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When Your Husband Goes to Rehab (a guest post)

May 20, 2022

I have a very special (very vulnerable) guest post to share today by none other than my sister, Jeanie! About a month ago, I wrote about how proud I was that a loved one (I was being vague on purpose for anonymity) had made the choice to go to rehab for alcoholism. With his blessing, I am able to share his name and Jeanie's side of the story. (Shawn would like to as well, but he would prefer an interview-style, so I will do that at another time.)

So, in that post, I shared that someone I cared about had chosen to enter rehab for alcoholism. I'd known about his drinking for a while, but as most loved ones of alcoholics know, telling someone to get help doesn't work. They have to want it for themselves. And I was thrilled when Shawn made this decision!

He VERY BRAVELY shared this with my family; it was not an easy thing to admit. It feels shameful, which is why I believe a lot of people don't seek help. I was so proud of him for doing that, and the rest of my family was just as supportive.

This guest post is written by my sister (Shawn's wife of almost 22 years) and her experience as Shawn went through rehab. Before getting into it, I want to stress that this is HER account. Shawn's issues with alcohol are his own; they may be similar to others, but everybody deals with them in their own way. Jeanie's thoughts may be completely different than another partners' wives who are in the same situation. I just want to stress this because she is not writing this to be "preachy" or tell it like it is. This is just her experience.

(That said, while I don't usually delete negative comments, if there are degrading or hurtful comments regarding my sister or family, I will not publish them. She--and others in this situation--should receive support.)

Okay, I'll get on with it... please enjoy this very heartfelt, vulnerable post by my sister...

On April 4, 2022, Katie wrote a blog post about a “loved one” who decided to enter treatment for alcoholism. That loved one was my husband, Shawn (Katie’s brother-in-law). I have decided to share my part of the story because I am not alone and I hope my experience will in turn help someone else. I write this entirely with Shawn's blessing.

I will not go into the personal details of exactly what led up to Shawn entering treatment, but I can summarize that Shawn felt alcohol was negatively affecting his life and that he felt he no longer had control of his drinking.

I give an extraordinary amount of respect to Shawn for getting help BEFORE he hit rock bottom. He still had his job, his driver’s license, his wife, his house etc. Shawn showed that you don’t have to wait to lose all of those things or to hit "rock bottom" before getting treatment.

Shawn may decide to share his story with you, but I will summarize how he sought help (and I most certainly hope this gives someone else the courage to seek help as well). Shawn pursued help through his Employee Assistance Representative (EAP rep) at work. The EAP rep, "C", was phenomenal.

After hearing Shawn’s story, "C" helped determine what treatment program would be best for him and he met with both Shawn and me the next day to finalize a plan. We had a choice of three inpatient treatment facilities: one in our city in Illinois, one in Utah, and one in California. We ultimately decided on the one in California for a couple of reasons:

1) We felt strongly that Shawn should receive treatment away from our area. This would allow him to focus 100% on his recovery and there was no chance he would be in treatment with someone he knew from work (which was a concern if he went locally).  

2) Shawn's stepfather lives only 40 minutes from the rehab center and initially, I thought I would be able to attend in-person counseling with Shawn while staying with my father-in-law. (Unfortunately, we later learned that due to COVID restrictions, there was no in-person visitation.)

Regardless, once the decision was made for inpatient treatment (this means that patient stays at the facility and does not go home in the evenings) things moved very quickly. If he went locally, he would have been admitted the very next day. Unfortunately, he had a nine-day wait for a bed to open up at the center in California.  

In that time, we received a letter from the admissions coordinator containing a list of approved items Shawn would need during his stay: for example, you are not allowed aerosol items; all grooming items are not allowed to have alcohol (like mouthwash); which clothes to pack etc.  

We got everything together for his stay and when the day arrived, Shawn and I both flew out to California that morning.  The staff at the center was waiting for him at the airport. I tearfully said goodbye to him at baggage claim and then I literally ate lunch and had a manicure, then and got back on a plane back to Chicago just five hours later. It was very important to me that Shawn felt supported and there was no way I was going to have him fly out there by himself, so even the short trip was worth it.

The original timeline for his treatment was supposed to be 30 days inpatient. Shawn ended up being gone 45 days  (about 28 days inpatient, then switched to partial hospitalization which is still in the same building, but smaller groups for the remainder of the time). 

In this post, my goal has been to share what the experience was like for ME. I would like to share what was helpful TO ME.  Everyone who has battled an addiction or has a loved one who has or is currently battling addiction has a different story. This is just MY STORY. If you are in this situation, please take what you like from what I have to say and leave the rest. Maybe something I say will resonate with others as well.

I am very grateful Shawn chose to share his story with our family and a few close friends before he left. We did not have to lie and make up a story of why he was gone for six weeks. Being truthful allowed BOTH of us to receive support while he was gone. And let me tell you, we have some of the most supportive friends and family EVER! I received a ton of messages from family/friends justing checking in on me. A simple message like “Hey, just checking in. You ok?”  just let me know someone was thinking of me.

Shawn also received letters, emails and packages from friends and family. Here are some of the fun items we sent to add a little comic relief to a serious situation. As a side note, there are a lot of tears at rehab, but there is also a lot of laughter. Both are important. These gifts were not a mockery of the seriousness of addiction. It was to bring a smile to Shawn. 

