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How Do I Show Him Love When He Avoids Me?

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$ister4 is no longer willing to play the pretending game with her brother (51, meth user). She seems to have hit one of her own limits and is ready to do whatever she can to improve the situation, which has deteriorated over the last couple years. He lives far away now and is avoiding her texts/calls. Is there a CRAFTy way to show him love and start repairing things?

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"Thank you Isabel for your time and words of advice. I am very hopeful that we will learn a new positive way of dealing with our relationship with my brother and he will seek the help he needs. My mom is also highly involved in this relationship and struggles as well. I plan to get her set up with her own account and watching the modules and learning.

My brother is divorced and very blessed to have an ex-wife that cares so much and is involved. She however, is currently very tired of the fight and chooses to stay uninvolved. She does believe he is using, but doesn't believe it is to the extent it was when we did the intervention. She also believes that their daughter will be smart enough to get out of situations that she feels are unsafe.

In the meantime, she feels she can't ask questions to her daughter about her dad, as she gets extremely defensive and angry and causes a lot of turmoil in their relationship. Therefore, she is choosing to ignore the problem and hope it is controlled. I believe his daughter is being highly manipulated to believe that he would never use drugs again, therefore, I can't bring it up to her as well, as she gets very angry at myself and my mom. I am trying to support her and gain trust in this relationship so that if she ever needs to turn to me, she will feel safe. She is going to therapy, but I am not sure how much they discuss her dad and his issues. Thankfully, she doesn't live with her dad. She spends time with him throughout the week, but doesn't stay at his house often.

I know it is best to leave her and her dad's relationship to her and her dad and her therapist. It is hard to be on the outside and see the manipulation, but I do take hope and faith that she will be safe and come to myself, her mom or her therapist if she feels she needs to.

Is there anything I can do to help his daughter recognize the signs/symptoms of his use in a way where she doesn't feel I am attacking her or her dad? I worry for her safety as she rides in the car with him often. In years past, when we knew he was heavy into his addiction, he would smoke meth in the house while she was there, carry his drugs/paraphernalia around with him and her and drive her while under the influence."


comment #2:

"My brother, who lives 2 hours away, agreed to meeting up and talking about what each of our needs are and what we will do to help one another. He most often won't answer his phone and ignores texts from me. When I sent a text confirming the date/time to meet, he avoided the text and hasn't responded back. I have sent a following text just stating I was just checking to see how he's been and that I kinda expected to hear back from him about getting together. Still nothing.

His avoidance, along with many other signs, make it clear to me that he is back to using. I so badly want to be there for him and get my brother back. I know I need to avoid negative talk, but how do I use positive talk and get anywhere with him if he won't respond to me? I believe he knows that I think he is still using, as we have made comments in the past. He denies his use and claims I am judging him. I am certain that this is why he is avoiding me and didn't follow through with the meeting.

How do I show him love when he avoids me? Do I send him texts every now and then, just saying, 'thinking of you' with no expectations to hear back from? Or, do I give him the space and wait for him to reach out to me, knowing that it could be months?"

$ister4, you are posing great questions. Let me try to help sort some of this out

So, to summarize: your 51-year-old brother struggles with the consequences of his ongoing methamphetamine use. A  few years ago many of your family members participated in a professional intervention on your brother, and he subsequently spent time in outpatient treatment, followed by 6 months of non-use during which he stayed with you and your husband, doing better but not doing any sort of treatment or therapy. Since then he has returned to his home state and you (as well as his ex-wife) believe signs are pointing to his using again.

Today, you are concerned about several things:

– Deteriorating communications with your brother, who often avoids being in touch with the family, and wants you to believe he is not using; recently he agreed to a conversation with you but then stopped responding to your texts;

– The well-being of your niece, his daughter, 14 years old, who has likely been manipulated by him (including his guilting her for her participation in the intervention); your communications with her have become complicated because her father's addiction is a prickly, triggering topic for her, and she's become defensive. You are also concerned about her physical safety when she spends time with her dad, as he has been known to drive under the influence;

– Your brother's ex, your niece's mom: she's been an ally to you over the years, and watches over him. She, like you, believes he is using again, but she has been burned one too many times and now prefers to keep her distance;

