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Communicating With a Loved One in Rehab

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If your loved one has entered into an inpatient rehabilitation program, you are likely experiencing a flurry of emotions. While it can depend on the closeness of your relationship with the person, it is fair to say that some level of concern is guaranteed to be felt. A person’s admittance to a treatment program usually comes after a chaotic series of events or a substantial amount of time dealing with their active addiction, so everyone’s feelings are raw and can be overwhelming.  

Whatever your feelings may be, your loved one being in a facility and addressing their substance use issue is a positive thing. This is a chance for them to begin their healing journey, and it’s also a chance for you to begin yours. If you are feeling like you want to reach out to them, there are some important things to be aware of while they are in a program. While there may be some things you choose to address right away, there are some good boundaries to consider so their process isn’t disrupted and so that you are not on the receiving end of their current anguish.  

  

Communicating with a Loved One

Every facility is different in terms of communication between clients and their families and friends. Both the client and their loved ones may wish to have consistent and frequent communication with one another, but this is not often advised in order to ensure that proper healing can take place without disruption. A client’s process is composed of many moving parts, but facilities often have a standard protocol they stick to because it has proven to be successful and is usually rooted in evidence-based treatment. For that reason, there is often a waiting period before communication is allowed.  

This does not mean you are unable to hear about the progress or condition of your loved one. There will be counselors and other information available to you in these initial stages to keep you informed of how they are doing. One of the main reasons for the lack of communication in these early stages is so the person receiving treatment is solely focused on and committed to their recovery. Influences from the outside world can have unexpected reactions, as it is often an emotionally turbulent time for all involved. Limiting conversations in the first few days can soften the situation a bit, and allow the client to get used to their new surroundings. It can also keep them from feeling homesick and wanting to leave treatment right away because they are uncomfortable.  

Participating in your loved ones’ treatment is certainly important, but it is a fragile and measured process as best determined by their trusted facility. For the person undergoing treatment, having the support and involvement of their family and friends can help their recovery if done at the appropriate time. Communication is ordinarily conducted through phone calls or family sessions with the designated counselor, but letter writing is often permitted, too. We encourage you to reach out to staff at the facility to find out what the best channel is for both you and your loved one.  

Rehab is difficult, and having the support of family and friends is critical. It can show the person that they are loved no matter how they are feeling, or how they might act outwardly. It shows that there are people who think they are worth it, and that can be invaluable at such a difficult time.  

  

What to Expect from Your Loved One  

Conversations with your loved one while they are in a program will likely be different from how they were while in active alcohol or drug addiction, which tends to bring out the worst in the person who is using. If it was a struggle getting them to admit they have a problem, there could have been a lot of arguments and yelling, verbal and physical abuse, avoidance, indifference, forms of manipulation, and distrust leading to their treatment admission. The way they act toward you now that they are in a program can be rather unpredictable, and it may not be much better than before—at least not right away. If you decide to communicate with them, it is best to go into it with as much knowledge and preparedness as possible.  

When drugs and alcohol are first removed from the body, an initial detox period is often the first step. This can be uncomfortable and unpleasant both physically and emotionally, but is aided with certain medications many facilities provide. During this time, a person will feel so terribly that they are easily agitated and have pretty strong cravings to leave treatment and use. Their substance use was a source of comfort for so long, so it makes sense for them to divert back to it despite it having brought them to treatment in the first place. They may also look for someone besides themselves to blame, which is something that is more fully addressed in the therapeutic part of the recovery process.  

With that said, know that it’s not uncommon for the person in treatment to be less than forthcoming should you attempt to communicate with them. If they agree to speak with you (and the facility permits), there are some ways they may act due to the withdrawal process and other mitigating circumstances surrounding their particular situation. This can also occur after the initial detox while they are undergoing any therapeutic treatment, such as group therapy and the 12 Steps. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.

