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Providing non-judgmental and non-criticizing support for family and friends of end-stage alcoholics through one-on-one coaching, support groups, blog posts, workshops and public speaking.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

He's in rehab! Now what?

You never thought this day would actually become a reality. It seems too good to be true and as you watch him walk into the rehab center, you pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming. Even though you know he is safely ensconced into a room and at that very moment he is in a group therapy session, you still think… What if he calls me to come get him? What if he doesn’t handle detox so well? What if… What if..?

It is a restless night for you at the onset of your alcoholic’s rehab journey. The joy is that you wake up in the morning and find that, in spite of the uneasiness, you feel a bit more refreshed than you did on previous nights. Then it hits you – you were more rested because you weren’t subconsciously worried about him burning the house down or falling and cracking his head open. You didn’t have to lock the bedroom door in fear of him going into a drunken rage. Last night you were able to sleep without trepidation and the rest was, OH, so sweet.

Everything is better this morning. The coffee is richer, the sunrise redder, the shower warmer, even the morning news seems to have more positive stories. If you have children, even getting them off to school seems to go without incident – like a well-oiled machine just humming along. So you’ve gotten your morning off to a good start – now what do you do?

There’s always a few days when the alcoholic is out of the house that everything feels fabulously normal. Enjoy it because you really don’t know how long it’s going to last. Besides, I hate to be the bearer of bad news – but you have work to do. It’s all well and good for the alcoholic to be in rehab, but no matter how “well” he gets, if he comes home to the same familiar scenario, he will go back to his old scenarios. So what can you do while he is gone to help the entire family?

Clean house. I know that sounds simple, but it is more complicated that just getting out the broom and mop. When you clean the house this time, you must be a detective. Look for bottles of booze and every imaginable as well as the not so likely places where a bottle can be hidden. With Riley I found bottles hidden the spare tires in the garage, inside the toilet tank, behind the drapery cornice, in the box of Christmas ornaments, in a hole under the sink that opened to the dishwasher space, in the storage shed with the gardening tools, and all the other usual places. I ended up with one entire garbage can of nothing but booze bottles – some empty and some not so much. There wasn’t much room for the regular garbage after my round-up.

I went through the house room by room, cleaning each and every inch of each and every room. It took me about a week to finish the entire house and about 3 days for the outside of the house. I had the cleanest house on the block. It felt so very, very good to know that I now had an alcohol-free environment.

Get support. If you have not tried Al-Anon, give it a go. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back. Don’t let support group options stop with Al-Anon. There’s the OARS Group through this blog and other on-line support groups. The idea is – find what works for you and then participate. TALK. Tell your story and how you feel. It will help you find strength.

Find a therapist. One-on-one counseling is immensely helpful for anyone who is living or has lived with an alcoholic. Through a professional counselor, you will learn what your boundaries are that you set for your life. You can learn who you really are and how to go forward in your life.

Family programs through the rehab center. If your alcoholic is in a rehab center that offers a family program, take advantage of it. Don’t worry what the format is, just go and take in everything they have to offer. If that rehab center doesn’t offer a family program (SHAME ON THEM), call around to other local rehab centers and see if they offer anything for family members who do not have a patient in their facility.

Find your passion. Take this time to try things that may interest you – oil painting; basket weaving; baking; writing; photography… anything that you have been curious about, but never had the time to try. Either do it on your own or find a buddy with the same interest. You may even consider taking a class at your local community college or recreation department. Once you find what you like, commit to it. Make a vow that you may not be able to do it as often as you like, but that you will continue as often as humanly possible.

Read blogs. Of course, read MY blog, but there are many others out there with a focus on the family of addicted persons. They all offer excellent information and encouragement. When you see how many blogs there actually are – you will truly know that you are not alone.

Make decisions. There is no guarantee that the alcoholic will be released from rehab and be a changed person. The likelihood that he will relapse is very high. What are you going to do when/if that happens? I know you believe you will keep a positive attitude, but the reality is you must prepare the negative while enjoying the positive. What will your limits be for alcohol in the home? If you should need to separate yourself from the alcoholic, how will you manage to do that? Will he leave or will you? Do you have money saved for that possibility? Prepare now and you won’t be scrambling around wondering what the hell happened when the future turns from bright to bleak.

Understand everything you can about alcoholism. Just because a person is sober doesn’t mean he will be easy to live with or be a loving partner. If the alcoholic stays in a program, the focus will not be on the family, but rather on maintaining the sobriety that has been attained. Where alcohol was the previous mistress, AA or whatever program he is in, will be his mistress now. It’s hard not to take as rejection or abandonment especially when you have done so much for him when he treated you poorly. It is up to you to decide what kind of relationship you want to have – what is acceptable and what is not. You can stay in your relationship, but you may have reconfigure it a bit to meet both parties requirements.

Life with an alcoholic is never easy. It is almost always disappointing when the discovery is made that life with a recovering alcoholic is also not easy. So take this time to clean your house and your mind. Fill those cleaned out spaces with knowledge of yourself, alcoholism and a clear definition of what your life should look whether alone or with the alcoholic. 


Niecey said...

As always, excellent advice Linda! I would only add that if a rehab facility has no Family Program, run! No Family Program = No federal/state funding, meaning there's something janky going on there!

Another hiding place could be in plain sight. We used to buy drinking water by the case. The kids were into sports, etc. and the bottled water was just easier. My ex used to take several bottles, empty out the water and refill with his Vodka! Plain sight! It worked for him until our youngest got hold of a vodka filled bottle. Poor kid took a huge gulp and about vomited!

Other places; inside the washing machine, inside a pair of tall boots in a closet, the tire well usually in the trunk of a car under the carpet. In Lenin closets behind stacks of towels and sheets. If your alcoholic is a man with a garage, the hiding places are endless! The first house we owned had a huge loft above the garage. It was big enough to create a small living space up there, though we never did. The only reason I searched up there was because he would go up there often to drink. You had to access it via a ladder. I have no idea how he kept from falling.

Also you are so very correct when you mention that the alcoholic getting sober is not a cure-all...and often the work has just begun. Sometimes, actually MANY times, the sober alcoholic will be so grouchy, grumpy and hateful that you will almost wish they would go back to drinking. Try to give them a break. Often, they have screwed up the "feel-good" neurons in their brain. Very often it will benefit them to start taking an antidepressant, even if only short-term. A good treatment facility will do a complete physical, blood work and history on the alcoholic and will usually catch this and prescribe a mild antidepressant. TRY to get the alcoholic to take it exactly as prescribed...often their sobriety is dependent upon it!

Furtheron said...

Sadly not all rehabs offer family programmes due to the funding issues - at least in the UK that is the case I know in some instances. I'm sure they'd love to but where they get the money from just doesn't allow them.

The other things as the alcoholic who has sat the other side.... I know as a recovering alcoholic I've presented other issues. My recovery has worked for me through using AA and meetings. In the early days a LOT of meetings. My wife was angry and jealous that after she'd told me to stop drinking for years I now hung around with strangers more than her and of course she felt more angry because I was staying sober due to that. 10 years on me spending 3 or 4 evenings out a week at meetings isn't uncommon. That is a strain and a readjustment etc. We've made it work.

I sometimes say that next year I'll have been married 30 years. The really surprising thing is that my marriage survived not just my drinking career but has actually survived my recovery too so far.