I Can’t Live Like This Anymore
Why is it so difficult to help the substance abuser you love get the help they need?
Your 27 year old daughter calls late one night in a desperate state. She says through panicked sobs that she can’t live like this anymore. “Will you come and get me?” It’s late November and a wet snow is dripping from the dormant willow outside your bedroom window. “Where are you?” “I’m in an apartment building by the old post office building downtown.”
“What apartment number, what’s the address?”
Your husband rolls over, “honey, who are you talking to? It’s 4 am.”
“It’s Jessica, quiet for a second, I’m trying to figure out where she is.”
“What does she want this time?”
“Shhh, she wants to come home.” Those words hit your husband like a triple espresso. “Tonight?” “Shhh!”
“I don’t know, I’m on the second floor and nobody is here right now.”
“OK, I’m on my way!”
“Don’t call the police… please?”
“What is going on?”, your husband barks insistently.
“She wants to come home!”
“She says that every time she calls honey.”
This time is different. I can hear it in her voice Bob. He rolls his eyes.
“Don’t do that Bob! A mother just knows.”
“OK, where is she?”
“Down by the old post office building,” you say.
“You can’t go there alone. You’ll get yourself killed!”
“Then you better get dressed, Bob.”
“Have the police pick her up.”
“I promised I wouldn’t.”
“Oh my God,” he mumbles under the sweater he is now pulling on.
“Don’t you Oh my God me right now, Bob. Go start the car.”
Substance Abuse Deja Vu
These are the words you’ve been wanting to hear since she was 15 years old. You’ve heard her say she intended to quit many times but this is the first time it sounded immediate and desperate. So, you microwave yesterday’s coffee, throw some old boots on, and get in the car as the dog barks and a couple of the neighbors lights flicker on. You pull out of the cul de sac staring blankly ahead. Be careful Bob, it’s slippery out tonight. The last thing we need right now is to get in an accident. Bob knows better than to make a reply of any kind.
As you leave the suburbs, everything changes. Christmas lights give way to flickering yellowed streetlamps, and gingerbread houses to gray, abandoned buildings where broken windows give even the ghosts an unquiet shiver. It’s your little girl, so you deny your uneasiness and push on.
“Which street is it on honey?” Bob asks.
“I think it’s Shelton. If not, it’s South Broadway. “
“Can you GPS it?”
“It doesn’t show up; it’s been abandoned for almost 50 years. There it is. That’s the back of it so let’s circle around onto Shelton.”
As you pull around to the front, the security lights that the city installed fill your front seat with cold florescence. You take a slow pull of stale coffee and assess just how far over your head you are in this. You’re deeply over your head. You realize the broomstick you packed for protection is wholly inadequate. It might be funny if not for the fact that it isn’t.
“Which building is she in?”
“I think she said the one to the left of the post office.”
Both sets of eyes travel to the left and then freeze. Please don’t be that one. Of course, it is. You see a man exit the completely abandoned structure as if he’s in a hurry. You call Jessica’s phone but it goes straight to voicemail. A faint blue-white light shows momentarily from the second story to the right of the entrance.
“Let’s go,” you say, and you start toward the door.
“You can’t go in there! Get in the car and lock the doors until we come out. If I’m not out in 10 minutes, call the police,” says your husband.
You start to protest but he shushes you with a stern, imploring look. As soon as he heads for the entrance you jump out of the car and run up to catch him. He knows it’s no use so he grabs your hand and tiptoes to the door. There’s no telling who you might find inside- or how many.
Addict Extraction: This Must be Love
As you walk into the foyer you are plunged into a darkness that only winter can produce. You don’t call out for Jessica because you don’t know what you are walking into. Your phone rings in your purse and you nearly jump out of your skin. The light it produces reveals a couple of people “sleeping” in the stairwell (polite parlance for blacked out addicts). You fumble to pull it out of your bag before it stops ringing. “It’s Jessica.” She appears at the top of the stairs.
“Let me get my stuff, “ she slurs.
“No. Leave it! Let’s just get out of here!”
As she makes her way clumsily down the stairs you notice her lip is bleeding. The door opens behind you. It’s the guy you saw leaving when you pulled up.
“Hey Derek, these are my parents, I’m going to sleep at home tonight.”
Derek turns on the charm and introduces himself like he’s meeting you at a church function. You reluctantly shake his hand and then dig in your pocket for your sanitizer.
“Let’s go Jessica, says Bob.”
“Let me just say goodbye to him. I’ll be right out.”
Before you can say anything, they disappear into the darkness. You wait in the cold, dark foyer just feet from where the strangers are ‘sleeping’. It’s been 5 minutes but it seems like an eternity. You feel like chumps for waiting. Just as Bob gets his nerve up to ascend the staircase, Jess begins to descend. Her demeanor has changed. She’s calm and lucid. She’s high. The three of you load into the cold sedan and Jess asks for a sip of your coffee. The ride is quiet but all can feel the soft cacophony of thoughts swirling around and between you.
