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Loved One Sticking With Old Habits, Pushing Boundaries

Woman up at night ruminating

Hopefulin2018 seeks clarification on boundaries. She has drawn some clear lines and this does feel helpful. With CRAFT, communications are less antagonistic and this too feels like a step in the right direction… But as her Loved One continues to use and push boundaries established for the household, the issue of what the family will and will not support becomes more pressing.

 This is such an important post [How I Learned to Set Boundaries that Bring Me Peace and Well-Being] and I find myself reading and rereading it. Thank you for sharing your insight and experience. I relate to every one of the challenges of boundary setting, and as I'm learning more about CRAFT, I'm starting to understand boundaries much better.

However, I feel like I've been at a standstill for a couple of weeks – just coasting and keeping the chaos at bay (for the most part), while my son continues to use and not experience any natural consequences. I'm trying to define what my boundaries are, but I'm struggling. Read this member’s full comment here.

You’ve started reacting differently to your son when he uses… "we won't support him in getting his license, we don't do his laundry, won't give him rides to friend’s houses who he uses with, don't wake him up to go to school, and we step away when he uses.”

The CRAFT approach was designed for what to do in the moment. When he looks high, pull away, remove rewards, allow natural consequences. If he looks straight, step in, and reward.

Over the years we’ve learned to apply CRAFT to the larger issues that surround the individual: college, cars, housing (go to the topics list on the right for these and other topics).

The family has influence and can create the immediate environment most conducive to lowering use and asking for help with addiction. It doesn’t, however, MAKE them stop or MAKE them see the light. As you say, this is up to them. By following CRAFT principals, you are applying your influence in the best way possible. We hope that by knowing this you can relax just a little more with the knowledge that you are doing what is most likely to work. Remember: 70% of Loved Ones get into treatment with CRAFT.

None of this is easy. You’ve made changes, but your son is still using. You’ve set the scene around him, you’re keeping it up, and now you wait for your son to get sick enough of his habits or want more for himself that he comes to you for help.

So knowing this, the key is patience, patience… and more patience!

Your son is searching for things that interest him: the sports, and now drumming in a band. These activities feel good on their own and can be seen as competing with the use. This makes me hopeful that he wants something more in his life than sleeping until noon and using until 2 in the morning. And he sees your willingness to support these types of activities. This type of positive attention is a nice shift from the focus on negative patterns and the things you don't want him to do.

What more can you do? You’ve mentioned some of the possibilities. You can say don’t come home drunk or stoned. You can lock him out if he’s not home by curfew…

Here’s a possible way to frame that conversation:

“I felt so proud seeing you play with that band. You looked in your element. The band is a good example of you grabbing hold of things that excite you. It makes me happy to see you searching for a direction.

Coming home high at 2 in the morning, though, felt crushing to me. From now on, when you get high, please just call and tell me you will not be home. I don’t want to see you back here until you are not high anymore. So, from now on, stay away when you are high. I get very worried about you, so please call me and let me know if you won’t be home. Hopefully if you do this I will at least be able to sleep. If you are not home by (curfew time), from now on, we will assume you are high and will see you when you come down.”

Your son is ignoring the curfew anyway so perhaps we switch it from COME HOME, to DON’T COME HOME.

This is the first small step to transitioning him out of the house. I heard you: you are not ready to “kick him out.” In the meantime, let’s help him to feel his agency, though – what it’s like to be out in the world on his own.

Could you try something along these lines? You are clearly working hard to make changes. It continues to be very impressive. I know I am not in your daily life. I appreciate that it is very difficult to keep all this up, and not see much change. CRAFT is all about these small changes that collectively help light the path towards treatment and recovery. Keep shining this light. You’ve been so open to change. Thank you for this openness and dedication.



