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His Early Recovery Is Triggering Me

Couple fighting

lieveDo’s Loved One has been sober for weeks. With steady recovery inputs, he is doing better. However, he recently adopted a deeply confrontational stance and has shifted to some alternative addictive behaviors. Our member, feeling hurt and lost, wonders how to address these new challenges.

© Eric Ward via Unsplash

"Dear CRAFT helpers 🙂
For several weeks my LO does not drink and benefits a lot from the Campral he says. It makes it a lot less hard to stay sober. So that's very positive.
We see each other every weekend and more often. He goes to therapy and is on a waiting list for a much more intensive therapy in about 6 months. So he takes it seriously not to use.
I do my best to live a healthy and happy life to reward both him and myself in our relationship.

There are some things that I find difficult in this moment. the first one: he does not have much patience with me when doing something wrong (clumsy) in his eyes. He will raise his voice and sound bossy and resentful, a narcissist trait. I don't know how to react, it triggers my immediate hurted and angry response. It makes me very unhappy and it surprises me every time he does this and I'm afraid he will not change. I often disengage and go for a walk, but often I don't feel like taking a walk and feel like a fool to be outside when I would rather be in the house but send myself away […]"  Read lieveDo’s full comment here.

Wow! I have to say you and your partner really have some positives to report. It sounds like he is dedicated to his recovery; seeing a therapist, waitlisted for more intensive therapy and taking his prescribed medicine. Taking care of yourself is also incredibly positive, given how difficult it is when you're in the midst of chaos.

Your partner is early in his recovery and the behavior you describe in your post is something I hear over and over again from so many families who I work with. I can also share that my son exhibited much of the same behavior. Being confrontational, irritable, and short tempered for a while (and not a short while either), came with protecting his territory. Unfortunately, we are not usually prepared for this type of behavior and often get thrown off guard.

Something positive that you shared with us is your recognition of your own feelings of hurt and anger and of your being triggered into a response. As soon as you have these feelings, would you be able to give yourself a moment to relax? Maybe take a deep breath and start to have an internal conversation? This small but critical step can help you move forward in this process. Even if you snap at first, you can always back it up and start again.

You talk about disengaging and going for a walk. I suspect that maybe you were not able to sufficiently express how you are feeling. Do you feel as if you are relinquishing power when you are the one to leave and not him?

How to end a power struggle

It may be turning into a power struggle that neither party is aware of. One of the best ways to end a power struggle is to not give it any power.

Here our some action items that might let some steam out of the situation:

  • modeling how to calm down in a tense moment,

  • labeling how you feel,

  • alleviating any feelings of abandonment with a promise to return, and

  • addressing the subject later, might let some steam out of things.

It might sound something like this:

“I see that what just happened upset you. This situation is tense, and I need to calm myself down. I am going for a walk and would like to address this when I come back.”


“I know I struggle with (insert whatever he finds your fault), I can see that this angers you. I am going to go to the other room and meditate for a moment, that’s how I calm myself. Could we address this in a few minutes?”

He may be surprised at first and not react the way you would expect. But anticipating his response without, as a good friend once said to me, “being married to it,” can help prepare you even further into the conversation. Maybe he won’t want to address it later and will just want to drop it, then it becomes something like this:

“I hear you; I just need some time to take a break and take care of me.”

Boundaries are laid down not to define the other person’s behavior, only our own.

Remember, your leaving the situation = setting down a boundary. It is NOT you relinquishing power. It’s setting up your limits and letting him know that you’re not going to accept his negative behavior. You are not trying to change him, but you’re also not there to be his target. You’ll return when things are better.

You will become empowered by not letting him trigger you emotionally.  Even if he is explosive and irritable, you are in control (or at least you're able to calm down and manage your emotions). You are teaching him how to treat you.

Replacing one addictive behavior with another

The second issue you are facing is your partner playing games on his phone. It is triggering you back into worry and stress. Anyone who attends 12-step or other recovery meetings or treatment groups could tell you stories of people chain smoking cigarettes, drinking large amounts of coffee, overeating sugary foods, etc… It is very common, especially with individuals in early recovery. I do hear the same stories with families that I work with: obsessive video game playing, weight gain, using other substances as a substitute, the list goes on… What is concerning for you is that the history of the link between the drinking and the poker game is a trigger for you.

