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I Want to Trust Him Again, But…

Flower in hands - trust

AiR member fanochoklit's son is soon to return from rehab. How will she manage to get past all of the distrust that has built up from his stealing, lying, hiding…?

"Our almost 18-year-old son is about to be discharged from a rehab after a little more than 5 weeks. He has been working hard (he asked to go there) and his relapse prevention plan looks good (in writing). I know this "re-entry" period is critical –I want to give him credit for the work he has done and I want to show faith in his ability to succeed (while realizing that relapse is more common than not). My stumbling block is in my (in)ability to trust him, specifically because he clearly engaged in illegal activities while actively using…aside from breaking into lock boxes at home and taking our car/using my credit card without permission, things began to appear around our home that he has no good explanation for (multiple watches, various electronics, an xbox, as well as stray pieces of silver, etc). Circumstances even suggest he may have stolen from friends. I do feel that he was "not in his right mind" when involved in these activities, and when he is thinking clearly I believe his moral compass is *not* antisocial, but I am having a hard time reconciling these actions and not feeling judgmental, as I'm frankly appalled. I'm also very nervous about the temptation for him to re-engage with whatever crowd he was mixed up with, who clearly had an influence on him and may have even expected criminal behavior in exchange for access to drugs. Do you have any advice to help us move forward? He will be stepping down to a partial hospital program as a transition and then starting an outpatient group and returning to an outpatient therapist in a substance abuse program, while also attending NA meetings."

There is no other disease, with the exception of some mental illnesses, that have such a large and negative lifestyle component. We often hear how a substance disorder is like diabetes, a chronic disease that demands a lifetime of attention. Well, it’s not exactly like diabetes. Diabetes wouldn’t have you stealing from your parents or others, joining a network of people who get along by doing harm, lying, and/or tricking well-meaning family members into meeting their drug needs.

The behaviors of someone who has come to exist for a substance can be terribly hard to accept. Imagine water were illegal and scarce. What wouldn’t you do to satisfy your thirst? The line over which you would step is remarkably thin. Once crossed, and once you've found what you were so desperately seeking, the action taken to get that water to satisfy your thirst becomes deeply reinforced.

Trusting someone is a process.

When someone has broken your trust, that process of completely trusting again will take time to build back, perhaps years.

You can love someone and not fully trust them. This has got to be okay for now.

Ask your son to be honest and open with you if/when something happens that makes you feel mistrustful. Explain that this is for you as much as it is for him. Describe what it feels like to not trust him and how you want trust to be restored between you.

Your son has spent time being dishonest in his actions and his interactions. He will falter going forward. Can you let the little things slide? Let him stumble some. Walk away when you see it? Be sparing in the incidents that you choose to bring up with him. Make addressing them with him count. Be calm, loving, and curious….here's an example:

"I need to ask you about last night. Every bone in my body tells me you weren’t where you claim to have been. I want you to know we are working on recovery together, both yours and mine. Help me to understand what happened last night because my distrust of you right now is physically hurting me. Honesty right now is what I need."

If you find yourself unable to exist within these shifts in trust, perhaps a little family counseling will help.

He'll need to gradually change his old usual…

You also speak about your fear that your son will be led back out towards active addiction and bad behaviors by his old friends. This is indeed a concern going forward. People in AA talk about the need to change people, places, and things (that’s all). Peer supports like NA can provide a replacement community for those friends. You can’t take away old friends without replacing that vital human need for friendship and companionship. The groups at the partial hospitalization program and self-help meetings can be a lifeline for friendship, as well as a source of positive new recovery messages and ideas. Is there a young peoples’ NA meeting? Is there a young peoples’ AA meeting? Lots of people with drug problems are sitting in AA. AA can be more established in some communities and have more people in meetings who have longer periods of recovery. Opening yourself to AA as well can provide your son more options for meeting young people.

