About a month ago, my son graduated from a therapeutic boarding school in Montana, after nearly 2 years in treatment. While it was daunting to think of his return, it also felt that we were very ready. His sisters had started engaging in therapy, my husband and I had been active in groups for the past 1.5 years, and I had undergone personal therapy and started to heal some of my early childhood trauma. Of course, my son had also done his work and remained sober for the last year. While everyone initially resisted our family’s transformation (including myself), I think we can all now agree that we are stronger and more connected than ever.

In the months before his return, I read two books from the Center for Motivation & Change: Beyond Addiction and The Parent’s 20 Minute Guide. I also attended several webinars on the topic hosted by OPLM and a course hosted by Heather Ross and Beth Syverson. Through each of these efforts, I began to learn the value CRAFT, which is a set of skills to understand substance use, value self care, communicate effectively, and take action to build connection with your child, while deterring their use of substances.

These CRAFT concepts are really quite simple. For example “ambivalence is normal,” “you are not alone,” and “listen with love” are a few of the concepts. I readily agreed with this approach, yet I struggled to build “muscle memory” for these skills. I wanted to not only intellectually understand these skills, but also have them at my fingertips when everything hit the fan.

This led me to fall back on strategies I used in college to study: highlight important passages, rewrite them and then draw the key concepts. The more visual I could get the material, the better I remembered it. I started doing this for CRAFT, and ended up with a small booklet I could carry in my pocket and whip out anytime I needed it.

This approach has worked wonders for me, and I’m incredibly grateful that I took this time. Days after my son’s return, he went out and got high with old friends. When I found out, my heart sank. I paced around the neighborhood, full of anger and disappointment. At one point, I stopped at a park bench and cried. How could he throw 2 years of treatment away like that? Will this bring back all of the chaos and madness? What’s coming next?

Then an image popped into my mind. The one I had drawn to represent that I am not alone. I immediately felt some relief with this realization and I picked up my phone and texted several friends – those who have been through this and understand. Throughout the day, I got the ability to process this event with each of them. I also took time to relax and care for myself. 

Once I had achieved a calmer state, I went back to my son and was able to listen as he gave me his version of the event. As he wove stories of the screening tests not being accurate and his being 18 and needing to fit in with his friends, I brought forward the images of “listening with love” as well as “validating and empathizing.” After summarizing what I heard, I calmly shared my feelings and reminded him of the consequences for this behavior.

I have to say, I was really proud of myself. I managed my emotions and communicated effectively. The day after this incident could have been full of pain and worry, but instead I got to enjoy time with my whole family to celebrate my birthday. And better yet, the next day, my son got up at 7:30 am to attend a local AA group and reported finding a sponsor.

We aren’t done yet. He’s now sharing his desire to use substances in moderation. Fortunately, I know ambivalence is normal, and I now have skills that I can pull up whenever needed.

If you are a visual learner like myself and looking to build muscle memory for these skills, I’m happy to send you a printed copy of my booklet for free, or you can view it digitally here. Or better yet, consider making your own images and think of how you would represent the information you want to keep close to you. I suspect this will be even more powerful for you.

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