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Texting to Perfection

Man on phone

harris_po wonders how to best practice CRAFT when texting is the main mode of communication. She heard a “dip” and was ready with suggestions, but now thinks she may have gone a little overboard. What is the best way to use CRAFT when face-to-face interactions are not an option?

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Hi, this is a question about practicing CRAFT via texts and such. My LO doesn't live so far away but right now with the coronavirus we can't really see each other.

I left my husband (the father of my two children) because communications were getting worse and worse, and his dependency on alcohol and pot were ever-increasing. That was 7 years ago and only in the last year have we begun to get along well enough for me to get the idea of trying to help him. I know the CRAFT principles pretty well but I need to refresh my approach.

I know he still loves me and I never really thought about wanting to be with him again until recently. Also he just 2 days ago left a toxic relationship which was based around using together. I know that the idea of being together again can be a pull/ motivator for him but that's all waaay up in the air/far down the road so I don't want to make false promises. But I am currently very motivated to practice CRAFT with him, and I've already had some success.

Today he sent me a text out of the blue saying "Hard times. Guilt, sense of regret. I guess you know what I mean." (I guess? I suppose it's the breakup that's toying with his feelings)

I might have gone a little overboard, I was so excited to receive an unsolicited "dip"… I sent a few responses about "maybe you should write down what you're feeling…" then I actually sent a link for an online CBT course as well as a link for a recovery coach that was recommended to me.

Is there an ideal way to be CRAFTy through technology? I feel it's easy to say/do too much, which I may already have done…

Thank you for being here Allies in Recovery.

It’s a new day with the coronavirus pandemic. We are instantly more limited in our ability to communicate and may be depending more than ever on virtual aids, like text and phone and internet video.

Your Loved One provided you with a dip (Learning Module 8), in a text, describing his regret with his life and mentioning the tough times he is having. You’ve done the work of putting together a list of potential treatment and self-help, so you picked from the list and suggested one to him.

He is reaching out to you, already a very good start. He is saying when it hurts, the type of dip we look for as a window of opportunity to talk treatment. You made a few suggestions in several texts and now worry you’ve gone “overboard.”

First thing is to put down the criticism you are feeling. We are all doing the best we can with a formidable foe. CRAFT asks us to try many things, strategies and changes in communication that may not come naturally at first. When you add in all the challenges of “reading” a text exchange, it’s fair to say we are in uncertain territory.  So we try as best we can.

The good news about addiction is that someone struggling with it usually gives their family lots of practice. There is always the next thing to try. CRAFT gives you the big picture. You are then left to implement it as best you can in your family or situation.

Addiction is not a toggle switch: up: you’re using; down: you’ve stopped completely. CRAFT is about creating the stance of a solid, calm, loving family member, ready with a small pitch and a list of help. You stay solid and as still as you can while your Loved One ping pongs about. That can be exhausting in itself which is why finding a way to clear and center yourself is so important.

I’d say you are doing quite well. You made the list and softened your communication with your Loved One to the point he is telling you when it hurts! This is huge. Is there a perfect way to use text? You know your Loved One best. It’s hard to know what he can take, so you have to test the waters and see how it goes.

Perhaps he will look up the recovery coach or the online cognitive behavioral program, on his own time, when he is feeling a little dip or wish motivation. Perhaps you tell him you are getting help yourself to reinforce the idea of working in partnership, and to model the change you are seeking.

What if you follow up with the whole list and just say something like:

“Look, I’m sorry, I may have jumped the gun in those texts but I am getting help too. It’s part of how I take care of myself. This is about our family. I’ve come up with an entire list of suggestions. I’m attaching a copy in case you would like to talk it through or pursue them on your own. I want you to know I am here to help with anything you are willing to try. You are grappling with difficult feelings. The alcohol and pot aren’t making them go away or fixing them. I care about you so much and I want you to work through this so you don’t have to carry so much sadness and pain. Please consider opening yourself just a little to explore this aspect of your life. I made this list so you can have help in doing this.”

Your efforts to help deal with your Loved One’s drug use are complicated by the feelings you both have for each other. Applying the CRAFT lens to your situation, I’d suggest you take his good feelings for you as a cue and use your calm/loving communication as rewards.

