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She Quit Treatment and Left. Should I Even Try To Stay In Touch?

Photo credit: ICT communication timeline

Dave5656 is wondering if whether now is the time to let go. His daughter has stopped participating in treatment. She’s also moved back in with a boyfriend who uses drugs. Should he step back and let the chips fall where they may? Or should he break the silence and let her know she’s still loved? Allies’ writer Laurie MacDougall offers a clear and solid answer to this question.

I am looking for guidance on the following situation. My family did an intervention with my 29-year-old daughter before Christmas—we were able to get her to agree to a rehab facility, she went, left after detox, then went back—lasted 12 days and left again. Now she is back to living with her drug-addict boyfriend and his mother and will likely go back to using. I have not spoken to or contacted her in any way since she left last week.

I am wondering if I should just leave it that way and let her contact me someday. I am trying to maintain my boundaries, and we are all kind of moving on without her. She made the decision to leave, so she can live with it. Now I am wondering: should I send her a text and just tell her we love her and are there for her if she ever wants to get help? Or is it better if I just don’t even acknowledge that she left and leave things to her?

Hi Daveg5656,

I believe addressing this question directly is crucial: consider maintaining open communication with your Loved One (LO) and sending her a text. Share your love and reassure her that you are there for her, without delving into discussions about treatment or assistance, as she is aware of your support already. The family conducted an intervention, and your desires are very clear. The key is to emphasize that your love remains constant, irrespective of her decisions regarding treatment.

She could be carrying a burden of shame

Waiting for her to initiate contact might actually let her off the hook. You have suspicions that she will start using again, if she has not already. She may be experiencing a lot of

shame and challenging feelings: after all, she let the family and those who participated in the intervention down. Surely, everyone was hopeful and relieved that she was taking steps towards a better life. By leaving treatment she has disappointed a lot of people, and that’s a heavy burden to bear. The shame and challenging emotions could lead her back to familiar comforts—her boyfriend and substance use.

No contact = no influence

It’s essential to understand that you cannot effect change if you don’t have contact with her. Research indicates that the more recovery capital a person with substance use disorder (any illness for that matter) has, the greater the opportunity for positive progress. Conversely, limited recovery capital reduces opportunities.

Despite the challenges, I would like to point out that your daughter has taken some extremely positive steps. She went to detox. After a short moment of being scared and unsure, she went back to treatment, and she stayed for 12 days. These actions reflect her ambivalence, wavering between the desire to quit and the much stronger pull to continue using. Amid the chaos, focusing on these positive aspects can benefit both you and your daughter (and if she did it once, she can do it again).

To navigate this difficult situation effectively, consider the following:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learn about Substance Use Disorder (SUD) as an illness to help separate your LO’s actions from personal feelings. She isn’t doing this to you. She is struggling to thrive in life.
  2. Develop Your Skills: Acquire skills to positively influence your LO’s behavior. It’s a slow process and may require you to commit to learning and practicing, but the payoff is worth it. Start with the Allies CRAFT-based learning modules on this website. I would suggest starting with Module 4, the communication module. Take this opportunity, while you have minimal contact with her, to learn about communicating in a different way. You’ll be better prepared once she starts reengaging with you in the future.
  3. Understand Boundaries: The term “boundaries” is frequently hurled at those of us trying to cope with SUD in the family, yet there is often a lack of understanding or information about what boundaries truly entail. For comprehensive insights on boundaries, refer to the Allies website, where you can find a great deal of written information (you could start with the boundaries topic section) as well as our podcast, “Coming Up for Air.” When it comes to boundaries, keep in mind a few fundamental principles:
    1. Avoid manipulation or punishment: Boundaries are not intended to be used as manipulation or punishment. In other words, it is crucial not to withhold connection and love when setting boundaries. The boundary should not be used to try to get your LO to do or behave in a particular manner. Boundaries are intended to keep you safe.
    2. Personal responsibility: Boundaries are yours to manage, not your LO’s. In fact, your LO will probably test your boundaries to see whether you maintain them or not.
    3. Boundaries determine your behavior, not theirs: Understand that boundaries are a tool to guide your behavior. For instance, if your LO has a history of using money for drugs and you wish to prevent this, you can choose to withhold cash. That’s the boundary, and quite different from expecting your LO to spend cash as you want it spent.
  4. Prioritize Self-Care: I’d like to highlight another positive aspect of your situation. You mention that everyone in the family is continuing to live their lives. This is beneficial not only for each family member but also for your daughter. Adhering to your regular schedule and incorporating self-care practices, along with self-compassion, is essential. Maintaining our wellbeing—mentally, physically, and emotionally—positions us to offer more effective support to our LOs. By prioritizing self-care, you enhance your capacity to navigate the challenges associated with SUD.

    Additionally, dedicating time to educating yourself about addiction and effective ways to provide support will contribute to fostering a beneficial and caring environment.

One more point I would like to address is the importance of language with substance use disorder. Language may seem inconspicuous, but its impact is powerful. At Allies, we strive to destigmatize all aspects of SUD, aiming to reduce discriminatory actions against individuals living with the condition (and their families). It’s crucial to recognize that certain words can carry stigma and that replacing them with more neutral and respectful alternatives is a step towards fostering understanding.

As a starting point, I encourage families to refrain from labeling people by their illness. Instead, use their name or refer to them as a person with SUD, an individual, and explore other options. In the end, we are all human beings, and choosing language that emphasizes our shared humanity contributes to a more compassionate, unified, and supportive environment.

I know it can be challenging when our LOs take a few baby steps forward only to slip back to a spot that seems desperate. Redirecting your focus to the positive steps your daughter has taken is something you can utilize in future interactions. Try out statements like:

I know that working through treatment and recovery is difficult. I know that you have made it through detox and stayed in treatment for 12 days. You are not at square one. You have made efforts towards change in a positive direction. If there is anything I can do to help, I am here. I love you.

Keep working on your CRAFT skills and strategies. CRAFT is about building a safe and supportive relationship between you and your LO. Take advantage of the great, compassionate community offered through the Allies website. It’s so worth it when you start to see a change in the dynamic with your LO. Please keep us updated on your progress—we genuinely care, and hope you’ll be able to see some improved results.

Laurie MacDougall

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