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Showing a Loved One the Door

Key on Forest Floor

Hopefulin2018 writes in that her Loved One has graduated from high school, but still isn’t adhering to the rules of the house. He has been given an ultimatum and it now looks as if he’ll be asked to leave in a few weeks. This comes with some very difficult feelings in the family, and she is really exhausted as she faces this big transition.

It's been a while since I've reached out for direction, but I'm needing some again. When I found AIR last November, I realized what a God send it was. After intensely interacting with AIR and heeding EVERY word that was suggested, I felt like I was finally getting a grasp on how CRAFT looks for my situation, what my role is in this chaos that my son's brought into our world, and what I do and don't have control over, all while trying to remain patient, patient, patient. I've been working on my communication skills and being consistent.

For the last month, I've found myself struggling, again, and I need some direction. Honestly, I've been so exhausted from putting so much energy into figuring things out with my son, that I feel like all I could do was focus on stepping in/stepping out based on my son's use. Outside of my son finally graduating high school, it doesn't seem as though anything else has changed – not his attitude or respect towards us, not helping around the house, not caring about burning bridges with good friends, etc. Read hopefulin2018's full comment here

Your son graduated high school. Congratulations to everyone for seeing this through! It’s an important accomplishment. Since then though, he continues to be a bad citizen in the home, not doing his share, being angry, and not abiding by the rules around drug use.

You’ve decided he has to follow a number of rules or leave by June 15. The rules are:

1) no drugs, vaping or paraphernalia in our house, helping around the house/cleaning up after yourself,

2) managing your anger,

3) keep your key on you so you don't wake us up in the middle of the night,

4) paying for drum expenses.

He’s not reacting well to these ultimatums and this means he’s going to have to leave soon, and get his own place to live. It seems this is a move he neither has the skills nor the money to make happen.

I suggest you help him find a place to live. How can you help him set up? Can you offer to pay the first couple months of rent? The most affordable is probably a room in a group house. Can you help him find a couple to go check out?

Act like it’s inevitable that he is leaving on June 15. This will help ease you into the next step without having to hold your breath to see if he can turn it around. You’re already exhausted. You don’t need to contribute to that with an internal emotional tug of war of “what if’s” right now. He’s been told about your boundaries 1 through 4. He should also be given some treatment options: for SUD, anger management, and a group to teach him some of the skills of daily living. Help him figure out the choices that are open to him, in as much detail as you can.

18 year olds go to war to make it on their own. Your son can make it outside your home. The drug use will get in his way no doubt, and this will hopefully become clearer to him along the way. Again, realizing that you can’t control his decisions will help you step back as he begins this journey, and encounters the ups and downs along the way.

I don’t see how he can fulfill items  1 through 4 in such a short time period. He has been unwilling to follow these limits in the past. It would take a pretty drastic turn-around on his part to genuinely address your concerns. With such a short time remaining now, I’d act like this is the case, and focus on helping him transition out of your house with love and support.

June 15 is not a scare tactic: it is the next step for your son. Hold on to yourselves. You’ve worked so hard to address your son’s chaos and attitude. He finished high school!!!! This was the biggest hurdle. My sense is that your son is not unaware of his behavior. He is probably banking on you folding come June 15th.

Being able to present a “united front” makes such a difference when parenting with CRAFT. As you say, it has been exhausting trying to mitigate the differences in approach between yourself and your husband. We have written about Family Members Doing CRAFT. There are many different situations discussed, but reading through these posts can help you crystallize what you might be able to reasonably expect – and ask for – as you and your husband look at the next few weeks together.

You may especially want to visit Podcast #13: A House Divided Stands No Chance with your husband. And it’s always worth asking another (adult) family member to watch or re-watch the Learning Modules. Of course you know that, although these methods may be simple, they aren’t necessarily easy. Still, it’s worth having your husband look at these and digest them on his own, to highlight the reasoning behind the CRAFT method. Maybe you leave it at that, and let the differences be what they are for a while. If you don’t have enough energy for more than that, then so be it. There’s only so much you can manage. For now perhaps your focus can just be to see this transition through with as much calmness, neutrality and peace of mind as you can summon.

Right now, your levels of exhaustion and frustration are high. Considering your available energies, you have to be reasonable in what your expectations are. You may not be able to get your husband to practice CRAFT as diligently as you have, today or tomorrow or even in the next few weeks. But if you need support in adhering to the ultimatum you set for June 15th, ask for this support as plainly as you can. If there is some sort of external support (a counselor perhaps?) that you can summon to help get on the same page about this transition, consider that avenue. Leave the other differences aside. Remind your husband why this is important for you. Let him know that your son needs to see that your boundaries – the boundaries of the household – are real. If he doesn’t, and you continue to feel disrespected and disregarded, the toll on your well-being – and on the whole family – will become too great for you to ignore. This is your house. You have set the rules. You’ve given your son plenty of time to change his behaviors.