What I learned on my journey to healing from my son’s substance use disorder

  • It is crucial to work on the most important issue before moving onto something else.

    In other words, staying focused on my Loved One’s accomplishments with his recovery and not getting distracted by other things was most important. In your case, alcohol is most destructive. Reinforcing any success you see should be the goal for now. The gaming may be something your partner is using right now to distract his thoughts (it also sounds like it’s starting to be a power struggle here as well).

  • The best way to end a power struggle is to not give it power.

    In your case, (and I could be wrong of course) it sounds like your Loved One might be testing you by continuing to play the game around you, knowing it irritates you. My son would often do things like this to me. He would come into the room with the goal of picking an argument with me. Come to think of it, he still does it from time to time. I learned that one of the best responses was to stay as calm as I could and respond with short statements like, “huh,” with a head shake for “yes” or “sounds interesting…”. Instead of disengaging and going into another room and playing the guitar or getting out of bed when you would like to relax for a moment, could you just ask him to turn the sound off of his phone? It could sound something like:

“Would it be possible to just turn the sound off on the phone so you can continue to play and I can watch tv?”


“I'm not a morning person and need a moment to relax before getting out of bed. Would you mind putting your phone on silent?”

Both of the statements indirectly say, “see, I am not going to try and stop you from playing, I am not going to nag, I am also not relinquishing what I would like to do in the moment.”

He might be pleasantly surprised that you aren’t trying to convince him to stop playing. Just another chance to show him you are letting him determine his path to recovery.

  • My feelings of angst and anxiety are mine to work on.

    My son’s focus is his recovery and my focus is my recovery.

  • If I want my boundaries to be respected, I have to respect others’ boundaries first.

    It took me a while to learn this but when my Loved One would say things like, “Stop trying to control me!”, “Leave me alone”, “I got this”, or “ Don’t nag and stay out of it” I often did not listen to what he was saying to me. Then I realized, these were his boundaries. Now I try to stop and recognize when he is setting his limits.  I have to work really hard at not putting in my 2 cents (euros?) . And I mean really hard because it is so difficult, being his mom, to stay out of his business! 

    I found that when I backed down, I was actually able to capitalize on reinforcing positive behavior. It might sound something like: “I am sorry, I realize I am interfering again. I love you and I know you are fully capable of taking care of things.” 

  • You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.

    You can give your Loved One opportunities to do other activities than playing his game but you cannot make him take you up on it. You could have some bikes ready and ask him on a bike ride. Or tell him you were looking forward to going for a hike somewhere and were wondering if he wanted to go with you. If his answer is "no" for now, that’s okay, let it go. It may be "no" for quite a while.

  • I know my Loved One struggled to do things outside of his own room/small world for a long time and I often hear the same thing from other families. I learned to just keep offering with no expectations. When he takes me up on it great, it’s a win. When he doesn’t then he doesn’t, I let it go.

  • Another way to redirect energy is to give a task.

    For example, if your partner keeps waking you up by playing his game, ask him the night before to head to the store when he first gets up to get some milk. Or to do some chore. He may say no (he may not be ready for that) and if he does, let it go again. But keep trying occasionally. Doing this gives a person purpose, allows them to be able to contribute, and sends the message that you know they are capable of accomplishing more. 

I hope this helps. Know that almost all families experience something similar when their Loved One is in early recovery. You are not alone. Please keep us updated. Wishing the best for you and your Loved One!

Laurie is a former math teacher, residing in Dartmouth, MA, and she’s extremely active in the recovery community. She currently devotes most of her energy to REST, a non-traditional support group that offers land and online video meetings, access to training in the CRAFT method, and a crisis toolkit helping families create their own individualized crisis plan. Her work is guided by a desire to improve the communitys response and end the stigma associated with Substance Use Disorder. Laurie loves skiing and ice hockey and is at her happiest when spending time with her husband and three children. Read her articles on our blog or tune in to the podcast she co-hosts for Allies in Recovery: Coming Up for Air.



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. Hi there,

    Just writing to let you know about my situation.