Some of the feelings they may be experiencing can include:  

  • Blame: They may blame you for their being in a program if they don’t want to be, or may tell you that it’s your fault they use substances. Blaming you for their problems is a way of pushing responsibility away from themselves and denying their part in it. This may cause you to feel guilty and question yourself about whether they have a problem.  
  • Anger/hostility: If they are feeling particularly mad about being in treatment, they may not speak to you at all. If they do and are hostile, it is best to cease communication for some more time while they are getting help from treatment professionals.  
  • Bargaining: Promising to stop using if you allow them to come home or come pick them up is difficult to hear, but you must not give in. Try to remember how bad the situation was before, and know that it is likely to go right back to that if you allow it.  
  • Guilt: This is often done to parents or spouses, but it can occur within other relationships, too. They may make you feel guilty for their being in there when they don’t want to be.  
  • Holding a grudge: Not speaking to you or withholding love/kind words (often in instances of romantic relationships or parent/child relationships) as a form of punishment.  
  • Regret/shame: Your loved one may feel very bad about the past and profusely apologize for their being there, which can be seen as a positive thing as they are assuming responsibility for their situation.  
  • Depression: Once the drugs and alcohol are removed, emotions and reality begin to set in and it can be a lot to take. This can often make people reflect on their choices and the consequences their use has led to, leading to feeling down and sad.  

While you should be prepared for the above responses, you also have the freedom to choose how to react. It is important to be supportive and receptive to your loved one’s feelings at this time, but you don’t have to put up with cursing or unfair blame. If the conversation does not seem to improve, it is okay to cease communication if it is becoming unhealthy and troublesome for you. You can utilize the counselor to advise you on how your loved one is doing, and they may be able to suggest a time to speak further down the line that would result in a more constructive discussion.  

The goal of recovery is to find peace within oneself, and this often manifests as acceptance and, eventually, gratitude. Should a loved one be hurtful or angry during your first few conversations, know that it is likely that they will see things in a new light as they move forward in their recovery. Just as it was important while they were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol to know it wasn’t truly them talking and acting, they may take some time to become a new and better person in sobriety. It will also take time to build up trust between you, as it was likely quite precarious before treatment.  

  

What to Expect for Yourself  

Many parents of children with Substance Use Disorder say they are finally able to get a good night of sleep when their child is in rehab. This welcomed sentiment is often a long time coming, especially if the addiction took them to homelessness or hard drugs with high fatality rates, such as heroin. This feeling is not limited to parents, however, and tends to be universal among family and friends who just want the best for their loved ones.  

The feelings you experience can be as much of a whirlwind as that which your loved one is undergoing during treatment. Many unhealthy behaviors stem from substance use, and they often affect everyone around the situation. Trust must be rebuilt, and there will likely be a lot of hesitation and lingering hurt due to the actions and consequences of the person with the addiction. It can be an arduous process, but it is possible.  

When first communicating with a loved one, some feelings you may experience:  

  • Guilt/shame: You may feel responsible and that their situation is partly your fault, especially if you are a parent or spouse. Ultimately, you cannot control their decisions had no control over their actions that led up to this point.  
  • Resentment: Feeling very hurt or angry with the person in treatment is another common sentiment. A person’s substance use can lead to financial problems in families, rifts in relationships, accidents, exchanging of cruelties, etc., which is why time and change is imperative to help repair the damage done.  
  • Sorrow: Feelings of sadness can be common, as having a loved one in rehab allows you to reflect on all that has led up to it, and the things that have occurred because of the addiction.  
  • Worry: You may worry about your child being depressed and lonely while in treatment, especially if they convey those feelings to you. It’s important to remember that they are being looked after by medical professionals and are much safer than they would be on the outside.  
  • Residual trauma: Experiencing a loved one in active addiction is mentally exhausting and can be very traumatic. Talking to them if they are still angry with their situation can drum up feelings of fear and insecurity. It is best to seek therapy for yourself if you are experiencing this often and for long periods of time. Al-Anon or other similar programs for loved ones are other good resources for further support.  
  • Hesitation: If your loved one is very upset with you and tries to manipulate you into thinking that this was the wrong choice for them, you may go back on your decision or try to help them leave treatment. It may also make you second guess your thoughts on their substance use and think you were being too hard on them.  
  • Relief: One of the best feelings is knowing that help is possible for your loved one, and to feel secure knowing they are in a safe place where they will be looked after and cared for.  