In the past, we’ve talked about rewarding loved ones with your presence, your attention; your interest in them. As difficult as it is when children are involved, we’ve seen how, in some situations, they can be part of a reward in the day-to-day.

It’s going to be important to be clear in your communication that the reward is not some future scenario that you or he can envision. Your connection – the reward – is about the day. Keep the texts light. Your love, presence, and compassion are the rewards.

It’s hard to stay in the present when we carry around the stories of a Loved One’s past along with our hopes for their future. This is for you to sort out, sitting with and making peace with your thoughts/feelings about your Loved One so that you can be as present, adaptable and effective as possible when he does reach out… so that you can be there for him.

While your thoughts about what may come in the future are up in the air, as you say, your responses and communications should stay grounded in the present. This is to protect you as much as it is to shepherd him to a safer place as he begins to face his own work. And it’s helpful to remind yourself, despite the ins and outs of your family’s story, that each player must do their own work. Your work is yours to do and his work is for him alone.

It sounds like there are new patterns emerging and you may be able to catch more opportunities to be available in new ways to your Loved One. Take each opportunity fresh, as it comes. Don’t worry about how the last ones went or didn’t go. Put out little feelers during those moments of change talk. You are planting seeds and also gauging where he is at in terms of willingness to open up more… But all seeds take time to sprout.

“I understand. You are feeling a lot of painful things. It’s ok to feel this way. Be kind to yourself. I just want you to have really solid support so that you can work through this. I’m here for you and I want to help – how can I support you?”

Maybe he opens up more; maybe he shuts down for now, but you are clearing the path between you either way. Leave it open; seedlings take proper nourishment as well as space and time. So you offer what you can and step back.

Congratulations on fielding this “dip” and being ready with suggestions. And for being enthusiastic about practicing CRAFT now with your Loved One! This is a great sign. And thanks for writing in with this question – so many of us are navigating this right now as face-to-face interactions aren’t an option.

Texting is such a challenging medium, but you know your Loved One well enough to make reasonably informed decisions about how much to offer in any one “session.” The occasional no-strings-attached message is also useful, just dropping a line to let him know you’re there and that you care about him – whether he’s ready to talk about the serious stuff or not.

It sounds like you’re on the right track. Keep taking care of yourself and clearing your mind as much as possible. This will serve you well when it comes to the next opportunity to be of help when he reaches out. I hope this is helpful – please keep us posted!



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. Thank you for this helpful information. My question is: my Loved One expresses in a App message that he wants me to move in with him. I think he is drinking and feeling sentimental and/ or ready to please me by saying this, as a form of manipulation. But maybe it’s a wish, I later on guessed…I texted that we should discuss this face to face and went on, and he was dissapointed.

    So: was I right to disengage or was this a wish…?

    1. My friend abuses alcohol and was in and out treatment in the past few years. He was sober for half a year and went to NA meetings, but since the Covid 19 situation started drinking again. We have a part time relationship. We see each other every weekend. When I’m around he doesn’t drink (I hope).
      When I’m not there I sense alcohol abuse through his App messages. When I try to ask him what his plans are, (does he wants to recover or wants to drink mildly, or..?) he is putting his answers on hold. He is working on it, wants to do something about his problems he says, but is keeping me waiting for answers for weeks. Today I told him without being angry that it is o.k. that he needs more time and that I will wait, but I wont’ visit him anymore while I’m waiting, for it is too stressful for me.
      I feel relieved but also doubt…have I sent his thinking in the wrong direction? Maybe he feels I’m challenging him? Or is this indeed the only way to handle this?

      1. Your Loved One is drinking when he is not with you. You see him every other weekend. In texts, he says he wants you to move in together. He has an alcohol problem and just recently had 6 months of sobriety by going to NA. The COVID shutdown has made everything more difficult for those with addiction, and their families. It probably disrupted his recovery routine in short order and he started drinking again.

        You suspect he is drinking from the texts he is sending, like the one about moving in together. You sensed a sentimentality in his words that suggests he had been drinking. You second guessed yourself afterwards and wondered if you had missed an opportunity to talk about treatment.

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