– The upcoming holidays: you've shared that Christmas is a huge pull for your brother, and the family (understandably) is still hoping that you can all be together this year;

– You have come up against your own limits: you realize that the walking-on-eggshells of the last holidays is not something you're willing to do again (and to what end, anyway?). You desire authentic and honest communications with your brother, you want to help him but you are no longer willing to go along with his games (pretending, denial, avoidance, etc…);

There is a lot weighing you down right now, $ister4

It is truly wonderful that you have decided to honor your own instincts more and that you are committed to finding new ways to help your brother and move the situation forward. It is equally wonderful that you have found Allies and are set to dive into the CRAFT method, the only approach that has been proven to be effective for people like you, aiming to help family members like your brother.

You are about to start filling your toolbox up with skills that work well. Yet you simply won't be able to solve all of the problems you have described.

We want to start by reminding you that Self-Care is essential for those who practice CRAFT — the more centered you can be, and the better emotional balance you have, the more effective you will be with your quest to help your brother. If worry gets the better of you and/or you try to solve all of the issues listed above, you'll likely be too burnt out to be truly effective and helpful.

CRAFT does take some time, though results can start appearing surprisingly quickly

I do want to underscore that CRAFT was designed for people living with, or in very close vicinity to, their Loved One with SUD. That being said, throughout the years that we've been running this site and working with all types of families, we have come to have a clearer vision of the ways CRAFT can be applied with far-away family members.

Options include:

– text messages

– phone calls

– video calls

– letters

– visits

For more ideas, see our recent post, The CRAFT Travel Bag: What You Can Do When Your Loved One Is Far Away.

We also recommend that you do your best to gently suggest CRAFT/Allies to any family members that may live closer, and have influence. See this recent post in which we guide a member on using CRAFT communications on his potential family ally, before aiming his sights at the Loved One with SUD. I understand that your brother's ex-wife has not wanted to get involved, but using CRAFT you may be able to find the right moment to gently suggest Allies in Recovery, simply asking her to check out the videos and see what she thinks.

Where do you start? With you

Right now I'd recommend that you start by going through the (non-exhaustive) list of concerns above and looking at it from an outsider's perspective. It is beautiful how much love and good intention you have to help your family members. Yet trying to take responsibility for too many things, and too many other people's problems, is a recipe for spreading yourself too thin and losing your vital energy.

Which of the concerns listed above feel like something you could ostensibly have some influence or control over?

Which feel like ones you could commit to releasing your grip on for now (despite your understandable concerns)?

Give yourself a couple of goals for now. Ten is too many! CRAFT is going to put tools in your hands. Constructing one project at a time will allow you to feel more focused, enjoy the feeling of succeeding, and give you more power for the next project.

Next steps for helping your brother: Rebuilding that bridge

Once you've readjusted your aims to something more doable and realistic (here's a wonderful post by Laurie MacDougall that really looks at readjusting our hopes and expectations so as not to set ourselves up for failure), you can get to "work".

The situation you've described is one many members of this community can relate to. When addiction is present, emotions are big, tension rides high, bridges get burned.

Thankfully, CRAFT is an amazing resource for rebuilding the bridge. We use the image of the bridge purposefully, not just because of the "burning": a bridge can be rebuilt, and once it is in place, our Loved Ones can choose to walk right over it, towards you and the help and support you are offering.

What does this rebuilding look like? Disarming and changing your stance is at the core of it. You'll be working on:

  • eliminating all negative talk from your communications with your LO (this includes more subtle forms of negative talk, like 'Seeking to persuade' or 'Interpreting or analyzing reasons for use" — Watch Module 4 and look at Key Observations Exercise #14)

  • looking at your part in the relationship, and owning that part; it is disarming for your LO to hear you owning your own tendencies, eg: over-worrying, seeking to control the outcome, etc.

  • reaching out to your LO but expecting (and asking for) nothing in return; a concrete example of this would be switching from text messages in which you ask questions (even something as innocent as "how are you?").

Bridge-building at a distance

You asked about the frequency of the messages you send on a regular basis, and whether you should keep sending little messages, reminding him you love him, you're there… vs. giving him space, which could turn into months.

I guess I'd recommend something in between. Send short, neutral messages of love and support often enough for him to not forget or convince himself you don't care, but not so often that he feels you're suffocating him. You know him best, you will find the balance that feels right.