    My LO had several relapses in the past few months. Since he was still in relapse I could not accompany him on a holiday to France we had booked half a year earlier. He went by himself for a week but only returned after four long weeks, while drinking the whole time. It was stressful for me just waiting (he rescheduled his stay four times, every time just a day before he was to go home, which annoyed me a lot) and hoping he would be fine. I was triggered to feel abandoned and lonely.

    I decided to end our romantic relationship, changing it in a good friendship, and redirect focus on myself. That meant very little contact with him after I had expressed my feelings and decision in a calm and friendly way.

    I felt relieved when he returned a week ago. I feel a new power and freedom since a created more distance between us. I still love him but I also see how a had lost myself. And how it is healthy he experiences his own process and I am not depending on his problem so much any more. Thanks to everything I learned from CRAFT I understand how he is trying to manage himself, rather than believing only negative things about his SUD.

    Back home he stopped drinking and started home and garden improvement projects this last week. We talked a little and I asked him if he had what he needed to stay sober or needed some extra support. He told me he was disappointed that the Campral medicine had not prevent him from drinking in France. He had hoped to drink a little in France, with the help of the Campral. But it failed, and now he was not sure to go further with it. I understood that he tested the possibility of moderate drinking. I think he is struggling for a long time with the concept of abstinence.

    I asked him if he knew about for example the Sinclair method, for some people succeed with it. He did not know it. I told him I had a list of interesting options to look at and he was willing to receive it, so I send it to him. In the last few months I had put together various options: to support abstinence by peer contact, more therapeutic help, online self-management, medication etc. and also the Sinclair method for moderate drinking guided by a professional, options for voluntary jobs, life coaching etc. He was enthusiastic about it and is going to follow up on the therapy-option and is making an appointment for job coaching and will research the other options soon.

    So far I feel things could go better for us, we will see….!

    1. Thanks so much for sending us an update, LieveDo. Great that you and your LO had the opportunity to discuss further treatment options and that he was receptive and seemed interested in pursuing several. We’re also glad to hear that you are feeling better, and putting yourself back in the center of your attention. We continue to root for you both. Be well.

  2. Dear Allies,
    Today my LO is relapsing for the 5th time since March. I disengaged tonight when he did not respond to my messages and phone call. I am not 100 percent sure he is using but I know from experience and intuition that it must be the case. So I cancelled (politely) our appointment (I was to spend the evening and night with him) for tomorrow.

    This relationship does not make me happy. I am very sad to end it. I still care, but as long as he is drinking and not working/ doing something he likes, I see no future any more. I hope we can still be friends. How can I still be an ally while ending the romantic relationship, in a respectful and meaningful way?

    Another question: should I refrain from any contact when my LO is using or is it ok to keep sending daily texts like ‘sleep well’ and ‘good morning’? I am afraid that not sending these texts will be felt as a punishment. What is your opinion about this? Greets, D.

    Sincerely, D.

    1. Thank you for this update, lieveDo. Staying romantically involved with a Loved One who struggles, and has struggled for years, is certainly a dilemma I can relate to, as can many families here.

      As we’ve said before, we certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable pronouncing judgement, nor advising you on this very personal decision. Only you know how to gauge the balance between what you get, what you give, what you deeply feel and what’s most important to you. When we’re facing dilemmas like yours we’re also often weighing considerations around the past, the present, and the future. Not simple!

      I would encourage you to trust your gut, and your heart, as to the best way to let him know that you care deeply and still want to be there for him, and support his recovery. Perhaps simpler is better. He may need time to process the feelings.

      In regards to your CRAFT questions – how to continue practicing CRAFT when the relationship is changing and you won’t be as involved, and also whether or not it’s meaningful in CRAFT terms to continue sending your nightly/daily texts (not knowing if he’s using in those moments), here are a few thoughts:

      CRAFT was designed to be applied day by day, and even moment by moment. At any given moment, if signs indicate (or your gut tells you) he’s using or likely to be using, don’t reach out. Don’t engage, don’t reward. A text from you (even if it’s routinal, and always says the same thing) is still a reward: it’s attention, it’s human warmth.

      If you send the texts every day with no regard for whether or not he’s using, then this is certainly not helping CRAFT do its magic.

