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The Car’s a Trigger for Him. Should We Help Him Get It Back on the Road?

Mothra writes in to give an update on her son, 2 months' sober. She wonders whether it's appropriate to help him get his car (a huge trigger for him) back on the road…

"Hi AIR community. Our son is still hanging in at the sober house, but I fear by his thumbs. I've been worrying a lot about his current status – he's got about 2 mos sobriety at this point and says he's having trouble getting to meetings and finding work without transportation, though we have noted only minor, sporadic effort. Work and meetings are important issues for sure, but today he called to say he wanted his vehicle which is here at our home.

This vehicle is a huge trigger for him…it's where he used, scored, slept and did so many illegal things to get drugs. In cleaning it out while he was in detox I found all sorts of syringes, pipes, and more (this is nothing new – in fact I've done this so many times that I'm numb to it now). Anyway, there's no sticker, insurance has lapsed and brakes are very bad. He wanted us to help him get it so that he could drive it back to the sober house – 1 and 1/2 hours away and work on it.

This is after he got his tax money back, also another trigger. We refused, saying that, yes, it's his vehicle and he can take it anytime he wants but we're not comfortable helping him with it in any way for many reasons, pointing out to him all of the above, plus if he gets stopped he will go to jail on outstanding warrants.

Trying to follow some guidelines we offered: a bicycle to get to meetings, job searches and the gym, help via Uber, and encouraging him to network during meetings (his shame and anxiety make this hard I know.)

This time of early sobriety has always been difficult and fearful for us and him, and sometimes I think he becomes so fixated on getting something he wants that he doesn't stop to think; it just becomes all-consuming. I've seen him embrace sobriety in the past but don't feel he is making his best effort. I don't trust his motives either. He brings things up like making a doctor's appointment or going to a day program 3 times a week, but when asked about them they haven't happened, or he has an upcoming appointment which we never hear about again.

Later he called back, saying that, yes, perhaps he hadn't thought things through, and that he knows this need for immediate gratification has always been a problem and that he will try to be patient and will make more effort to get to meetings and network, and he's sorry that he probably caused me stress and worry. Next request: instead of a bike, would we help him address a warrant (traffic) by taking him to the courthouse and helping with the fine? His dad felt that was doable and agreed, but I'm not sure if we're being manipulated yet again.

This rollercoaster ride of emotions: hope, fear, anger, helplessness, numbness, etc. is taking its toll. We're trying to do the right things to help while staying away from enabling – but it's so hard to know what's right. Plus I'm so tired of it all that it's even a chore to do the modules lately. I did go to the serenity spot today. Thanks for any comments."

The long haul….

It’s so hard to stay with it, whether you are the family or the person with the addiction. This seems trite but is so very true: you can’t do it alone. People ask for rides all the time at meetings, no one is shamed for asking; it’s a way for an AA person to be of service. This jumped out at me as being a stretch in the argument for the car.

You have been so strong in your efforts. Your son is in a sober house and is approaching two months sober. The issue is the car, which is wrapped up in outstanding warrants and needed repairs. The context is what appears to be his waning energy for sobriety. You’ve seen it before and are scared.

Without a job your son can’t get and keep a car on the road. With outstanding warrants, he is in danger of being arrested if pulled over.

It seems that these two things must be addressed before returning the car to him. So often a person gets sober at the time everything is caving in around them. One can mistake sobriety for life falling apart.

It’s confusing for the family …

Do you reward the Loved One for being sober by meeting their request or let them struggle with the consequences of their use.

Perhaps you step in a little….you could provide Ubers for the job search and address the outstanding warrants: reward his current efforts with help getting the car on the road.

One thing—if you haven’t cleaned out the car of drug paraphernalia, leave it. It can be shocking to see what a mess you’ve been living in.

Now is the time to replenish your batteries

You and your other family members need more ways to replenish your batteries. When you are worn out, the feelings of fear and worry can become unstoppable. For today, your son is doing what he is supposed to be doing. He is safe. No one has more than that.

Reaching out on this site is a good start. Is there a support group in your area? I know you are an old hand at this so go back to basics, the modules on this site mention AA’s HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. What can you do today to calm the worry? Learning Module 7 describes the tendency towards negative feelings. While much is good, our tendency as humans is to look for the exception, and to chew on it. This Module will help you deconstruct your worry and locate where you may be distorting your thoughts in a way that is further dragging you down. We just posted the African Children’s Choir on the Sanctuary. It will fill your heart with hope.

