When you think about addiction, you may think about the harm to your physical health and wellbeing as well as the chaos it is causing in your life. During this difficult time, relationships are often overlooked. You may already understand how addiction causes great harm to your most meaningful relationships with your parents, children, and friends. What is rarely discussed is how powerful these relationships really are and the vast impact that they have on your recovery.
This is certainly something that Sarah, our Alumni member, found after completing her inpatient rehab programme our UKAT affiliated rehab clinic, Sanctuary Lodge. Having previously only attended NHS group therapy, Sarah didn’t realise the extent of her alcohol addiction. She has kindly let us share her experience with you, highlighting how rehab helped her relationships to flourish.
Did you build relationships with others in rehab?
“Group therapy is at first extremely daunting, but after listening in, you realise early on that everyone has the same story, and you build trust. For someone that is badly affected by their past, to the point in which they may have mental health complications, rehab is the wrong place because you’re opening up about your story every day and connecting with the reality of why you turned to substances. However, for someone who doesn’t have those deep-rooted issues, understanding the reasons why you turned to addictive substances is a vital step for recovery and rebuilding broken bonds.”
Group therapy is a vital tool that helps you to build relationships within and outside of rehab. Some of our clients find group therapy easier than others, and some can be hesitant at first. At Sanctuary Lodge, we appreciate the fact that group therapy can be extremely sensitive. We aim to make everybody feel comfortable and will check in with you privately if necessary.
What were your first thoughts about rehab?
“I knew I’d have to pay for rehab, so my dad helped me with the money to attend Sanctuary Lodge. Here my 1-2-1 counsellor made me realise so many things, and she helped me gain an insight into myself. I realised that I wasn’t just an addict – I needed to sort things out.”
Is there anything you wish you had known before entering rehab?
“Your mobile is taken off you for the first five days of rehab, and then after that, you can only have it for 1.5 hours each evening. There is no communication with the outside world until they decide you are ready. I really hated that and did a lot of crying, but it’s good because it forces you to focus on your treatment.
“It’s also good to get you talking to others. I smoke, so I often went outside to the smoking area. Usually, everyone was there. It takes just one person who has been there longer than you to ask you how you’re doing, and it just makes you realise they are all going through it as well, and you are not alone. I started to realise it was all my choice and I wanted to be there.”
Inpatient rehab programmes are designed to create positive changes in your life. Initially, any change can be difficult to adjust to. However, without these initial difficulties, true change cannot happen. When you first arrive at one of our inpatient residential rehab centres, we aim to free you from distractions so that you can be in the right mindset to pursue addiction recovery from day one. Restricting communication with the outside world encourages you to focus on recovery and change your addictive patterns of behaviour.
Although contact with your friends and family is initially minimal, this process teaches you to seek out your own support network with other rehab residents who are embarking on the same recovery journey as you are. Hearing relatable stories of other clients in therapy or chatting in the smoking area should help establish trust, which instils a sense of calmness and the confidence to form friendships with other residents. The bonds formed in rehab are usually a lifetime support, and before you know it, you are in touch with your loved ones on the outside again.
Did rehab help you to build confidence?
“For the first two weeks, you can’t have any visitors because you are on detox and therefore are on medication. Also, it is very institutionalised. They want to make sure you are committed to the programme before you start going out. You could go out with a loved one on a Sunday for four hours if it was approved, but you had to be back by 4.00pm on the dot, and you were breathalysed when you returned.
“One Sunday, it was pre-approved that my son could come and get me at 12.00pm for four hours. That approval gives you trust, and it makes you feel good.”
How did rehab affect your relationships with loved ones?
“The day that my son collected me, he got quite emotional on the way to get something to eat. I asked him what was wrong, and his exact words to me were, “Mum, I don’t know what it is, but you have a glow about you. Your whole vibe is so brilliant. Your smile doesn’t seem fake anymore”. We sat and talked, and I had to sit in the car to pull myself together before we went to the restaurant.
“It was a breakthrough for me because I didn’t know how I was doing in rehab and if it was taking hold of me at all. So, to have someone tell you gives you so much confidence. It just proves that rehab works because others can see it even when you can’t.”
This is a truly inspiring moment in Sarah’s recovery, exemplifying the reasons why we implement restrictions at the beginning of your drug or alcohol rehabilitation programme. In the time Sarah had spent away from her son, she had made immense progress. Breaking her usual methods of communication gave her time to reflect and work on any issues she faced to find internal harmony.
Did rehab have the impact on relationships that you expected?
“I thought everyone would be relieved about me being sober, so it didn’t cross my mind that some people would consider it a concern. My best friend was always my drinking buddy, and when I came out of rehab, we chatted on the phone. I asked when I was going to see her, but she kept making excuses. One day she unexpectedly called me and told me she was nervous for me to go over to her home because she likes drinking and was terrified that it would trigger me into a relapse. She didn’t know if our friendship would change and was so nervous about telling me. After a few visits, we were so comfortable together that I stayed the night, and we haven’t had an issue since. So, some relationships do get better. My relationship with my family has also improved immensely, and I’m so much happier.”
If you are a loved one of somebody starting their addiction recovery, the best way that you can support them is by talking openly about any concerns so that your relationship can continue. The bond that Sarah has with her best friend is just that – a relationship with her best friend, not with the alcohol.
“There are also some unexpected changes in how friendship groups behave. The unfortunate truth about recovery is that you are often not invited to events where there will be alcohol. It’s painful because drinkers don’t think about the fact it’s the recovering person’s choice whether they want to attend or not. They don’t realise how their actions affect us when we’re being excluded, even if their intention is to protect. It’s so important to talk honestly to people in recovery and include that person rather than treating them differently and making decisions for them.”
Addiction is a health condition just like any other, and people may come into contact with potential stressors during their recovery journey. If you are unsure about how to move forward with a loved one recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, simply having open communication can prevent you from overthinking about what to do next. By the end of inpatient rehab, clients understand the importance of honest communication and will value this in all their relationships.
What advice would you would offer to anyone going through addiction?
“If you have someone with depression or on meds, you wouldn’t tell them that they need help – you are careful with them. Mental health and addiction are interlinked, and you need to treat them with the same care. Be honest about your feelings and set boundaries, but don’t suggest rehab unless they decide they need it, or it could distance them and cause them to spiral.”
Reflecting on rehab and relationships
If you are suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, these substances alter your behaviour and change your perception of the world, leading you to prioritise the wrong things. Sarah’s story demonstrates her transformation from someone who was reluctant to speak up when entering rehab, to someone who completed her alcohol addiction rehabilitation programme, improving her personal relationships as well as supporting other clients in recovery.
The significance of relationships is integral to all UKAT rehabilitation programmes from the moment clients are admitted to long after they leave. Focusing the mind on addiction recovery can help you to be outcome-focused throughout your treatment programme, allowing you to reflect on the positive changes you need to make to improve your self-esteem and relationships with family and friends.
Leaving the rehabilitation centre with a renewed sense of optimism and stronger family bonds provides you with a sense of belonging and a stronger support network. This can be a crucial to your ongoing sobriety. Continuing to use open communication plays a vital role in maintaining your mental health, wellbeing and motivation. Once they step back into the outside world, our clients not only break their cycle of addiction, but create a meaningful life with a true sense of community.