      I know it’s hard to _really know_ if you’re not there next to him. But you may have a good idea of the times of day he tends to use, and if so, you can aim to send your messages during times he doesn’t use.

      You could also look back through the history of your texts with him and see which messages (or which time of day) got the best results with him, and which ones fell flat, or even provoked him.

      Wishing you all the best as you continue to navigate this and honor your own needs first and foremost.

      1. Thank you Isabel,

        I did not end the romantic relationship yet, because my LO is using all the time and communication is difficult, but emotionally I am preparing myself.

        In this moment I still struggle with the CRAFT principles, for the advice you gave me makes sense, but also advice in other blogs, but these are somewhat different, about keeping the lines of communication open. Maybe I have to combine them.

        I hope I can explain:

        When my LO uses it is mostly in a period of using all the time. He starts when he wakes up. Last time this went on for 10 days, but longer periods of time did also occur in the past. After that he detoxes at home for a week and stays sober for some weeks, until he uses again and so forth.

        So at the moment he uses all the time.
        I think 2 strategies make sense:

        1. I wait till he reaches out to me and is finishing using, and hope that he stays safe. (and his dog, I worry about it)

        2. As he uses all the time, I keep a line of communication open, by sending an app every once in a while, to let him know I’m still there. Not by wishing him goodnight/ good morning but once or twice a week.

        What would be the best strategy? The first one I find very difficult, not knowing if he and his dog are ‘ok’ …and he lives a very solitary life, so no one would notice if things went terribly wrong.

        In addition:

        Recently, he sent an emotional app message, but under the influence, so I answered very shortly and referring to talking later. I did not want to reward, but if he expresses a dip or a wish though, it is under the influence for he is using all the time.

        My dilemma: should I never reward or is this situation different and should I react in a different manner?

        I am sorry that I keep coming back for advice so many times and still not sure about it…

        Best wishes, D.

        1. Au contraire lieveDo, it’s fine that you keep coming back to fine-tune your approach! That’s what the Discussion Blog is all about.

          In answer to your first question, about what kind of communication (and how often) to have, when he’s on a using spree:

          Yes, you should really disengage and keep communications to a strict minimum. Even if the using spree lasts 10 days, that means 10 days without communication, not even a text message.

          That being said, these long using sprees are very worrisome. Clearly whatever treatment he has done, or is doing, is not enough to hold him. What more is there available? Have you gathered some options on your list?

          In answer to your second question about how to respond to a wish or a dip that occurs while the LO is using… another great question.

          The problem is that even if you do respond to him during those times, to offer further help or talk about treatment, he’ll likely have changed his mind when he returns to a non-using state. He may not even remember the conversation, nor the feeling that sparked the wish/dip.

          I’d say that if you’re never getting any “change talk” (wishes or dips) when he’s in a period of non-use, you might try waiting for a moment when you feel he is in a good place and receptive to talking, then really gently bring up the line from his message in which he expressed a wish for change. Maybe something like this:

          “My darling, last week you sent me a message, and I was wondering if you wanted to talk more about this.”

          (if he’s receptive, give it a try)

          “Your message referred to wishing that… (xyz).”

          If he’s still receptive, maybe bring up some of the treatment options you’ve been researching, or whatever is on your list.

          If he’s not receptive, let him know that’s fine, you’ll wait until he’s ready to talk about this again.

          Does this make sense?
          All our best.

        2. Thank you, Isabel.
          I used your advice the best I could. It makes a lot of sense.

          An update: In the face of our holiday plans to visit France (Normandie) and maybe my CRAFT approach, he went sober again and asked me if I would still join him to France. I decided not to go, for his recovery was too early and for me the risk of having to go back home by train, in this uncertain Covid times I did not want to take.

          So he went by him self with his dog, to a house in the middle of nowhere. Now I worry every day…I think he drinks (every day he is unable to reach in the late afternoon/ beginning of the evening) and I am so worried about how this is going to progress. He even did not know when to return exactly: next sunday or a few days later.

          But how can he return when he is binging? Did he take detox medication with him? And if not: how is he going to be sober to drive home? Or is he going to drink and drive? I feel so stressed. Should I inform the landlady? Should I inform his therapist so he can help him with detox medication? what should I put on the list for his help in this particular situation? And should I apply CRAFT by disengaging while I feel so worried and are glad hearing from him and do not want to loose contact?

