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How Do I Practice CRAFT When I Feel We’re Worlds Apart?

Photo credit: Athena

Hopeseeker and her husband are in a tough spot. Their adult daughter struggles with substance use and has moved back in—with a friend who also uses. Daughter and friend disappear for days. When they are home, they show no interest in interacting at all, and leave the bedroom only to eat. Can CRAFT even be applied in such circumstances? Laurie MacDougall says yes—but cautions that it’s not likely to be easy. Change, she says, probably requires setting CRAFT-conscious boundaries. Read on for some specifics.

How do I apply CRAFT in this situation? Our 35-year-old daughter, who has a master’s in psychology and has worked as a drug counselor, has been ensnared. She has been living out of state for years, and we thought all was well. Her drug use must have started within the past 2-3 years.

After a series of misadventures, she moved back in with us in December—broke, and, to our minds, cognitively damaged. A lot of bizarre behavior. We discovered a motherlode of drug paraphernalia in her room that we believe was for dabbing. Then she and a close friend were arrested in March. In her car were found shrooms, LSD, Xanax, cocaine, fentanyl, more drug paraphernalia, and around $2000 in cash. They were initially charged with trafficking, but that has been reduced to possession. We’re hoping that this will result in an 18-month probation with mandatory drug treatment, but the outcome is still very uncertain.

Here’s why I don’t know how to use the CRAFT approach:

  1. We don’t know WHAT she’s using. It’s possibly ALL of the above-mentioned drugs and who knows what else.
  2. We can’t tell WHEN she’s using it. She hides out in her room when she’s with us and only comes out to scrounge food. Her behavior at those times is pretty much the same.
  3. I’m the person in the family she trusts the most (other than her brother, who doesn’t live here), but I’ve become extremely hard of hearing over the years. She speaks so softly that I usually can’t make out what she’s saying even with multiple repeats. This is so frustrating for both of us. I’ve suggested typing our conversations on a laptop, but so far, she has declined. How am I to practice active listening?? I don’t think she wants to communicate anyway.
  4. She’s extremely secretive and furtive, and I know she is very embarrassed to have been found out.
  5. Her primary relationship is not with us—it’s with a young homeless man who says he’s addicted to Xanax because he suffers from extreme anxiety. This is the friend she was arrested with. The relationship seems to be purely platonic, but it’s a deep emotional entanglement. They are inseparable! After their arrest, we allowed him to move in at her request. He’s really quite sweet and shy and seems utterly harmless.
  6. They spend as little time with us as possible. Their pattern is to disappear for days at a time. When they return, they are absolutely exhausted. The young man, in particular, will sleep for over 24 hours solid. My daughter, not quite so long. More troubling is that they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time collecting and staring at rocks! Like ordinary rocks that people line their driveways with. I’ve read that this behavior is associated with meth, but I suppose there could be other causes.

As far as our communication style with them goes, neither my husband nor myself has been the slightest bit judgmental or critical. There’s been no yelling, scolding, or ultimatums. No negativity that I can think of. We’ve been as affectionate and supportive as we know how. I think we have intuitively been practicing CRAFT to a certain extent without labeling it as such. At this point, I see no way to reward or withhold rewards. There are no communications of wishes or dips. There are virtually no communications! And I have to assume that given their druthers, they’d rather not be with us at all. We’re simply not living in their world. Our values are too out of sync.

So far, all I’ve been able to think of is attempting to reward her with light conversation during those moments when she’s out of her room scrounging food. Whether she perceives that as a reward is an unknown. Maybe it’s just a bother. I’d like to at least try to encourage conversation of any kind.

So, looking forward to whatever guidance you can provide!

Hi Hopeseeker,

You and your husband are living in a very complex and entangled situation. Many of us in the Allies community can identify with how difficult it is to be living with one person dealing with substance use disorder (SUD), never mind two.

Even though your situation may seem like a never-ending swirl of chaos, there are also some major positives that I would like to point out:

  1. You are focused and dedicated to learning an evidence-based method that has been widely studied and shown to yield progress.
  2. You clearly have been working on your end of things, trying to understand and implement CRAFT skills.
  3. You clearly love your daughter a tremendous amount. Don’t underestimate the power of your love and your actions to effect change.

