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My Helping Wasn’t Helpful. Now I’m Practicing Detaching


Worried Mom realized that in her efforts to "help," she was actually enabling her daughter's use. Now her daughter has put distance between them and Mom is trying to work on detaching…

I have been a member for several months and find the podcasts and articles on this site extremely helpful. They have also shown me that I was enabling my 31-year-old daughter and her husband for the past two years.

They are both heroin addicts and my daughter is also an alcoholic. Her husband was also a cocaine user. Her husband was not using when they were dating and were married and did not divulge this to her. My husband, I and our family had doubts about her marrying him due to his lack of ambition or holding down a job but we embraced her decision since he seemed to be a "nice" man and treated her well.

They purchased a home after their first year of marriage and everything seemed to be going well. Then her husband's father died and everything fell apart. Her husband was so despondent he started taking percocet on the weekends to "relax" and soon she was doing the same. During this time they isolated themselves and we hardly saw them. We were unaware of what was going on. After several months of that, they started snorting heroin and that progressed to injecting heroin. Things spiraled out of control, he was unemployed for 2 years and then when he finally got a job, he totaled two cars and a rental car that we got for him getting to get to work (in 4 weeks). He was arrested for possession of cocaine and spent time in jail (twice). My daughter fell at work and also got in a car accident at work (she travels for her job), since she worked in the same company as me, I covered for her a lot and also did most of her work (I was an executive at the company). She was hospitalized several times and was put on medical leave. During this time my husband I supported them financially, and emotionally and I was at their beck and call when they needed anything, they would call and I would run. I even drove her husband back and forth to work (2 hours each way) when he was without a car and lost his license.

My daughter agreed to inpatient rehab and I paid for 1 month of treatment, she was in two stints of outpatient rehab and one short inpatient (2 weeks), the day she got out she was picked up by the police for intoxication and held overnight. She told us she thought her husband was part of the problem and was talking divorce, she even went 4 weeks without wearing her wedding ring and was staying with us temporarily. The day I picked her up from jail, she cried that she wanted to go back home, her husband had started calling her daily. Her husband was on probation and was on a medically supervised Suboxone program as was my daughter but she continued to use on an off and when she wasn't using heroin she replaced it with alcohol. Finally, over the past two months, they both seem to be clean and sober for an extended period of time and are going to IOP programs and AA meetings. My son-in-law is forced to do this as part of his probation. My son-in-law's mother has moved in with them and updates me if I ask. My daughter has returned to work part time. Her husband is still jobless but is following the program the court has dictated.

My daughter has decided that she no longer wants to visit us or keep us up to date on her progress. She does not answer texts or phone messages and has no contact. She did however call me last week to ask for her credit card back from work since she would be traveling again. (I doubt this but told her to come get it). She told me she loved me and missed us but was not doing well emotionally and needed a "break". Her mother-in-law and husband are not giving me details on what is going on except to say things are "OK".

My husband and I are heartbroken we no longer have frequent contact with her. I am trying to detach and let her reach out to me when she feels she can but not knowing how she is really doing is hard! I have sent a card and texts just to let her know we are there for her if she needs us and that we love her but have stopped doing that over the past month and have decided to just wait it out until she is ready (if she ever is) to connect again with us. Is that the right thing to do?

Your daughter and son-in-law are still married yet are no longer using opioids. That is your hunch, anyway. His mother moved in with them but no longer provides you with the updates you depended upon about the couple. In fact, your daughter, her husband and his mother have essentially cut you off. You spent years helping the couple out, as they sank deeper and deeper into trouble with the drugs and probably also alcohol. You now realize that helping them wasn’t helpful.

They are both taking suboxone. This is very important because it means someone is following them clinically, testing them for drugs, and hopefully providing them with therapy. This should provide you both with some peace of mind. Your daughter is back at work. Your son-in-law is following the conditions of his probation. All good.

We don’t know why your daughter needs a break. It is very hard on you to not see her regularly and to not be told how she is doing. It is difficult to know which is harder on families: to have your Loved One under your nose or out of sight. Neither is easy.

In reading your account, I felt like you both came through a very long and bad period. The suboxone, the testing, the probation, the IOP, and the AA are all good signs. I wonder if you can let her go for now, knowing that things sound better. She won’t be gone long, I suspect. You’ve been there at every turn helping them out. She is programmed to come to you when things go wrong.

What if you took this time, let’s say the next 4 weeks, and worked on getting the tension and ringing out of your ears and the zinging out of your body. You must be exhausted. You, too, are programmed: to jump, to worry. Let her be for now. Turn the attention back on yourselves and on each other. There’s a lot to shake off.

I think the occasional text saying something loving, saying how you are taking care of yourselves, without expecting an answer is a nice idea. Please look at the Learning Modules. See how it looks and feels to push responsibility for your daughter’s life and her needs back onto her; to be supportive without stepping in when she’s in trouble.

Your daughter and her husband have come a long way. It may not be completely over. They may not be able to manage their addictions and be together. It’s tough to do both. But they are tied into treatment and self-help. Take solace in this. Thank you for writing in. One last thought. Annie Highwater and I recently recorded a podcast on attachment that might help (I have since bought a new microphone….sorry about the poor audio). You can listen to it here.



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 AD is addicted to Heroin (IV) and Alcohol and was in active addiction for three years. The day her husband (who introduced her to this lifestyle, was user before he married her but was something he did not share with her) left the home (broke probation and had to return to jail), she stopped using and has been clean for a year. That is the good news. However, she is not the same person who we knew prior to her addiction. She had a very promising career, a home, friends, hobbies, and was a “rising star” at work. She has a BS In ABS and was planning on starting on her MA.

    Of course, in the throes of addiction, she lost her job, distanced herself from friends and family and if I had not been supporting the household financially, she would have lost her home, etc. We had three years of hell.

