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Shady Characters Who Threaten Recovery

Girl walking by smoking peers

What can the family member do when their Loved One is making great progress in recovery but mixing with shady characters from their past? Allies in Recovery member Millicent explains the situation, including some real progress for her daughter, and wonders how she can support her daughter with this challenge:

"Hello- I haven't written in a while, but have so appreciated your perspective in responding to myself and others, so here goes: My daughter, 22, left rehab three weeks ago. She was there for 3 and a half months, in part, because the facility offers an extended stay to those who seem extremely motivated, as she was. In exchange for working at the facility, they offer cost-free treatment. She was very popular there, and everyone commented on how motivated she was and how she inspired others.. She is now living in a highly structured sober house and is about to begin a year-long program at a beauty academy. Returning to college is out of the question for now, since she would be at high risk for using/relapsing on campus. My question: her last two relapses came about in connection with a particular boyfriend (heroin addict), and she began smoking crack and twice snorted heroin. While she was in rehab, the guy was arrested. He spent two months in jail, awaiting placement into drug treatment program. She remains close to his father and his toddler, where, since leaving the rehab, she has visited a few times. After she left rehab, she told me that she also visited the guy while he was still in jail. As of a few days ago, he was placed through the court into a drug treatment program. I don't think he can receive visitors nor receive phone calls; he can call out occasionally. Everyone has cautioned her about this relationship. The good news is that she didn't lie to me about visiting him in jail, realizing I would not be happy about it. However, I told her that I would appreciate knowing the truth, rather than being lied to. As much as I wanted to tell her to stay away from him, I refrained. I understand I have no control over this part of her life; nothing I can say will deter her from maintaining this unhealthy relationship. I can only hope that once she begins her new course of study, while also living in the sober house and attending AA/NA meetings, the relationship will naturally slow down. Meanwhile, can you make any other suggestions that I might not have thought of? Thank you."

I am grateful to hear about your family’s good fortune. Others will appreciate its hopeful message. Thank you for writing in.

Your daughter has been on quite a journey. Your description of her treatment and plan for living highlights the importance of structure and the message of recovery so critical in day-to-day life. Her willingness to accept a new way of life shines through. It’s just wonderful.

(A note about college: many are developing sober dorms and providing other ways of supporting sober students. It’s worth looking into what is available should she want to return to college some day.)

The ex-boyfriend is also being shepherded towards recovery, albeit more roughly, through the criminal justice system. I hope for him too that he may get the spark that will lighten his life immeasurably.

In terms of your daughter’s continuing ties with this young man, your instincts are very good. You can’t ask your daughter not to see the ex-boyfriend; you can ask your daughter not to lie to you.

Maintaining recovery is a process. It's common to be blindsided, being drawn to or bumping headlong into people/places/things that can trigger you to use (like an old dangerous relationship). You pass the corner where you once bought drugs and a wave of anticipation for the drug floods your every sense. You think you can sit on a bar stool with your old network but just not drink or do lines of coke with them in the bathroom like you use to.

Your daughter has been taught to recognize these moments as triggers. She has been taught to quickly do the calculation in her head …. “Ah, wow, that’s what they mean by a trigger! I have gained something in my abstinence that is not worth throwing away by using.” Here’s a poem that has been widely shared by recovering folks.


~a poem by Portia Nelson


Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

Would you say your daughter is in Chapter 3?

I know you know this, but having loved and cared for someone (even someone who is self-destructive and bad news) is terribly hard to shake off. And in a sense, we can all understand this,: why would you want to rid yourself of love and compassion for another? I hope for your daughter that she can appreciate the vestiges of love and compassion for this young man AND still honor the need to move on.

She told you about her visit with him. You have done an important thing building that bridge with your daughter so that she shares truthfully with you.

Old boyfriends, street corners, and bar stools are everywhere in sobriety. As long as your daughter continues to prioritize her recovery, trust that she will walk on by.



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. Dear Dominque,
    I’ve written previously and have appreciated your feedback and advice. Today I am seeking counsel on how to best prepare for an insurance-company appeal hearing for my daughter’s last in-patient rehab stay. She spent three and a half months at an inpatient facility, for which the insurance company is being billed for only 30 days. The additional 74 days were under the facility’s “extended stay” program, which is offered to residents who the staff votes on, based on their motivation, commitment to sobriety, and their willingness to perform work duties (dorm monitoring, serving food, taking attendance at meetings, etc.) in exchange for treatment.

    The insurance company has denied the entire claim on the basis of medical necessity, saying that she could have been treated at a lower level of care—basically outpatient vs. inpatient care.

    I have several compelling letters attesting to her need for inpatient treatment, including one from the therapist who brought her to the inpatient rehab in the middle of an appointment saying that to have allowed her to leave her office would have placed her in danger of an overdose. My daughter was in the throes of a dangerous, escalating relapse, using alcohol, smoking crack cocaine, and inhaling heroin. My daughter herself submitted a letter, stating that she would not have complied with outpatient treatment and attesting to the benefits of her lengthy stay.

    She is now almost 8+ months sober. She is going to a full time beauty academy and recently moved into her own apartment.

    I’m wondering if you have any data, articles, resources, etc that point to the benefits of inpatient versus outpatient treatment, and also compares relapse rates between the two.

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your question about how best to prepare for an insurance-company appeal hearing related to a denial to pay for a residential treatment stay for your daughter. Here are some thoughts to consider:

      1) It is always best to have addiction treatment programs – particularly residential programs that are far most costly than outpatient – work with insurance companies prior to treatment to secure a prior authorization….

      Read Treatment Expert John Fitzgerald’s full response to Millicent here: