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Don’t Let Worry Make His Progress Invisible

Njones has seen her son in dark places before with his drug use. Lately, she’s noticed some worrying signs that could point to a return to those troubles. The danger is real—but so is the strong evidence that her son is committed to recovery. Laurie MacDougall recommends putting that worry-energy into reinforcing his positive behaviors, with CRAFT as your guide.

Hello,

My 18-year-old son lives with me and his 16-year-old brother. My 18-year-old son has poly substance disorder but has been actively receiving treatment since early January with medically assisted treatment as well as recovery high school and therapy.

While he is following the prescribed medications properly and has become much more stable and regulated as well as safe, he has classmates who sell drugs and could have a very bad influence on him. My son went very far with drugs before and was selling them and in very dangerous situations. We have moved, and since he started treatment he has been recovering.

The main focus with the psychiatrist has been his opiate addiction, and then it would be a tapering of the benzodiazepine he’s prescribed. These are much more serious drugs than marijuana. Therefore there is not much emphasis on him stopping smoking marijuana even though it is very bad for him and he seems to be increasing his consumption.

I’m very concerned that he is going to try to sell drugs again to support the marijuana habit because I cannot afford to finance his consumption. My choice to do so has been based on what the psychiatrist said, which was not to change that for now, and also because I do not want my son to be exposed to unregulated marijuana because it may have fentanyl in it. At least if it is bought at a dispensary we know it is clean from that.

I am very worried about the marijuana and the potential for him getting involved again in illegal activities. It is a very bad direction for him. He would not be safe on many levels, and I would be very scared, not just for him but also for myself and other son because of the risks and people involved with such activities.

I have no idea how to dissuade him, who to talk to that might help, or how to plan a getaway from my son if it goes in this direction. I do not want to leave him, but I can’t support that lifestyle and do not want my life overlapping with it.

The best possibility is to find all of the ways to keep him from engaging in that at least for a few months. If he can go a few months longer stabilizing and getting a regular job while going to school, he may well come out alright.

It’s spring break and the school he goes to is closed, so I can’t talk with anyone there for almost two weeks. I feel stumped with his psychiatrist about what my position in this is, and also what the best thing to do is.

 

Hi Njones,

I can totally relate to the worries you express about your 18-year-old son. He has a history, and the worry that he may slip back into that behavior is real. You’re worried about him continuing to use pot and possibly returning to selling and the risky lifestyle that can bring. You express that this is something you do not want to be involved in, but I also hear a desperation as to what that might mean if it happens. The push-and-pull in our minds created by such chaos can really wreak havoc on our ability to think things through in a logical way.

Usually, I start my responses by pointing out the positives in each situation, but in this case I think I will end with that. I am hoping that if I end the post with all the really wonderful things happening with your son, it might turn your ruminating thoughts away from the worries and instead help you to focus in on your son’s possibilities and accomplishments. Remember the wise words of Randy Armstrong:

“Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles. It takes away today’s peace.”

Let’s tackle what to do with some of the “What Ifs.” Try and STOP them. This is a tough one and may take a lot of effort on your part. Work towards limiting the amount of time you think about what might be in the future, and focusing on what is right in front of you. It can really help.

I have used a couple of strategies to help myself with this task. One method was to give myself a certain amount of time to ruminate over what could happen. I usually allowed myself only 15 minutes. Then I put my thoughts in an imaginary box, covered it, and put it on the top shelf of a closet in my mind. If I found the thoughts creeping back in, I would distract myself by doing the laundry, going for a walk, taking an exercise class, etc. Maybe in the comments, others in the Allies in Recovery community could share strategies they have employed to help move their minds away from obsessively thinking?

Put your energy where it can help the most

It took time for me to get to the point where I decided I would commit to facing what was in front of me in the moment and nothing more. What was in front of me right then was heavy enough. I know that the worrying and constant thinking is an attempt at preventing the horrible things that might happen. But energy is better spent learning skills and strategies that create an environment where your Loved One (LO) feels supported in their efforts and has the space to not be perfect. Recovery is not a straight-line process.

Directing your focus to all of the positives that are happening in your family situation is another way to help prevent and/or reduce the intensity of some of the negative “What Ifs.” And boy, do you have some really great positives to focus on:

  • He has been working on his recovery since January. He already has three months under his belt at such a young age. THIS IS A BIG DEAL!
  • He is being prescribed medicines and taking them as prescribed
  • He is attending a recovery high school
  • He is working with a psychiatrist
  • He is attending and engages with therapy
  • The psychiatrist and your son are working on ending and reducing the use of the most dangerous substances: opioids and benzodiazepines
  • He is sticking to pot from a dispensary

The psychiatrist also seems to have a clear plan for supporting your son. And it is headed in a great direction, and your son is buying in. THIS TOO IS BIG. He knows that asking your son to accomplish everything all at once is a plan that would be very difficult to succeed at.