I spent some time a couple years back introducing my niece to AA. We found this huge young peoples’ meeting in a church basement in Boston that became her home group. I had never experienced that kind of energy. Young men from south Boston, with their shaved heads and tattoos, speaking of love and the message of recovery. The strength and maturity of those young people was truly amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I was a little concerned about leaving her there, the energy felt like a cross between a cruise bar and church…it took your breath away to walk in. She did well and got up the courage to go back, again and again and she stayed sober. Her drug of choice was opiates and benzodiazepines.

Adopt the CRAFT stance

It is so good to hear your son chose to enter treatment and completed it. Not many 18-year-olds do that. He has his aftercare plan and a family who loves and supports him. The road will likely still be a little bumpy. The eLearning modules on this site describes a stance by the family that is loving, supportive, flexible, patient, and educated about addiction. You get off their coat tails; you let them twist and turn some, feeling the responsibility of their own actions; you don’t hover. You focus on yourself and your needs as much as you can. You find things you enjoy doing.

Thank you for writing in. Regaining trust and the importance of friendship are important topics. We really are going to find an audio of thundering applause that you can click on to play ….



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. My son was in rehab for 5 weeks last Jan/Feb, and he turned 18 in June. Prior to his stay at rehab (which he requested) he was often volatile and hostile, but after settling into their program he was a model resident, and when he came home I felt like we had our son back (he was much more of his old affectionate self). It was a relief to finally have some positive interactions; he seemed really motivated to work with us around rules and expectations. He also seemed proud of his sobriety, and we celebrated his milestones with him. Although It was a challenge for me to trust him after his history of dishonesty, instability, and theft, our relationship and communication strengthened over the 6 or 7 months after his return.

    Recently, though, things have spiraled downwards–in the last few weeks he has grown distant and hardened. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint when this happened…he has had increased freedom since we allowed him use of a car primarily to go to therapy, 12 step meetings, and a GED class (he pays for the gas to use the car for any other reasons)…but he stopped attending the GED class and seemed to stop going to meetings around the same time. He is still out of the house for extended periods, though; in fact we hardly see him since we leave for work early in the morning and we are in bed before he comes home (he does honor his 10:00 weeknight curfew, we are just tired!). He also started to once again become verbally abusive towards me and one night he made a verbal threat (this kind of thing used to happen all the time when he was using but I had not seen it since before rehab). While I did not feel unsafe, I did let him know calmly that if he was assaultive I would call the police. The recent explosions have always been around me setting limits, or, more specifically, calling him out when I’ve caught him doing things he knows he shouldn’t be doing–i.e., one day he left the house early in the morning when I specifically asked him to take the dogs out in the afternoon, and another time I walked in the kitchen and found him vaping, which we’ve had a long standing rule against inside the house. In each instance he started swearing at me, calling me a bitch and other vile things things I’d rather not type.

    Obviously I am suspecting relapse. He has drug screens when he goes to therapy and when he turned 18 we had him sign a release giving us permission to see the results; however, unbeknownst to us the law changed after that so when I went to actually check his recent screens I learned that we no longer have access (his therapist says he has refused to sign an updated release but based on his refusal we might assume the screens are positive). When he quit the GED program we told him he needed to be doing something productive with his time to continue using the car (i.e., take a different class, get a job, or volunteer) and when it looked like he was really going to lose the car he took a job with ridiculously long hours (9 hours a day 6 days a week) and not surprisingly quit after 3 days. He has supposedly filled out applications since then, but a new position has not materialized.

    The problem is, he is not motivated to get a legitimate job because all signals indicate that he has returned to his old habit of selling drugs (something he has admitted to in the past). He does not seem to have goals for improving his life and doesn’t seem to believe he can be successful in a more socially acceptable way, whereas he has spoken with pride in the past that he is “good at selling drugs.” He has flashed cash in front of us and I’ve found receipts indicating he has bought large denominations of Visa cards and used them to buy bitcoin. Although he did withdraw about $1500 from the bank when he turned 18 six months ago I do not believe he would still have these large amounts of cash (the withdrawal was his explanation for currently having a stack of bills); furthermore, he continues to see his therapist at least weekly and she has expressed concern that he is going to end up in jail (without giving us specifics as to why).

