very long time, and several adjustments, to find what would work for my son. My understanding of how the medicines work is that it's actually an ongoing process, never necessarily "complete."
I bring up both of the topics above because understanding just these two pieces helped me to start setting realistic expectations within my mind for what my son was going to be able to accomplish in his early recovery. Two to three months is VERY early in recovery and not using for this amount of time is a huge accomplishment on his part.
What do you have control over here?
CRAFT teaches us to improve communications
You have expressed that the communication between you and your son has deteriorated.
This may be where you could focus, to make the most immediate, positive impact on the situation. When you have some time, go back and review Module 4, the Communication module in the eLearning center, and practice, practice, practice! This would really give you some actions you could take to promote improved communications.
To get started, would it be possible to put aside any discussions that result in arguments, feelings of frustration, and do not seem to move things forward, such as conversations that focus on his struggles and problems, or on your frustration/fear/disappointment?
Just for now. Strengthen the positive communications skills you learn through CRAFT so that when you have the more difficult conversations and have to set healthy boundaries (setting boundaries often leads to the whirlwind of name calling, blaming, shaming, strong negative emotions, yelling and crisis), you are better prepared and more confident with your actions and your part in the conversation.
Instead, purposely add in requests or invitations to spend time with you in short bursts.
This might sound like:
“I'm heading to Dunkin to get a coffee, you want to come?” and/or,
“I’m going to take a walk in the park, you interested?”
Have absolutely NO expectation that he will say yes. The expectation should be that he will say no, and will do that for quite a while, but that’s okay. No prodding or trying to convince him, just putting your offer out there regularly, and patiently waiting until the day he agrees to go. Your response might be something like:
“Okay. Maybe next time. You want me to bring you back a coffee?”
This helps to show your son that you want to interact with him in a positive way, and not just around his problems. And that he is so much more than just his struggles. It may be a while before he joins you, but when he does, it will be important to practice just spending time, whether in quiet or holding simple conversations.
Really focus on ramping up these types of interactions with him, where you aren't discussing all the negative stuff (even if there is no discussion at all); it can relax the tenseness somewhat between you. Look for things he likes to do and request to join him or invite him to engage in that activity with you:
“Hey, I see you’re playing a video game, teach me how to play!”
“How about I make us some popcorn and we watch a movie together?”
Another key of CRAFT is rewarding moments of non-use and other positive behaviors
This could look like:
“Wow, you've really been consistently attending your appointments with the doctor and sticking to your prescription regime. That can't be easy but you've really been working on it. Let’s go grab a sandwich together.”
Also, you stated that he's willing to help you around the house with chores, but he seems to forget and does not follow through. WOW, that is a big positive! This is an opportunity to create situations where he can participate in life. You can send him the message that he is needed, and has purpose (although it may be just a glimmer of light peeking through in the moment).
Would it be possible to start requesting that your son help you with things in the immediate moment? So, start simple like:
“Oh, I can't reach that can on the top shelf, could you get it down for me?” and then, “Thank you so much, I wish I had your height.”
“Shoot, I have a meeting in 10 minutes and I'm in a rush, would mind helping get the dishes into the dishwasher?” and then, “You’re a lifesaver, thank you.” It’s simple, it's in the moment, and creates an opportunity for positive interaction.
Then, you can begin to gradually add in helpful actions on his part that don't require your being there, yet still require his immediate attention, so there is less chance of him forgetting. Something like:
“Just giving you a quick call, I didn't have chance to pick up milk, could you do that for me on your way home?”
“I'm on my way home and am pressed for time with dinner. Would you get it started for me? I just need you to start cutting up the potatoes…” Then once home, “OH thank you so much for your help. I have a phone call right after dinner and this gives me a little extra time to prepare.”
You can get very creative with requests and rewarding his help!
Help them to ignite their motivation for anything at all
You've observed that your son is struggling to find the motivation to do much of anything right now. This might be an area where you could use any of the communication skills you learn in Module 4 to determine ways to encourage and support him. This could sound something like:
“I see you've been struggling to get out and start applying for jobs. I can see how anxiety can get in the way. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Start out with small steps. I often like to ask if it's even okay for me to help. The statements and questions above validate what he is going through, recognize it is not easy, and let him know you're there.
If he is open to help, practice offering up ideas without any expectation that he will take you up on them. It might sound like:
“What if we look up any jobs open in the area together or we can start filling out applications online, I can gather information for you?”
I have found that I may not get the response I want in the moment, but often (almost always) my LO starts to think about how to solve and overcome this issue! Isn’t that the goal? They learn to solve things themselves.
Remember, your son is very early in recovery. Finding and maintaining a job is a mountainous hurdle and there are many obstacles for him to manage. I have found it to be incredibly important to allow for slow progress and also missteps. My son did not find a part-time job for about 6 months, and it took multiple attempts at jobs until he found something he could be steady with. I tried to support each attempt and highlight each setback as a chance to learn.
During moments when I lacked confidence in my son, my inner voice kept telling me, if he could do it once, he can do it again, and again.
I know I've left you with a lot to look over and think about, so I'm going to stop here. I hope what I've written is helpful. Recovery is a long and involved process for our LO’s and for us.
Make sure to take time for you as well. Keeping ourselves as healthy as we can — both mentally and physically —is so important and determines how much of a positive impact we can have. Breathe momma, breathe!
From my heart to yours,