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New Recovery, New Challenges


oneofsome’s son has finally made it to rehab and is transitioning to sober living. After some worrisome exchanges with him, our member wonders how to best communicate with her son to support his recovery.

Rehab… Our 26-year-old son struggling with severe substance use finally made it in, and nearly a month and a half later is still in! Not easy, especially in the time of coronaviruses and quarantines! Formerly on meth and heroin, he was pretty horrible to deal with. Saw his questionable past catching up to him and decided rehab would help him with his new legal problems! Recently we told him we were clearing out and storing the contents of his room, and that he would have to be sober for a year to ever live (cheaply) with us again. We recommended sober living after rehab. He pooh poohed the idea, and told us he would rather move in with a friend. The next week he tells us he plans to go to sober living because it's inexpensive! Not the best reason, but a sober living environment couldn't hurt. We told him we wanted to donate some of the stuff in his room we suspect he didn't buy and get rid of bad "karma". He told us to store it all! His "backward" comments make us feel very worried and cynical. Our question is in what way do you try to communicate with someone in order to support their new "recovery"? We are not allowed to visit. When allowed we exchange phone calls and texts, and we video chat when we care for his 4-year-old son on his visitation day. We feel like we're suffering from PTSD and don't want to do or say anything that would sidetrack his "recovery." We love him, but we are burnt and never want a person in the throes of substance use to live with us again. Please advise.

© Suzanne D. Williams via Unsplash

Motivation for change, in any form, is the key

Your son is still in treatment! Deep breath from us. What an accomplishment! The reasons he went weren’t true blue, having more to do with avoiding legal circumstances and the cost of housing, but we’ll gladly accept it. Loved Ones are motivated by different things. It doesn’t matter what motivates them to go to treatment as long as they go. Substance use disorder outcomes have never been tallied in terms of what motivates the person to engage in treatment. But we do know that whether they go voluntarily or are mandated, the results are about equally as positive. Motivation for change, in any form, is what is key and what CRAFT was designed to encourage.

He is at the beginning of this chapter and so are you

Your son has been using methamphetamine and heroin. It is likely his body and mind have only just started to heal from that abuse. You can’t expect solid thinking from him yet. You can’t expect him to not act and respond “backwards.” Your son has a long and potentially exciting process of recovery ahead of him (yes, exciting, if he can stay open minded; ups and downs are a given…), this is an opening into a new world he has never experienced. This is in ahead of both of you. For now, he is deeply bruised and still lacking the emotional maturity families so desperately want to see from their Loved Ones. This comes with time and with recovery work.

You are clear about what you want. You want your home free from active addiction. Making this explicit to your son has pushed him towards sober living. Good shepherding, I’d say!

Your son scared you with the comment about his things. It probably made you feel deeply worried that the whole plan was falling apart. The “pissy” answer you got is completely understandable, however. Hang tight. There will be more pissy answers. These types of responses will most likely surprise and upset you. However, it’s a sign to stay on your side of the street. It's time to grow a thicker skin around this.

Recovery for your Loved One and for you

I completely understand the feeling of having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You are burnt. You are not able to withstand these blowups. Perhaps you and other members of the family need counseling to process what everyone has been living with. Your son could attend if you felt comfortable with him doing so.

I believe that PTSD is real in families struggling with the addiction of a Loved One. The crises, the worry, the painful surprises year in and year out, can destroy any sense of peace and set your nerves on a chronic “anticipatory anxiety,” as it is called.

But with a bit more time in recovery, and while working the communication skills we describe in Module 4, you will find a more gentle way with him. You will open a dialogue with him that is less likely to explode in your face.

Leave his things alone, once properly stored. They will be there staring at him when he comes back for them. Perhaps one day soon, he will look at them and feel regret — a natural consequence. Perhaps he will even return them or apologize to those he stole from. This is his journey, let him have it.

You talk about feeling worried and cynical. Our Loved Ones responses and ups and downs have a way of getting to us. Practicing detachment — not from your son but from his disorder — can be incredibly difficult when you are at the end of your rope. Check out this post we just wrote to one of our members who was struggling to find compassion for her son in the wake of a possible relapse. Head to Module 7 to learn more about channeling negative emotions and don’t forget to also focus on your own recovery and healing.

A daybed and locker can change the game

You are in a good position. Well done. You are right not to want to welcome active use into your home again. I can tell that living with your son when he was using has deeply traumatized you. You are now setting boundaries, which is crucial to ensure your well-being as well as your son’s. Do you feel like you could consider the daybed and locker idea we’ve written about?

Rather than holding him to a year of abstinence before he can come back to live with you, what if you take this idea and reduce the timeline to a week? Perhaps he comes home for the night every so often, if abstinent (include a good meal as a reward). If not abstinent, you will accept, without ire, his inability to show up. All you ask is that he call and cancel, no questions asked.

Supporting recovery and preventing relapse

Now that your son is in early recovery, communication should be the same as before. Watch the safety module and the communication module, especially the segment on reflective listening, for ways to de-escalate a heated conversation. Say less, listen more. Keep it light. Don’t talk about addiction or treatment unless he brings it up. Let him manage unless you see his actions deteriorating.

This is going to sound contradictory to what I just said, but you do want your son to get on an opioid medication to reduce the chance of overdose should he relapse. For this, go to Module 8 for guidance on how to engage him into treatment. You would wait until he brings up his treatment or living plans, then provide him a list of places where he can get opioid addiction treatment medication (Buprenorphine, Methadone, Naltrexone).

All in all, this is a good moment for your family and a real chance for your son and his child. Your son is young, the drugs he uses are dangerous, and he has a lot to learn. But he has been given an understanding of addiction while in treatment. He is no longer as naive about his condition. His use of drugs may not be over, but both your son and you can learn a new way forward.

As his parent, you can take a step back, pay attention to how things are going in terms of the drug use only (for now), and see if you can get your own nerves back towards a normal level. Thank you for writing in. Our hearts go out to you as you are now facing the new challenges of your son’s early recovery.



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"...)