To call the situation in Milliemouse’s home stressful is a huge understatement. Her grown son has moved back in with her and is using coke, alcohol and other substances—and angrily denying it. Her husband’s had enough and is ready to kick their son out. And Milliemouse wants peace for everyone and healing for her son. Allies writer Laurie MacDougall helps her sort through the challenges and possible responses—with an eye, as always, on the time-tested strategies outlined in CRAFT.
“Hello. I can’t remember when I last posted on AIR—it’s been a rough few months, and my normally very organized brain has been unable to focus for over six weeks! Our 33-year-old son, who has been in and out of sobriety since 2019, has moved back in with us after his girlfriend kicked him out for coke use and drinking. They’d had a rocky relationship for 18 months, and she was struggling to cope with his ups and downs. I have been an Al-Anon member for three years and tried to get her to join. That being said, my husband and I let him come back home.
It was not a pretty scene the day he came back. He was very emotional and said that he wasn’t an addict! When he sobered up from his binge, he was great for about seven weeks. Started back at the gym, avoided drinking, went out for meals with a friend. In August, after two months at home, we noticed a change. There were pressures of work and meeting budgets, loneliness from avoiding his drinking friends, the COVID lockdowns meant he had to stop going to the gym, etc. All the things that can trigger an addict.
Two weeks ago he used coke in our house and broke into our liquor cabinet. My husband was going to kick him out but decided to give him one last chance. I suggested he contact a friend who had just celebrated one year sober, or rejoin his CA group. He said he would think about it, but didn’t. He picked up his books from rehab and read them for about four days and then that stopped too. He continues to use a THC vape daily, which I have asked him not to use while I am at home. He isolates to try to avoid using/drinking, but then ends up doing so because he is not getting the support he needs. We live on a small island and there is really no sober living facility. I do know that if he joined AA or CA he would find friends he could socialize and do healthy things with. But he doesn’t want to because he wants to continue to use his THC.
Last night I suspected he had been drinking again from our broken unlocked liquor cabinet. He denied it and got very aggressive with me—you know, “gaslighting.” This morning my suspicions were confirmed. His dad doesn’t know. I live in constant fear that he is going to get kicked out before Christmas as I know his dad will eventually find out. And I have to take an antianxiety pill most evenings before coming home after work as I never know what the scene will be like when I get there. I’m back to searching his room, discarding evidence, and I’m very scared. In my heart I know he needs to leave, but I don’t know where he would go. I’m terrified that another physical encounter between him and his dad will occur, and I think that would just be the end for me! His dad has a hard time understanding addiction. He feels, rightly so, that we have done all we can for him and we need to get on with our lives and leave him to continue on his path or get help.
I’m trying to practice my Al-Anon steps every day, minute by minute. Our social life has come to a halt (at my insistence) as we stay home to keep him company, and my heart is just breaking at his loneliness and my inability to find a solution!”
Our last interaction was in February of this year, and we discussed the drama being created by your son’s girlfriend luring you into their relationship. It sounds like you were able to break away and let the girlfriend handle the situation on her own. Kudos to you! Today you are asking for ways to balance your wish to help your son, who’s having a recurrence of his illness while living at home, with your husband’s beliefs about how to handle the situation.
You need a plan. You probably need several.
To start with, it’s important to set boundaries—and to detail what will happen if those boundaries are not respected. Often when we feel we are in a chaotic situation, we can forget that ALWAYS having a plan, a backup plan, another backup plan, and so on, is incredibly important. Clearly outlining what the expectations are for everyone can ease some of the pain when things don’t go well. Notice I highlighted the word “some”, because very rarely can we avoid all the angst and anxiety that comes when following through on a boundary. In fact, I have found that following through is one of the most excruciatingly painful things to do.
Boundaries are your bedrock
Remember, boundaries are for us. They determine our behavior, not our Loved One’s. It is our responsibility to carry them out. Each time I let my son home, I told myself that I was agreeing to be the one to take on the heavy burden of having to stick to my boundaries regardless of my son’s difficult behavior or outcome. I would do it in the most loving and compassionate way possible, but I was going to hold myself accountable.
This is healthy, healing, and beyond difficult to do. At the same time, it empowers me and my Loved One! What does it say to my Loved One if every time they test my limits, I cover, give in, or fix it for them? It sends the message that I do not believe that they are capable, and that they need me to do things for them.
A better message to commit to might go something like this:
I believe you can do this. I know you are incredibly uncomfortable and do not believe in yourself, but I believe in you. You might struggle and fall over and over again, but you CAN do it, even if you yourself do not wholeheartedly believe that you can.
This is something to say to yourself, not out loud of course. I often use my mind’s voice to convince myself of what I am setting out to do.
There are some really great posts on boundaries in the discussion blog (here’s one of mine). To find these posts, just click on the word “boundaries” in the right-hand topics list (or use this shortcut).