Katie sent him these socks and Shawn's roommate loved them so much that I sent a pair to him as well.

I wanted Shawn to feel loved and supported while he made one of the most difficult and bravest decisions of his life. I asked friends and family if they wanted to participate in the 30-day Support Shawn challenge and share what they were going to do for 30 days with Shawn. For example, one relative gave up evening beer, one choose to climb the stairs 30x a day, I choose an extra 30 minutes of exercise a day, one chose reading a self-help book for 30 minutes, etc. Shawn loved this!

Before Shawn left, I bought a digital photo frame and downloaded 300 images of family/friends. He said this was his favorite thing and he would look through the pictures every evening.

There was a problem with Shawn accessing his email due to two-step verification and he did not have access to his phone. Katie quickly resolved that by setting up a new email account for him so he could receive/send mail. Shawn had limited access to email and phones during his stay but it allowed us to talk almost daily. There was a 72-hour “blackout” period when he first arrived where he could not use the phone/email, but after that, he was able to spend limited time on the computer and/or phone.

So that was stuff for him.  But I wanted to also address my needs while he was gone as well as increase my knowledge on addiction.

One of the steps to healing starts with an "impact letter"--a letter that a partner or loved one writes that goes through all of the ways they were hurt by their loved one's drinking. I started my impact letter shortly after he left for California.  This allowed me to reflect and revise my letter before I had a chance to read it to him in a zoom session with his counselor. This was a very important part of the healing process for me. I could write a whole post on that alone, but that zoom call will remain a highlight in my life. It ended with forgiveness and hope. 

I changed my own mental health therapist to someone who specializes in addiction/recovery. I am very lucky because my counselor "J" is very animated and just tells it like it is. He is has been amazingly helpful. I was hearing how much Shawn was learning and growing when I talked to him on the phone, and I felt so “behind” in the process.

Shawn knew what his end goal was and he was being taught a roadmap of how to get there.  I knew what my goals were but didn’t have a map. "J" is helping me with that map. During my first session with him, he asked why I was there. I said, “I need to learn to let go of things”; “I need to learn to stay in my lane in the role of spouse”; “I need to not obsess with the what if’s?”. 

"J" immediately told me that my goals were doable because I didn’t come in saying, “How to do I make sure my husband doesn’t relapse?” or something like that. I was there FOR ME. He is helping me learn I was doing just fine and I didn’t need to take on the world at that moment. 

I tried to take care of me. Although I was working my job as an occupational therapist, I walked three times a day for 30 minutes each time. I often listened to podcasts geared toward family/friends who have someone in recovery and there were several “breakthrough” moments listening to others' stories who were similar to mine and how they got through some challenging times.  . 

I got enough sleep and tried not to take on “huge projects” that would overwhelm me.

I made a “spring cleaning” list and worked on a little bit each day to keep me mentally/physically active.

My mom came to town and we did a bunch of shopping and made a ton of “freezer meals” for up north this summer.

Katie has been a huge support to not only me but to Shawn, also. I called her frequently and found her insight incredibly helpful.

I ASKED friends when I needed help. A very simple example is that I went to get my oil changed and they wanted to upsell me an air filter. I had no idea if I was being scammed so I called a friend and he was able to help me decide if I should buy it (I did).  I also had a house problem and a friend came right over and helped me though it.  These are things I didn’t share with Shawn when he was gone because there was NOTHING he could do about it while there so there was no sense worrying him about it.

I did join a facebook group for wives of recovering alcoholics. This page is great and very helpful. I also joined an al-anon group but left it but it just wasn't for me. (It didn't focus on helpful problem-solving or support, which is what I was looking for.)

I was surprised to learn that it is not always helpful to share detailed information with friends who cannot relate to my situation. Their intentions are usually excellent but some of the “feedback” they had for me was not very helpful. 

For example, a friend might ask, “How is Shawn?” and I would say, “Oh, he is doing great and learning so much!". Rather than replying with a positive response, they would respond with, “Well, you know he is in a controlled environment and when he gets out in the real world it will be different”.

Of course this has occurred to me! I fee like it would for anyone. However, I felt like they were saying, "Well, don’t be too happy because the other shoe is going to drop when he gets home". I spent some time processing this with "J" (my counselor) and Shawn gave me some great advice he learned at rehab: Worrying about the what if’s is something I don’t want to do anymore. It creates a ton of anxiety and the situation I am worrying about may never even happen.

I am choosing to be happy right now, right in this moment, and I will take things one day at a time. So, in sharing more detailed information, I will save that for “like-minded friends and family” who have been in my shoes and can truly relate.  

I also watched several videos that the rehab center sent to me (videos about addiction, codependancy, etc). At their request, I ordered and watched “Pleasure Unwoven”, which is a 70-minute video produced by a doctor who was treated for alcoholism. He makes the concept of understanding that addiction is a disease very clear.  I actually watched it 3 times over a week to deepen my understanding. This is available on Amazon for $30 or you can watch it in pieces on YouTube.

These last 45 days have been an amazing process of growth, greater understanding of addiction, and learning that I am able to forgive. I have learned there is no benefit to hanging onto resentment and anger. 

Reuniting with Shawn when I picked him up at the rehab center two days ago was amazing. I am so proud of him and his decision to make positive changes for his life and for us.

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