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. I am struggling with the not coming home part with my daughter. We have told her we don’t want her home when she is using drugs and she usually doesn’t come until the next day. I have asked her to let us know if she won’t be home as we worry about her safety.and I go out of my head worrying. But her pattern is to ignore my text or call and not respond until the next day. I understand the letting them experience the let them be out in the world on their own but my adult daughter also has type 1 diabetes’s and has had some dangerous , life threatening consequences from both low and high blood sugars while drinking. My heart says at least when she is home I know she is alive. I am so afraid that if she is gone for days at these friends homes where they are doing the drugs no one is capable of knowing if she is just sleeping it off or is actually having such a low blood sugar that she could go into a coma. My fear is fuelled by one episode where she landed herself in intensive care because she drank so much and went into diabetic ketoacidoais. I wished that consequence would have been a learning for her but sadly her use of drugs has increased. She has recently admitted that she has a problem with drugs and said she wanted to get help. We had a list of possible resources, and treatment options ready and said we would support her in getting help. We told her she should be very proud of herself for realizing she needs help and we love her and want her to be safe and healthy. We have been working so hard at the CRAfT method and withdraw our attention as much as possible and keep it matter of fact once she is in the crash phase and have been rewarding the periods of non use. She appears to use very irregular. Sometimes not for months then periods of 2 weekends in a row. I struggle so much with what to do when it comes to what to do when she is so incoherent after she has binged and is back home. After she uses cocaine she will sleep for days and she lives at home. We have let her experience the consequence of having to fill her shift or missing her classes at university. So far she has not had any consequences with her graces as she manages to keep those well in spite of her actions. What do we do in those days after? I don’t go out of my way to cook meals etc but just go and test her sugars if need be or treat a low. I feel so conflicted and I feel I could never live with myself if she passed away from the consequences of this. Please any support and ideas would be so appreciated.

    1. Such treacherous ground you are on. Your daughter is at high risk of hurting herself, mixing alcohol and now cocaine with a health condition such as diabetes. She can do well for months at a time, and then seems to break out in a binge, putting her physical health gravely at risk.

      You’ve hit on the central, raw, and painful point in this whole picture — those thoughts like “my child will die if I don’t protect him; my daughter will die if I don’t keep her out of harm’s way; I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if…; at least when they’re home I know they are alive…” Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to this family member here:

  2. The level of support and encouragement from you is incredible and certainly has played a HUGE role in helping me recover from my addiction to my son’s addiction. Thank you so very much.

    I feel confident I can do what you suggest without letting fear hold me back, but I’m recognizing I fear what might happens when he tests me and I want to be as prepared as possible. Let’s say he does call and let me know he won’t be coming home for the evening. What if he comes home, but crawls right into bed and stays there to work off his hangover? I’m thinking I could say something like, “Thank you for for respecting my boundaries and calling to say you wouldn’t be home. I can see you’re still not feeling great so I’m going to leave.” Is that enough?

    On the other hand, he could come home and act like everything is fine and no big deal that he was stoned and couldn’t come home. Although that would be upsetting to me, is it appropriate to thank him for not coming home and calling me, and then step in – keeping in mind each day is a new day?

    How would I handle it if he comes home banging on the door (stoned) and his ride home already left? Do I let him in or turn him away?

    I do think this approach is going to be a shock to him. He’s so used to me engaging and being attached to his addiction and I think he’ll definitely test it because this is taking CRAFT to the next level and is very different to what we’ve done before. I’m not sure how he’ll handle it, but the scenarios above seem very plausible.

    A million thank for your sincere efforts and support. It means the world.

    1. There are a number ways to get around you should your son decide to ignore your request that he stay away until he is no longer high.

      It is going to be quite a shock. Hard to know what he’ll make of it.

      If he sneaks back in your house, or tries to appear straight when he isn’t, or if his buddy leaves him at your front door, you’ll have to be very neutral, and go into “he’s using” mode, “I see, you’re home.” “Goodnight.”

      Perhaps when he’s calm the next day, you mention “what I need to be okay is for you to stay away AND to let me know you’re okay. ” “I am serious, my nerves are frayed and I need to sleep.”

      Set up and try again. Not everything works….I appreciate your willingness to keep trying!