        3. In addition: a few days later: I talked to him one morning and he told me he was drinking moderately and was planning to stop before travelling home. He will stay longer and says he is enjoying himself so much.
          Although I am not happy about this, I did not expres this but only affirmed he can turn to me for help if needed, regarding his way back home. I am somewhat calmer when I think about him. I think he will manage. Now I must pay as little attention as I can to his text messages and photos and words about missing me etc, as he is always under the influence.
          I hope he will stay safe. Maybe I should put professional support with moderate drinking on the list, as he still enjoys it to much and does not seem to strive for abstinence any time soon.
          And I am working very hard now to shape a better life for myself, with or without him.

          I mean I am not happy about him enjoying himself with staying alone with drinking wine. The fact that he talked with me about his plans for travelling sober of course made me feel a little less worried.

        4. In addition: he texts me regularly trough the day: texts, photos, songs etc. Not to respond at all makes him texting me questions’ ” what is the matter??’ So I answer sometimes, very brief. Yesterday I told him gently and shortly that I am working on finding my peace and will talk with him next week when he is preparing to go home sober. Today he still texted me a few times. Not responding at all feels like a punishment to him? What is the right way?

        5. Your Loved One has gone on a trip to France and you sense that he’s been under the influence ever since he got there. He has been texting you and you’ve been closely looking for signs of use and non-use to determine what stance to take, in the moment.

          Communication can be difficult in any situation and it becomes increasingly harder when substance use and distance are involved. Kudos to you for the care you have been putting into your responses to your Loved One’s messages! However, I suggest you go back to Modules 4 and 6 for more clarity on how to communicate with him and what to do when you see signs of use.

          A new blog post Dominique recently wrote − “The CRAFT Travel Bag: What You Can Do When Your Loved One Is Far Away” ( − could also be helpful to you, as you are dealing with your partner’s SUD from a greater distance than you are used to.

          I can sense that the distance between you and him, the unknowns around his substance use, as well as your worry around his return home have been weighing heavily on you. You sound anxious and i’m concerned about your getting burnt out with all this intense emotion.

          Could you consider seeking peer support for yourself? Does going to a nearby Al-Anon meeting sound like something you might be willing to do?

          How about looking for an online meeting you could attend when you feel the anxiety rising and a deep need to share your concerns?

          Before you do anything else, how about you head to Module 7 for an invitation to focus on your Self and on your own needs? Adding small self-care rituals to your daily life can be highly challenging. I believe we all struggle to find enough time for ourselves and I am no expert in the matter — I, too, am still learning as I go. However, I do want to
          remind you that taking time to breathe, journal, walk in nature, cook or anything you fancy, can make a dramatic difference for you, * ensuring you more well-being but also a sharper ability to get to a place of calm and clear-headedness.

        6. Thank you Marie-Gabrielle,
          Looking for an online meeting to discuss CRAFT actions is a very good idea. For my posts in the discussion blog are about too much detail and worried emotions and give the impression I am losing my head. I am aware…and started doing yoga again. Had some new work opportunities- meetings this week to enhance my own quality of life. I meditate. The worrying about him has a pro: I have time to think about the future, the fact that I worry so much makes clear it really is time to set bounderies and make choices. It’s an ongoing process and I am learning.

  3. Dear Laurie,

    Thank you so much for your response. It helped me to become more clear on what is happening.

    This weekend we got in so many arguments that I left. I am fed up, I don’t want to continue this way. I am learning a lot about CRAFT and also about narcissism. My LO has been in early recovery for years now…and has a lot of narcissistic and bi-polar traits. I am thinking about giving up. And his attitude becomes more and more nasty without apologising for it, it’ s just wearing me down.
    I am not sure who he is: is he a nice person or not? It varies and it makes me sad.

    You are so right that setting boundaries is only about my own behaviour. At this moment I told him that to make it work I suggest we look into things together, or we should decide to end our relationship, for I don’t want to go on like this, being confronted with anger towards me about little things all the time. I know this is not CRAFT, but I have to.