In showing him the door, you are taking responsibility for your actions. It’s not a punishment. It’s a line you are drawing, and sticking to. You set the limitations, and the date, some time ago. Moving things along is the next step in your being true to your word. This is a valuable lesson in and of itself.

Just be matter-of-fact and start the process of helping him move out. Don’t judge him on the behaviors. You have said they can’t happen in your house. Good. Considering his age, and the next phase of his life that he’s facing, you are nearing the edge of your immediate control and influence over your son. Offer him help with moving out and with treatment ideas that include living elsewhere or even in residence somewhere.

If he refuses to go to therapy, perhaps you think a little outside of the box when compiling your list of options. The summer camp he attended had a positive effect for a time. Perhaps there is some option out there that is more in line with his current interests and capabilities, and the treatment and therapy are waiting for when he’s matured a bit more and is able to reflect more about who he is and who he wants to be in this world. Now he’s coming to an age when conversations with other adults may strike him in unexpected ways. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to connect him to positive role models that can reach him in different ways than you have been able to. He’s at a ripe time for this kind of influence.

There have been glimmers of the positive this year. He has great potential, talents and interests. Right now the drugs and the using friends are taking priority. Try to accept this without allowing yourself to see it as a projection of how things will always be with him. He is eventually going to learn what helps him and what doesn’t. But he has to learn that for himself – the lesson won’t mean much unless he comes to it on his own.

It is possible to show him the door and to give him some real options with love and compassion. He has not treated you as you had hoped in the past several months. That has caused your grief and pain. But you have worked so hard to change things on your end. Checking in with all of these feelings, giving space to them, and finding acceptance of the situation will help you move forward with clarity and renewed strength. You know what you deserve, and what you are able to endure. Better to face this with calmness and kindness than to fall into the traps of judgement and blame. At 18, he has plenty of time to come around still, to open up to you, and to show you love. He has a lot to figure out about the world and his place in it. And you have a lot to look forward to as well.

You describe a sadness and frustration in the choices your son is making with his friends, and especially in contrast with your nephew. This is causing you pain not only on behalf of your son, but in your own relations with your sister. This feels like a lot to bear. On the surface, the contrast between your son’s trajectory and that of your nephew is stark. What if you were able to see this contrast, but hold off on judging it as good or bad. Make your practice be to merely accept this difference in their paths.

In a way, this is first about accepting your son exactly as he is. Without looking at their different situations with the weight of judgment or comparison, that sadness and frustration may loosen its grip. Your energy may be less sapped.

Your son and his cousin have had a lot of parallel experiences, but neither they nor their journeys are identical. They are each learning different lessons now. They have been so close in the past – it is not uncommon for siblings, cousins, and other relations to have a time of growing apart at some point in adolescence. There is nothing to stop them from coming back together and sharing of their different experiences in an intimate an profound way down the road. When they do come back together, they will have a solid foundation to return to from growing up so close to one another. After this distance, they may be able to share of their experiences with each other and appreciate each other in new ways.

It’s tempting, and so very human, to want to polarize what we see – especially from the outside – into something that is black and white… but both your nephew’s and your son’s realities involve many more shades of gray and nuance than you see on first glance.

It may be fruitful to work on practicing love and acceptance for each of them, exactly as they are. After all that you have done, and from where you now stand, facing this major transition with your son, you owe it to yourself to take this extra burden off your shoulders so that you can restore your depleted energies. The same goes for yourself. Especially as you contemplate the changes in your relationship with your sister, focus on accepting and loving your situation just as it is. It’s just not fair to yourself to carry this extra weight. Your relationship is strong enough to endure this challenging time.

There’s something Annie mentioned in a recent comment that really resonates with so many family members’ situations. She said, of all the plates we have to keep up in the air as family members: “Eventually I let them all come crashing down in order to gather myself again. For me personally, I had to step aside and take care of me.” This is a profound – and liberating – image. There is so much we attempt to “hold together” and I think we can relate to having some fear of letting go, of letting the plates crash down and letting things land where they will. In many ways, this is about giving up the sense of control. However you understand this, though, it can be such a powerful practice to embrace. Sometimes we deny ourselves this level of surrender for fear of how it might look from the outside. But letting go in this way may be the only way for us to see what it is that we truly need. Our needs are vital, and they can only be put on the back burner for so long.

We encourage you to let go of anything that is not helping you feel more calm and centered in the coming weeks. You have come a long way, and the turning point you now face has been in the cards for a while now. May you find the strength and peace you need to take these next steps with kindness and compassion.



