By Heather Wiszczur, LLMSW, CAADC, ADS*
When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, he or she often becomes the primary focus of attention in their family and social network. However, substance abuse affects everyone in the addicted person's life, remaining true when someone you care about enters treatment for alcoholism or addiction.It's normal to have a variety of feelings
When someone you care about enters treatment, it is common and understandable that you experience a wide range of emotions. Many people feel happiness and relief that their loved one is getting help and that she is somewhere safe, as well as hope that things are going to get better. However, you may also feel weary or suspicious, especially if your loved one has tried or claimed to try to recover in the past. People hurt their loved ones when they are active in addiction and you may have a lot of anger and resentment to work through. You may feel pressure to instantly forgive and trust again and it's common to have guilt or resentment related to that as well.Unexpected challenges
The reality is that, while having your loved one enter addiction treatment is a good thing, it is also a challenging time. She will be going through a period of intense change. Some of those changes will be the ones you hoped for, but others may not. You too, may be called upon to look at your own ways of coping and interacting with others. As your loved one learns healthier coping skills, she will also begin to set healthier boundaries. If you have had a codependent relationship with her in the past, this may be challenging for you. She may also want to discuss uncomfortable topics or family secrets that you may be unprepared to address. In addition, it is important for you to set and maintain your own boundaries, find healthy ways to cope with and communicate your feelings of anger and resentment, determine when and how much you are ready to trust her again and how much and in what ways you are comfortable supporting her.Limits on contact and requests for help
At Our Hope, we believe that it is important for loved ones to be involved in a woman's care when that is her wish and we offer many opportunities for involvement through communication with clinicians and staff, passes away from the house, opportunities for family and friends to visit, and monthly family counseling sessions. However, as is the case with many residential treatment programs, we do have restrictions on who a client can see or talk to and when she can leave, have visitors, or use the phone. These restrictions are in place to help clients stay focused on their own healing and to minimize interruptions and distractions from their treatment programming, but they can sometimes feel frustrating or exclusionary to loved ones. At the same time, those restrictions on independence also cause women in alcoholism/addiction treatment to be more dependent on their social support systems and often result in increased requests for help in the form of money, self-care supplies, and rides to appointments. This is all common and the more you understand and deal with these feelings upfront, the more help you'll be to the woman you care about and yourself.No magic cure
It is not uncommon for an addicted woman's loved ones to have unrealistic expectations of treatment. While Our Hope's therapy and treatment program offers hope, healing, and real skills for a successful recovery, our program is still an offering. It is up to each individual woman to take advantage of what is offered and do the work of recovery.There will be good days and bad days. Your loved one is learning new skills and she will not always remember to practice them and she will not always get things right. She may have cravings and will be encouraged to talk about them. This is a normal part of addiction and recovery and talking about cravings is what takes away their power. There is no magic cure for addiction and recovery is a life-long process. Our Hope's treatment programs are designed to provide a safe and supportive environment to guide women to a life in recovery, but they will still have to work to maintain it. The importance of the support of those who care about her can't be stressed enough, especially when she leaves treatment. Our clinicians and Recovery Coaches are there for you and the woman you care about even after she leaves. In fact, we really consider each woman's treatment to be the beginning of a strong relationship between all of us, importantly including her family, friends and other members of her support system.Importance of self-care
When the woman you care about enters treatment for her addiction and/or alcoholism and the mental health and emotional conditions that are so often related to these diseases, she is taking an important step toward recovery and healing. She will need your support, but you also need to take care of yourself and begin your own healing process. Many loved ones benefit from seeking their own individual therapy and/or family therapy. We also encourage loved ones to attend Al-Anon or Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings to gain your own support, learn about addiction, and connect with others who have an addicted person in their life. Addiction is a disease that impacts everyone in an addicted woman's life. She deserves hope, healing, support, and recovery. So do you.
*Note: This article was first published in 2011 and has been modified by Our Hope to reflect our current treatment programs, including monthly family therapy.