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I’m Not the One Who’s Sending Him to Jail

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Member 1Sugarbear has been caught in a long cycle of “bailing out” their Loved One after every relapse. Sometimes it’s been money for rehab, sometimes lawyers to keep him out of jail. Is it time to break that cycle? Loving someone doesn’t mean shouldering responsibility for all the choices they make. 

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     “How can I explain to my son why I will not pay for another lawyer without shaming him? He is looking at more jail time and possibly prison. It breaks my heart, but our family has spent so much money on rehab and lawyers and he always relapses. We told him as he left the last time that we love him but will not help financially when he gets in trouble again. Now he is pleading but not doing anything to lead me to believe he is serious about recovery. He just doesn’t want to spend more time in jail. He can’t seem to understand why I am “letting him” go to jail for a probation violation. I don’t know how to keep saying that I’m not letting him do anything. He chose to use again and break a few laws while high. He jumps from meanness to pitiful pleading and back. I hold my stance, but I’m so rattled by the time he’s finished I feel like I am the one doing something wrong!”

He’s pushing buttons because he knows that’s worked before

My initial response is that he is bullying you, including the “woe is me” pity-party part. These behaviors are designed not so much to hurt you per se. They’re designed to push buttons that make you snap to attention because they hurt or scare you. The difference is subtle but meaningful. Anyway, when you sense you can do so safely, try not to snap to attention (figuratively or literally).

As you know, CRAFT has the family member identify ways to reward their Loved One (in moments of non-use) and remove rewards, including your presence, in moments of use. Or in this case, in moments of behaviors you don’t wish to reward.

Some rewards you may currently be giving him, whether or not you’re aware of it, include:

– your attention in general,

– helping him lawyer up,

– the possibility of getting him out of this new jam,

– listening while he holds you hostage talking endlessly about himself and the criminal justice stuff: thus keeping you close, in the fold, helping him feel less scared about the circumstances.

Could the support you give take a different form? 

Your son feels helpless, caught, and you’re one of his main outs. Not his only out, probably, but Mom is dependable and has been a source of cash and emotional support over the years. She mops things up. She will do it again if he complains enough.

What if you tell him the money that you have left can only be spent on recovery help, when he gets out and is ready?

Hold your stance. Your son is likely going to turn up the volume at first when you change things. But hang tight, and we predict he’ll start to settle when he sees you’re serious. Any amount of time you can keep this boundary will be time well spent, pushing the responsibility incrementally onto your son and off of you.

Stepping out of the role he expects you to play 

Whose responsibility is this addiction, anyway? Where did it come from? Early family life? Childhood peers? Genetic vulnerability? Adverse childhood events? The government? The wider social, political, and economic forces that have created an epidemic of loneliness and despair in the U.S.?

None of the above. In his mind, the responsible party is Mom. Somehow you are in control of whether he goes to jail and whether he is held responsible for crimes he recently committed to get or stay high while on probation.

Consider letting him work with a public defender, and sit pre-trial in jail, if this is what happens because of the new violations. Try hard not to bail him out.

A probation infraction, due to drug use/addiction, should get the attention of the court. The court should recognize that the nature of the charges and the probation infraction are related to underlying addiction.

Courts, in turn, are recognizing that treatment for addiction is the better way. Today more and more folks like your son are being mandated to treatment. Public defenders know this well.

Let the system into your son’s life. I’ve written some about jails (click on the “jail” tag to the right). They aren’t always the hell holes families imagine.  Shaming isn’t helpful, perhaps something like this:

“Son, we have gone around and around over the years when it comes to your drug use and the trouble it causes you. I’m afraid this time, I am the one who is going to try and step away some. My/Our money isn’t endless, what I/we have left I am saving to help you get back on your feet when you are ready to try recovery work. I/we therefore do not have the money to pay for a private attorney. I hate addiction and what it is doing to our lives, you and me. I love you and am not going anywhere.”

Your own wellness is part of the equation 

Step away from responsibility as best you can. And at the same time, go easy on yourself. Not intervening will take strength and energy just as intervening has. CRAFT can help: Module 7 offers training and strategies for self-care.

Take it incrementally. Perhaps you start by not paying for a private lawyer. Whatever steps you take, remember that the path ahead must be emotionally tolerable for you as well. You must care for yourself in order to care for him. Please let us know how it goes!


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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"...)