Yes, it’s late. No, it’s not too late.
The optimum time for setting boundaries is when you have leverage. You may have already practiced some boundary-setting when your son asked to return home. Ideally before they come home at all, you should clearly outline what is and isn’t acceptable, and what you will do if your boundaries are not adhered to. Setting those boundaries after they are living with you and/or not following through adds complications and may make the situation more volatile. But it’s still important to do for the health and wellness of all parties involved.
It sounds like you have the added trouble of balancing your husband’s expectations, your Loved One’s recurrent use and difficult behaviors, and your own beliefs and ideas of how this should be handled. This is very complicated and an incredibly heavy weight to be carrying.
What about being open and genuine with everyone—your husband, son, and yourself? You have experience with CRAFT and have been to the website many times. It might be difficult, but can you apply what you’ve learned to your situation in a way that could take some of the burden off you?
Just for inspiration:
What about approaching your husband first? Using all your communication skills, let him know that you appreciate that he is frustrated and exhausted, and that you are too. You could then own your piece of this:
I know I am the one invested in the CRAFT skills I have learned. I am also his mom and have beliefs about how to set boundaries. I want to set the boundaries down and follow through, but in a compassionate, caring way, regardless of how he behaves. I know that may be difficult for you, so I thought of a couple of options. Maybe you could be there with me and allow me to be the one to say it? The both of us should stay very neutral no matter what he says, but we’ll hold to our boundaries. We could have a plan to temporarily step back if it there’s a heightened situation with the promise that we will discuss it later. Or, if that is too difficult, you could be somewhere else while I do it. How does that sound?
This addresses multiple issues you’re facing: your husband’s need to set and follow through on boundaries, how you let him know what’s going on, and how to address your son in a calm and loving way (even though he might panic or become tense during the discussion).
Addressing your son is probably going to be the more difficult challenge, regardless of whether you set down limits before he came home or have to start now. It is better to intervene as early as possible once a recurrence has happened. There is no need to confront him or question whether he is using. You already know. What you say could be simple and direct: “We are very concerned about what is going on, and we need to have a talk about what to do.” But finding a time when you know he is not using is important. And remember: not using means no use or low use, while using includes the time just before use (for instance, making calls to chase down the dealer) as well as the time actually using and any withdrawal or hung over periods afterward.
Many treatment options exist, but the devil’s in the details
Have ready a plan of alternative places he can go and actions he can take. Maybe this is where you and your husband can come together on what is going to work for both of you. Gather information and resources on treatment. Make the calls ahead of time. Find out his options. Which facilities take his insurance? Is there a wait? If so, can he attend an Intensive Outpatient (IOP) program until he goes in? Are there any partial hospitalization programs nearby? Any recovery communities with recovery coaches? What about meetings? There are so many (Refuge Recovery, AA, NA, SmartRecovery, Lifering…), but which does he have access to?
Many of these have online options. Here’s our own page about online resources.
Does your son have a counselor? If he does, could he increase the number of meetings? Has he told the counselor that he has had a recurrence?
On another front: is there anything positive that he is already doing that you could praise and reinforce? You did write that at first, he was going to the gym, working, and engaging in positive activities. Is there a way to help reengage him?
Finally, what if he refuses everything? Can you lock the door and leave a lounge chair and sleeping bag outside? Maybe he can only enter the house when he has not been drinking or using, and under those circumstances he can sleep on the couch? And if the situation becomes heated, be prepared to leave and come back later to address it.
Build that plan brick by brick
Dominique just wrote extensively about the process of creating a treatment plan (see her comments at the bottom of this recent post). You’ll find more posts on this subject on the discussion blog under the topic heading “Putting together a plan” (Click here to go to that Allies page).
Ask your son which items on the list he would be willing to do that are within your boundaries as well. Then offer to support him: “I called this particular program. It sounds like they can be very supportive, and they have a bed open. What about we call together and start the process?”
A certain anonymous quote comes to mind when setting boundaries:
“The most important spiritual growth doesn’t happen when you’re meditating on a yoga mat. It happens in the midst of conflict—when you’re frustrated, angry or scared and you’re doing the same old thing, and then you suddenly realize that you have a choice to do it differently.”
Boundaries are one thing…
Laying down boundaries is often the easy part. It’s managing them that creates fear, frustration, and avoidance. Once you’re through the struggle and pain that comes with managing them, there’s an opportunity to learn and to change.
I can tell that you’re running yourself ragged trying to manage your husband and son. I am going to tell you that this sounds like a house of cards, ready to fall with the slightest wind. Reach for relief by expressing your needs to both of them. Do it in the most loving and compassionate way you can, but do it. Start making the change you all need.
I hope that what I have written here will inspire something that will work for you and your family. Please write back and let us know how things go. I am hoping for relief and positive change for all of you.