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I Want to Find Peace in My Relationship with My Mom

Mother daughter relationship

jenniferp found this site and realized she was going about things in an unproductive way. With CRAFT, she is learning to reframe her concerns, and avoid topics and conversations that will just make things worse. Her mom's health is dire because of her addiction. Should our member just accept that she can't turn this around, and make peace with the situation?

© Nathaniel Kohfield via Unsplash

"My situation is a little different as my mother's addiction is food. She grew up in an alcoholic home and prides herself in not being an alcoholic, yet her addiction surfaced as a food addiction. Growing up I recognized that she was always on a diet and looking back I recall seeing empty candy wrappers and empty snack food packages, but didn't really put much thought into it. Now that she is in her mid 60s and I'm in my mid 40s it has become evident that her health is horrible and directly related to her food addiction. She binges on large quantities of snack foods and then hides the evidence and lies about what she eats. I have tried everything to encourage, help, inspire, shame, praise, threaten, guilt, cry, yell, offer to help with diets, research different programs, recommend books, recommend specialists, pay for therapy, pay for treatment, etc…

I pretty much have tried everything you are supposed to, and not supposed to do. The reason this has become such an issue in recent years is she has had multiple health issues that are directly related to her food addiction. She has been and continues to be morbidly obese, has high blood pressure, has had a cardiac event, broken both femurs (femurs are not easy bones to break), has had to have knee and hip replacements because of pain from excessive weight, she has sleep apnea and requires oxygen at night to breathe, and her mobility is significantly declined because of her most recent traumatic surgery that required a 10 hour surgery, and 3 months in a rehabilitation hospital (fell on the carpet and broke her femur off into her artificial hip hardware). She has told me on several occasions that she is addicted to food and I started researching the topic and looking at her behavior…

I saw that it is truly an addiction and it is so hard to watch her slowly kill herself. I sat her down and calmly expressed my concern for her health and my fear that she is killing herself, and she accepted all my contacts for therapy, book recommendations, specialist contacts, and online resources… She said she would get help and do what it takes to get better. The concern for me is that I have often left my kids in her care and now that she is a walking heart attack I can't imagine leaving my kids with her for more than a short period of time. Also, my kids are now starting to recognize her binging patterns of eating because she does it in front of them, thinking they won't know… but, they do! The only reason I am so involved in her current journey is because I am an only child, she lives by herself, she needs me to help take out her trash (I can see all the wrappers), and other household things because of her limited mobility. If I abandon her, she has no one… But, it is also unbearable to watch your mom slowly and emotionally eat herself to death. I'm also a dietitian, which looking back at my childhood… my profession clearly was influenced by my desire to not be like my mom… Even though this has only recently been in my conscious awareness.

Anyway… My reason for joining this group was to first figure out how to talk to an addict and the modules were so helpful. I'm now aware that my negative, hopeless, desperate comments weren't appropriate in making her want to seek help. I kept thinking if she loved me and my kids enough, and if I could make her aware of what she was doing to her health that she would want to seek help, but she's broken and can't find it in herself to seek treatment & help.

I'm currently working on accepting and loving her where she is, but I go through so many emotions of anger, sadness, frustration, and hopelessness on a weekly basis. I know I can't fix her, and apparently I can't convince her to seek help, but how do you find peace in your own life and move past the resentment, frustration, anger, sadness, and hurt of a loved one just continuing in their addiction with no end in sight. I now know to keep my thoughts to myself and I avoid all conversations about food, health, fitness, etc… Because I know she will just lie and honestly I doubt most things she tells me, because the lies are just continuous. Please someone… I want to learn to find peace in my relationship with my mom and if I can't help and stop her, how can I find peace so that I can be present for my immediate family that needs their mom to be present and not consumed by grandma's addiction ?!?

I apologize for the length of my question…I just wanted to give some background."


Food addiction is a real addiction

First off, thank you for coming onto the site. Food addiction is indeed a real addiction. Your comment is a heartbreaking glimpse into the life of a person who is chronically overeating. You give important descriptions of both your mom’s situation, and the emotional pain and great frustration (etc…) of the person who loves her (you!).

