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Does This Level of Violence Rule Out CRAFT?

Nohp’s husband of 48 years is struggling with heavy alcohol use. Recently his behavior has become more alarming, and even violent. Now she’s staying outside their home, and wondering if that violence means the CRAFT approach isn’t right for their circumstances. Allies CEO Dominique Simon-Levine thinks it probably is. While underscoring that no one can decide for her, she advises Nohp to explore the skills training and support resources offered through Allies in Recovery. Quite simply, they work, and have a track record to prove it.

I have a question related to the issue of violence. The introductory message indicated that this program wasn’t for people living with violence from their loved one. I am wondering what qualifies as violence.

My husband of 48 years has a serious alcohol problem that got exacerbated during the pandemic. He has never hit me or physically harmed me in some other fashion. However, he has done some scary things recently — which he didn’t do in the past. We were having an argument which was getting more and more heated, and I decided that I needed to get out of the house and drive somewhere else. He tried to prevent me from leaving by grabbing onto the door handle of the car. I was scared that either he or I would get hurt. He did let go and I left. This kind of event has happened twice. I have recently moved out to another place to live because of these events and other things he did that could have caused harm — like trying to test how an air fryer worked in the living room because the maid was cleaning in the kitchen.

If this program isn’t for me, do you have any recommendations on what to do? I’ve been insisting that he go into treatment before I will come home, but that is met with a flat rejection. The therapist I have been working with has argued that I should cut off all contact with him until he does get treatment.

I am very sorry to hear about the troubles surrounding your husband’s use of alcohol. The question you are asking is one of great importance — Does the level of violence my Loved One has recently shown mean that CRAFT isn’t the right approach for my situation? Every family member should ask this question before implementing CRAFT techniques.

You’ve been married almost 50 years, yet COVID times have worsened his drinking. The discord caused by his exacerbated use has brought you to this juncture — living outside of the home you’ve built together, trying to decide what to do next. While I’m sure this must be terribly difficult, I applaud you for taking the initiative to do this — and to seek the care of a therapist.

Your question’s a great one. This community’s faced it many times.

Your husband has been behaving in ways that frighten you. Most recently, he grabbed onto the handle of your car door in hopes of keeping you from driving away. You’ve been working with a therapist who is urging you to stay away, to have no contact with him until he agrees to go into a treatment facility and/or program. Enduring this situation must be incredibly upsetting and absolutely destabilizing for you.

Allies in Recovery created eLearning CRAFT Module 2 (How Do I Stay Safe?) precisely for the reasons you’ve described. Alcohol and other substances make people unpredictable, and there is always potential for irrational and sometimes even violent behavior. Since you are receiving this training from a website, it is ultimately for you and your therapist to determine whether CRAFT is the safest approach to learn and apply to your situation. I encourage you to take my reflections to your therapist and, together, decide the right course of action.

Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) is designed to improve communication, reduce conflict, and emphasize the connection between you and your Loved One. Our virtual program can teach you ways to influence your husband to engage with treatment.

Any changes in your behavior — even positive, quiet changes — can inspire someone who has demonstrated physically violent tendencies to act on them. Given what you’ve experienced, you may find it helpful to visit our Resource Supplement and connect with a domestic violence support organization to help guide you through your situation.

Violent behaviors are not all alike

Having said this, what you describe your husband doing — grabbing the car door to keep you from leaving the house and using the air fryer in the living room — doesn’t necessarily demonstrate physical violence towards you. You have been with your husband for almost five decades, which implies that you know him well. It sounds as though his drinking and irrational behaviors reached new heights over the course of the pandemic. Module 2 can teach you ways to reduce and excuse yourself from these altercations.

Module 2 also distinguishes physical violence directed at you (or another person) from verbal violence, as well as from actions like picking something up and throwing it away from you, or punching a wall. With CRAFT, we don’t consider non-physical abuse a reason not to practice CRAFT, although we absolutely recognize that verbal abuse and other irrational behavior can be just as harmful.

Discord, anger, and being mean in general can be part of the landscape when a Loved One struggles with active addiction. Ugly arguments, name calling, and other kinds of verbal abuse (kicking a door, punching a wall, throwing an object across the room) are commonplace for some when they are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Thankfully, you’ve joined a community who understands what you’re going through quite well.

So I believe you’ve come to the right place. I also believe that your husband can come to terms with his drinking and engage with treatment. I’ve seen it happen countless times — no matter the age, the substance, or the depth of one’s addiction. How you can safely engage with these non-physically violent yet harmful and abusive behaviors is part of the training you’ll receive on this site. I’d suggest that it’s a great place to start.

It’s all about being prepared

Along with helping you develop a safety plan, Module 2 teaches you how to withdraw and disengage from escalating conflict. We encourage everyone on the site to work through Module 2, even if your Loved One has never been violent or abusive in any form. We walk through the steps of creating a plan for domestic violence, including when to avoid engaging in conversations with your Loved One when they’ve been actively using substances or drinking, and how to get out of the house safely if the circumstances call for it.

Everyone on this site needs to assess their situation and plan for the kind of situation you’re asking about. If you need to stay away from home, where do you go, and who do you call? Your husband’s judgment is altered when he’s drunk. He might take offense if you don’t stay, engage, or care for him when he’s intoxicated or hungover, as perhaps you’ve done in the past. Sometimes a Loved One might try a new drug that makes him act in a way you haven’t experienced.  It’s so important to be prepared.

Key Observation #2 walks you through the steps and components of a domestic violence safety plan — again, including how to get out of your home safely when a heated situation arises. I certainly don’t know what led to the scene at your car, but we do know that your husband was intoxicated, that you were arguing, and that you wanted to safely leave your home. A domestic violence safety plan trains you to have your car keys and other necessities, as well as a plausible excuse for leaving, prepared if you were to find yourself in such a situation again. It might be as simple as this:

“Look, I want to continue to talk, but I just need five minutes to settle down. I’m just going for a quick ride to the corner market to get milk. I’ll be back.”

