A Simple Parenting Tool That Helped Save My Sanity and Influenced My Addicted Son, with Brenda Zane

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
A Simple Parenting Tool That Helped Save My Sanity and Influenced My Addicted Son, with Brenda Zane

Every once in a while something comes along and works, and you're shocked because life can feel like an endless series of failures when your teen or young adult child is misusing substances. When I found the CRAFT method of parenting a child in addiction, I was skeptical because it seemed too simple – but sometimes simple is what you need.

This episode will introduce you to one of the tools in the CRAFT method toolbox which is incredibly simple to incorporate into your day to day life and can significantly improve the overall tone and relationship with your son or daughter. 

I share a few practical scenarios where you can insert this tool even if you have a child in active addiction – whether they live with you or not. It's a short but effective 25 minutes – perfect for a dog walk or quick drive to the store.  


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Hello, friends, welcome back to Hopestream. This week, I am talking about a parenting communication method that’s incredibly important and really effective in helping teens and young adults, when they’re misusing drugs or alcohol is called craft which stands for community reinforcement and family training. And the weird thing is, I haven’t done an episode specifically about CRAFT. I’ve talked about aspects of it. And I’ve had a couple of guests like Carrie Wilkins from Episode 3, and Julie Jarvis from Episode 41, who have talked about aspects of CRAFT. But I haven’t shared how I have used it in our home, and how you can also use it in a very practical way. When you are basically at the end of your rope when communication has broken down in your home. And you’re dealing with that anxiety of how to get your son or daughter some help for their substance use. 
So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. And there will be links and resources for you in the show notes. And I should mention that the show notes are always at brendazane.com/podcast. So when you go there, you’ll see all of the different podcast episodes listed. The most recent one will always be at the top. And you can click into that and get all of the show notes and resources. 
Let me just ask this to start out – do any of these statements sound familiar to you? She’s manipulating you. You see that right? Or he’s lying right to your face. Or, you know, you need to cut him off, just let him hit rock bottom, then he’ll want to get help. Or if you do that you’re just enabling her. Or he said he would never do that again. And there he goes. Right? If you’re the parent or the Guardian, maybe you’re an aunt or uncle or grandparent of somebody with substance use disorder. These are some very common exasperate actions and statements that come from really well-meaning people as they observe your life and your decisions about dealing with your child. 
These statements usually stem from an objective less or not at all involved person who’s observing the erratic, illogical and hurtful behavior that’s going on in your house. And from the outside, it looks so simple to correct this. Just stop giving him money. Just tell her that smoking weed in the house isn’t allowed. Make him do more chores and when he doesn’t take away his phone. For people who aren’t living this daily. It’s a simple equation. You should do this and then they will do that. Oh, if it was only that easy, right? When you’re on the inside, there’s this constant cycle of trying to figure out why somebody who you love, who you may have birthed into the world isn’t listening to you is respecting your boundaries, isn’t following any kind of rules, and is generally pretty unpleasant to live with. 
So we try all kinds of strategies to get our kids to do what we think they should be doing, and what we want them to do. And it very often doesn’t work. And despite what it looks like to people on the outside, the last thing we want to do is encourage or enable this damaging behavior. But between the emotional torture of wanting to help and protect your child, and the reality of knowing that they’re probably not going to just stop doing this on their own, you are stuck in a really hard spot, often at 2:30 in the morning, with a racing heart, and a very sick stomach, and you’re thinking, What am I supposed to do? First, do not give up, do not give up. I know, it feels like you’re the only one dealing with this. And like, it’s never gonna get better. I get it. I was there. I was the mom thinking, yeah, I’ve seen other kids get off drugs, but their situation was different. He was only doing XYZ drug. Or she went to this really fancy boarding school, of course, she got better, or, yeah, but his parents weren’t divorced. So basically, I believe that my son was different, that he wasn’t even in the category of being able to change or get better. I truly believed that for whatever reason, he was the one who was not going to get through this. And I know I’m not the only parent who thinks that way. You might even be thinking that that’s true for your son or your daughter that they are the exception to the rule that they can actually recover. If you’re at that point, and we usually all get there at some point or another. Please keep listening. This is an episode that will be very applicable to you. 
