Earlier this year a close family member told me that their spouse had voluntarily entered a six-week treatment program. I’m always delighted for those who chose to pursue treatment and recovery, but it often raises some interesting questions among close friends and family regarding the level of support that we are required to give once our loved ones return to the “real world”. Anyone who has been through a treatment program will probably agree that after the first few days of settling in, whether that be experiencing any level of withdrawal, being under medical supervision in a detox program or coming to terms with the fact that your substance misuse has got to a point where you require professional help, it’s not a terrible place to be! You’re surrounded by people who empathise with and understand what you’re going through, whether they be fellow clients or well-trained professionals.
Your days are tightly scheduled and busy, and you’re completely focused on getting sober and kicking your habit for good. You get to talk about your feelings, identify your triggers, come to a clearer understanding of your level of use and dependency and not worry about too much else. I thrived in treatment, but once I was outside the “pink bubble”, I didn’t manage to stay sober for more than 6 months. When I got back into the real world with work, bills, stress and accessible alcohol it was a lot trickier than within the nurturing four walls of the facility that I had been in. I was overly confident that I would not be a repeat patient, being one of the few people who was not on their third or fourth treatment rotation.
The fact is that treatment is expensive and once you leave there is virtually no follow-up. My mentor and trainer talks of the incredible post-care he has received since being diagnosed with Diabetes, in the form of phone calls, educational material and follow-up support. Correct me if I am wrong, but most people who leave treatment don’t receive that level of post-treatment care. There’ll probably be a session or two about how one should find a support group and attend meetings, but following the level of attentiveness over the proceeding weeks I personally don’t think that it is nearly enough to ensure that people stay clean and sober. The relapse rates are high, in my opinion, simply because after being cosseted and propped up for weeks or even months, there is not really much of a transition phase. Of course it is the individual’s responsibility to be in charge of their sobriety, but boy it’s not easy being tossed from the treatment nest!
And this also begs the question as to the responsibilities of our nearest and dearest on our homecoming… Because addiction is our cross to bear, and although we need the love and support of our families, we cannot expect them to change their lives because we have a substance misuse disorder!? We need to find our new place in the world after treatment in the face of the myriad of challenges out there. People are going to be drinking when you go to your first social event, it’s as simple as that! You cannot expect it to be any different and if we’re going to stay sober we need to learn to deal with it. It’s inevitable that certain people within your social circle fall away, but it’s going to be a very lonely “Road to Recovery” if you think that your immediate family and friends will change their consumption habits – it’s not going to happen. They may be more aware of them in our first few weeks, but believe me that if you start trying to change them you are going to be met with resistance.
If you’ve been there you can probably relate to what I’m saying. If you’re in early recovery let this be a cautionary tale. Our family and friends love us, but generally don’t want to think that they are like us! They’ll support us by listening to us, maybe even attending educational or information sessions about addiction, but very very rarely will they be prepared to moderate their behaviour in the long-term. And like I said that is something we have to come to terms with or it will be poison in our long-term recovery. So I long ago made peace with the fact that one of the elements that I needed to include in my recovery was being okay with the drinking habits of the people around me, and the fact that they continue to do so is not because they don’t care about me, it’s just that they are were not recovering from an afflition. And if they were, well that’s their decision to make, not mine to preach about.