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. That you would take so much time to respond in such a thoughtful and thorough way means more than I can ever say, Dominique. I’ve never felt so understood and supported in this journey. Thank you. You’ve given me much to think about and work on to help.

    Upon honest reflection, I realize my struggle is shrouded in judgement of my son, but I desperately don’t want it to be. I keep telling myself this isn’t who he is, but it is who he is – for now – and that’s hard to accept. I fear if I accept it, I’m giving up the fight, and it’s hard to reconcile how to accept who he is as a person with SUD with fighting like hell to save my son from himself. You’ve illuminated for me how this keeps me in the realm of negativity where it’s easy to forget to look for the positives – which feeds this cycle of frustration and fear.

    I’m questioning if my judgement is leading me to being too hard headed and impatient with my son. I want him to experience the reality of living on his own, but now I’m wondering if I’m rushing it without exhausting other options first, such as having him figure out his own way to/from work or having him pay for his phone service. Is it too late to consider these steps first, and push the move out date a bit later without jeopardizing the chance to show him our boundaries are still important to us? We’ve been dealing with his SUD for almost 5 years, but he’ll be 18 this week and he graduated, and I’m reminded there’s a lot that can change at this juncture in his life. Perhaps I would be better off, for now, to be more patient with him, let some plates crash, and focus on self-care.

    Dominique, thank you. You always help me rediscover my compassion through the chaos. You help me recenter and help me uncover what gets in the way of me doing what’s best for my son. You are truly a God send.

    1. You have given your son an ultimatum. This day was bound to come. He has not been able to cooperate with the basic guidelines you outlined, and the toll it has taken within your household is real. You can still hold him to this from a place of compassion. Trying to hold off on judging him – or yourself or his friends, etc. – will help you relax into these next few weeks. It may help in unexpected ways. Who knows what immediate effect it will have on him. But just embracing this attitude in and of itself is healing, and if it helps you, it will help the whole family, slowly but surely.

      At this point, you have laid out the map for him. It’s up to him if he suddenly wants to turn things around. From what you’ve described, this would likely have to be a pretty drastic shift. If that doesn’t happen, it isn’t going to help him if you don’t hold him – or yourselves – accountable to the clear boundaries you have drawn. It Will help him if you show him, with your actions and your communications, that this next step is not a punishment. This can be seen as a matter-of-fact move towards the independence he needs to cultivate as a young man. Right now, he seems resistant to learning to cultivate this. You can show him that you are there to help, but within a context that keeps him moving towards independence.

      With a newfound level of patience and compassion, you can still talk with him about the logistics of his getting to & from work, paying for his phone, and any number of other factors that are real considerations in his steps towards independence. But these conversations don’t need to replace the one about his finding another place to live – they can happen alongside one another. Your openness, acceptance, and devotion to helping him get on his feet in this way will be a lovely way to keep things moving while still showing him that your boundaries are real.

      I hear the hesitation in your comment, about this ultimatum, and your honest reflections about your fears and frustrations… and what you can change in yourself to help move towards the positive. That is all important – and vital – material to keep digesting and reflecting on throughout this transition. Embracing this internally doesn’t mean you have to change the move-out date, or the chart you hung up, etc. Being more patient with him doesn’t mean ceasing to ask for what you need in your house. It may just change the way you approach the conversations about it.

      I also heard your worry that acceptance will lessen the fire and motivation in your fight – to save him from himself. We want our Loved Ones to want to fight for themselves. When they don’t, we end up fighting for them… and everyone on this site knows how utterly exhausting this can be. You aren’t giving up the fight. You are here. Accepting your son as he is isn’t giving up. It’s just learning to fight differently.

      Softening your communications, as we counsel in the CRAFT method, helps us adopt a less combative stance that gives our Loved Ones a chance to reach out to us – to take their own initiative, to find their way to a better path. It shows them: I am right here. I’m not going anywhere. I believe in you… I will do anything to help you get help. It also shows them that you believe in yourself. That you know there is potential for more than the coercion, manipulation, and game-playing we often get trapped in. It shows that there is strength in vulnerability, and in openness.

      I know you’ve been practicing this since you joined our site. We can all continue progressing with this practice, building and strengthening the bridge, finding compassion on deeper and deeper levels. We all have to start somewhere, but the journey isn’t ever “finished.”

      The work you do with this will ripple out to your son in its own way. But his journey is also his own, and it’s time for him to find his way out from the shelter you’ve given him. With all that you’re practicing, the support you’ll be able to offer is just as meaningful, if not more. He needs to get started. Now you can show him what he can count on from you along the way.

      1. Thank you for helping me see things more clearly. What you say makes sense and I know it’s what my son needs. You’ve helped me to understand it doesn’t have to be an either or. You’re absolutely right – we want our LO to fight for themselves.