Your last comment suggested the text for a message you're thinking about sending, given that there had been some interest on his part in speaking with you, then he disappeared from your radar. You suggest writing:

"Hey Bro, I know you are probably feeling uneasy about visiting. That is ok. I understand and can give you the time you need. Reach out when ready. I'm always here for you"

I'd say the idea is a good one, letting him know you don't want to pressure him and that he can take all the time he needs. I'd even remove a bit more: the "I know you are probably feeling…" is of course well-intentioned, but could be more than he is ready to admit to himself right now. You and I know that your intuition is probably spot-on, but we ideally want him to come to these realizations on his own. You are providing the non-judgmental space for him to be a bit more honest with himself and you.

So, something closer to this maybe:

"Hey Bro, I understand if you're not ready to talk. I can give you the time you need. Reach out when ready. I'm always here for you."

Keep the image of the bridge rebuilding fresh in your mind's eye. Keep finding little ways that you can add a stone to your new bridge. Sometimes those stones may be nothing he directly receives, but 15 minutes you take to write him a letter in your private journal or a walk you take in a place that reminds you of him and sweeter days past. Or a prayer you make for him and his recovery.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, you may want to send a more specific treatment-related offer, such as:

"Hey Bro, thinking about you. Reach out when you're ready for help with treatment. I'm always here for you."

Your gut is your friend

In the previous post we wrote for you, we encouraged you to trust your gut about whether or not he's using. You can't know for sure, because he's living several hours away, you're out of touch (for now), his ex-wife prefers to stay out of it, and his daughter is too mixed up about it (not to mention, too young) for you to rely on her information.

CRAFT asks the family member to look at whatever information they have in front of them and make that decision each time they're in contact with their Loved One: "Yes, he's using," or "No, he's not using." You have repeatedly pointed out the signs that tell you something is wrong, he's likely back to using (in general). In the meantime, unless there are indicators to the contrary, you can adopt a more neutral stance (neither coming in close to reward, nor withdrawing rewards).

So many of our members could tell you that the nasty behaviors you've described coming from your brother — the blaming, the accusations about judgment on your part, the lying and deceit — are par for the course with addiction. It doesn't mean he has become a bad person, it means he is being controlled by the substance. The real him is still under there, as so many people in recovery could tell you now.  

When teens are involved — what is the appropriate level of involvement?

Let's talk about your niece and your concerns for her, for a moment. Everything you brought up is valid. Being worried about her well-being given that she spends time with her dad (including him driving her places) when he may be actively using, is completely understandable.

You are not only physically far away from the situation, but you know that her mom is aware and choosing to trust her ex, your brother, with the well-being of her teen child. She also trusts her daughter to be able to stand up for herself when needed. I really get your desire to protect her here. Yet this may be one of the items on your list that you have to loosen your grip on.

As for your niece's involvement in communications with the family around her dad's using, you've pretty much come to the same conclusion as me: given everything she's been through, including the confusion resulting from his trying to influence her to believe certain things, it feels most safe to give her some space on this topic right now.

However, you can be practicing CRAFT communications with her now. Rebuild some of the trust that she lost in you and the family when she got uncomfortably thrown into the middle of an ideological battle.

Leave all inflammatory subjects out. Practice the gentle, no-expectations communications that you're working on with your brother. Just keep reminding her you're there, you love her, and let her come to you when she's ready.

I almost added "you miss her" to the list but then I changed my mind. When you look at that statement energetically, vs. "I love you" or "I'm thinking of you," you can feel the need, the pull, that she might read into it. "I miss you" could easily be translated by someone who's on the defensive as "why aren't you here? why aren't you calling?" This is nitty-gritty detail here, but while we're on the topic of what to say and what to avoid saying, it never hurts to give our habitual communications a look from a new angle, under a different lens.

Finally, I wanted to draw your attention to the ethical question of whether, and how much, adolescents should be drawn into their family's practice of CRAFT. We recently looked into this subject, and a colleague also weighed in. Read the post here (scroll down 2/3 of the way to find discussion of adolescents).

I know this is a lot to digest, and perhaps reading it over several times may help. Please know we're here for you as you embark on this journey. 



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"...)