As we said before, your healing is important, too! If a conversation with your loved one is not positive, it is perfectly okay to take a step back until more time has passed. Oftentimes families and friends like to see progress and commitment on behalf of their loved one before reaching out, as there is much at stake.  

Knowing your loved one is now in rehab is the first step in this process, and it’s an incredible one at that.  

  

The Best Way to Help Your Loved One  

Once you get in touch with your loved one, there are some ways in which you can be most helpful to ensure effective communication. If you can put aside your reservations, constructive conversations can set the ground for a more healthy relationship.  

  • Words of confidence: Raise their spirits by expressing enthusiasm and encouragement in their sober journey. Even if your loved one has had multiple stays in a program, there is nothing like having those little words said back to them, especially if they are unable to think it for themselves just yet.  
  • Forgiveness: While not explicitly forgiving them, they may be profusely apologetic at this time because of everything rushing to the surface; this often happens in early recovery.  
  • Interest: If they wish to share some of the things going on at treatment, ask questions and show eagerness to learn more. If their interest in their recovery is piqued, it will be even further strengthened if yours is too.  
  • Hope: Express that you are looking forward to the future and believe in their progress and potential. Having words of support can help them resolve to stick with their plan.  

While there may be bumps along the way, by maintaining a neutral stance they will be less likely to react defensively or angrily. While you hope they will approach recovery with sincere conviction, there is no way to know the outcome right away. What we do know, however, is that positive reinforcement provides encouragement, and if you focus on healing and offering compassion, you will help propel your loved one forward.  

  

Facility Guidelines for Communicating with a Loved One  

As we said before, each facility has a different protocol for communication. Some feel it is not helpful for the person’s treatment until a few weeks in when there has been some substantial progress. They also may measure the client’s temperament to determine if they are in a good headspace to connect. Utilize the available resources, such as your loved one’s counselor or specified point of contact. They can give you insight into how your loved one is doing. They may suggest writing a letter in place of a phone call, or maybe an in-person visit if the person is doing well. The best thing you can do is ask questions, and also check in with yourself to know how you’re feeling, too.  

The facility will also want to ensure that the family and/or friends are not enabling the client in any way. They often will require that visitors who also have experienced Substance Use Disorder be sober for a certain period of time for in-person visits. They will also discourage inappropriate relations or relationships they deem detrimental to the person’s recovery process.  

At the end of your loved one’s treatment stay, you’ll likely receive information about their discharge, aftercare, and ongoing treatment plan as advised by the facility. They may also want your opinion and insight for providing any important patterns or historical data that can be considered for when the client moves to the next phase, which will ensure their best chance at lasting recovery.  

  

Granite Recovery Centers  

Having a supportive network of family and friends can be motivational and helpful for a person who is in a residential program. Knowing they have that outside support may inspire them to keep working harder because they know that they can be reunited if they continue to do well. If they encourage and support their loved ones’ new and sober lifestyle, it will further strengthen their resolve to continue their recovery journey.  

Granite Recovery Centers encourages communication with families, friends, and loved ones for their clients so they can build up their support network to rejoin once they are well. To learn more about visitation schedules, phone communication, and addresses for sending mail, we encourage you to reach out to your point of contact or contact us directly at 855.712.7784.  

We know the recovery process is not possible without support and connection. Many of us have walked this very same path, and are happy to answer any questions you may have for yourself or your loved one. Please give us a call today. 

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