This tug of war we play with someone we love in the addiction battle is absolutely physically and mentally exhausting. It makes you guilt-ridden and forces you to question every decision that you make every single day. Because that decision that you just made could be the one that sends your child back out onto the street back out to their dealer. Or it could also be the one that turns them in a positive direction toward finding treatment, or even just one more hour or one more day without using. And the problem is you never know which way it’s gonna go. And even if you did, it wouldn’t really be the same day-to-day because there’s really nothing that’s even slightly predictable when you love somebody who is addicted to substances. Now, here comes the great part about CRAFT. I wish that I had known and learned more about this model of intervention when our family was in the middle of my son’s struggle, because it teaches you how to naturally move the person in addiction toward actions that help themselves and motivate themselves to change. Because as we all know, pushing and shoving people into a direction that they don’t want to go is usually not very effective, and CRAFT works. Research shows that using this CRAFT approach, the person with addiction seeks treatment at a rate of about 65 to 75%. And that’s two to three times higher than interventions or 12-step approaches. 
I personally found this approach later in our journey. But I know that if I had found it earlier, things could have been different for us not that my son necessarily would have found treatment or recovery earlier, it could have been exactly the same timeline, however, our home would have been a more calm and peaceful place. And the level of anxiety and the level of friction in our home could have been drastically less. The alternative to a method like CRAFT is this debilitating combination of yelling, screaming, begging, pleading, shutting out blaming, distancing, threatening. I’m sure you have tried and known all of these strategies well, and CRAFT is also an alternative to sitting and waiting until your child hits that elusive rock bottom which does not have to happen. You can think of it as raising the bottom up to meet your child versus watching them continue to fall down. And what’s great about this method is it works to affect the addicted person’s behavior by changing the way that the family interacts with him or her. It’s not about changing them. Because if we could change them, you probably wouldn’t be listening to this podcast, right?
This is a really practical approach when your child isn’t interested in making changes or getting help, which is where I’m guessing a lot of you might be if you’re listening. CRAFT is about learning a different way of communicating. And it’s also about taking care of yourself. And this may sound counterintuitive, to focus on your own words and your own actions, when it’s your child who needs to stop their addictive behavior. But I really do think that that old saying is true if you know you can’t force somebody to change. So start by changing yourself, and they may just follow. And today I’m going to hone in on one very specific aspect of the CRAFT model, which the full model I will link to in the show notes. But in this episode, I want to talk about this one particular aspect of Kraft because it’s simple. And it’s something that you can actually start doing today, the minute that you’re done listening to this podcast, you can start working on this. And that aspect is rewarding sober or positive activities and behavior, and discouraging things that include drugs and alcohol or any of those negative actions or behaviors from your child. And the reason that you focus on rewarding your child’s positive behavior is that as much as possible, you want to make not using a more pleasant and rewarding experience than using. If you can do this, your son or daughter is more likely to consider changing and eventually, they may consider getting help. Now I’m not living in a fantasy world where I think your 17-year-old who’s using Xanax and fentanyl is going to say, “Gee, my mom says nice things when I stay home and don’t go get high with my homies. I think I’ll stick around tonight and stay sober.” I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is that if the environment in your home or in your relationship, maybe your son or daughter doesn’t live with you, but if it’s always negative, with you always nagging or pushing or punishing, and there’s no positive communication happening. What is the likelihood that your son or daughter is going to want to be there. 
And more importantly, the choice to go hang with the homies and numb it all out is going to sound a lot more attractive. You’re competing with a very enticing set of substances, and a very powerful influence from friends, or people that your son or daughter’s hanging out with. So think about what it’s like for them to be around you. And it may make it just a little bit more compelling to find ways to be positive. This doesn’t mean that magic is going to happen overnight. But again, if all your son or daughter is hearing from you is negative feedback, or no feedback at all, if it’s just crickets, it’s going to be really, really difficult for things to change and get better at all. 