Where there are adverse childhood experiences (ACE) there is often addiction

Many of us will certainly relate to having food issues. If we come from families with addiction/mental illness we are more likely to have some kind of either. Coming from a childhood in which there were adverse events, like violence or the divorce of parents, also increases the likelihood of addiction and/or mental illness (see the ACE section of our Resource Supplement).

Addiction looks for an object (like alcohol or gaming) until it lands on the one that best satisfies the person’s itch. The more the itch gets scratched, the deeper the trench becomes.

Behavioralists would say the mind "overlearns" to use that object as a substitute for coping, boredom, and perhaps risk taking. Here is a series of short videos from our colleague John Fitzgerald that explains some of the fundamentals of addiction.

Addiction is object-based and the "object" can change

One of Dr. Fitzgerald's main points is that the object of addiction is very likely to change, when our first and best choice is no longer available to us. So, like Leah’s comment in early Nov describes: Her son went from opioids when put on Medication Assisted Treatment to crack and beer, when the urge for opioids was addressed. His itch wasn’t the opioids, it was the urge to get high, and the object, for a while, was opioids, then it switched to another "object".

“My son started smoking crack years ago while on suboxone. He claimed the suboxone calmed the physical cravings but not the mental. He found a way to get around the suboxone and get high. Less chance of overdosing on crack and beer than on heroin. Sad logic.”

Food: a socially acceptable place to start

Food is also an early addiction for kids, since eating food is socially acceptable. But it can change as the person comes into contact with certain food objects like sugar, salt or carbohydrates, and to other objects of addiction, like alcohol, or drugs. Your mom was programmed to stay away from alcohol, she had told herself she would not be like her parents, so her addictive behaviors started with food, then settled there.

So, if the object of addiction changes, food as object certainly offers several benefits, especially social acceptability. We all must eat. Furthermore, overeating is less consequential (though this is debatable) than most chemicals a person uses to alter the present moment. Less consequential perhaps, but the description of your mother’s health suggests that, like many objects that can be overused (drugs, process addictions, food), your mom’s health is in real danger.

Is CRAFT viable for a food addiction?

We have members who have tried CRAFT to address other addictions like gaming, gambling, and smoking cigarettes. CRAFT is a set of universal principles that apply to all human behavior, with very few exceptions. Humans respond to rewards. Humans respond when those rewards are removed. We all want to be paid attention to, and to feel the warmth and love of family, to belong. Removal of these things pains us.

Your children sound young, but not too young to understand what's happening to grandma. So they’re in the game, so to speak. We don’t recommend asking children to do CRAFT, but the children are likely a huge reward to your mom and need to be considered as such, when you look at how to practice CRAFT with your mom.

When it comes to CRAFT, different “objects” of addiction can have different challenges. Gambling, for instance, is hard to detect in the moment. Families often learn of a gambling run from bank statements and things that show up after the fact. Food, too, is difficult because the signs are hard to detect, and your mom is hiding the worst of it. You are seeing signs of it in the trash, but it is too late then to respond to CRAFTily.

Evidence of “using” after the fact is only helpful in informing you of how your Loved One is doing. Evidence can also be used during a treatment talk (Module 8):

“I don’t want to argue about whether or not you are in trouble again with your eating/drugs, here are just some of the signs I gathered in this past month .  I want you to know I am here to help when you want me to.”

Remember Module 8 asks you to wait for the right moment to have this talk. See segment one to learn more.

Applying CRAFT to food addiction

You have spoken to your mom and offered her a list of detailed resources (make sure Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meetings are on your list). Your mom agrees with you and says she will address the eating problem. But she doesn’t. But she may. You now have used your influence well, having done the planned conversation with your mom. CRAFT can further help you take what you’ve been doing and tighten it up, by putting it in a simple framework with the buckets that will help you see things more clearly:

The "Use" bucket (See Module 6) should include:

  • Just before she starts to eat,

  • the time while she's eating,

  • the period just after eating, as well as

  • the withdrawal period, when she is perhaps embarrassed or ashamed, or may feel physically ill, from all the effects of overeating on her digestion.

