When you’re going through something it can feel like you’re the only one. Even if it’s something that’s obviously common. Especially when you’re made to feel like an outsider for having that experience even though you’re not. Stigma does that. Misunderstanding does that. Prejudice does that.
The reality is that 261 people die per day in the US alone from excessive alcohol use. And worldwide, in Joe’s age group of 20-39 years, 13.5% of deaths are attributable to alcohol. He wasn’t alone at all. And I was even less alone! For every person who struggles with addiction there’s a whole group of family and friends left confused and bereft.
So why did we feel so alone in our struggle? Why didn’t anyone know what to do for us? Why wasn’t I able to connect with any of his friends or family to work on the issue together? Why did therapists treat us, and especially me, with disdain and disgust?
Being a parent of someone struggling with addiction is incredibly hard and I would never attempt to compare the levels of overall suffering. But as far as being dismissed by healthcare practitioners, being the concerned but angry ex-girlfriend is the lowest you can go. Lower even than your loved one. You’re viewed as a pathetic hanger-on; an addiction groupie of sorts. And it’s true: ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of how exciting it would be to sit in a medical office with my ex, his mom, and his apathetic therapist so I could grasp at a slightly better chance of saving his life.
Wait, just kidding, that’s fucking ridiculous. I was happy to be there because I hoped things might finally start to turn around. But I was destined for disappointment. The moment I opened my mouth the therapist said, “Yeah, we’ll get to your story in a bit.” I closed my mouth. She asked his mom questions. She asked him questions. The hour passed. The session ended. I said nothing. I was persona non grata in that room and many others. My input meant nothing to these people, despite the fact that I knew much more about him than his mother did, and was willing to reveal much more about him than he would ever do on his own.
My best piece of advice for anyone in a situation similar to mine (and parents can be in it too. Anyone can. Family stigma truly knows no bounds.) is that they are wrong. You are right. Repeat it to yourself as many times as you need, take a deep breath, meditate for ten minutes, and then keep calmly pushing to be included as far as your loved one and their therapist will permit. Be nice, but relentless. If you’re unable to be included, consider helping them get a different therapist. If that’s not an option, make contact with the therapist another way and continue to tell them what you know about your loved one. They won’t be able to give you any info, but they will still in all likelihood read the damn emails or hear your voice on the phone, and be enlightened by the information your loved one isn’t telling them; even if they treat you with disdain. Your loved one needs you and their therapist also needs you. They just might not realize it.
It can be tough to stand up to someone in a position of authority. You’ve been led to believe they know better than you do. Regrettably, they don’t. Maybe someday addiction treatment will catch up, but until then, it’s unfairly up to you to be your loved one’s advocate. Trust your gut and keep pushing.