As family members, our worry and angst can really muddy the view of how such plans might work. Often times, when we struggle with anxiety and concern, we can project how we are feeling onto our LOs. We might warn them of more than we need to or behave in a way that comes across as suspicious. This stress and fear sends the message that we are not confident in what we are doing, and not confident that our LOs are going to be successful in reaching for their goals. This can trigger our LOs into old behaviors and patterns. Especially in early recovery, they are so focused on not using that any added stressors can be a lot to deal with.

He probably has to walk before he flies

The psychiatrist knows that your son is more likely to get better if he is allowed to go at a pace that is not overwhelming, allowed not to have a perfect process, and has support and understanding from the people who love him. Even if you’re not all that confident.

He may increase his pot use in the beginning. It makes sense to me: he no longer has opioids and he is reducing his dependence on benzos. However, he has the support of the psychiatrist and you to help him through this difficult time. I’ll share with you that my son also opted to use pot when he first went into recovery (and he would not get it from a dispensary, arghhhh). I too was wracked with fear of what this meant for us. His use did increase to levels I was not happy with, but I sat back, watched, and waited for the right times to intervene. His pot use was an addiction, but it did help him not to return to opioid use. Eventually he made the decision to stop using pot.

Recognize, reward, repeat

Your son is incredibly early in his recovery, and that he is this accomplished and focused is great. This is where Mom, focusing her attention, is going to help and support him. As outlined in Module 5  (My Loved One Isn’t Using Right Now. Now What?), any time there is non-using behavior, reward it. A basic psychological principle is to encourage behaviors you want them to repeat by rewarding them.

What about expanding on the list of accomplishments above? Consider all that your son is presently doing and what other options/wishes are open to him. How can you best support those options?

The list of his options might look like this:

  • an exercise program, like joining a gym or lifting weights
  • an activity group at school or a school organization that will help him focus on a hobby
  • managing his money
  • volunteering at a local animal shelter
  • helping to get dinner going three times a week
  • music programs or playing an instrument

The list could be much larger, but I think this is good start. Now maybe combine the lists  and determine what your son is already doing, what he might consider in the future, and what may seem like an impossibility in this moment (but don’t throw these out as a possibility in the future. You just never know). If your son is already engaged in one or a few of these things, that’s a real positive.

And this is where you can have some impact and influence. Reward the positive. Some of the best rewards are those that promote connection and strengthen relationships. Rewarding can sound something like this:

“I noticed you really have been putting in a lot of effort to reduce your benzo prescription dose. That cannot be easy; I am very proud of your efforts. I know you love playing your video game. Can I challenge you to a game?”

Validating how difficult the task is but supporting his efforts can really reinforce positive behavior. The words themselves are a reward. Add in the incentives of food and spending time together, and you have relationship building and support combined.

Maybe there is an activity that he used to engage with but hasn’t been since using. Supporting his new engagement or reengagement with pleasurable activities may help to reduce his use and replace negative with positive behaviors (this could include some of the pot use, but for now that shouldn’t be the focus). Your support might sound something like:

“I was looking for a birthday gift for you and was remembering that you loved to exercise. Would it be a good idea if I purchased you a membership to this new gym that opened up just around the corner? I could do something like a trial for 30 days, and if you like it I could extend it. Would this be something you might like for your birthday?”

Or something simple like:

“I noticed an ad for the local animal shelter—they need volunteers, and I immediately thought of you. You’re so patient and caring with animals. Just thought I would share it with you.”

Now offering these up does not mean your LO is going to jump on them. It may take awhile until they do. I would also recommend starting small and building from there. Your LO may love hiking, but offering up a hiking camp for the whole summer in the beginning may be overwhelming and daunting. Asking if your son wants to accompany you on a hike near your home for half an hour would be a great start. This approach will help manage expectations of what your LO can accomplish, breaking it down into smaller steps. It makes it more likely that your LO can and will be successful. Those small initial successes are much better than lofty goals that few can manage (that includes you too!).

Don’t forget to care for yourself

One thing I would like to add is that it is important to add in supports for yourself. Connecting with a community that is going through similar experiences can be very helpful. Have you tried any of the groups offered through the Allies site? There are CRAFT training groups on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, and Kayla Solomon’s drop-in support group on Wednesday nights. You can access them through the support groups page on our website.

There is more that I could go on and on about, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. It’s baby steps for us too. I hope what I have responded with here helps and inspires you. My suggestions and examples may not pertain neatly to your situation, but I am hoping you might find some of it useful and try it out. Please let us know how things go, and happy CRAFTing.

All the best to you and your sons,
Laurie

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