The "Non-use" bucket (See Module 5): Perhaps you are only sure of this when she is at your house. But there are likely other times you can be sure to some acceptable degree, like just after getting up. Perhaps her binging food is sugar or salty things or processed carbohydrates. A moment of non-use would be any time she is avoiding these particular foods.

You are close to doing all that you can for your mom. The path to treatment has been researched and the doors are wide open. You have given her the list. You have told her how you feel.

Polish up your communication & your observing skills

Communication can always be improved. It can be helpful to periodically review the Communication Module (#4 – How Do I Talk to My Loved One?), for a quick tune-up.

Communication also includes what not to talk about: in your mom’s case, “her eating problem”, “her claims of willingness to go to treatment”, “her health issues” and so on. Keep it light and warm if she isn’t overeating/withdrawing in the moment, or walk away if you do see use. There are moments to raise these hard issues (refer to Learning Module 8) when your mom is showing a little willingness to change/seek help, but we recommend that you resist the urge to intertwine these topics into regular conversation.

Responding in the moment of use (Module 6) is important to CRAFT, and hard to do when your Loved One is addicted to food. So yes, when your mom eats obsessively, or is sick from having binged on food, you step away, allow natural consequences and remove rewards (your presence, your children's presence…). Again, you would look to just tighten up this distinction between how you and your family behave when she is using and how you and your family behave when she is not overeating.

Module 3 takes you through a set of questions that aims to sharpen your observational skills. Don’t skip this. It will be hard to answer because the addictive behavior is overeating, but it should still prove quite useful. I wonder if you could keep honing these skills so that you can learn to judge more easily when your mom is about to overeat or has recently overeaten.

There is not much else I can tell you, you’ve been at this for years. Tighten up how and when you step in, or step away (Modules 5 and 6), by better seeing the patterns of your mom’s eating (Key Observations Exercise #4).

You wrote: “I know I can't fix her, and apparently I can't convince her to seek help, but how do you find peace in your own life.”

I disagree with you that you can’t help your mother— you are helping her and will do so even more now that you are learning CRAFT. Yes, your mom will need to do the fixing.

I also disagree that you can’t convince her to seek treatment. You already did one good Module 8 "planned talk". Your mom has the treatment list, and she knows you are concerned.

By seeing things more through the lens of CRAFT, I hope you'll be able to parcel out the little things you are doing right and what you may need to tweak. Discard those things that don’t work and that eat up your valuable energy and patience, and accept the premise of CRAFT. You’ll get a much bigger bang for your buck.

How interesting that you chose to become a dietician! Seeing your mother hurt herself with food must feel especially devastating to you. Whether or not your mom addresses her addiction to food or not, you need peace. Take frequent breaks with the specific aim of tending to your inner garden. The Sanctuary can give you ideas.

Again, welcome to this site. Here is how we propose you move closer to that peace:

  • Follow the framework outlined on this site;

  • As you learn about your mom’s addiction (Module 3), what to do in its face (Modules 4, 5, 6), and how to engage her into treatment (Module 8).

    Don’t skip Module 7, which is a quick review of one major principle behind all cognitive therapies: we all have the ability to watch our thoughts. It’s a skill we can learn. Paying attention to how we distort thoughts towards the negative, towards catastrophe, rage, or paralyzing fear, can help cut them short. Learning that we are coloring our own thoughts and feelings, and that we're capable of gaining some control over this, is one helpful step.

  • The comments and questions members send in, provide readers opportunities to find a little light, a little pause, when life involves someone struggling with addiction.

    While you can’t step off the coattails of a Loved One with addiction, you can step back so that their twists and turns don’t affect you as much as before.

    This site helps you see the patterns better:

  • We help you be even more intentional in your responses,

  • We guide you to do the treatment research to open the doors to treatment, and

  • We are sacred witnesses to each other as we share the depths of despair or the moments of peace we can feel, and this reminds us to focus on peace, which encourages it to grow.

Welcome to the site. We're so glad you've already found it useful in changing up your game with your mom. We wish you continued success and relief as you work the program. Keep us in the loop!



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"...)