Supporting Your Loved One is a Reward, Even When They Struggle to Accept it

woman holding nose

An Allies in Recovery member gives her brother steady and dependable love. He just isn’t showing much willingness to accept it when he’s sober. In her efforts to support him, Angelica’s already doing many things right. But with her own ingenuity and the training offered by Allies, there are many new kinds of rewards she can try.

“My brother lives next door to me. He hides his drinking from everyone—and he hid it from me for a long time. Initially, I showed my disapproval of his drinking, and he hid it even more. I have since learned to ignore it and praise him when he’s sober. The problem is, now that I’ve made it clear—I know you drink and I still love you—he wants me to spend time with him when he’s drinking. He often says, “Please don’t leave,” when he’s drunk. But he doesn’t want to spend time with me when he’s sober. When he’s not drinking he stays busy doing things around the house and doesn’t want to do anything fun with me (he’s usually getting caught up on things he neglected when he was drinking all week). So I feel like rewarding him with my presence when he’s sober isn’t really a reward. Do you have any suggestions?”

You are asking a pivotal question: what if your presence isn’t rewarding? You’ve stepped away when your brother is drinking. But when you step in as a positive, rewarding gesture when he’s not drinking, he’d rather work around the house than do something fun with you.

First off, nice work being able to distinguish the difference in your brother when he is drinking and when he is not drinking, and finding ways to disengage from him when he is drinking. This is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Stepping in and stepping away

Knowing when to step in or away is vital. Module 5 and Module 6 provide lots of examples of ways to make this call and how to communicate your choices. As usual, you are going to have to decide what makes sense, what is safe to try, and what you are willing to give or try to give. You can think about your actions within this framework:

• step in and reward when you don’t see use

• step away and remove rewards when you do see use, even though there may be consequences

Given that when he’s sober, your brother prefers working around the house to going out with you, he’s not perceiving you as rewarding in that moment. Seems to me that you’re right about that. But I’m not sure I agree that your presence isn’t rewarding overall.

 Rewarding him for non-use can take many forms

He feels pressure to maintain his home in moments when he isn’t drinking. Maybe that’s why he’s withdrawn on the weekends. In that state of mind, going out to have fun may be a kind of reward he can’t feel good about accepting.

If you haven’t done Key Observation Exercise 16 located in eLearning CRAFT Module #5, please go to it. That module lists four different kinds of rewards. If you make a list now of other ways of connecting that he might like, you’ll have more to choose from in those non-using moments.

You’re finding your way forward. Don’t turn back now

Perhaps less is better to start with. I can imagine going over to your brother’s with some lemonade and cookies, for instance. Or calling him for dinner at your place earlier than he would pick up that first drink on a week night.

You are figuring this out. Keep looking for rewards. And remember that a reward can be as simple as a scrunch on the shoulder with a look in the eyes and a smile.

Test, test, test. You’re on the right track. Thank you for caring for your brother. We are here to help you all along the way.