      1. Thank you for the follow up. I’m re-listening to podcast #55 on attaching/detaching right now and I’ve read the blog about the daybed and footlocker. Each is deepening my understanding and adding to my strength to do what I need to do in light of what his reaction may be. It will be interesting…

        1. I wish I had found this site 25 years ago when our daughter (40 now) first showed signs of trouble. I know now that I enabled her and constantly thought I would be able to straighten her out. She has wasted her life away in so many areas and now faces the results of too many years without total natural consequences. Podcast #55 helps me as well. I have finally stepped away and don’t try to insert myself into her addiction. We can no longer talk about it at all which is what she has been pushing for these past 25 years. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
          As I have stepped away, she has kept in touch somewhat through texts. I really need to rebuild my own life as my monkeys are wreaking havoc as well.

        2. Parents want to help launch their children. They provide financial and other supports, but when that child struggles with drugs and alcohol those supports end up in the service of the addiction not and independent adulthood.

          You have done what you thought best and it would have almost certainly worked had your daughter not struggled with addiction.

        3. gptraveler,
          First, I love podcast 55. Thanks. In many, many ways i’m in your very same boat. Yesterday there was so much news about fentanyl busts, methamphetamine busts – my sons favorite drug, I felt inclined to share the articles with my son. As usual his response is he doesnt have a drug problem. He does think fentanyl is what killed his friend in January. I replied that the articles were interesting – maybe help to figure out why some can survive drugs and others just can’t. Yes pretty positive he will not read. Sometimes I just dont give a damn about not talking/sharing any truths. He went to funeral of friend that od’d the 1st week of January. In his parents house behind a locked door. Thats the 4th one in his group of friends. One this year, 2 last year, and 1 the year before. Who’s next. I know its typical for addicts that are bouncing around from house to house, to leave when they can and leave all their unwanted crap. Son has just done this again. Yet another new start/chance for him – although he doesn’t see it that way. He deserves it all in his mind. After breaking bedroom door, furniture, hole in wall,etc after I last kicked him out, nothing has been fixed. Only taking what he wants, left the trash for three families to deal with. The most confusing part are the texts I received in the past days from him angry that noone in his family (myself, his brother or dad) have called or come over to see how nice his place is. Not EVER acknowledging the mess he left each of us. NEVER grateful, thankful. This new beginning has happened for him so many times in the last 4 years.. But never once would he face its his addiction problem. I feel there is permanent damage to his brain. He just does not see the truths.
          My brain and life are damaged too. A few calm days then come the bad days. Im thankful for sending out my thoughts today.

        4. I can feel your combined frustration and exhaustion. I have been there many times. I found it helpful to put some space on the turmoil. I called it taking “sanctuary moments.” Like an adult recess. Whether it meant escaping for a weekend, a quick trip to the salon or spa for a few hours, playing a mediation video on my phone, or a 5 minute barefoot walk through grass (right now it would be snow, that can get me focused elsewhere for a moment too!). These breaks for peace are SO important.

          The more often we take peace breaks, the more we are inviting peace to return over and over like a calming wave. It works! Strength comes in those moments.

          I felt like I argued with my son in every possible language. He too saw no truths. He denied, blamed, insulted, disappeared, distracted, spewed hate, played dumb, WHATEVER it took to exit the conversation and get the spotlight off the problem – which was that he was addicted and it was out-of-control.

          Nothing I said mattered, he had an agenda NOT to hear me, and no interest in resolving issues. The reality was I was dealing with a chemical and my son was buried under the mask of it. I didn’t understand the psychological patterns of addiction, that it wasn’t personally against me, or that I could respond in ways that redirected it. I had to find a different way to heal the situation. I had to drop my usual weapons and stop trying to get through for a while. My conversations with him became very intentional. I had to keep them light, loving and short until I felt better, and got better at navigating this very tough terrain.

          The selfish, ungrateful and sometimes hostile stuff is mindboggling. It’s also unfortunately a symptom of sickness, and not personal. Even though it feels and affects us very personally. The communication/conflict dynamics can just about make your brain catch on fire. There is no getting to the bottom of it! It’s one of the worst parts of it, everyone gets swept up in one person’s tornado. I lived that for a long time, until I couldn’t do it anymore. The addiction and behaviors it led to were killing both of us.
          I hated the times of chaos, believe me I lived many. It was so hectic sometimes that I couldn’t stand even having the radio on when I got in my car alone. The chaos between my son, my mother and me was nonstop. Craziness, messes, police situations, HIS bill-collectors, HER pill addiction and manipulation, her wild religious threats and rambling declarations, the aftermath of whatever tornado he was causing. I was surrounded. I felt like I drank poison every time I was dealt with it. Acid stomach, swirling mind, just plain MADNESS.