There are a couple of issues you brought up that need addressing before diving into action steps. You first wrote that you don’t know what she is using and you’re not sure when she is using. For now, though, it does not matter if you know the makeup of the drugs. You know she is using, and you know that that use is very troubling. Do not get bogged down with the details or in trying to determine exactly when. Go with your best guess. When they are out for a few days, you can be pretty confident that they are using. When they come back home and spend time locked away in the bedroom, they are either recovering from use or continuing to use. Both of these situations are times that the CRAFT method teaches are “times of use.”

Per Module 6, this is when immediate rewards can be removed. An immediate reward in this case is having a comfortable, private place to go and close the world out while using and/or recovering. Removing an immediate reward could be as simple as taking the door away and putting a curtain up so there is a lot less privacy and more disruption of their comfort.

Loving? Absolutely. Endlessly accommodating? No.

Second, there is an idea I’d like to challenge—something that comes up often for those applying the CRAFT-based Allies in Recovery approach. This is the assumption that compassionate, understanding, and caring interaction is synonymous with accepting difficult behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. CRAFT is not about walking on eggshells to create an environment of total comfort for our Loved Ones (LOs). CRAFT is about understanding the illness, and why our LOs behave the way they do. But it’s also about gently and firmly setting boundaries.

I say, “gently and firmly,” but that is on our part, not that of our LOs. The latter often find our boundaries difficult to adhere to and kick up a storm to try to get us to drop those boundaries by the wayside. It makes sense that they would respond this way for multiple reasons:

  1. They are used to getting what they want and being comfortable with that, and when they have to follow a boundary, it disrupts their comfort. In fact it makes them extremely uncomfortable. They have to change, and no one likes to change.
  2. They have to sit with their own difficulties and find solutions themselves.
  3. They may not see any need to change things, so why would they welcome boundaries that may nudge them to do so?
  4. If they do see the need to change, they won’t find it easy. In fact they know it’s going to be a huge and heavy lift. Change is hard for everyone, but even more so when you’re struggling with an illness like SUD. Especially when your only coping skill is using substances.

So a loving, caring, and compassionate approach doesn’t necessarily mean a calm and peaceful situation, especially at the start of implementation. It takes a while. It is more likely to get chaotic and stormy and feel unbearable for both you and your LO, before there is improvement. And boy, can this be hard on us. Just remember when there is change and forward progress, it ends up being worth every bit of struggle.

There are a few communication styles we use when interacting with our LOs:

  1. Aggressive: digging in and trying even harder to do something. A lot more rules and punishments, rather than boundaries.
  2. Passive: being what I call a door mat. NO boundaries. Not addressing the elephant in the room.
  3. Passive-aggressive: stomping around, sending messages of anger and frustration without actually addressing the issue.
  4. And finally, Assertive: this is where you are understanding yet firm and hold to your boundaries. Ding, ding, ding! Assertive communication is a way to send the message that I am here. I want to listen and try to understand, but I am also going to hold to my own boundaries.

In order to be assertive, it is so important to understand boundaries. We often misunderstand boundaries and see them as a tool to get someone else to do something. They are not. Here some basics on boundaries:

  1. The boundaries we set are ours, so it is our responsibility to maintain them. It is not our LOs responsibility to follow them. If our LO does follow them, great. But if they do not, it’s our job to follow through with action steps to manage the boundary.
  2. Boundaries do not determine the LO’s behavior. They do determine our behavior.
  3. Anticipation of the LO’s future behavior should not determine whether or not to set the boundary. Deciding whether you are going to be able to follow through and manage the boundary is what determines whether to set it or not.

If you want to do a deep dive to understand boundaries on another level, just visit the Allies in Recovery Discussion Blog and click on “Boundaries” in the drop-down subject index. We have a large amount of information and discussion of the concept and how to put it to use.

Some steps to take right now

OK, back to your situation, and some steps you might take with your daughter and her friend. There are ways to address those unacceptable behaviors in a firm but understanding way. It might sound something like this:

Dad and I see that you and your friend leave here for days and return only to lock yourselves away in the bedroom and only come out when hungry.