    This is heartbreaking to me–he’s extremely smart and has incredible talent and potential but he doesn’t believe in himself and he doesn’t stick with other things long enough to experience success. I am sad and bitter about the whole thing…I feel stupid for being hopeful that he would remain clean. Worse, I feel embarrassed and ashamed–I can wrap my brain around addiction being a disease and I know that once that switch has been flipped in the brain addicts don’t feel that they have a choice about using. But, this criminal behavior IS a *choice*! And while I have combatted stigma to confide in trustworthy people about his addiction, this activity seems to demand secrecy–he is making a profit at the expense of others’ health and well being, and while I can understand it makes him feel popular/successful/powerful, it truly feels like an immoral activity to me. It is very hard for me to feel loving and affectionate towards him when he is doing something that I find so clearly objectionable.

    His therapist shared that he is very consistent about seeing her at least once a week (which we of course pay for). She also says that in spite of their regular contact with one another he seems “unreachable.” He has a relatively new girlfriend (still in high school) and her parents are OK with him sleeping there on weekends. He is very buddy buddy with her dad and his therapist said “that’s not necessarily a good thing” (could the dad be supplying the drugs?)

    In my heart I am clear that I don’t want to support or enable our son in his unhealthy choices, but all that emotion makes it very hard to think clearly about what action my husband and I should take. Part of me thinks we should set criteria for our son to stay in our home and/or to drive our car (i.e., access to drug screens, insistence on respectful behavior, expectation that he be working) but another part of me feels like outlining these things is just delaying the inevitable since they have actually all been spelled out before. I truly appreciate that the CRAFT model is positive and not punitive, based on connection and relationship, but our relationship is very much deteriorated. He does continue to make efforts to be somewhat responsible at home–i.e., he takes care of the dogs at least one day a week, takes the trash out, and sticks to his curfew. I am very intentional about thanking him, but other than that I hardly have any opportunity to have positive interactions with him. I do ask him to be home for dinner on Sundays but he is constantly looking at his phone and is very short and hard to interact with. I feel like we are making it too easy for him to do what he is doing. Also, it is not as if he would admit to selling, so we can’t really put that into our reasons for evicting him. If we ask him to leave, his girlfriend’s parents might take pity on him and let him stay there, and I am torn whether to make them aware of his issues. I would hate to see him jeopardize her education, and if I were in their shoes I would definitely want to know if he is (even potentially) involved in criminal activity before taking him into my home. On the other hand I would like to preserve my relationship with him with the hope that we may in the future be able to have a positive influence and support him in seeking treatment; if we sabotage things with the gf and her family I think he will go ballistic. His therapist says that his relationship with the girlfriend seems “stabilizing,” and I also don’t know where else he could stay. I’m happy to give him a list of treatment options though I seriously doubt he would be willing to consider them; I don’t think we could provide him with a couch and a footlocker without his having access to the rest of the house (and if he gets worked up enough I don’t trust him not to do damage to the house–he has broken into the house in the past when he didn’t have a key, and he has snuck “friends” in without our permission, all before rehab).

    I don’t want to alienate our son, but I also don’t want to be liable for any criminal activity he is using our house or our car for. I just feel at such a loss for how to proceed and would appreciate any guidance! Also, if any parents out there have success stories for how their kids got *out* of selling drugs I would love to hear that! Thanks for giving me a safe space to express my concern and anguish, I really appreciate it.

    1. Your son returned from rehab just shy of his 18th birthday. He did well until recently but has since relapsed. You suspect this is the case and your description of the change in behavior does suggest it. He has stopped going to 12-step meetings and to GED classes, he’s skipping some therapy appointments, yet continues to use the car and is gone for long periods. You believe he is also selling drugs, something he did prior to entering treatment.

      How upsetting it must be to see your son blossom after rehab, only to sink slowly back towards drug use, dishonesty, and criminal activity. You are discouraged, even ashamed, by your son’s choices, especially the drug dealing.

      You have considered many of the things CRAFT recommends. Your son went to treatment once and did well—he can do it again. He likely will need more intensive treatment again. People who sell drugs and abuse drugs don’t succeed for long.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to Fanochoklit here: