After thirty years of working together, Blueskies22 and her husband have reached a much better place. Still, she worries about his drinking—and just as much about her own feelings of mistrust and insecurity. AiR’s Laurie MacDougall shares her own experience, thoughts on CRAFT responses to such situations, and ideas for inching back to a place of trust.
I just signed up again after enjoying a free membership at the beginning of COVID. I am not in the thick of it anymore. I lived with an active alcoholic for 30 years and we are still together and he has changed. I found that CRAFT changed my life for the better, and I believe that my influence did help my loved one to get a handle on his drinking. He drinks once or twice a week at the most, and it is not excessive. He feels proud of himself and he tells me that he will never revert back to how he used to be. I am proud of him; it was a long and difficult road.
Still, recently I have been struggling with feelings of insecurity and mistrust similar to so many many past years. I want his drinking to be more predictable for me. I don’t know if I’m being controlling and manipulative myself, or if I am being manipulated by my loved one, and I do worry that this is a slippery slope that could gradually bring us back to where we were.
When I think about what I believe and what I have learned, I can see that I am judging him; I have black-and-white thoughts about the characteristics of addicts. I am becoming what I resent most about the recovery industry. So I’m behaving, especially this month, in a way that makes him defensive, and angry, and ashamed of himself.
I need to apply CRAFT again and use positive communication strategies in quite a different situation than I was in before. I’m torn. I keep saying, “I don’t understand how you can say that it doesn’t control you anymore and you can take it or leave it, but sometimes your actions show that drinking is more important than me (i.e. having six beers on my birthday, or drinking more than he planned to)”. We have been pretty enmeshed with each other, mostly in a good way I think.
I need to learn, again, what is my goal and what do I need? I need to face my feelings and fears, even the negative ones which I think I have suppressed. I need to find a way to get out of the house and spend time with new people, but I prefer to stay home and rely on my husband to be my social life.
I have the recommended books, and I’m thinking of starting with Get Your Loved One Sober and developing a road map. But the goal won’t be treatment—he sees a counsellor regularly, and we see one together. And it won’t be sobriety either. I think the goal for me is to learn to trust, and then I think, “How do you reverse-engineer trust?”
You and I have something in common: our lives changed for the better once we found CRAFT. Your love and dedication to your Loved One (LO) and marriage is admirable. We need more people in the world like you.
Your story is a great example of the fact that dealing with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is a journey. Often family members and allies begin with the belief that once the person stops using the substance(s), things will go “back to normal.” In reality, it’s just the beginning, for both our LOs and ourselves.
There’s everything a LO brings to the table…and everything we do
To share a little bit of my personal experience: I was so focused on improving my communication, reducing the chaos, helping reduce my LO’s use, etc., that when things settled somewhat, my own anxiety and emotional struggles surfaced. I had held things together as much as I could for so long that when it was calmer, I could not contain my own stuff anymore. Your description of what I’m calling the “second stage” is very reminiscent of what I went through. I wrote a blog on this called Comfort in Chaos if you are interested in reading a little more. It makes sense to me that when the focus is less on your LO, all of your own anxieties and the impact of dealing with SUD would start to rise to the surface.
What a struggle, don’t you think? I don’t know about you, but I felt a little bitter that I wasn’t getting a break. Instead, I had to start dealing with my own stuff.
It’s very clear that you are insightful and aware of what is going on internally and the impact it’s having in your relationship. You express that you’re fully aware of what is your stuff and what you feel you need to work on. You also seem to have a strong understanding of where you might focus your efforts to improve things for yourself and your relationship with your LO.