    I gave him some time to think about it and we will talk about it one of these days. In the meantime we app friendly stuff with one another about our daily lives. I will miss that. I don’t want us to end, but I need him to show some positive feelings about us, or I do not think I can keep caring. For I learn so much about narcissists not really caring about others and this might be the case. I feel like a fool.

    By the way thank you for telling me about how a lot of early recovery contains obsessive gaming etc. and does not yet have to be addressed. I thought it was crucial that he did not do that for not being triggered in drinking, but now I can see that’s not the first thing.

    Right now I seek for calmness and rethinking things, before making any important decision. I’ll let you know. All the best, D.

    1. Dear lieveDo,

      How much I can feel your pain reading you. I am aware of how exhausting it can be to always be surrounded by conflict.

      At the end of the day, you should be your primary focus though. You are giving so much of yourself and it is so hard when you feel like you are not getting anything in return.

      If you deeply care about him (and it sounds like you do) you can still support him and walk alongside him on his path to recovery. But perhaps you would feel more comfortable putting the romance aside for a time? Only you can know if this is the direction you need to go in at this point.  

      I think what is important here is to check your “wellness barometer”. A relationship is not meant to make you feel worse. It doesn’t have to be perfect all the time either. But when you look back, do you feel like it is bringing some light into your life? 

      As you know, we talk about safety in our eLearning modules. It is actually the first thing to check when looking to get CRAFTy. Safety is not always about physical security. It is also about protecting your mental health. Do you feel mentally and psychologically safe around him?

      Mental health has a lot to do with our own selves. A lot of the time, it relies on our own stance towards everyday life, our own mindset and history. But sometimes, someone comes into your life and acts like sand in the gears, whether they are aware of it or not. Then it is our job to protect ourselves.

      Sometimes it just means reworking the relationship and sometimes it means putting space between everyone involved.

      You are the one who can determine what to do but know that we support you and are here for you, always.

      1. Dear Marie-Gabrielle,
        Thank you for your kind words. I suggested to my LO we go back to being just friends. It made him sad and he started drinking again. I visited him the other day when I found out. He was hostile, and one moment later did not want to lose me.
        He wanted to see me next week end, sober. I left, and now I wait. I feel sad. How is it I can be a helping force as he has become so hostile? He blames me for criticizing him all the time and giving him a hard time… when all I have been trying is to be assertive for he was so often very angry towards me.
        As you stated, mentally it was no longer safe.
        Kind regards, D.

        1. In addition:
          I am reading a lot about borderline personality disorder and I learned how a lot of what is going on between us has been triggering him. (he has borderline / narcistic traits).
          Today we apped each other a little, he appeared to be not drinking or little. I plan to work on my inner calmness and informing myself more on the subject of borderline communication. (how to communicate in better ways).
          In about 5 weeks we were to be travelling abroad for holidays. In the upcoming weeks I look for clarity about our relationship.

        2. Dear lieveDo,

          CRAFT would say: “one day at a time, one interaction at a time”. You have been through the modules (though we could all go back to them again and again) and you have been doing CRAFT for a while now. You know when to disengage and when to reward. Keep doing what you are doing.

          Your Loved One has been battling with all sorts of emotions. We are not qualified to comment on any co-occuring disorder he could have but from what you have told us, we know that he is fighting hard to stay sober. We often compare our interactions with our Loved Ones to a dance and have talked about the spiral of recovery. None of this is linear. It is incredibly complex and can be terribly messy and exhausting both of you. It does make sense for him to be tormented and conflicted about your relationship and his attachment to you.

          Keep in mind that your Loved One has been struggling with addiction for years now. He has been in a self-destructive pattern for a long time and these have a way of seeping through to other relationships, not only the relationship one has with oneself.

          I hope taking this time for yourself allows you to breathe a little bit (or a lot!) and gain the clarity you crave. Putting space between the two of you does not mean abandoning him. You are only attempting to balance your needs and your desire to help your Loved One.

          Using the communication skills you have learned through CRAFT – “I” statements, reflective listening, etc… you might want to express how you feel and how much you still care about him.

          You two are moving forward. Thank you for keeping us updated. Our hearts go out to you as you keep walking alongside your Loved One on his journey of recovery.

        3. Thank you Marie Gabrielle. I read your answer several times, your words are beautiful and give some peace. It it very helping.