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Recovery Is A Bumpy Road

Recovery is a bumpy road

ccomtl2014 ‘s Loved One was thriving when he was in treatment. He soaked up the learnings and proved to himself that he can live without alcohol. However, with the lockdown and little to no recovery input, he might be headed for a relapse. She writes in, feeling burnt out and anxious, wondering what steps she should take next.

© Jannes Glas via Unsplash

Needing some CRAFTY help again.

I posted about my partner a number of months back when he was quite in the midst of his addictions and depression/anxiety/ADHD.

He did eventually go to rehab, and it was his own choice, I didn't give an ultimatum or anything like that. It was the best thing he has ever done for himself. My partner has always been a very insightful guy and being in an environment like that for the first time he flourished and bought into the program right away. I chose a program where the psychiatrist was also an ADHD specialist, and isn't AA based (they use SMART recovery and their program was based on motivational interviewing and real evidence based good stuff).

He threw himself into the program and got so much out of it, and even planned his outpatient program on his own accord before he even returned home. His depression was also in remission (although I suspected much of the time the severity of the depression was also strongly linked to and maintained by the addiction). He talked about accountability and not wanting to become complacent, he knew it would be easy to fall back into habits and wanted to create the right habits to help him not do that […]

Read ccomtl2014's full comment here.


Reading your words, I feel your exhaustion. COVID is making everything so much harder for everyone, especially for people struggling with addiction and for their entourage. It is disappointing to hear of the gains your partner made with treatment, and how the lockdown has chipped away at his progress. You sound cooped up and fed up. I wish I could send you each to a week apart, somewhere beautiful. 

Maia Szalavitz in Unbroken Brain talks about how the physical addiction to a drug plays a minor role in withdrawal:

“It’s just that the physical symptoms aren’t the main problem. What makes drug withdrawal hard to take is the anxiety, the insomnia, and the sense of losing the only thing you have that makes life bearable and worth living […]It’s the mental and emotional symptoms — the learned connection between drugs and relief and between lack of drugs and pain — that matter.”  [emphasis added]  1

His frustration is aimed at you, but his argument is with himself

Maia would say the emotional part of becoming abstinent is 90% of the problem. Here your partner has turned the emotional toughness of withdrawal onto you. Don’t take the bait. His frustration may be directed towards you, but his argument is with himself.

Also remember, your partner is home without sufficient push back on his old drinking thought patterns. His thoughts are turning back towards the negative, and perhaps the alcohol. That’s why a daily self-help meeting is so useful. Without consistent input, he will, by default, go back to negativity and, much more likely, to use.

You saw your partner flourish in treatment and now he's sinking with the COVID shutdown. He is tight, defensive, perhaps sneaking drinks. He may relapse. It will be disruptive.

Ignore what's annoying and inconsiderate

CRAFT would suggest you try to ignore the behaviors that are annoying and inconsiderate for the moment. Ignore the dishes and the need to tighten up boundaries around housework. Remember your own goal: get him into treatment and then, keep him in treatment. Your partner is headed for a relapse, and you are right, he needs more follow-up.

So back to basics: focus solely on the use/no use pattern. Reserve your affection and other rewards for when you are mostly sure he hasn’t had any or much to drink. The red flags that he has been drinking are his defensiveness or being argumentative. Perhaps this is what cues you to recognize the use with sufficient assuredness so that you move to:

  • remove rewards,

  • allow natural consequences and

  • remove yourself.

Can you refrain from commenting about the housework and boundary issues for now? Can you pull back and be more neutral, less affectionate perhaps, in those moments when he is down? Let him be down. Perhaps you put the number of his treatment therapist on the fridge without comment. Can you call the treatment center and tell them of your concerns? They may not have a release to talk with you but you can tell them how things are going. Find out if they can call him

The clarity attained in treatment vs. the gray area when stuck at home with little support – it's uncomfortable!

Accept that he may drink and know that he is capable of grasping onto life without alcohol. He was thrilled to be in treatment. He soaked up the learnings.

He must be extremely uncomfortable. There is a disconnect between what he learned in treatment and life as it now is, stuck in the house without work or recovery input.

Pull back in ways that dis-arm the struggle (head to Module 2 for guidance on how to de-escalate conflict). Go around the dishes, be strategic in your affection. Back away neutrally, say less. The goal is to get him linked back up with his treatment center and/or SMART recovery online to start.

You can work on your relationship, the boundaries, the dishes, etc. when he is on a better course. Until then, you are expecting too much. This in itself (expectations that aren't met) can be exhausting. Watch Module 8 for tips on how to talk about treatment and follow-up. The rest of the time, say as little as possible.

You are both in a precarious position here. You are it for him right now and you have your own health to tend to. The long hard days as an essential worker must be exhausting and you need energy to take care of your own needs. Go neutral with him and create space between the two of you. Giving him room to bang around will also give you room to focus on your needs. Practicing self-care, even if you just listen to one of your favorite songs or soak up some sun for five minutes in between calls, will help you be calmer and more objective in your communication with your partner.

Thank you for writing in. These questions you are asking are important and speak to the severity of the daily challenges that come with overcoming substance use disorders. Our hearts go out to you. Please keep us updated on the next steps you are taking.

[1] Maia Szalavitz, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, St. Martin’s Press (2016):33.