So what would a CRAFT interaction of positive reinforcement look like with your teenager or young adult child who’s getting deeper into drug or alcohol use? I’ll walk through a common scenario that you might recognize, you know, your 16 year old daughter is smoking pot on a regular basis. She skipped school pretty regularly. And she’s also come home drunk after parties. You have done the grounding. You’ve taken the car away. You’ve tried the I can’t believe you’re doing this to me conversation. And they all pretty much and with a lot of yelling and slamming doors. You are feeling powerless and overwhelmed and probably fairly pissed off. Today, however, you didn’t get the email from school saying that she wasn’t in class, so she must have gone and she came home not Hi. She holed up in a room on her phone. But then she threw all of her dirty laundry in the washing machine. All of it whites colors, towel sheets, there might have even been some shoes in there. And she actually turned it on. She’s moping around. Not really very pleasant to be with. And you’re so tempted to say, Oh, you actually went to school today. Or seriously, you can’t put all of that in one load. Don’t you even know how to do laundry. A CRAFT response would sound something like this in a genuine voice, “Hey, I’m really glad you went to school all day today. And thanks for doing your laundry. It’s great not seeing it all over the floor.” 
And if a quick hug or shoulder squeeze is available, do that smile, and shut up. The laundry will survive. If it gets faded or colored, it’s okay. It’s not as important as building or rebuilding a connection and relationship with your child. The idea is to reward any behavior that’s positive and doesn’t involve substances. And regardless of whether you believe going to school, and doing laundry, or just barely table stakes for a 16 year old, focus on finding the good, reward it, and then don’t ruin it with an accompanying lecture or recommendation. I’m just going to say this is not always easy to do. It takes us stepping up, swallowing some pride, and sometimes swallowing some unhelpful words. And it may also mean shifting your perspective a little. Like if your son has recently picked up a guitar, and the sound from it isn’t exactly pleasant. Instead of grimacing, and saying nothing or complaining, you might say, hey, it’s cool to hear you play the guitar. And see maybe if he wants to get an instructor, or is there anything else that would encourage him to keep playing, encouraging things like this not only provide some positive feedback from you, it also competes with the choice to do something else, like smoke some weed, or go find some vodka. 
I can speak from experience that using the recommendations of the CRAFT model helped me to stop feeling completely helpless and crazy. Once I learned it, it finally gave us a small level of sanity and control, which then allowed us to take a deep breath, put in some guardrails. And as a parent, we were able to take back some of the power that my son was actually holding over the entire family. I especially like the strategy of reinforcement, because when you feel like you can’t do anything else, this is something that is available and simple. It’s not easy to do. But it is very simple. And at first, you may be saying, Well, what if there’s nothing positive root to reinforce, and I totally get that. But if you look deep enough, and often enough, you can really usually find some small things. And trust me when you start out, they may be very small. And you may feel crazy for reinforcing them. But it’s a start. 
I’ll give you an example that happened in my house when my son was 17. He had already been to wilderness therapy for nine weeks. And then he had been at a residential treatment program for three months. He ran away while he was on a home visit. And after two weeks on the run, he came home and we were trying to figure out how to move forward as a family because he refused to go back to treatment. Let’s just say things were obviously tense in our household, and I was really struggling with how to treat him. He finally did agree to try school again. And on his own, he made an appointment with a counselor at the community college to apply for running start. I gave him permission to use my car to go to the meeting, very hesitantly. And then that morning, he overslept. And I was working really hard to stay in my own lane, not to wake him up. But those natural consequences happen. And it was killing me. Because if he missed this appointment, he wouldn’t be able to start school. He finally did wake up, he realized how late it was. And he ran out the door and drove off. About 10 minutes later, I got a call from him, letting me know that on his way to the college, he had rear ended a car, and then two cars had hit him as a result. And he said my car wasn’t drivable, and could I please come get him? Of course, you know, where my mind went, right? Was he high? Or had he been drinking? All of these things went through my head while I drove to pick him up from the scene of the accident. 