    The best friend of her husband and her fell for each other after her husband was removed from the picture. He is not a user, has 3 children, and was the catalyst for her recovery. She had attended 30 day treatment programs, IOP’s, AA Meetings, etc. in the past but nothing stopped the abuse while she was living with her husband who was also in active addiction. Once he was out of the picture, his friend stayed with her, he does not drink or use any substances and was able to support her emotionally as she recovered. They are still together and she has been clean for over a year. She is slowly building back relationships with her family and friends.

    The question is that she certainly is not her “old self” yet. Her decision making capabilities are not good, she does not follow through on promises made, communication with her is sporadic. When we do connect, I notice how she is doing so well and looks so much better, although still painfully thin. Her memory is not good. She has been trying to get a job and has not been hired. She has had a couple of interviews for management positions but I don’t think she is ready yet, give her lack of organizational skills remain, her memory is not good, she is horrible at keeping track of appts. All things that she was extremely capable of before her dance with heroin/alcohol. Her hygiene is also not what it should be, her housekeeping is horrendous, she was meticulous before. She was always very well dressed and put together, that is better but not like ‘before’. She also stayed in bed 24X7 the last year of her active addiction, hardly leaving the house. She now is productive, up and about, but she still sleeps quite a lot.

    Will she ever regain these abilities and traits? She is not taking any medication. She stopped all medications for depression/anxiety and suboxone over a year ago. She also has frequent bouts of stomach issues and has not gone to the Dr. for a physical etc. because she is now on MASSHealth and it is difficult to get medical care. I am so grateful she is clean, just looking for hope on the other issues that keep me financially assisting her and worried about her ability to be on her own.

    Any feedback will help….

    1. Dear Worried Mom,

      Thank you for reaching out and for sharing your daughter’s story. You express a number of concerns about your Loved One’s ability to regain abilities she once had, to fully function on her own and to truly take care of herself and her environment. A few things stand out from your post that could benefit from deeper exploration:

      · Addiction rarely has a clear “start” and “end” date. From your description, your daughter’s use was deeply tied to her husband’s use, and her active use ended the day he left the household. This clearly defined “end date” may be important for some, and less so for others. But addiction itself does not operate with an “on-off” switch. It takes time and care to unravel; to heal from. The research suggests that for most, addiction is a problem born in adolescence, prior to the age of 15. And the roots of addiction are many – insecure attachment, adverse childhood experiences, trauma, and other untreated co-occurring disorders. I suspect one reason your daughter continues to struggle is that there is a deeper, underlying problem that was there before the addiction.

      Dear Guest Contributor Dr. John Fitzgerald’s full response to worriedmom here:

  2. My 31 year old daughter who is addicted to, heroine, cocaine, and alcohol has stopped using again. She is on her 12th day of sobriety, not attending any meetings, IOP or rehab right now. She is on Suboxone. She suffered several days of severe stomach cramps and seems to be over those. She is now in the throes of severe depression, even though she is on medication from her Dr. Is this normal after stopping the substance abuse? I have not seen her this down. She does not live with me but when I speak with her she is really depressed, hardly has the energy to respond…

    1. Your daughter is close to two weeks clean and sober and is feeling very depressed, despite medication from her doctor and being on Suboxone (a medication assisted treatment for opioids). Yes, unfortunately, every one is different but these drugs can leave you wiped out, very low, and unable to sleep. All of this should come back but it takes time – the lenght of which really depends on the individual. The Suboxone should help some. The worse should be behind her, though. She should probably tell both the MAT clinic and her doctor that she is still feeling very depressed. What she has done is not easy, it is the way out though. Therapy or self help would also help.

    2. Your daughter’s depression is expected. There is an amazing video by Dr. Ruth Potee, an addiction guru in our area, who explains the chemistry that is involved in addiction.
      Your daughter’s dopamine levels must be in the cellar. Your daughter would benefit by watching it as well so she can understand how much work she has to do to really recover. If this site doesn’t allow links like this, my apologies, you can find several videos by her on youtube. I hope she finds success with the suboxone

    1. I have posted in the past and wanted to give an update. Have been struggling with my daughter and her husband’s co-dependent heroin and other drug use for the past 3 years. Following the advice here and CRAFT methods I finally stopped enabling them by withdrawing financial help (most of the time) and by finally getting my daughter into a 30 day in patient rehab program. While in that program it opened her eyes to the issues with her relationship with her husband. When she was released from rehab, she went straight to drinking and spent the night in jail after being picked up. I called the police when I spoke with her and found out she was completely intoxicated behind the wheel. Fortunately they found her in the car which was parked. One of the best things I have done.

      I picked her up from jail (probably should not have) the next day and brought her back to her father and my house to continue in her recovery since she had decided that she could not be with her husband while in rehab. I slipped up and did not follow craft and was very angry about her driving and starting to drink again and being in jail. She ended up asking to go home to her husband. I brought her back home.

      It took her another several weeks and 2 outpatient IOP’s but she finally realized that she could not be with her husband. He broke parole by using and was put back in jail. During this time she had a break from the co-dependent nature of their relationship and decided that she wanted a divorce. She made that decision and communicated that to him. She has been clean now for two months since she took that action. She has been happy and determined to move forward. She is ready to live her life again, has started to gain weight by eating right and is starting to come back into our lives. Answering the phone and joining family events.

      While I pray that this is finally the turning point, I know it may not be. However, I find hope that she is going in the right direction and the co-dependency has stopped! Lesson learned that even though she relapsed the day after she got out of rehab, she did not lose what she had heard/discovered there and the active use following was sporadic and short term.

      I thank CRAFT and this site for helping to steer me in the right direction and pray that we may get there!