Photo credit: Jan Kroon
Residential rehab was a huge success for Highlander1’s grown son, but shortly after returning home the drinking started again. Now he’s taken off without a word and is refusing to be in touch. Naturally his parents are beside themselves. Allies’ writer Laurie MacDougall counsels them to start simply as they try to restore communications, to hone their own CRAFT skills—and to remind their son to focus on the success and not the setback.
Our son, who is 36 years old, recently chose to come home, having spent six months in rehab abroad. All the signs were so positive while he was there. He chose to attend daily meetings, found a great friendship group, socialized, ran a marathon, and gave up smoking! He called us lots, was the most communicative he has ever been, and seemed to be taking responsibility for himself.
He came home two weeks ago and we were so happy to see him upbeat and looking to the future with much more confidence. He wanted to talk about his addiction to crack cocaine and how everything had changed for the better.
Within a week of being home, he started drinking—he seemed to be looking to fall out with us. We didn’t react to his provocative behavior and tried hard to follow CRAFT guidelines, to no avail. Today he just took off, never said he was leaving, and is not answering his phone. We’re feeling so terribly worried, sad, and also hopeless. What on earth can we do?
Believe me, I know how incredibly disheartening situations like this can be. The disappointment cuts deep when our Loved Ones (LOs) are doing well and then quickly head back into old behavior patterns. To have it all fall apart is bad enough. To find them taking off without any communication just makes this all the more difficult to deal with.
Time to step back
I know it’s incredibly difficult to do, but if you and Dad could take some time, step back, work towards calming your emotions, managing ruminating thoughts, and settling the catastrophizing and chaos that must be running through your minds and bodies right now, you will be better prepared to think things through. The goal is to get you two in a space where you can think as clearly and logically as possible. Reaching that calmer, more centered place will also help you sharpen your CRAFT-informed communication skills and come up with a well-supported plan.
Try for a moment to see things through your son’s eyes. He was doing well. Great in fact. It makes sense that he would do well while in residential treatment, continually surrounded by a community that they helped him to build. All a person is focused on in residential treatment is recovery. They attend groups, counseling sessions, AA/NA, SmartRecovery meetings and the like. They exercise, do yoga, meditate. They are scheduled throughout the day and are learning life skills. Our LOs often engage in replacement behaviors on their own, like drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, or vaping, and the treatment facility sometimes encourages them to add further activities: maybe exercising or running in your son’s case. It’s 24/7 recovery, recovery, recovery. And it’s the same for each and every participant in the program.
Everyday life can feel harder than treatment
The one thing residential treatment and even structured recovery homes do not provide, however, is the difficult real-life situations that ushered in drug use to begin with. Friends they use to use with. Clubs, bars, or other spaces where perhaps the using took place. Having to find a job, to start being financially independent. Maybe there are unsettled legal issues they are now facing.
Those newly learned skills can help with such situations, of course. But if a person has only practiced in the low-stress, recovery-focused atmosphere of residential treatment, it’s going to take a lot more time and practice to strengthen those skills. And they’ll stumble. They’re human, after all.
It’s just like us learning CRAFT. We learn new skills, and we practice them outside of actual situations. But when we find ourselves in the middle of familiar chaos and crisis, it’s incredibly difficult not to fall back on old response patterns. I often hear from families; I didn’t do it right. I wish I had pressed the pause button first, then thought it through and come up with a plan, or, Arghhh, I just couldn’t think of what to say fast enough, and I said something I wish I hadn’t!
We are not good at our newfound skills, and neither are our LOs when faced with old triggers and the challenges of life in general. Your son achieved quite a bit in residential treatment, but of course it’s a different struggle when that single focus isn’t possible anymore, when regular life and old triggers are back on the table.
Of course, your son would do great when all he had to focus on was recovery. Of course, he would struggle when he resumed his old life. All of this makes sense.
Sometimes the struggle is with shame
And it brings us to one more kicker: he was doing really great. That can mean he feels really horrible when he’s no longer living up to his and everyone else’s expectations. Shame is a huge part of addiction. The thought that he’s causing you worry, anxiety, and disappointment is very difficult to face. It makes sense that he would take off and, in the moment, cut off communication between you.
But on the other side of that same coin is the good news: he did great for quite a while! If he did it once, he can do it again.
To restore communications, start simple
The first step is to try to get the communication going between parents and son. Start with a text. Say something simple:
I know we can’t change what has already happened. Could you just call us, say hi, then hang up? We just want to know you are okay.
The first statement allows you to acknowledge, without asking him, that he is using. There is no guilting, shaming, pleading, just a simple message: We know, and we still care. See if he gives you a call. Then try sending him little texts once in a while:
Been thinking of you. Call when you can.
Was at your favorite café and was remembering you liked that scone they make. Would love to hear from you.
If the communication does start back up, and there is an opening to talk about what has happened, be sure to let him know that you are not forgetting all the work he did in the past, and that he hasn’t thrown it all away. It may be difficult, but he can get back on track. He will not be starting from square one.
In the meantime, Mom and Dad might want to really strengthen those CRAFT interactive and communication skills. This is a time when you can rely on them heavily to try to reach your son. Here at Allies, we offer a one-day training, designed around the immediate needs of participants. It is CRAFT immersive and can jumpstart a deeper understanding of how to use your skills.
I know you are going through an incredibly difficult time. Recovery is never a nice straight-line process. There are lots of hills and valleys. It’s a journey for both us and our LOs. You may not feel it right now, but keep it clear in your mind how well your son did for quite a long time. He can do it again.
Please keep us updated on your progress, and lean on us and our community for any help, questions, or support you may need.
Wishing you and your family the best,