After you’ve supported your husband or wife (or partner) all through rehab and into early recovery, you undoubtedly feel crushed and betrayed if your loved one leaves you following a relapse. This is perfectly understandable.
That doesn’t make it feel any better, though, does it?
The question you’re probably asking is what you can possibly do about the situation? What are some things that can help you regain your own composure, to restore your own self-esteem and, basically, help you get on with your life? Here are some tips on how to cope when your loved one leaves after relapse.
It’s Not You With The Problem
Before you do anything else, sit down and remind yourself that it isn’t you that has the problem. Sure, you’re dealing with the effects of the problem – namely, that your spouse or loved one left after relapsing – but the problem isn’t anything you caused. You are also not responsible for whatever happens to your relapsed loved one. That is all on him or her alone. You had no part in it – so don’t con yourself into believing that you had anything to do with it.
Guilt and self-recrimination are common first emotions the one left behind is likely to feel. If only I had done this or said that, you may tell yourself ad infinitum. The trouble is that this line of thinking simply goes nowhere – fast. The more you heap blame on yourself for whatever you think you might have failed to do, or didn’t do enough, the longer you’ll sit in a stew of negative and self-fulfilling thinking.
Broom that thought away now that your loved one’s leaving was caused in any part by you. It’s just not true.
Sometimes Loved Ones Need To Fall On Their Own
Call it tough love or facing reality or being as compassionate but reasonable as possible. The truth is that sometimes our loved ones need to fall on their own before they find the inner strength to stand up and accept their situation. Relapse is not all that uncommon. Leaving one’s spouse and loved ones, unfortunately, isn’t that rare either. For some, the time away is brief. Before long, the anguish felt is so real, the loss so great, that they’ll do anything to come back home. That may mean telling a falsehood or two, just to get back in the door, but when they say it, they most likely mean it.
Be ready for the possibility that your spouse or loved one may reappear at your doorstep, or call or email or ask friends to intercede in the hope of being allowed back home. What you have to ask – and be specific – is whether or not your relapsed loved one is ready and willing to get additional help to overcome the addiction or dependence.
If the answer is yes, then some rules will need to be laid down. Regular schedules of 12-step group meeting attendance, continuing counseling or therapy, doctor visits, as appropriate, should all be in the mix. Perhaps the relapse was severe enough that going back into rehab is required. While you can’t force your spouse or loved one into treatment, and you should never nag or keep after the person about meetings, you can insist that your loved one take proactive steps to regain sobriety – and maintain it.
If the answer is no, you already know that you shouldn’t welcome him or her back in the house just yet. Maybe a little while longer is necessary before your loved one comes to his or her senses and realizes that it’s time to start taking responsibility for actions and get help to overcome addiction.
Seek Support For You through 12-Step Family Groups
It’s a difficult time for you, for sure. A million questions flood your mind, along with emotions that swing wildly on a pendulum. Some days, you’ll feel like your world has crashed around you. With bills mounting up and your spouse/partner or loved one gone who knows where doing who knows what (but you know that using is likely part of the picture), you worry that you won’t be able to make it. Things seem dark, indeed, and you don’t know where to turn for help.
There is a place. It’s called 12-step family groups. Whether your loved one has a problem with alcohol or drugs or gambling or compulsive sex, workaholism or some other process addiction, there are 12-step family support groups that can provide you relief from the crushing burdens of your daily existence. For the family and close friends of alcoholics, there’s Al-Anon/Alateen (where Alateen is for teen family members). For family/friends of drug abusers and addicts, there’s Nar-Anon. If gambling is the problem, the corresponding family group is Gam-Anon.
Don’t know where to find these groups? Do a Web search using Bing or Google and type in Gam-Anon or Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. You can also type in the 12-step group name for the person with the addiction – Gamblers Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, and so on. Once you are on those websites, look for the link to family groups. Once you get to the family group site, bookmark it and then start searching through the information, FAQs, lists of meeting locations, available literature, and other helpful resources and links.
Find out as much as you can about the philosophy, goals, and process each group uses. Then, determine where there’s a meeting close to you that meets your schedule. Don’t worry that you’ll be committed to joining a group. Participation is purely voluntary. It’s also anonymous and free. The only requirement is a sincere commitment to learning how to resolve problems in your life due to your loved one’s addiction.
No one will preach to you. This isn’t a therapy group in the sense of formal treatment. It’s just people coming together who have experienced problems caused by a loved one/friend with addiction. They know what you’re going through now because they’ve been there themselves. They can help you best by offering support, understanding and encouragement. Remember that your situation today will look different tomorrow and next week and the following month. You grow stronger and more self-confident every day. You always have friends and non-judgmental support in your 12-step family groups.
Prioritize Your Needs
Right now, you have to think about and prioritize what’s most important for you and your family remaining at home. If the person who relapsed was the breadwinner, your financial obligations may be at the top of your list. Cut out all non-essential spending. Make meals that stretch beyond a single sitting. Economize in other areas as well. Consolidate your errands into as few trips as possible so that you’re spending less on gasoline.
There’s also the matter of the relationship of the relapsed loved one to the rest of the family, particularly the children. Ensuring that their needs are met will be a large portion of your responsibility. Beyond taking care of their physical needs for food, clothing and shelter, however, be sure that you give them abundant love, answer their questions as clearly and concisely as you can about where their other parent is, but don’t give false expectations about his/her return.