You can build stronger communication skills. You’ll be glad you did.

When you’re ready to move on from safety, your next stop might be Module 4 (How Do I Talk to My Loved One?). This module focuses on communication, teaching you ways to soften what you say so as to further avoid conflict and make positive headway with your Loved One. Module 4 also gives you the tools to approach your husband with compassion and gentleness, thus improving on your connection and making you more effective in your efforts to shepherd him into treatment and/or recovery activities. The latter could include mutual aid groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Smart Recovery, a moderation management group, or an inpatient treatment facility. Please visit our Resource Supplement for a complete listing of mutual aid groups and other recovery activities.

Your therapist suggests you not have contact with your husband until he goes to treatment, yet your husband has not yet agreed to do so. It’s a standoff, one that many of our members are familiar with. Quite frankly, this is the reason why the CRAFT method was created. Fifty percent of those who know they have an issue with addiction are unwilling to get help. Allies in Recovery provides detailed guidance for developing a plan conducive to changing your husband’s mind. That’s the main goal of  CRAFT: to teach you how to influence your Loved One to engage in treatment, embrace recovery, and improve the quality of your lives.

Connecting with your Loved One: when, how, and if

Withdrawing when a Loved One is actively using is a key CRAFT principle. By not contacting and living apart from your husband, you are out of the way, and he is left to feel both accountable and alone with his decision to continue drinking. You’re allowing the natural consequences of his choices to become clearer to him. Another way to put this is that you’re removing the huge reward that is you. Even if he is antagonistic, unhappy, and hurtful, your presence in his life is something he desires. You are his reward.

How you step in, step away, and even what you say during the day — not some undefined future point but in the specific moment — is what counts. Again, you must decide for yourself, and in consultation with your therapist. But I wonder if the condition you’ve set — zero contact until he agrees to treatment — is really your best option now.

With CRAFT, decisions about engagement and contact are made daily, or even within a given day. Having no contact with your husband is the right stance when he is drinking or hungover. But the times when he’s not drinking are at least as important. Those are the moments when CRAFT advises us to step in with a positive reward — a happy word, a touch, a suggestion to do something simple and pleasant together. Incremental, calm, consistent forward progress is how CRAFT works.

You can’t really practice that with zero contact. One half of your influence — the half that rewards good choices and behavior — is removed. Also gone is your ability to point him toward the most relevant and viable treatment options. By cutting him off until or unless he seeks treatment, you may actually be reducing the chance that he get there.

Whatever you decide, Allies in Recovery can teach you the skills you’ll need now and later. Those skills aren’t just about engaging with your husband. Crucially, they also include how to take care of yourself.

To be calm and recover some peace, you are going to want to claim a little place of safety for yourself. You’ve left home, and I’m so glad you have a place to go. If you return home, for visits or for good, it will be important to hold onto the idea of this safe space if you can. The safe space inside the walls of your home is for you. It’s a place to calm and center yourself. It might be a room you take over, where you put a pad and some colored pencils, or a yoga mat in the corner.

Also remember that there is a kind of safe space that’s in your head. The space in your head is where you practice returning to yourself, turning off the anguish of this situation. You might do this through more participation with a club, organization, or place of worship, or by talking with a good friend. At first, you might only succeed in distracting yourself for a little while, but ultimately this recovered peace is the goal. Module 7 (How Do I Care for Myself When Negative Feelings Get in the Way?) describes how to handle difficult thoughts and the negative emotions that follow. This skill is just as vital as more effective communication with your Loved One. 

Shaking it up in a loving way

When you change how you respond to your husband’s drinking and behavior, you really shake up the “norm” at home. Suddenly, you are not so predictable. You are no longer in your husband’s pocket. Yikes! There is a subtle shift in power as you set protective boundaries for and around yourself. Ultimately, you’re learning how to actively listen, communicate, and respond to him without engaging in conflict. You’ll show compassion, remind him that he is loved, build on your connection, and increase your influence on his thinking and decisions.

All of this creates a circle of positive feedback. Active listening and more carefully chosen words reduce conflict. You may notice him making small efforts to reduce his drinking, even for half a day, and you’ll find opportunities to reward him. You’ll have a detailed list of treatment options and mutual aid groups, as well as activities he finds rewarding, ready to share when he’s ready to receive. You’ll have rebuilt your trust. You’ll have taken all the right steps to influence, in a loving way, his choices about treatment and recovery.

It won’t happen overnight, or without some setbacks. But stick with it. CRAFT has been demonstrated to outperform other approaches for getting a Loved One into treatment (including hiring an interventionist) by 3-to-1 odds. Furthermore, for family members, CRAFT outperforms Al-Anon and other mutual aid options 4-to-1. CRAFT interventions are not dramatic, surprise showdowns. They’re calm, sustained, affirming events around the table, along with a few practiced words.

The bottom line? CRAFT works. Various studies of the CRAFT method have followed families over the course of twelve weeks and consistently found positive outcomes. Given these findings, we suggest that you also give the Allies in Recovery virtual program a solid twelve-week try. As you settle into the self-paced training and apply the skills you learn to your situation, I’m betting that you’ll soon know you’re on the right course. You’ll find confidence returning with each passing day.

Please keep in mind that our virtual program also offers additional supports:

Leaving your home behind and witnessing your husband’s health deteriorate before your eyes must feel devastating. Thank you for writing in, and welcome to our community. Please keep us posted about your situation. We are always here for you.

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