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How Much Should I Ask of Him Right Now?

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Challenging emotions are natural, but that doesn’t make them easy to deal with. Our heavy feelings and ruminating thoughts can vastly complicate our efforts to support our Loved Ones. Allies’ member Nohp is trying to balance her husband’s treatment needs with feelings of guilt about past agreements between them. Laurie MacDougall offers some CRAFT-informed signposts through this forest of thought and feeling.

My 74-year-old husband finally went into residential treatment for alcohol use in early November. I had moved out in July, and told him in late October that if he did not go into treatment, I was going to renew my lease on the condo I was staying in and file for divorce. This finally did motivate him to go into a treatment facility. Although he complained about it a lot at first, he got to the point of liking many things about the program and finding support from the staff and other clients there.

Now his treatment stay is nearly over. The staff there is recommending that he now go into a partial hospitalization program followed by an intensive outpatient program. Although he first seemed to at least consider these options, he has since hardened into the position that he won’t go to these options and will instead see a counselor individually, one he had seen prior to going to rehab who also runs a small group meeting. The staff doesn’t recommend these choices as they feel they aren’t intensive enough to deal with what he still needs.

I feel somewhat ambivalent. I hadn’t known these continuing options would be offered, and I had implied that if he did go into treatment I would come home. So, I feel like I’m betraying some promise if I now require something more. On the other hand, I can see that he still has a lot of issues—like anger and shame—that still need to be dealt with. Last week, however, when he and I discussed the options with a family counselor at the facility, he blew up and left the meeting when I said I hoped he would continue (he did come back in a few minutes though). Any suggestions on how to handle this?

Hi nohp,

Oh, how our own difficult feelings can complicate the process! Feelings of guilt, betrayal, sadness, and anger can really throw us family and friends into a whirlwind of chaotic thinking, until we just don’t know what our next best step might be. Once we start “awfulizing” and lose confidence in what we are doing, everything can seem daunting, and solutions can feel very elusive.

Self-care is your trustworthy friend

Calming our own mind and body down is key. This kind of self-regulation makes it possible for us to respond to our Loved Ones (LOs) and tough situations in a way that is beneficial to all parties. It’s a basic part of movement towards helping rather than staying stagnant or moving deeper into chaos and strife.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to start regulating your own emotions, leaving space for a well-thought-out response to your husband and the situation.

Here are a few steps you might take whenever those challenging feelings threaten to take over:

  1. Press the pause button: It’s okay to feel these difficult feelings and have awful thoughts. We’re supposed to. We’re human beings. These are difficult and chaotic situations, and sometimes our feelings and thoughts are going to match the moment. But again, some good news is that we don’t have to fight them. They are just feelings and thoughts, not facts. Feeling or thinking you’re betraying your LO does not mean that you are. It just feels that way. Given time and some effort, those feelings and thoughts can subside. Pushing them down and trying not to feel them can complicate things. So give yourself permission to think and feel what you think and feel.
  2. Find some sort of self-soothing activity to engage in until your mind, body, and emotions settle a bit. Take care of basic needs. Eat healthy, get enough sleep, get some exercise.
  3. Once you are in a calmer space, take the time to reframe the story for both you and your LO. Separate the thoughts and feelings from the facts. Is it true that you are betraying your LO? Or is it that you are just walking through this journey trying to figure things out just as much as he is? You might feel like encouraging him to continuing with treatment is a betrayal of what was said, but that doesn’t mean that it is a betrayal. Again, feelings are not facts.

At the same time, consider your LO’s perspective. Is he going through the same thing you are? Was his system knocked off guard? Is he just reacting to

his own initial thoughts and feelings? If regulating our own system of thoughts and emotions is incredibly difficult, how capable is he at just a month into treatment? Asking yourself these questions can help you empathize and understand his behaviors.

The next question to ask yourself is, “How do I want to present in this situation? Do I want to be thrown off-kilter and react with my troubling emotions? Or do I want to find some way to be helpful?” Calming your system, empathizing with his situation: all this reframes your approach as a bit more of an observer rather than a participant in the chaos. Your approach can become a little steadier and more focused. You can be less caught up in those helpless, awful feelings. And that can be incredibly helpful. Among other things, you’ll be modeling the sort of behavior you’d like your LO to be moving toward.

Now it’s time to formulate a plan for this situation. Think of the CRAFT skills and strategies you have learned and work toward a solution that is grounded in compassion, caring, and understanding—but also in your own needs and beliefs.

Preparing for that essential talk

When you’ve done all this, it’s time for a conversation with your husband. It might sound something like this:

What I’m seeing is that you were really expecting just to do your 30 days of residential treatment and head home. I can tell that it upsets you that I see things differently. I know I can’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do. All I can do is express my thoughts, with the understanding that you might not do what I’m hoping for. The staff are recommending another stage of treatment, and I see that as a part of the full process of your recovery. Of course, I hope you’ll follow their recommendations. I love you and want the best for you. I know you’re the one who has to find what will work for you. Just as I’m the one who has to make decisions for myself.

If he decides to head home and skip the recommended course of treatment, consider what you will need in order to continue to live with each other. Think through a couple of backup plans. And don’t forget that he’s human, and that recovery is not a straight-line process. It is a journey of trial and error and learning about oneself.

Here are a few questions you might want to pose to yourself at this stage:

  • What sort of supports will he have in place when he comes home? This is great question to ask whether he comes right home or continues with a higher level of treatment.
  • What if he has a recurrence?
  • What things need to happen under these circumstances in order for me to stay? It’s incredibly important for you always to consider your own needs.

Are there forms of support you could help him to have ready? Could you do a little research and see what you can set up? In a previous post, you mentioned that he is Chinese. Is there a Chinese community in your area, and are there any support groups he could attend? Finding people, he can both identify with and find support or enjoyment with can really help. Explore different types of mutual aid: AA, SmartRecovery, 12-step yoga, Refuge Recovery, etc. Is he set up with a counselor? Are there any Recovery Community Organizations in your area where he might find peer support? Plan, plan, plan. And then be prepared for bumps in how your plan actually works.

I know all of this is difficult! Just keep in mind that the more you practice, the easier it becomes. We are wishing for the best outcome for you and your husband; Please keep us updated on your progress. We are here for you and are happy you are a part of our Allies community.

Laurie MacDougall


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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"...)