woman on rocks looking at the ocean
woman on rocks looking at the ocean

Hello. My name is Melissa. And I have a kid who went through rehab (not the ‘good’ kind).

That is not how we tend to introduce ourselves to new people in new settings. In some cases, it isn’t even how we identify ourselves to those we’d consider our closest friends.

Instead, you find other people who have been in or are in your situation like this:

  • Overheard from a colleague telling another colleague they were late because they had to get their son out of police custody after he was truant from school (and after they’d found his stash of weed and other things in his room).
  • A friend offhandedly mentions that he is off next week to take his daughter to a program, but he says it slowly and with a pause, so you immediately know he isn’t talking about cheer camp.
  • When we had to tell someone, and they said, ‘oh, yeah, we’ve been through that.” Dead stop.
  • In casual conversation with a colleague/friend, you see the exhaustion in their eyes and find out he is going through the situation with not just one, but two daughters at the same time.

When you find other people ‘like’ you, it immediately makes you feel like you are joined together in a secret club. Not one that you ever wanted to be a part of, but one nonetheless. You immediately connect through a unique type of pain, stories that only you and they find funny, and someone who understands your struggle without having to explain every detail of it (like why can’t they have mouthwash — which fits both sad-funny and struggle). The connection to the community that surrounds this event in one’s life is critical, so why don’t we talk about it more?

The ‘Shame’ of Non-PT Related Rehab

re·ha·bil·i·ta·tion — the action of restoring someone to health or normal life through training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness.

The word rehabilitation is one that tends to represent great strength or great challenge, even though the process is meant to achieve the same goal — restoration. So if this is the case, why is one type loaded with shame and the other loaded with sympathy?

Brené Brown defines shame as “…the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

As a parent, the realization of having to leverage addiction or behavior rehabilitation produces a feeling of failure. Failure that we’re unable to provide the help they need. Failure that we didn’t do things right in the first place, and now our kids have wound up ‘here.’ Failure that we didn’t see all the signs pointing to the problem. Just plainly, failure.

As a person in rehab (as conveyed to me through many conversations with my daughter), people who are in rehabilitation after injury (physical therapy) are viewed as people who work hard, are motivated, and who had no control over what happened to them. People who are in addiction or behavior-based therapy are seen as lazy, failures in life, people unable to control themselves. For them, rehab is as much of a perception of failure as it is to the parent. I distinctly remember when she was afraid to see family at Christmas. She was worried they’d judge her because ‘she’d screwed up the most.” I jokingly (but not so jokingly) replied, “trust me, others have done and been through far worse. You’re just the one getting help for it.” Even within our own family, we didn’t share the relatable issues or hardships.

There tends to be little (if any) empathy or sympathy for those parents or children in addiction or behavior-based rehab from those who haven’t ever experienced it. It is hard for people to look past the ‘failure’ that put one there and focus on the positive end goal we’re trying to achieve. The responses that historically have been given then lead to fear of adverse reactions and shaming, causing people not to speak up. Feeling ashamed of your circumstance naturally restricts your desire to speak about it.

But when you do, the feelings of freedom, relief, and acceptance that come forward are so impactful to your life. The most beneficial thing that our daughter’s program gave us, in terms of opening the door for this conversation, was the quarterly Parent Conferences that we were made to attend. It was the opportunity to come together and learn, but more importantly, to connect. To sit in a room with other moms and share my story, but also hear their stories, gave me room in my heart to shove out failure (shame) and bring in restoration. Conversation, and transparent honesty, broke down the barrier in my heart that was blocking my ability to change.

The Gift of Restoration

res·to·ra·tion — the act of putting something in working order again

Restoration can be such a deep and meaningful word. On the surface, it is meant to convey the repair of something, but in this situation, it is equivalent to putting a million tiny broken pieces back together. Little pieces that didn’t break all at once, as if a vase fell off a shelf, but instead over long periods and through many hard experiences.

When we started our journey, we used the program we chose as a way to solve or fix our daughter. We didn’t associate those words (solve, fix) with restoration. We were trying to rid ourselves of a problem. Instead, what we got was health, spirituality, faith, trust, togetherness, experiences, honesty, consideration, happiness, and meaning. I didn’t even know the negative of all of those emotions and actions were so prevalent in our lives until we experienced the positive. What opened the door, though, to this restoration was conversation.

While conversation within the safety of Oklahoma (where our program was) and the Parent Conference (where others couldn’t see us) was a healthy start, it wasn’t enough for real healing. For those in our lives who did know what was going on, it was too easy to just talk about the ‘getting through’ and the ‘we will come out on the other side’ because no matter what actions we took to work toward restoration, there was still a lingering shame (and embarrassment). It would bubble up during times like when you’re explaining why your daughter is 18 and still a senior. There is a gap you have to explain.

It wasn’t until about a year out of the program that I finally figured out what the weight was in my shoulders — it was the fact I hadn’t processed or talked about the reality of what we all did: the hard stuff and the good stuff. The parent conferences and the actions we took (still things we do today) started restoration and got us a long way, but finally talking about our situation so people could know us is what rounded out our restoration. Restoration is never final. It should always be life in progress, but conversations like this and sharing our story remind us not to fall backward.

No matter where you are in the journey:

  1. Move the shame aside. Don’t be afraid to talk about it; find the courage to move beyond it. Find ways to engage this community and share your experiences because someone is out there who needs to hear that you went through it too (or are going through it).
  2. If you have a child going through rehabilitation, find one other person who has been through it to talk with even if it is just coffee every so often. They’re the most unbiased you can talk to who will understand the pain and hope of your words. They’re also the ones who can give you real feedback about what you’re struggling with, not placating words.
  3. If your child went through rehabilitation, find someone in need of your experience. Help them understand they’re not alone and that they have someone to lean into. It might just continue to give you a little healing as well.

So yes, my kid is a kid that went through rehab, but she came out restored, along with the rest of our family.

Yes, I felt immense failure (and shame) when our situation led there. I know, through many deep conversations, that it wasn’t just me that felt this way, but also nearly all parents/guardians who go through this.

So let’s stop treating it as membership to a secret club that we can’t talk about, and open our hearts and minds to the hard conversations. If for nothing else, to help others walk through the fire and come out whole and in good condition.

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I am a human-mom, husky-mom, wife and wannabe Top Chef who went through fire and came out on the other side faithful, self-aware, renewed and sane (mostly).

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