“Are you ready to get clean this time, dad asks?” You sigh because he went there.
“Of course, dad! Why do you think I called you at 4 in the morning?” Everyone falls silent again.
As you leave the cold, hard, downtown world the sleet begins to morph into a powdery swirl of beauty that harkens back to a simpler, more hopeful time.
No time to sleep now. Bob has to go into work for a little while- if for no other reason than to clear his head.
Jess climbs into bed with you and, for the moment, all is right with the world.
The Rehab/Treatment Dance
Bob has been contacting rehab facilities all morning.
“Do you take ACME insurance? How soon can you take her?” All of the answers are complicated and uncertain.
“We’ll run your insurance and get back with you later today. We don’t have a bed available until early next week. If you pay cash it’ll bring it down to $38,500 for the first 30 days.”
“How many days does she need to be there.” Bob asks.
“We won’t know until we interview her. The best outcomes are generally produced by 60-90 day stays. We can cover the detox and any prescribed medications with your insurance, although there is probably a co-pay and maybe a deductible.”
When Bob calls to relay all of this to you your head begins to spin and both of you are frozen in uncertainty. It’s going to require a second mortgage or a deep dip into your retirement savings. Christmas is less than a month away and your in-laws are planning to visit for 10 days.
You realize that getting someone into rehab is like getting them into college but in 3 days. Constant phone calls, a couple of meetings with your banker, and each time you reach out for help the whole thing becomes more complicated.
Meanwhile, Jessica is starting to feel more like herself again, she says. She begins to object to the sacrifices you will have to make. “I think I can do it on my own now. I mean, I’ll go to some 12 step meetings, go to the gym, and start eating better. I’m excited about starting a new life.”
You really want to believe her because the rehab path is overwhelming and It would be nice to avoid ruining your financial future but you’ve heard all of this before.
Bob says resolutely, “let’s press on with rehab.”
“Ok, dad. I just want to pick up my stuff and say goodbye to Derek.”
12 Steps Back to Hell
Dad knows it is useless to object. Tears well up in his eyes because he knows Jess won’t be going to rehab and won’t be home for Christmas either.
Jessica has disappeared into the night once again.
This scenario plays out millions of times a year in this country alone. The number of people transported to Emergency Departments for alcohol related emergencies alone has now surpassed 5 million annually (NIH).
Those of you who love an alcoholic/addict are far too familiar with this seemingly pointless dance. But, you’ll do it again because, well… you love them.
One would think that as soon as your loved one hits bottom you’ll pick them up and drop them off at a friendly, high quality treatment center so that the healing can begin. Think again.
Addiction Preparedness Plan- Do you have an A.P.P. for that?
What should you do then? The most painless way to deal with this situation is to be prepared before it arises.
As soon as you see signs of a possible addiction, it is time to take action. Do the research now, or reach out to a counselor who has. Narrow your search to a couple of suitable facilities. Apply for any aid they may offer. Check with your insurance company to see what they cover. If your loved one has a pet, make sure you are either prepared to care for it during their stay or have lined up a facility in which to board the pet. Make sure you’ve done your research here too. If the facility doesn’t meet a high standard, your loved one will strenuously object. If you are going to spend a fortune on a treatment center then spend a little extra on the pet care facility as well. Your loved one likely see’s this pet as a close family member and we want this plan to be as foolproof as it can possibly be. You are in this deep- don’t cut corners now.
Make a checklist as if you are working on a disaster preparedness plan- because you are. Just run through the details as if you just received the call for help.
Can the facility take them on short notice? Once you have chosen the treatment center see if you can pay a deposit in advance to assure same-day intake. Each day that passes from the time of crisis to the initial intake increases the odds that your loved one will back out.
Other things to consider:
- Where will you store their car?
- How will their rent and bills be paid?
- Have you packed a bag with clothing for their stay?
- Do you have their employers telephone number?
Will they lose their job?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects those who seek treatment from workplace discrimination. This means that they CANNOT be fired for attending rehab.
For those who qualify, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave with job protection per 12 month period for specified family and medical reasons.
As is obvious by now, all of this preparation is almost unfathomable once you and your family find yourselves in a crisis situation. The scene described above didn’t have to end in fear and failure. If you live in California you have an earthquake kit; In Florida, a hurricane kit, in Oklahoma, a Tornado kit. If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, you need a rehab kit. We hope you’ll heed the above advice so as to give you and your loved one the best possible chance at a new life filled with hope and promise.
Thom Deem is the founder and CEO of Clean and Social
Learn more at CleanAndSocial.Com