Don’t pick up the phone. At Vertava Health we talk a lot about getting you or your loved one into treatment. Just make the call, we say. One call can save a life. Call us, today. Don’t wait until it’s too late. But finally – they agreed and you made the call. Your loved one is going into treatment. Everything is going to be okay. You can finally relax, right? Well…sort of. But things are now about to get tricky. You might think that now your loved one is in treatment that they will call home and sing your praises and thank you for putting them into treatment and saving their lives.. Eventually, this WILL happen. But until then – there is another struggle that is coming your way. It’s called Post Acute Withdrawal Symptom or PAWS – and it’s the most important thing you need to know about rehab. The easiest way to describe PAWS is by explaining briefly how the brain works. After prolonged use of drugs and alcohol the brain stops producing it’s natural “feel good” chemicals. It no longer produces dopamine, oxytocin or seratonin properly or at all. The brain has become dependent on drugs and alcohol to ‘feel good” so the brain has stopped doing it’s job. This means that without the drugs or alcohol your loved one feels as if they are living in a body that can’t smile or feel happy anymore. This DOES get better, but it can take a little while in recovery for the brain to work again and start producing those happy chemicals. During this time your loved one can become depressed, moody, angry and even hostile. For this reason alone, your loved one needs to be in treatment surrounded by experienced professionals. As I’ve written before, I’m also in recovery myself. I too have had PAWS. I can tell you that the feelings I had were real to me. That the words I said seemed reasonable. Until I got through it, this was my reality. On the other side I was able to see how my world was distorted due to PAWS. I tell you this so to get you ready to be as understanding as you can be – because it’s going to be really difficult. Let’s go over possible scenarios and phone calls you may receive the first few weeks your loved one is in treatment – please note – they ALL end with “come get me,” because this is what your loved one thinks they need to get better. Do not fall for that – it’s a trick of PAWS. Just stay strong. “I hate you! How could you do this to me? If you don’t come pick me up, I’m never speaking to you again!” I am so sorry that your son just told you that he hates you. Yesterday he hugged you and thanked you for saving his life. He begged you to make the pain stop. He was so sick and cried about how awful the drugs had made him feel. Now, he hates you and is telling you to go to hell. What happened is your son just woke up and realized treatment is real and we are not serving his drug of choice. Chances are unless he leaves, he is not going to get high today and it’s all your fault. His brain has not produced one happy chemical yet. And he’s a wreck because of it. Hold tight mom! You’re doing the right thing! He isn’t really angry at you. His brain can’t feel happy or grateful right now. It doesn’t have the ability. It has relied too long on drugs. Do not take it personally. I know that this is much easier said than done. Consider that you know where he is, you can call and speak to his therapists any time if you’re concerned. But maybe if this is the kind of call you’re getting – you should just let him leave a message. Remember, he is safe and being taken care of and is on the right track. Answering may just derail both of you rather than make it better. If you do decide to answer the phone repeat after me, “I love you so much, but I’m not going to engage in this argument. I suggest that you find a counselor and tell him how you feel.” “I haven’t eaten in days! They aren’t feeding me! You have to come get me!” I can admit that have called my own mother and said this. I can tell you that at that particular moment in time, I felt like my world was ending and all I wanted was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The reality is that this lovely treatment center had been trying to feed me meals for about 3 days but I was too sick to eat. When my appetite finally revealed itself I demanded to be fed. The treatment center did comply however, I didn’t want to wait 15 minutes for a staff member to prepare one for me. I wanted it now! I proceeded to throw a 2 year old style tantrum, just short of throwing myself on the floor. I was not at my best that day. But like I said previously, this was how I saw my reality. Until I got through PAWS – this was how I behaved. Dad, I promise you that your child is being fed properly. There is no way a reputable treatment center could function without feeding their clients. It would be complete anarchy. Whether your daughter is given a budget she responsible for buying the food she enjoys, or her meals are prepared for her – your daughter’s belly is full. Do not fall for her demands to come pick her up from treatment. Repeat after me, “Suzy I love you very much. I am sorry that you feel hungry right now. I am sure that no one is trying to starve you. Why don’t you go talk to your sober coach about getting you a sandwich.” “I’m not like these people. I’ve never done the things they have. I’m in the wrong place, you have to come get me!” Stay strong. This is one of the toughest things to here from your loved one because you know who they were before treatment. Your wife just got to treatment and she is calling and telling you scary stories about other people in treatment. She will say, “I’ve never been a drug addict! I only drink!” Or, “There are people here who have been arrested!” And, “This woman has lost her children to the state! “I have never been a prostitute!” Here’s the theme, “I don’t belong here with these people, you have to come pick me up!” When your wife came out of her alcoholic haze she began to look at differences rather than similarities. These differences allowed her to justify her next drink. This is very common, because it’s hard for her to admit that her drinking has gotten her to this point. Maybe she hasn’t been arrested for selling drugs. But I bet she has probably driven drunk before and put herself and many other people in danger. This too is against the law – she just got into treatment before getting caught. When clients come to treatment, we don’t split them up into different groups of “users.” Everyone is on equal footing in recovery, we treat all addictions the same. Repeat after me, “I understand that right now you don’t feel like you fit in, but you have just gotten there. Why don’t you talk to a client that has been there longer about her experience?” “I made a mistake and I got out of control. I’m better now, I don’t even feel like using. I promise to follow all of the house rules and you can even drug test me. You’re wasting your money, come pick me up. I will even start going back to church.” This phone call may sound like music to your ears. He’s better, he has never felt this good before and the nightmare is over! My husband has recovered and I’ve missed him so much. I can handle giving him drug tests, and helping him to stick to a schedule therapy appointments and twelve step meetings. Not to mention the money we won’t have to keep spending. Now we have entered the bargaining phase. This is very common and all families go through it. The bottom line is that an addict can’t bargain his way out of addiction. You cannot make a deal with your disease. Your house is not a treatment center and you’re not a therapist. If you become your addict’s warden, you are going to become a prisoner in your own home. It’s not your job to make sure that he is sticking to his schedule and administer drug tests. You’re not a substance use counselor. If you could have managed his disease, you would have already been successful. Repeat after me, “I am so glad that you’re feeling better and I love you very much. I’m not a professional and I’m not equipped to help you right now. You’re in the right place with people that can help you where I can’t.” This may be the hardest struggle so far, but remember – you don’t have to pick up the phone. If your loved one is being verbally abusive, you don’t have to to take it. Trust that he or she is in a place where they are getting the care they need. I promise you this above all else, in a few days or weeks they will be thanking you for not coming to get them. That will be one call you will definitely have to answer.
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