I didn’t know what I wanted, whether a city-wide celebration with a street procession baring a banner with the news – or whether I just wanted to tuck myself into bed, wrapping the information around me like a shawl and refusing to get up. Maybe I just didn’t want nothing.
My Mum going into rehab was something I had wanted, had wished for, for years – but I was totally unprepared when it did happen. It felt like retreating back into the misguided dreams of a seven-year-old. So this is why I’m writing this – a collection of my thoughts which all sit in the box labelled “I wish I knew this before.”
As it stands, my Mum has been back from rehab for over a week. I’m sure I will keep learning – but this is what I’ve learnt so far.
1. People won’t feel as strongly about it as you
This might feel like a daft starting point because in some ways it feels obvious. And, of course, rationally you can know this fact – but that doesn’t change the way it feels to have people dismiss the news. I went through a tumultuous time where it felt like I was just vomiting out the information – because there was that part of me that just wanted people to stop for a while; to stop carrying on and understand that this huge thing was happening. That it wasn’t the time for Tuesdays or Thursdays or 3:57pm or brushing your teeth or getting your bus because, didn’t they get it, my Mum was going to rehab. I wanted them to drop whatever they were holding. I wanted them to understand that this felt like the culmination of my desperation, of my shitty childhood memories; that nothing bigger had ever happened for me – but I didn’t get that. So I kept trying. And I kept being disappointed. Until I realised, I had to be the one to give that to myself.
They can’t jump in your head and feel your pain, feel your anxiety, feel your tentative joy. They can’t see your memories. But you can. You know what this means. You can soothe yourself. You can be the voice you need to be.
I ended up just taking time off work because I knew that’s what I needed. The same applies for you – be the person you’re looking for. Take time to figure out what it is that you need, what you want, to care for yourself during this time. It is huge – and it doesn’t matter if no one else recognises that, because you do.
2. Don’t hide it either
By the same token, I also battled with shame around the fact and felt like I had to lie when people asked where my Mum was for over a month. It is worth considering if the person going into rehab wants others to know but ultimately, this is your experience too.
More than that, for sobriety to be built into their future there will be times when people ask them why they’re not drinking. Of course, it’s their choice if they offer an excuse, but, more often than not, rehab centres and support centres will suggest they just tell the truth. It’s not a badge of shame; it’s a sign of someone willing to fight for their life and those around them. By replacing any stigma with honesty and ownership – it means the recovery will more likely stand the test of time. The same applies for you; don’t feel you need to hide anything.
3. Use the time away for your own benefit
This one is crucial. For maybe for the first time in your life, someone else will be taking sole responsibility of the care of the person you have been worrying about for what feels like your entire existence. This worry creates a co-dependence. You may spend a lot of time sitting with the knowledge that they rely on you; but this time shines a light on the fact that you too have formed a reliance on the dynamic that exists – however healthy or unhealthy that may be.
I found this part the most unbearable. I remember walking to the shops, getting my phone out to call my Mum as I usually do – and realising I couldn’t. So I just broke down into tears. It felt like it was cracking some part of me not to have her accessible whenever I needed her. But, use this time as a gift. Because it is one. This is your time to breathe. Someone is looking after them – which frees you up to be there for YOU. You might find that suddenly this leaves space for you to start counselling or to use spaces like Al Anon who support carers of those with dependencies.
4. The… Impact Letter
Oh boy. The Impact Letter – something I really would have appreciated a heads up on. This may not be the same for every rehab centre but, as it applied for me, I will let you know. The Impact Letter is a letter written by the family members of the person with the dependency detailing the impact that their addiction has had on their life and what the consequences will be for them if they do not stop. They then have to read it out in a group. Yeesh.
Getting the very Larkin-esque brief of “tell your parent how they fucked up” is not one that anyone would enjoy – but this felt especially intense. The goal for many children of parents with dependencies is to get to the point where they will be okay – whether or not their parent is okay. This whole letter felt like going against that; of feeding into the darkest pits of despair. It is also just feels incredibly brutal.
However, I do have some advice. Firstly, you do not have to do it. This is your call – and if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. It fuels a very instinctive narrative that our actions have the power to change their mind – which can be so alluring, but if you find it too psychologically tormenting, you don’t need to do it.
And if you do decide to do it, know that they are in the safest space they possibly can be. If you need inspiration you can look other examples online – but you can also treat it as a therapeutic opportunity to write what you’ve been holding back in fear of hurting them, whilst they’re in the best place for them to receive this type of message. Your pain and hurt deserves attention – and this can be it. Don’t let it take over but, for the time it takes to write, let that voice swim to the present and know, that when you put down your pen, nothing has changed. If this letter doesn’t have the desired impact – it’s not on you.
5. Don’t pin all of your hopes on this
I cannot express how important this is – to both myself and anyone reading this, rehab is not a magic wand. Rehab may not lead to recovery – and we need to find a way to square ourselves with that.
But, alternatively, it may help too. Which, ironically, is something I am struggling with most. What has shocked me most, during the course of this whole experience, is my reaction to my Mum coming back. She has come back a different person, with a different energy – the role I grew up with my entire life seems to have been made redundant. The fault lines upon which my life have been made are moving. Things are going well – and I don’t quite know what to do about it because, ultimately, I am afraid. I am afraid that it cannot last. And I don’t have advice on that, because I’m still figuring that out myself. In this situation, hope feels like a tight rope – and I plan to approach it as such. One step at a time.
Written by Anonymous