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My Helping Wasn’t Helpful. It’s Time to Detach

This worried mom realized that in her efforts to “help,” she was actually enabling her daughter’s use. Now her daughter has put distance between them and Mom is trying to detach.

*This post originally appeared on our Member Site blog, where experts respond to members’ questions and concerns. To sign up for our special offer and benefit from the Allies in Recovery eLearning program, click here.

“I became an Allies member several months ago and find the podcasts and articles on this site extremely helpful. Through this site, I learned that, rather than helping my 31-year-old daughter and her husband while they were struggling with heroin addiction, I was actually enabling them. 

Fortunately, they are both sober now and in recovery. Recently though, my daughter decided that she no longer wants to visit us or keep us up to date on her progress. She does not answer texts or phone messages. She did however call me last week and told me she loved me and missed us but was not doing well emotionally and needed a “break”. Her mother-in-law and husband are no longer giving me details on what is going on except to say things are “OK”.

My husband and I are heartbroken that we no longer have frequent contact with her. I am trying to detach and let her reach out to me when she feels she can but not knowing how she is doing is hard! I sent a card and texts to let her know we are there for her if she needs us and that we love her. But I stopped doing that last month and have decided to just wait it out until she is ready to connect again with us.

Is that the right thing to do?”

Dominique Simon-Levine reminds this mother that her daughter is on the right track

Your daughter and son-in-law are still married yet are no longer using opioids. That is your hunch, anyway. His mother moved in with them but no longer provides you with the updates you depended upon about the couple. In fact, your daughter, her husband and his mother have essentially cut you off. You spent years helping the couple out, as they sank deeper and deeper into trouble with the drugs and probably also alcohol. You now realize that helping them wasn’t helpful.

They are both taking suboxone. This is very important because it means someone is following them clinically, testing them for drugs, and hopefully providing them with therapy. This should provide you both with some peace of mind. Your daughter is back at work and your son-in-law is following the conditions of his probation. All good.

Can you let her go for now, and detach?

We don’t know why your daughter needs a break. It is very hard on you to not see her regularly and to not be told how she is doing. It is difficult to know which is harder on families: to have your loved one under your nose or out of sight. Neither is easy.

In reading your account, I felt like you both came through a very long and bad period. The suboxone, the testing, the probation, the IOP, and the AA are all good signs, though. I wonder if you can let her go for now, knowing that things sound better. She won’t be gone long, I suspect. You’ve been there at every turn helping them out. She is programmed to come to you when things go wrong.

It’s now time for some self-care

What if you took this time, let’s say the next 4 weeks, and worked on getting the tension and ringing out of your ears and the zinging out of your body. You must be exhausted. You, too, are programmed: to jump, to worry. Let her be for now and turn the attention back on yourselves and on each other. There’s a lot to shake off.

I think the occasional text saying something loving, saying how you are taking care of yourselves, without expecting an answer is a nice idea. Please look at the Learning Modules, available on our member site (view our Introductory Module here). See how it looks and feels to push responsibility for your daughter’s life and her needs back onto her; to be supportive without stepping in when she’s in trouble.

Your daughter and her husband have come a long way. It may not be completely over, though. They may not be able to manage their addictions and be together. It’s really tough to do both. But they are tied into treatment and self-help. Take solace in this. Thank you for writing in. One last thought. Annie Highwater and I recently recorded a podcast on attachment that might help (I have since bought a new microphone….sorry about the poor audio). You can listen to it here.

Yes, the family DOES have a role to play. Your stance, behavior, and choices DO make a difference. At Allies in Recovery we are absolutely convinced of this. “Tough love” is not a successful technique. Our learning platform is set up to help family members learn the techniques that will reduce conflict, build that bridge of communication, and be effective in guiding your loved one into treatment. Together we will move your loved one towards recovery. Learn more here.

image © DavidDennisPhotos


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