These are observable facts and speaking of them is not accusatory. It’s just something you have seen happen repeatedly. You don’t need to be absolutely sure that they have been using; you can make your best guess. It does sound like they are sleeping off the use (which counts as time using, according to CRAFT) and/or using in the room. Making the statement above allows you to send the message that something is not OK about the behavior without being confrontational about the use.

Here’s something else to think about. Giving them a comfortable space and time to sleep off their use is an immediate reward, and a way to reinforce behavior that you would prefer to see change. Giving them easy access to food is also a reward, especially when they don’t have to do much (or anything?) to get it.

When you set a boundary, it might sound something like this:

This is something that is not working for your dad and me. We are uncomfortable when you come home after those extended times away and then sleep for days. We are asking that you sleep things off somewhere else and only come home after you are clear-headed. We are going to be locking up the house in the evening by 9:00 pm. Just giving you the heads up.

Or you could provide a tent in the back yard, letting them sleep out there and only enter the house when they have recovered or are not in a state of use. When they have recovered or are not using, they can come in and take a shower and eat a meal with you and Dad. They might be able to stay in the house when they are clear-headed and not using.

The goal of this boundary is to disrupt the pattern of use, remove immediate rewards (food, that comfortable place to sleep off the drug and a space to use), allow for some natural consequences, and then reinforce the times when they are not using with rewards.

They’re not going to love this boundary-setting

Expect your LO and her friend to be pretty angry. They will probably try to talk you down and out of your boundary. Anticipate this and be prepared for the difficult feelings you are going to have to deal with and how intense the situation can become. But stay calm and firm: “I love you and I know this may be difficult for you, but regardless, this is what we have decided.” You could even ask her, “What do you think should happen when you disappear and then return after a few days and sleep for an extended period of time?” Regardless of their answer, it is important to stay firm and true to your boundary.

This may sound really difficult to do. It is. I know it is. Just remember that people don’t change unless there is some sort of motivation to do so. Things have to become uncomfortable and/or there has to be something they want on the other side: something they’re willing to face discomfort to get. Removing immediate rewards provides the discomfort without punishment—even though they may accuse you of punishing them. Remember, that’s just how they feel and not the facts. You’re not punishing; you’re allowing for the natural consequences of their use. But the flipside is just as important: giving immediate rewards during moments of non-use. These provide your LO something positive to work towards.

You wrote that you and your husband are just not a part of their world right now. So the question becomes how you have this conversation when there’s no communication. You may have to do some disrupting. Maybe when they are home, invade their space by entering the bedroom and having the discussion there. Or maybe catch them when they are in the kitchen. Or how about texting them about the boundary? Send the message that this is something that is incredibly important to you and Dad, while still keeping a very calm and neutral tone. Again, you should anticipate that it is going to be incredibly difficult. It might be wise for you and Dad to approach this together if there are difficulties hearing and talking with your daughter and her friend. You want to make sure that the boundaries are clear and that she knows how things will be handled in the future. Change is the only way to disrupt the comfortable pattern that they have come to rely on.

Stay focused on what’s most essential

For now I would not focus on the relationship your daughter is in with her friend. That is also incredibly complicated and can be addressed later. Stay focused for the time being on the most dangerous issue, their use, and start to disrupt the pattern so there will be change.

Also, remember that shame and embarrassment are all very much a part of addiction. Implementing CRAFT skills and strategies, learning about addiction, and finding a supportive community (like the Allies community) are going to help you to help your daughter overcome and manage these challenging thoughts and feelings she has about herself.

All that I’ve discussed here is difficult to accomplish, Hopeseeker. but arming yourself with the CRAFT skills you learn on the website will give you the foundation you need. Remember that these are just suggestions. Watching the modules, learning the skills, and finding ways to apply them are positive steps you and Dad can work on right now. Get creative with the strategies you learn and keep trying.

Of course it’s hard to see right now but setting up boundaries is a way to say to your LO, “I know that this is hard, but I believe you can do it.” When we don’t set up boundaries, we essentially send the message that we don’t believe they are capable.

Clearly both you and Dad love your daughter and are ready to do what you can to support her. You’re in a very difficult situation, and we are here to help you with whatever we can. Please reach out whenever you need support and update us about on your progress.

Stay steadfast, Mom.

Laurie MacDougall


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