You may find suggestions from 12-step group members on how to approach your children and what to say to help make the sting a little less hurtful. If your children are older adolescents or teens, ask them to be creative in coming up with ideas on how to save time/money doing errands, finding inexpensive entertainment options (playing board games, playing charades), and other innovative solutions. Children like to be involved, to feel like they’re part of family activity. Don’t discount some ingenious ideas they may come up with. It could be an excellent form of coping for them and for you.
Make Time To See Friends
Probably the last thing that’s on your list is making the time to see your friends. Don’t make the mistake of holing up in your house and becoming isolated. Locking yourself away due to shame or fear or worry about what other people might think is not only counter-productive to your current situation, it will also eat away at your own self-confidence.
Remember, you have to be strong for your children as well as for yourself. Stress breaks down an individual, both emotionally and physically. You could become physically ill due to increased stress. To counter that, you need to be with people you like and who like you, people with whom you share interests or activities.
Even if you’ve pretty much abandoned all your friends during your loved one’s treatment and early recovery, now’s the time to get back in touch with your closest ones. If they’re no longer around or live too far away, get out and make some new ones.
Join a recreational activity group, a book reading group, or get involved in a hobby that you learn to do in community groups. Enroll in a class in community college. Go back to school to get additional training or resume or start a degree. Any and all of these are places where you’re bound to meet new people – and some of them may become friends.
What you’re doing by making time to see friends is taking care of your own need to be a well-rounded individual. You are more than just a person who has to take care of responsibilities at home. You’re a person who needs to laugh and have a different perspective from time to time. In short, you need friends that you can laugh and have a good time with. This will help you cope when your loved one leaves after relapse.
Be Ready With A Plan
Let’s say that your loved one left – whether in anger or in a drug- or alcohol-induced state – and now wants to come home. He or she promises that the substance abuse (or gambling or workaholism or compulsive sexual behavior, etc.) is over and commits to getting additional help to regain sobriety.
You should be ready with a plan for when and if this happens. The last thing you want to do is welcome your loved one home and then things return to the same vicious cycle of using, searching for drugs, getting high, coming down, and then starting the cycle all over again. Without a solid plan that your loved one can commit to, there’s not much hope of him/her remaining sober.
And you’ll be right back where you started from. Another relapse may be just around the corner, resulting in your loved one leaving once more.
Your plan can be something you work out with your loved one’s former therapist or counselor, a family doctor, by talking with your 12-step family group members. Maybe get in touch with your loved one’s sponsor at his/her own 12-step group and ask for assistance/guidance in what to do when your loved one wants to come back home.
Above all, if you have a plan ready, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the situation when and if it occurs.
Be Willing To Give It Time
Time heals all things – including the hurt, confusion, anxiety and betrayal you very likely feel now that your loved one has left after relapse. True, it may take quite some time for him or her to come to the realization and acceptance that life just can’t go on as it has and to agree to and go into treatment or get additional help to overcome his/her addiction.
But you also need to be willing to give it time. You need time to heal yourself, to regain your self-composure, restore or rebuild your self-confidence and self-esteem, to begin to again feel like you’re whole and worthwhile. All of these have been damaged by living with the loved one who relapsed. Addiction is a very destructive disease. It affects not only the person who’s engaged in the addictive behavior but also every member of the family.
It could also be that you learn to live quite well on your own without your loved one in your life. That sometimes happens. If the damage to the relationship has been so severe that reconciliation is out of the question – at least for now – you may be better off being on your own. If this is the case, it’s all the more reason why you need to give things time to heal. You need to learn how to function completely on your own. That takes time. It also takes determination and the aforementioned support.
In the end, while you can remind yourself that you didn’t cause the problem of your loved one’s addiction or subsequent relapse, you’ve prioritized your needs, sought help from 12-step family groups, made time to see your friends, are ready with a plan and are willing to give it time, you may still have doubts and worry if things will ever get better.
What you need is to have faith. Trust that you will be able to find a workable solution, and that you will learn to embrace each day with a feeling of purpose, hope and joy. If it helps to believe in your Higher Power, or a God as you know him, then do so. Ask for help. Pray or meditate or lift your spirit in whatever way works best for you.
Believe, most of all, in the power and strength that resides within you. Where you get that strength and power may come to you through your Higher Power or blossom up by virtue of your own efforts and determination. But faith is what gets you there, either way. Have faith and you will soon be more than just coping when your loved one leaves you after relapse.
You will be living life in peace and joy.
08 Jul 2011
It can be the best of times or the worst of times, to paraphrase the opening sentence of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. What we’re referring to is the journey you begin after rehab for substance abuse or other addictive behavior, the phase when you start recovery. Many people are scared to death to start over. Not only has rehab been filled with uncertainty and ambivalence, even with the best intentions, the prospect of living clean and sober is almost too much to contemplate.
A recent report from the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, showed rehab admission increases that were overwhelming in the past ten years. The 2009 study concluded that of the rehab admissions, totaling nearly 2 million, 96 percent were related mostly to alcohol, which held 42 percent of the total and the smallest being methamphetamine/amphetamines at just 6 percent.