But when I got there, I learned that he had not been drinking. He had not been smoking anything. But he had been fumbling around with his wallet because he ran out of the house so fast. He thought he’d forgotten his license, which he knew he would need for a meeting with the college counselor. And while he was fumbling around, and not looking at the road, he had the car in front of him. It took every single ounce of restraint in me to find the positive in the situation. My car was totaled, by the way. And I said, “Well, it’s great that you’re taking the initiative to apply for Running Start. And the accident wasn’t because you were under Influence of anything, I’m soooo glad for that.” And then I shut up. Because what I really wanted to do was provide a lecture that I was sure he would be so willing to hear, and would absolutely change his behavior. After I shut up, he and I were both quiet for a little while. And he eventually then said how sorry he was, and that he knew the car had sentimental value for me. It was the car that I had had since he and his brother were babies. And I’m weird that way, and he knew it. And he knew how upset I was. I could have yelled and screamed and punished and been really angry about this. It was another ding in his already very dinged-up history at that point. But I have to say that just letting him know that I was glad he wasn’t hurt. And focusing on the positive of that negative situation, made the situation less of a battle and less of a confrontation. And anytime that you can have less of a battle and less of a confrontation, I would definitely call that a win. 
The key, friends, is not to give up. It’s so hard. But if you can build a team of people around you, you probably need to pull in some professionals that can help you get through this painful season. And just know that it’s a season. I know that staying in this game is hard – it’s messy, and it’s painful, and it’s exhausting. And taking the reigns and changing your own behavior may seem a little unfair, and might feel like a burden in light of what your child’s going through. But I think you have to ask isn’t his or her life worth it? And what other option really do you have?
After learning these skills, whenever I saw my son, whether it was at home, or even if he was in a treatment program, which happened many times, I would hold him by the shoulders and look him in the eyes and tell him that I would never give up on him. And I told myself that I would never stop learning and trying new things because his life was on the line. And if there was anything left for me to try, I would try it. But to stay at this. And sometimes this is a long, long fight, you really have got to have some strategy and some skills, and craft is honestly the best way to start. And the best thing to stick with in the long run. So for a quick summary craft is not about changing your child. It’s about changing you, your communication, your actions and your self care. CRAFT is a method, it’s a set of tools that you can use strategically to help motivate your child toward less use, and even toward accepting help. One of the key elements of craft that we talked about today is positive reinforcement. So you’re going to be looking for positive, or even less negative things to reinforce, whether that’s your child actively doing something non harmful. In other words, they’re making a good decision. Or even finding positive in the negative like the example with my car. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences. It doesn’t mean that everything is going to be rainbows and unicorns all the time, you’re just going to specifically look for ways that you can add some positivity to your relationship with your son or daughter. And it helps to remember what you’re competing with. Again, please go to the shownotes and get the links for the free resources to this craft method that will really help you learn and practice these skills. They really can help change the dynamics in your house. And it really, really can help you and your child. 
If you’re a mom listening to this and thinking hmm, there must be other moms out there listening to I can tell you that there are thousands of other moms that are searching for this same information. And for a more personal connection. You can find me and a bunch of these moms by going to my website Brenda Zane calm and there you will get lots of information about a really special online community of moms called The Stream. We have regular calls and chat sessions. We do a monthly yoga class for stress and anxiety. And it’s all positively focused. It is not on Facebook and it’s completely confidential. Membership is on a pay-what-you-can model. So if you want to join this community and you need the support, you’re in. 
You might also want to download my free ebook called “HINDSIGHT, Three Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Addicted To Drugs.” It is packed with information that I truly wish I had known back in the darker years with my son. And so I share it now in case it might be helpful to you in your journey. You can get that at Brendazane.com/hindsight, and I will put a link to both of these resources in the show notes as well. 
Thank you so much for listening. I’ll meet you right back here next week.

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