          And then when it got quiet, sadness would set in. And then fear. And then the cycle would begin to build up for the next round. Believe me, you are not alone in what you are going through.

          So many who have been in the grip of chemicals begin to believe gravity doesn’t apply to them. My son attended funerals of his young friends, and then would return to dangerous behavior that night (if not before). Not seeming to realize (or care?), that he was as much as risk.

          None of the above makes sense or is logical behavior! Not to someone in their right mind, which is key to remember, they are currently not. It’s almost impossible to figure out a way to get truth through to them. That is where we, as those who love them and are desperate for their wellness and SAFETY, can get obsessed and sick with the situation. We can get pulled into their vortex and once you are swirling in it, it’s very difficult to see your way out.

          Taking those peace breaks is a great response. When chaos comes calling, I learned to respond to it with inner peace.
          That said, I can’t stress enough how critical it is to work on yourself – learning, growing strong, developing new responses, gathering peace, strength, information, support, going to supportive meetings, watching CRAFT Method modules on here, etc. ALL of it pays off.

          Doing these things in the in between times will build you up and give you more power over the situation versus being pulled up into it. Your recovery is an ally for your son, and that is more powerful than many people realize. The healthier you become, the healthier the situation can become. Your peace will have a calming effect on the environment. It takes time, but peace can be your GPS through the darkest times.

          Recovering is like turning a ship around for every person touched by addiction, whether you are the one using, or someone suffering on the sidelines. I also think of recovering like weight loss. Things didn’t go off course over-night, they won’t get better overnight. But they CAN get better, and they will if you do the work in the “mean-time.” Which is truly a mean time! But it’s an important time. You are changing the atmosphere and the rhythm of your family when you modify your own patterns and responses, and that is no small thing.

          It’s a day at a time (sometimes a breath at a time) process.
          In my 2nd book “Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache,” I wrote about how someone advised me to “Do the next right thing for the next 15 minutes over and over again.” Pretty soon you do that for an hour, then the day…then you find you are getting through it.

          Additionally, my own son turned 28 this week. I can’t stop marveling at how far we’ve come. I have been reflecting so much in the days around this birthday. Thinking back to the hardest of times when he was out in active use. I was just telling a friend that ages 14-26 were HARD years that just about cost me my mind. Between his addiction and my mom’s (which included SO much denial and manipulation, as she is literally the church lady), I didn’t think I would survive my life!

          My son went to treatment six years ago, but had a lot to work out for a few years after. It was an untangling process, like a huge bunch of knotted up Christmas lights that had to be sorted out one at a time. I had a lot to work out within myself, which I didn’t realize at first because his behavior shouted the loudest, and was so harmful and pretty much – wrong in my perspective.

          The truth was, we were all a mess because of how sick he had become.

          There was a time when my son slept in a car in a grocery store parking lot for weeks, in sub-zero temperatures (I wrote about it in my first book, “Unhooked”). I literally lost my mind over him. That summer he slept in a baseball dug out. Life seemed impossible. And yet here we are, he is thriving and I live a life of peace and joy. Life bears no evidence of those days except that we still talk about them.

          We all had work to do. We had become like one big amoeba moving around in circles of chaos. When I stepped out and started getting better, and managing my relationship with my son differently – it led to greater and greater peace. This I believe, is how it works when the family is recovering.

          Let me encourage you – it can turn around, no matter how dark. It just takes time, and effort in the quiet moments. That’s where you will gain your strength.

          There’s a lot of fight in you, otherwise you wouldn’t still be in this. Remember, it’s a process! Keep going, the calm days will eventually grow stronger and occur more often than the bad ones. As you get stronger, the situation will gradually improve.

          Sorry for the long post, but you seemed like you might need a boost. My goal was to ignite hope in you and remind you that you can do this! You are not alone in it! You are among friends here.

          Wishing you much peace and strength tonight,