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He’s Stepping Out On His Own. Is He Ready? Are We?

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Member Malamia90’s son is preparing to buy a house four hours away from his family and the rest of his support system. It’s easy imagine his challenges with bipolar disorder and substance use overwhelming him during such a transition. With love, preparation, and CRAFT skills, however, there’s good reason to hope he can stay on the path to recovery.

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My son is going to be 26. He has a dual diagnosis: bipolar disorder and addiction to alcohol, pot, and over-the-counter medicines that act like meth. The longest he has gone clean is 5-6 months in 8+ years (he started on pot, alcohol and over-the-counter stuff in high school). He has willingly gone to treatment, both inpatient and IOPs [intensive outpatient treatment programs]. He has had psych-unit inpatient visits and attended substance use places twice per year.

We have seen growth when he is clean. We have used CRAFT to be sure that he is making the decision to get treated (not us pressuring him). However, he tends to be at risk of harming himself/suicidal ideation when he is using alcohol or over-the-counter cough meds because they make him agitated and (sometimes) give him psychotic symptoms. He has had warning signs and symptoms (BOLOs), and has been Section 12’d. He wants to be independent, but when he is alone he uses.

I need help on how to deal with the most recent turn of events. He has been clean for 2-3 weeks, getting tested and going to IOP—yay! Because of his dual diagnosis, he was turned down for a long-term program that has housing and step-down care—a place that helps with goal setting, getting a job, learning to handle money, etc. The problem is that he has money in investments. Since he was turned down by this program, he wants to move to another state and buy a cheap (by MA standards) house. He has had two to three weeks of sobriety.

He will lose the state health benefits and safety net of MA. He will be four hours away from us. He will supposedly have a job and wants to fix the house up. But he will be liquidating the account to buy this house. He is saying he will buy the house and wait 6-12 months before moving because he was hired for a full-time job that starts once his IOP is done—a MA job. Another yay about the job, since he will no longer be on our insurance. He had been doing gig jobs (so no insurance) but lost those jobs during the pandemic. My concern is that since October 2021, we have been contacted by four separate friends of his (who don’t know each other) about him being in a psych hospital after police checked on his well-being. He is strong-willed and is going to do this. We have been trying to guide him like we would our other kids, and he is receptive to things like getting a lawyer, getting the inspection done, etc. He wants our support. We have been giving it to him as well as voicing our concerns (once), but he just wants to “do it.” Our fears are that if he goes to a place away from us and is at risk for harming himself, he won’t have good resources to help him.

Do we just say “Go,” and hope for the best? I would do that with my other kids. I would do that if he didn’t have a history of self-harm statements and he was just a “drunk,” if that makes sense. We have had family members who have been drunks but haven’t been risks to themselves or others. Any insights would be great. I realize that since it is his money and he is an adult there is not much I can do. And buying a house is better than blowing the money on drugs. I am confused about how to apply CRAFT here. I am thinking there is nothing I can do other than make sure he protects himself in the transaction like I would do for any of my other kids.

Hi Malamia90,

It can be overwhelming to know how to handle suicidal ideations combined with Substance Use Disorder (SUD). This double punch complicates our thinking, feelings, and responses. It’s an issue I hear about from so many! Family members are often wracked with fear in the chaos of SUD, never mind the added worries that their Loved Ones might harm themselves. Maybe other families reading this post might chime in and confirm that they have also had to deal with such challenges.

Let’s start on the bright side

I must start by pointing out some of the incredible positives about your situation, which give you a strong foundation to build on:

  • You describe your son as strong-willed, but he is also resilient
  • · He works
  • · He gets himself treated
  • · He wants to be a home buyer
  • · He has friends who care for him
  • · He has a family devoted to seeing him through anything and to learning CRAFT-based skills to support him
  • · He has a job that is keeping him put for up to a year
  • · He is insured (at least right now)
  • · He has had up to 6 months in recovery! WOW this is big!!!

And most importantly:

  • · He is loved

It’s great that your son has future plans like buying and fixing up a house. Putting cash into a hard asset also makes some sense to me from a financial point of view. If he wants to drink, he has to work to make the money, not pull it out of investments. He’ll also need to keep a job going as that fixer-upper will, in all likelihood, continue to run down his bank account.

Fixing up a house can be a lonely pursuit. It’s easy to drink when you’re home alone all day swinging a hammer or doing other tasks that don’t fully occupy a mind in early recovery. This is why it is so important that when he does leave, his family is able to stay connected.

You have time with him right now. Use it well.