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. So as it has been looking like for a while, my partner did relapse. Not sure how long but going by his behavioral signs I would say at least a month but probably more. My reactions in turn when I saw behavioral signs of use/coming down was as if he was using, so neutrally withdrawing, and then rewarding experiences with each other when I was sure he was sober. I tried to make coming to bed a nice experience to disrupt his pattern of staying up all night to use or watch TV, but that didn’t work. Honestly it was really hard to tell when he was or wasn’t high, and even to be sure if he was using at all or just self-neglecting and being depressed. I’ve long suspected the depressive symptoms are pretty much always linked to him using though, so for me it’s more of a sign of use than anything, but who can be sure.

    He would not take his night’s medications that help him sleep, and do his using at night, then sleep all day, so not a whole lot of room for reinforcing activities there because during the day he is always coming down. Whenever he seems chipper he is generally high on stimulants or planning on using. I wasn’t surprised to realize he had indeed relapsed, but it is also hard to pinpoint when he is using/coming down, also hard to find a time to reward non-use. The pattern has been: stays awake from literally from Saturday through Monday and then sleeps during the day the rest of the week.

    I got confirmation he is using when I found his stuff in the garbage can the other day. He had thrown away meat in the living room garbage and it was smelly and when I emptied the garbage the stuff fell out. He realizes that I know I am sure.

    His outpatient intensive was cancelled, he has been on the wait list for online groups for some time now and I doubt he’ll ever get a turn (I work in the public mental health system so I know how this particular wait-list is being addressed). I can afford for him to see his counselor from rehab privately once a week, and when he expresses dips I come in with that since he liked that counselor a lot and really got a lot out of the rehab experience. He reacts with defensiveness and anger though, so I back away and apologize. He usually says me bringing it up at all makes him turned off to it even more, so I back off.

    I practice positive communication and when he gets agitated I go into crisis avoidance from module 2. He is mostly defensive no matter what I do, if I keep to myself and keep the house clean, he gets upset that I don’t ask him for help. If I do ask and he doesn’t do it, eventually I do it on my own calmly and make sure not to look passive aggressive about it, he gets even more upset.

    There aren’t many natural consequences besides my disengaging and him being left alone on the couch. I guess another one is he becomes upset at me when he isn’t partaking in house chores. He wants me to ask and wait for him to do the chores, so I do ask but after a certain period of time I do it myself (I have compromised immune system so I can’t let the house get very dirty). He gets very upset at this. Besides that he is more than happy to self-neglect if I don’t cook for us, he will just eat all the ingredients in the house instead. I don’t even know where the money for drugs came from honestly. I think I might need some trouble shooting help… I also worry at what point does my providing food and shelter and all the comforts of the apartment become protecting him from natural consequences?

    1. After doing very well in treatment, and finding some online help, he has given up. He’s on a waitlist for outpatient treatment. COVID is indeed making things even harder than they normally are, with fewer options for immediate treatment.

      You are juggling your own 13-hour days as an essential worker, and life with a chronic illness, while your partner bangs around the house drinking, misusing his learning disorder medication, and obsessively gaming. The difference you describe in your partner’s behavior from when he first left treatment until now is dramatic and worrying.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response to ccomtl2014 here:

  2. Ignoring what is annoying or undone is very helpful advice for me. I’ve been really endeavoring to do this. Now that I’ve started I realize I had no idea how much effort it takes for him to recover.

    The example of how many decisions need to be made @ new priorities, responsibilites, new schedule…so many new choices is very accurate. I’m learning to not bring up anything that’s not immediately helping to him cope better with the challenge.

    Recently I had a health upset and he responded by drinking. I was shocked and thought how could he desert me when I needed him most?

    But reading here, reviewing the modules, and listening to him showed me he just hasn’t learned established coping skills yet. This really helped me to be compassionate instead of overwhelmed and confused. I thanked him for talking to me. I feel like it’s one of first times I didn’t get on the rollercoaster of pain and anguish.

    It’s a challenge to see how far into the world of loose ends we’ve come. But I’m grateful to see reality for what it is. Shocking but the only places changes can be made. That’s given me a lot of confidence and calm.

    1. I have goosebumps reading what you’ve written here, E320!!

      It is so inspiring to be alongside people during those “Ah-ha!” moments — especially when you know, which I do, how much self-awareness and brutal honesty is needed for this type of Ah-hah moment.

      You are giving your Loved One such an immeasurable gift, lifting your expectations off his shoulders. Lightening his load so that he may better focus on his recovery.

      Having the courage to look at your own part in this (no blame necessary!), and turning your back on the “rollercoaster of pain and anguish.” Please close your eyes right now and feel a warm pat on the back from each of us at Allies in Recovery. Hear the applause. Know that you’re on the right path.

      Ignoring, when done with deep presence of mind and with a clear reason, can certainly be magic. Less tension, less conflict, fewer negative interactions.


  3. Thank you so much for this guidance and direction, it’s honestly invaluable. I don’t know where I would be without this site, it’s not easy to find CRAFT informed guidance for loved ones where I live. I actually reached out to his team and they will be planning a check-in next week without letting him know that I reached out (that was my big concern). Cruising through all of the topics on the discussion board that relate to the situation is also helping a lot too, along with always circling back to the modules. Thanks for your time and for this resource.