For anyone who’s Loved One is in treatment: you’ve discovered that this doesn’t totally eliminate the worry. What a terrible surprise. Your experience still pulls you towards the negative outcomes. Predicting the future based on the past may seem natural or informed but no one actually can predict the future.

You are staying connected with your son. You have fought to get him this far. You are doing what you can. The rest is not up to you. You are at the limit of your influence. The work in this place is to let go of the rest and to find peace where you are. A tall task, and one, yes, that involves more effort for you. Deep breath, look inward, find meaning and pleasure in your life apart from your son. We are learning from your struggle. Thank you for sharing.



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. How your post resonates with me and my daughter. The car is very much a trigger for her as well. Can I suggest he use any savings to purchase a scooter or bike like you had mentioned. I am not sure where you live but I am hoping the weather is suitable for this mode of transportation? Maybe you could help with buying it?

    With my daughter I need to see change first. She is really good about talking about what she is going to do but sadly she doesn’t follow through. If your son is working a strong program you would see it and there would be no need to hear about it.

    I also do not understand the issue with warrants? Speeding tickets ? Maybe you could find a jobs for him to do that he could earn some money? It sounds like there is a mess he needs to clean up before he hits the streets.

    My daughter is in treatment right now and we have her car. The last time she relapsed we sold her car because she walked out of treatment. This time we decided to hold on to it and see how she does. We will not be giving the car back anytime soon. That is a privilege she will need to earn. She is in a pretty big city so public transit should be good. Maybe your son needs to be in a home where there is better transportation?

    Good luck

  2. Hello AIR – well, we are at a crossroads I feel with our son who has been n a sober house for over Two months. After a job loss and another job not won, there seems to be an unraveling going on. Now he says there’s problems at the sober house with one of the residents,and he seems to be overly involved suddenly. Contradictions abound and we can’t tell if he’s being truthful, but my gut says he’s not. I fear he has started using or is ready to.
    We are grateful that he has gotten this far and hope that what he experienced during this time will make an impact on him. Pressures with the courts are lurking too, though he was given a break with one hearing due to being at the sober house. However the big one is coming up within the next few weeks. Another reason to run.
    We are seeing him tomorrow and I will know.
    we will try very hard to use CRAFT when engaging with him in hopes we can continue to steer him towards recovery. This period of new found clarity in some areas – not all – has always been a dangerous time. He never pursued any counseling or an IOP , not even an MD visit though he had the time, just meetings, but not daily. No sponsor….I’d like to make our continued help with the rent contingent on some sort of counseling if he’s not using, or detox if he is. Or let the consequences happen. What are your thoughts?

    Thanks, Mothra

    1. Well our son was asked to leave the sober house. Apparently he was the instigator of problems with another resident with seniority. Although not using he was engaging in and contributing to a lot of drama. To his credit though he managed to pull himself together and find another sober house nearby. After speaking with the director I find the new place to be more strict on meetings and urines, so hoping this is a good thing. For the most part he admitted that he was at fault, though some half truths are known. But that is addiction and that’s the stuff to let slide. He says he’s going to focus on his own recovery and no one else’s. Praying and practicing CRAFT.

      1. Dear Mothra: He found another house! It is definitely to his credit. He is not giving up. Having a sense of how to manage relationships is so critical. The suggestion of an early recovery, relationship-oriented, men’s group holds. A tighter sober house should help too. I am so glad for him and for you. Dominique

      2. This early period of recovery is fragile, as you say even dangerous. As important as it is to remove the drugs, it is even more important to add things in that take the place of the drugs and that provide meaning, guidance, and that support recovery and health…a job, volunteer work, exercise, self-help, a recovery coach, a therapeutic group.

        You’ve been aware of this and have been trying to interest your son in these healthy strategies. It is an uphill battle. I do think that continued rent payment of the sober house can be made contingent on following a treatment plan. The self-help is important but is not proving to be enough if your suspicions are correct.

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

  3. Thank you so much! I’ve done Module 7 twice now and know I will need to go over it several more times. My husband helped with the warrants and because our son brought a note from the sober house the judge was very understanding – the case will be heard next month and some fees were waived. Another warrant from out of state will be addressed soon. No visit home allowed – right back to the sober house – in fact he said himself he didn’t want to stop anywhere. That night he went to a meeting and approached a speaker – this is a huge step – and got a job! We helped with a bike for getting back and forth.

    We have other family members tugging at us for attention for this and that, and we really haven’t given any time to us. Today we went to dinner and a play with friends. It felt so good to be “normal.”

    Bless you for all that you do.