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Where Do You Draw the Line?

check father daughter tree branch
Illustration © Eleanor Davis


We Worry When He Does Something, We Worry When He Does Nothing

A father recently wrote me:

"This morning my workout did not have the usual cleansing effect. I am just feeling that same old gnawing uncomfortable sense of who-knows-what. It is just there.

My son wrote yesterday that he has had a call back regarding a job he applied for at a bank. Interesting, however the job is about an hour from where he is staying. So, sure we are happy that he is taking some initiative, but uneasy about the possible ramifications of a job with so much travel.

How is it that we worry when he does nothing and worry when he tries something? But, it is still there. I believe we should not be judgmental — that is, when he brings up the possible job I think we should just encourage him to consider possible downside of the travel. We can't always be doting or critical parents.

This detachment thing is crazy, feeling like we are abandoning him one time and feeling isolated from him at other times. Ugh. We recognize he must fall and get up on his own, but where to draw the line?

Yes, I am sure you can see that our emotional response to this is constantly back and forth. It isn't that we are not heeding your advice, but the implementation of the interventions is not in a straight line. Just like his recovery is not in a straight line. Another example of the "parallel process" of this disease."

Easy for Me to Say

How often I have said to a family: “It is easy for me to say.” My job is to urge you into a framework for change, change that will clear up any mixed messages you may be sending, and provide you the tools to motivate your Loved One to get help. And yes, easy for me to say but really hard for you to do. I have a nephew with some serious behavioral problems and I love him dearly. I see how quickly I falter with him, how easily I am made putty in his hands.

Like recovery itself, the changes we talk about on this site are a process, not an event. Stepping out, and doing things differently, is tough. Your relationship with your Loved One is patterned, and we are suggesting changes to those patterns, those deep grooves. It may not feel right or easy at first, and you may only sometimes have a little success, but every day you are here on the site, and you read a little or listen to a video, is a day you are trying your best. So go to the gym like this father does, write in your private journal, or take your frustrations out by posting a comment below. Remember, things can change on a dime with addiction….prepare yourself, take care of yourself, and be well.



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. To me, all I’ve learned here, and going through this relationship with an LO challenged by addiction and associated trauma, has taught me a few things. One, the difference between importance and priority.

    There are clearly things that are important beyond others: a real relationship with a HP and the agency this power provides, the LO learning appropriate behavior (new ways of living appropriately and within personal limits, based on their propensities, triggers, tendencies, circumstances, personality, exact nature etc.). Yet, since limits and appropriateness are different for each person (a large meal for a 6’9″ person might not be enough yet too much for a 4’11” person, blue shirt versus green shirt), each person must learn to know themself and develop the thoughts, principles, routines, habits actions, conduct appropriate for them.

    I’ve come to realize that limits are often learned by exceeding them or stopping short. Crossing lines is clearly a part of the process of learning where the lines exist. This process goes for everyone yet is particularly hard to watch with an LO with SUD where one drink or drug is too much and 1000 is not enough. Yet, the “lines” to recovery must be learn as well and relapse is common.

    I think I reformed my vision of what the life of an addict/alcoholic might look like. We can’t live serenely while resenting the method of recovery that’s different for each individual and fully “buy in” to the fact that it’s a process that will be unique.

    I also learned not to treat my LO’s recovery as “fragile” yet to see the process teaches the LO. Even relapse shows the LO the “lines” that the LO is learning to not cross. The limits to not exceed. The places to avoid. The people to seek and the people to avoid at certain times or all the time. This is a learning process that I must dance a new dance with and that is the thing I CAN CONTROL; my dance with the LO in recovery.

    I can provide space and time for the LOs to find themselves within their limits, and also the appropriate way to live within limits and doing things they must do and not do or think.

    I think it takes an “all in” attitude where I am realistic about the fact that this can hurt me in the process; financially, emotionally, and other ways(like stealing while using or them overdosing or other things ad nauseam). Yet such is life even with people without SUD. It’s a mature attitude that isn’t resigned yet assigned to be all I can be and provide a safe harbor for recovery at least in my presence and my love for them.

    I can do all the things Allies in Recovery suggests. I can appropriately engage and disengage based on the principles. THIS has the highest scientific success rate based on science and evidence. Engage while they’re not abusive (to themselves with substances or to others and myself with bad behavior). Disengage when things seem off or they’re acting out. I must be a person that provides a safe space and time for them to change yet my own behavior is guided by clear principles we learn hear and through experience.

    I change the way I relate to everyone through this experience. I’ve learned to consider my words and actions carefully. I learned that by knowing myself and my exact nature and communicating my inner experience is well received (when they are sober or within limits and appropriate behavior) and when I try to get into their personal space it’s never received well by almost everyone. I learned to have options for recovery with me at all times. This requires thought and research and preparedness. I present options only after the LO expresses a desire to change to me and then I present them with principled words. “In my experience this worked for me,” NEVER “I think YOU should do this or that”.

    “Information isn’t knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience.” Einstein

    I’ve learned that only the LO has all the experience of their specific life and so must develop themselves and their specific habits, routines and principles tailored to their exact nature. I only know myself, entirely, and so it’s best for me only to share my own personal story and the principles as they apply to my experience.

    Even if I have options I must present them carefully and with principles. Like, “I have come up with a few options that make sense to ME, yet I know they are merely MY options.” Then if the options are rejected I realize that the options that the LO needs may be “over my head” and so I communicate as much all the time; “Those were the only options I came up with so I think my HP will help imagine better ones in time.” This helped my LO. My LO was given time and space to imagine a better path to recovery and one that was 100% their doing. The least intrusive involvement has worked best for me. My LO researched and came up with a plan, called them, and got admitted. This was 100% their own doing and so they had 100% ownership.

    The first time it was my idea and basically my options and they relapsed. This time things are different because it was 100% the LO’s option. Relapse is possible yet growth is occurring and this is exactly the CRAFT way.

    I have learned to control only the controllable, work my clear principles that have been proved worthy of working, trust my HP and trust the process of recovery that my LO is in control of. The ups and downs aren’t in my control yet my principles and my thoughts, and actions ARE in my control.

    Through the UPS and DOWNS, knowing I am doing the best things to the best of my ability is peace of mind. Seeing results must be attuned to the subtleties of the small successes in the process.

    There are no guarantees in life yet we CAN know we are doing the best we can in finding a way to help the LO.

  2. It is so important to be reminded that it is not just my loved ones’ behavior that is important to observe, but my own. How I behave definitely affects how he behaves. It’s really transparent, in fact. Now I just have to get more aware of my own feelings and behaviors, and do what I can when I can to change them! This will remind me to take care of myself, which is an important part of my loved one’s process.

  3. Reading the father’s comment on worrying, whether the son tries something or does nothing, is such a familiar parent/partner song – I hear you! What’s comes to my mind, is one step at a time… yahoo! He got a job! and just biting the tongue about the possible hitches and glitches – like a one hour commute. Who knows, maybe an hour commute is perfect for him, right now, to muse and self-reflect while driving it. Maybe being in another community/location is just what he needs to get away from the familiar patterns. Maybe he’ll quickly find housing closer to the job, once the long commute wears on him…. yes all just maybe’s, but currently, as really to worry on the downside of a long commute. It is so hard to be quiet and just let our loved ones struggle with what is in front of them! zig zag trajectory indeed. bravo to you for recognizing it!