Strategies for positive change
You have already started to create a well-thought-out strategy to continue to support your LO, while at the same time engaging in self-care. I have some thoughts I would like to share with you that might build on and strengthen your strategies:
- You wrote, “I need to learn, again, what is my goal and what do I need? I need to face my feelings and fears, even the negative ones which I think I have suppressed.” WOW! Such internal understanding. What about also going back to Module 7 and spending some time on your difficult feelings? Difficult emotions are attached to preconceived ideas, beliefs, and thoughts. These are often thoughts that flood in, and we don’t have control over that happening. What we do have control over is taking a pause, noticing what our thoughts are (the goal is to do this in the moment), and not reacting in the moment.You wrote about your LO drinking more than he intended on your birthday. This is an example of where pausing and recognizing your thoughts in the moment may help just to slow everything down. No reaction. Notice what you are feeling. Take the time you need to get to a place where you can respond in better-thought-out ways rather than reacting to the deep negative feelings you are experiencing.
Using your internal voice to ask yourself some questions might help. Questions like, “Are his actions really in conflict with what he says? Or is he truly attempting to do what he says, and he just hasn’t gotten it down right now? Am I expecting too much? Is he still battling to find what will work for him? Is there anything positive that is coming out of this? Is he really doing this to me, or does it just feel like he did? Is there some way I can respond that might help him move forward?”
Answering these questions will help to bring on thoughts based in reality and not just what you are feeling. This can often dim intense feelings (not make them go away) and bring on a calmer mind. When we are calm, we can then be a little more logical and pull out some of the strategies we know to help us respond in a more positive way.
One small move that can affect your thoughts and views as well as your LO (and others) is to add a few positive words into your thoughts and conversations around SUD. Substituting “person with SUD” for “addict” and “alcohol use” for “alcoholism” can slowly soften our outlook on things. It can also force us to pause and think if we are not used to using this language.
- You already expressed the need to go back to Module 4, the communication module, and to start reviewing exactly how the modules are intended to be used. Good idea. There’s a lot to be gained by repeatedly returning, watching the videos, and doing the activities again. I have done so countless times, and each time I learn something new. Communication is such a powerful tool for influencing and directing our LOs, and taking care of ourselves at the same time.
I also hear that you are grappling with trust. You wrote, “I think the goal for me is to learn to trust, and then I think, “How do you reverse-engineer trust?” This is a concern for most family members who are trying hard to show support. I get it: the only thing we know is the past. So I am going to share something with you that helped me.
For now, you don’t have to trust.
Really! I don’t mean the “Oh my gosh, I CAN’T trust him, ever, will this ever end?” kind of no-trust. It’s more like, “Okay, he is struggling to find his path. He may not make the best decisions for himself right now. He is human, not perfect, and needs the space to struggle. My response to this has to be one that validates his struggle and efforts, while at the same time holding to my own boundaries.”
What you say to him might sound something like this: “It can be difficult to moderate your drinking and to know where the line is. I know you have been putting in a lot of effort with this and appreciate that effort. I know I am the one who worries about what is too much drinking. I am asking for your help and that we come to an agreement of a limit of two beers. This would help alleviate some of my worry.”
Some give-and-take may help you both feel more invested
Maybe there is some bartering, and you and your LO agree on three beers. This is a request that validates his efforts and recognizes his struggle. It’s also cooperative. You get to own your piece, you invite him to participate in the solution by asking for his input and help. It allows him the space to have not gotten it perfect, with a chance to adjust going forward. At the same time, you’re setting a boundary that takes your needs into account. This response can help you feel less like he is doing this to you. As he starts to make a few better decisions, it can build trust. Baby steps back toward trust, maybe, but still steps.
Remember this principle from Module 5: the world divides in two. Your LO is either using or not. The answer to whether or not he is using (and this is your answer, not his) determines your actions. So: I think this is beer number four. I am going to pull back and say goodnight (see Module 6). You can learn to assess the question of use by filling out the exercises in Module 3.
I know this is a lot, so I will end my response here. It is so wonderful that you are dedicated to your husband and your relationship. You may not use exactly what I have written here, of course. It is intended only to inspire thought, so you might apply something similar but specific to your situation.
Wishing you and your husband the best, and please keep in touch.