You write that he will not be leaving Massachusetts for 6-12 months. This means that now is the time to put in practice your CRAFT skills and to build on your relationship with him, so that he knows he can turn to you no matter where he is. Here are a few things you might want to focus on to get started:

1. Top of the list: communication. Practice how to keep your agenda out of conversations and listen to your son’s wants and desires in life. Practice reflective listening, as described in Module 4. Find ways to validate, affirm and encourage him to be open and honest. Follow and practice the guidelines of positive communication described in Allies’ Learning Center. It is so important for you and for your LO that you model and express your feelings, wants, and needs in an appropriate way—even when it comes to difficult emotions.

2. Get educated about suicide and suicidal ideations. Find out what is the best approach and how you might support your LO. Having strong communication skills in place will give you a firm foundation to pursue this.

3. As described in Module 5, reward any positive behaviors your son is engaging in. It is very ambitious to buy a house and fix it up. Reward all his efforts with words of praise and by spending time with him. Your son is motivated, and he must appreciate your help with the house-buying process. Do the same for any other positive activities he is engaged in, even the small ones. When you can, reward his efforts by engaging in activities that both of you enjoy together.

4. Review Module 6 as well. Be prepared to remove immediate rewards, which almost always means your presence, when your LO is drinking or using drugs.

5. A move puts your son far from the professionals and self-help resources he trusts. You fear that he will drop out of services. While you have time (now), research treatment and all the different options available where your son plans to relocate. Look for Recovery Community Organizations (RCO’s). These provide various kinds of mutual support, including recovery coaches, as well as a recovery community to reduce isolation. And what else? Are there IOP’s, wrap-around service providers, partial hospitalization programs, counselors, psychiatrists, state insurance options, etc.? Don’t forget to look up resources that are not SUD related, such as gyms, art galleries, hiking clubs, and the like. These are things that, from a CRAFT perspective, encourage wellness and can reduce his use and enrich and enhance his life in a new environment. Follow the guidance in Module 8 on how to find treatment, intervene, and engage your Loved One into services.

You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) work on everything at once

The suggestions above may seem overwhelming at first. But a part of CRAFT is taking small steps at a time to improve both your situation and your skills. Pick one or two items from the suggestions above and work on them for awhile before moving on to the next. For example: you might focus on reflective listening from Module 4 and reinforcing positive behavior from Module 5. Reflective listening can take time to become comfortable with, so starting immediately will give you more time to improve. You are already witnessing some positive behavior, such as your son’s ambitions to redo a home. There must be some easily identified moments to praise, validate and affirm him. It can make us feel good too when we say something nice or acknowledge someone’s efforts.

One of the wonderful aspects of CRAFT is that its skills and strategies can be carried into all aspects of our lives. They are so positive that incorporating them into a life practice can bring us calm and empowerment. But also remember that CRAFT can be difficult and frustrating to implement, especially in the beginning . To ease into your practice, you might want to try it out on your other children or spouse first. Approaching them with CRAFT principles in mind could even be a refreshing change! When you’re more prepared and comfortable with your abilities, start using them with your son.

The choices are his, but you’re in the picture too

In your post, you recognize that your son is an adult and starting to make decisions for himself. While you may not like his choices, CRAFT tells us that we do have some influence on such decisions. That’s what you’re doing by helping him with the buying process. Your son is choosing his path, and you are gently guiding him towards it.

You throw your weight into it, as it were. Your story makes clear that your influence and love have made a big difference in his life. Your influence has been instrumental all along, and now you’ll be continuing to guide your son towards wellness.

Dr. Jeffrey Foote, a CRAFT proponent and author of Beyond Addiction, sums it up when he says that families need to learn to sit with their pain. We are asking our Loved Ones to do this by encouraging them to stop using drugs and to live life without the short-term relief that drugs provide.

Keep that connection strong – and positive

Your son is doing everything that is being asked of him for the moment, IOP, work…he knows the score. He also knows that he is dangerous to himself when he drinks. And most importantly, he knows that you are there to support him in his quest for a fuller life.

By using CRAFT, you surround your Loved One with treatment, mutual aid, wellness options, and the all-important critical connection that both of you need to navigate his recovery day to day, whether he’s 20 minutes or four hours away. You are his guard rail in a sense. Although worries about self-harm or other consequences of use cannot be completely alleviated, having a solid foundation can help give you more confidence. The importance of growing and maintaining a solid connection with your son is the best answer we can give you. Connection is key. Module 4, and Laurie’s REST group meetings, are places to learn about building that connection. If your son starts to slide, your connection with him increases the chance that he will reach out to you and say when it hurts. This is the best early warning system we can suggest. Your connection with you son is the thread that will make it through the needle.

We wish you and your son the very best of luck. Please stay in touch.



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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"...)