Rengal’s son is struggling with alcohol use, and this has led to some difficult encounters. She naturally wants to act in hopes of making things better. But as Allies writer Laurie MacDougall explains, sometimes the first challenge we face with our Loved Ones is not to make things worse. Not reacting, not confronting: these can be positive, powerful early steps. CRAFT skills can help us take them.
First, thank you for the resource list and advice, Leah and Dominique.
I told my son yesterday that we could have a talk today, because he was very tired yesterday. I knew it was about money. He had a long rest, but this morning at 4:45 a.m. I heard him in the kitchen, rummaging for the snack bags! I got up and said the first thing that came to mind: “You’re out here like some drunk squirrel, How high are you!?” Sorry, but I’m not at my best at that time of morning.
He just shrugged it off. He wasn’t in an awfully bad state, but something was not straight. I said, “I don’t mind you eating, just don’t wake up everyone!” and left it at that. I know that was not the perfect thing to say, but he knows what I mean.
Anyway, today we had the “good” version of the talk. I said, “You know we love you, and that is why we allow you to stay here. You are still struggling, but I think you are sincere and want to save money for your teeth and other things, and to get your drinking under control. We need to move money into a safe account, and should start with half of it today.” I reminded him that he needs to save, and that if he runs short he can possibly borrow out of his savings instead of from us. He needs a laptop also, so more reason to start.
Then I told him, “I’ve started with a program to get support, and I’ve made a resource list for some local help. I’m going to give you the list written down and in an email.” I handed him the list and sent the doc with links that work. And I moved half of his cash into a safe account.
He seemed to be open to this, so we’ll see.
After the talk, he got a work call he was very happy about, and he went to work yesterday and today. All seemed good. I went to his room to see how he’s been keeping it. It smelled beer-ish. I found lots of beer cans and a six pack under his bed. He doesn’t throw anything out! Should I leave them? Pull them to the middle of the room? Text him a photo?
What should I do or say next? I am glad that he went off to work and had a good start, but this is wrong. I’d appreciate any ideas.
I can hear the angst, fear, and frustration that rises up with each new issue. Jumping from one fire into another before even being able to clean up the ashes can be exhausting and not really result in any progress. There are so many of us in the Allies in Recovery community that can relate to everything you are going through.
Reacting vs. responding
Frantically reacting to each new difficulty that pops up is not productive, however. It would be better to have a strategy and structure to help guide you on your journey with your son. The goal is to respond in a more helpful and informed way. Dealing with any chronic illness is a process. That definitely includes addiction.
Just for now, could you try to press the pause button on reacting to anything your son does? There can be great power in not doing anything. Not doing anything can be a different, active approach. So avoid any confrontation. Instead, start to focus on learning new ideas and concepts that can result in better outcomes. Develop some new skills so you can be more helpful in your response. This is not about being right or wrong. This is about healing.
We can certainly tell you what you could do in each situation that comes up, but that won’t give you the learning experience that leads to a deeper understanding of CRAFT and all it has to offer. It does take work and commitment on your part. But we strongly believe that it’s better if you actively learn the concepts and how to apply them for yourself. Creating your own plans, trying them out, and continually adjusting to the situation is what will help you become skilled with CRAFT. We are here to help with any questions or support you may need with your strategies.
Time to invest in those CRAFT skills
Now is the time to arm yourself with knowledge and learning—and then to practice, practice, practice. To get started, there are two modules on the website that I am going to point you toward: Module 4 (How Do I Talk to My Loved One?) and Module 7 (How Do I Care for Myself When Negative Thoughts Get in the Way?).
Start by watching the first video in Module 4 and doing the exercises that come along with the video. Then spend the next week or two practicing what you learn. This section is about our negative talk habits, and we all have them. Sometimes we don’t realize what a negative talk habit might sound like, or even that how we communicate is negative! I know I have struggled with being logical and stating data and statistics. I thought I was helping, but stepping back and considering how my words might be perceived helped me understand that I was being a bit of a “know it all” and making others feel like I didn’t think they could think for themselves.
Holding back ≠ doing nothing
So just for now, you don’t get to say much—but you will say more as you learn new skills. Holding back is just a temporary state. And, no, it’s not easy! It shouldn’t be. It may be your very first time for this sort of practice and these new ideas, and nothing’s easy when we begin. Change can be painful, and rarely goes smoothly.
While you’re making this effort, take a look at Module 7 and start to work on calming and managing your thoughts and feelings. Again, this is no easy feat. Toning down that awful voice in our head and calming difficult feelings can seem almost impossible to accomplish. Believe it or not, though, doing this is key to becoming helpful in so many situations.
Here’s a resource you may find helpful: in a couple of our recent Coming Up for Air podcast episodes, we interview Linda Aber, who outlines information on the polyvagal theory and gives us techniques to help us calm our systems down. The bottom line is that when we are in a better mental, emotional, and physical state, we are in a better position to be effective.
Combining the skills and learning covered in Modules 4 and 7 can help with few things:
1) Reducing the negative talk with our Loved Ones (LOs), which can help to bring down our LO’s defenses, making for a more trusting and caring environment. Talking less negatively about the situation can calm those intense feelings (theirs and ours) to a more manageable level.
2) Seeing our LOs differently.
3) Reducing our tendency to catastrophize.
All in all, this learning is a win-win.
After completing and practicing the first video and activities in Module 4, move on to the second set. Remember that you’ll do best with at least a couple of weeks of practice. For my own learning, I chose one of the easiest skills to focus on first: using “I” statements. I challenged myself to change all of my “you” statements to those “I” statements. This alone brought down many (not all) of my LO’s defenses .
I think you see the process here: watch a video, do the exercises, and then practice for a while before moving on to the next section. The modules are intended to be watched repeatedly, to help you get those skills down pat. I have watched them over and over for the past six-plus years, and I learn something new each time.
Practice, practice, practice!
Of course a big part of this is working on communications skills. Write out scripts or phrases that might help remind you of your intentions in confusing or chaotic moments. Those notes can help you recall and practice what you have learned. Again, practice until these skills and ways of engaging with your son comes a bit more easily.
You might also benefit from attending some of the groups offered on this website. Try the one-day immersive training. All of the resources you’ll find on our Support Groups page are CRAFT-based skills, educational, and support groups that can really help you learn and implement your new skills and strategies. These groups are great places for active learning, sharing, asking for suggestions, and brainstorming ideas. You’ll find a ton of positive support from other families waiting for you there. It can be so helpful to know how not alone you are.
To reiterate: becoming skilled in CRAFT strategies, making them more second nature, can help you to learn to respond with a well-thought-out plan and do a lot less reacting. Feeling the need to react immediately is just a feeling. It’s not a fact.
The goal over the next few weeks and months is to build on your relationship with your LO. The foundation of CRAFT is engagement through loving, compassionate, and caring communication in order to create a better connection with your LO and counter the shame-based effects of the illness of addiction. At the same time, you’re developing an understanding of how to take care of yourself and be assertive about your needs. This is going to take some time, but it’s pretty fulfilling when you start to see progress.
Wishing the best for you and your family, Rengal. Please keep us updated on your progress.