        At the moment, my husband and I are not on the same page and I’m not only exhausted from fighting for my son’s sobriety, but also from trying to get me and my husband on the same page. As I suspected, my husband is not at all ready to stick to the boundaries we’ve drawn for our son to move out if he continues to disregard our conditions. This has been an area of contention for us. I’ve immersed myself in learning about how to help our son, but that’s not his style, which makes things difficult at times. Still, he has good instincts about some things and I’m trying to honor that, while I continue to nudge him towards understanding more of what I learn.

        I feel stuck and this is so frustrating. I will rely on the AIR resources to help us get unstuck. You’ve been incredible. Thank you.

        1. My husband and I eventually came to an agreement. We would postpone making my son move out. Although I was ready to lock the doors on June 15, my husband was not and I couldn’t move forward without us being on the same page. In short, he was fraught with fear about my son taking a turn for the worse and getting suicidal. Although my son struggled with depression and was treated for suicidality a few years ago, he doesn’t seem to be in that state of mind any longer, but this is still a huge fear that influences my husbands ability to maintain boundaries. It’s not something I don’t think of, but I’m in a different place than my husband.

          Funny enough, the week following June 15, my son raged towards me after I caught him vaping pot in our house. My daughter and I left the house, and when I called my husband to tell him what happened, he left work, went home and gave our son a suitcase and told him to get out. This was huge – not only because my husband stepped up, but also because it showed my son that he crossed a line and it was not okay. Needless to say, when my son left he vaped in my husband’s face and said a few choice words.

          The tricky thing is, my son was getting ready to leave town for a week with his band, so after four days out of the house he asked if he could come and get a few things for the road. My husband texted him to let him know he had done some laundry for him so he would have clean clothes for the trip if he wanted. I stayed silent. At first, my son was still belligerent, but my husband stayed firm, telling my son he is welcome, but his drugs aren’t and that it’s never okay to rage and frighten me or his sister the way he had. When my son’s tone softened, he asked if he could come and get some things for the road and we let him. He even apologized and asked if he could come back after the road trip. All we said was we have a lot to talk about and we would do so when he returns.

          He’s been back since the middle of July. We basically set out the same boundaries, but said if he ever raged again or if we found drugs or he uses in the house, he would have to leave. We added that we want him to attend family counseling with us. We have our first appointment coming up this week – I don’t think he’ll go, but we’ll see. We also had to clarify with him that just because he was out of the house doesn’t mean he’s not part of our family or that we don’t love him. He seemed to think things had to stay acrimonious just because he left under those circumstance and was confused with the acts of kindness from my husband and loving but firm responses to him while he was out of the house. Two things have changed since he’s been back, 1) He keeps his key on him and is no longer waking us up in the middle of the night. 2) He hasn’t raged or been excessively rude. Things that haven’t changed: We don’t see much of him and doesn’t accept any invitations to do anything with us -including eating dinner with us. He does not help around the house, he rarely interacts with us, and I know he keeps/uses pot/nicotine/vape in the house. After my last therapy session, I decided to stop looking through his room and will let the drugs/his use of them in our home reveal naturally – which it will eventually. To my surprise, my husband told my son he has a strong suspicion he is using in the house and if he catches him, he’ll have to leave.

          He’s getting ready to go on the road again for another week, then will be on he road for the month of September. Unless he rages or we outright catch him using or having stuff in the house, we decided to wait until after September to tell him he needs to find a different place to live. I’m okay with this plan, especially knowing my husband and I are getting on the same page.The lack of respecting our boundaries with regard to our home, etc. is finally starting to take a toll on my husband. Plus, when my son is on the road, things are better at home and my husband is sensing this.

          Of course we love our son, but we’ve never felt more distant from him than we do now. We barely see him or talk to him. We really don’t know who he is anymore. It’s like I’ve mourned losing him to drugs for so long, I’ve learned to live with the loss of who he used to be. He uses our home as a place to crash rent free. At this point, we’re letting him live his life, we’re going on with ours and trying to regroup. I know my son won’t be any more ready to move out after September than he was in June, but that’s something he’ll have to figure out – I will not agree to another postponement. He’ll probably couch surf before he realizes he can’t do that forever. He’s not willing to accept he has a problem with substance abuse. His daily patterns are the same and he checks all the boxes for severe marijuana addiction. Who knows if he’s doing anything else – it’s a fear I live with, but I know I don’t have control over his choices – I’m not even certain I have any influence at this time.

          The lessons I’v learned through AIR are guiding me through this chaos. I’m learning to reconcile that my son is who he is, despite my best efforts at raising him to make better choices and steer clear of drugs. This is the most difficult thing I’m struggling with right now – trying to figure out how we even got to this point, but I’ve gained strength and clarity through your support, and I thank you.