THE BLOG

Residential Rehab and the Family's Participation

11/17/2011 02:58 pm ET | Updated Jan 17, 2012
  • Carole Bennett, MA Substance abuse counselor; activist; author, 'Reclaim Your Life: You and the Alcoholic/Addict'

I am working with a family out of Canada where the wife has entered a residential rehab program after incurring a DUI as a result of a car accident. On the way to the rehab, this wife and mother of two jumped out of the car, explaining that she needed some aspirin at the drug store. Spending too long in the store, her husband went to explore the situation and found her in line with a bottle of Vodka.

I relay this story as one can't help but question this woman's honest desire for recovery; or is it more of a family-imposed sentence coupled with the possibility of thwarting off heavy legal ramifications?

Like most residential rehabs there is a family counseling session. My client asked my professional advice as to how to prepare his two daughters for this reunion, as his wife had only been in this program for a week. He was concerned about what to expect.

I am not here to question the recovery center as to why they should plan a family counseling session so soon after admission, but I advised my client not to take his daughters for the following reasons. This was not meant as a punishment to his wife or a show of power on his end but what was the best for the girls (13 and 15).

• What was the purpose in this family session? Wife / mother have barely had a chance to detoxify and may not look as healthy as she could in another week or so.

• What was going to be talked about? Again, since detoxification is still in its infancy, it seems impossible to talk about her plans for recovery today, and how her life will look from now on without drinking.

• I was concerned she might play the "blame game" toward her husband or defend and justify why she drinks as her children are held a captive audience.

• I believe that children should be educated as much as possible about alcoholism. An adult can discuss this concept in more detail with a counselor or through their own 12-step recovery program, but the children should seek counseling as well, or at least attend an Ala-teen meeting so they know what to expect and what the world of alcoholism looks like. It might also be easier for them to know that they are not alone, as other teenagers will be there for the same purpose.

I felt my client should get a "lay of the land," meet the counselor and assess his wife's state of mind before bringing the children. I appreciated that his wife wanted to see the girls, but being a pro-active parent from the father's perspective as to the agenda for such sessions was paramount, rather than playing it by ear and hoping that everything would be okay. Would another week really make a difference? In my mind it shouldn't, and his wife might be a bit healthier in the near future. Her children should first get their feet wet learning about alcoholism in another -- and possibly a safer and healthier -- venue.

My client agreed with me and the following emails transpired:

Carole,

I told my wife that kids won't be going tomorrow now she does not want me to show up there in morning, Next family counseling weekend 2 weeks from now. I will have a rough night making a decision on what to do.

Eric,

She is punishing you plain and simple. This is a very common "bullying" tactic by the alcoholic/addict when they don't get their way and is typical addictive behavior. If you go, you are handing her the baton of power even in rehab. Please don't get me wrong, this is not a test to see who is stronger than the other. Your reasons for not bringing the girls make perfect, parental sense. You want to scope out the situation and what Rita has to say about what is going on with her before you expose your girls to this.

If everything blows up in your face, it will be more difficult to talk to the kids (and maybe have to make excuses for Rita's behavior or defend your actions as Rita may blame you as to why she is in the rehab) than if you just hit the pause button.

My thinking is if Rita weren't resentful about why she is in rehab, she would understand and even applaud your decision to be doing your due diligence with the girls.

The girls need some counseling too, (just like you have gotten) before they walk into something scary and foreign. Take them to an Ala-teen meeting so they know what to expect and have a bit of history about alcoholism; not feel alone as there will be other teenagers there. If you explain to Rita's counselor and Rita that your plan is to go slowly with the kids and that this is not about her and what she wants, but about the health of the children.

If you can be strong enough not to go, please call her and tell her that you are disappointed that you won't be seeing her, but that you respect her decision. The children should not be a pawn and used as such if you aren't a good boy and doing what she wants you to do.

I believe some women find it more difficult to face their demons of addiction. It doesn't seem to be as much a taboo for a man to have alcoholic issues as it can be attributed to pressures at work, money, or relationship issues. Women who are married with children are supposed to be the family's pillar of strength -- the matriarch. There seems to be more judgment toward a wife and mother who is drinking and can't take care of her family, especially her children.

Addiction to anything can be dangerous. It zaps our control and can put one in an emotional and physical tail-spin. Mother, father, husband, wife, tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor; all should be treated as an equal opportunity human for this disease.

If I can be of service, please explore my website www.familyrecoverysolutions.com and my new book "Reclaim Your Life -- You and the Alcoholic/Addict."

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