When we first come to grips with alcoholism and addiction, we often find ourselves dreading the next step. We harbor many reservations about entering recovery, not all of them rational. Despite the ways in which our substance abuse caused us harm, it feels like a part of us. We may not yet feel ready to let go of this, despite the consequences of continuing along our current path. But when it comes to entering treatment, one of the biggest things that frightens us is the stigma. Once we tell people about our disease, they will never forget it. They may look at us differently for the rest of our lives. This understandably scares many first-time treatment patients for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps we fear that we will lose our reputation, assuming that our addiction was functional enough to leave us in good standing within our community. We might even fear losing relationships with friends who engage in similar habits. Or maybe we simply fear that others will see us as weak, as someone who cannot engage in normal behaviors such as going out for a beer after work with our coworkers. Some people struggle with these fears to the point that they might neglect entering treatment at all.
Let’s face it—while some of these fears are somewhat valid, many exist entirely in our heads. Stigma only exists to the extent that others acknowledge it. And when it comes right down to it, no one is going to erect a sign letting everyone in our hometown know that we went to rehab. Outside of possible gossip among those we know, people will only know about our recovery if we tell them. So if you find yourself struggling with who to tell about entering treatment, you might want to keep the following tips in mind.
Telling Our Extended Family Members
Barring an extremely deceptive lie on our part, our immediate family will already know about us entering treatment. One cannot simply skip town for three months without their spouses, children, parents or siblings inquiring as to their whereabouts. And since most treatment centers do not allow cell phones on campus, attempting to deceive your immediate family may result in a missing person report. In addition, many of us only even consider entering treatment at our family’s behest, often following an intervention. As such, only our extended family might find themselves out of the loop.
We might decide to utilize a bit of discretion when telling our extended family about entering treatment. Every family functions differently, and some people maintain closer relationships with extended family than others. If you feel particularly close to a grandparent, cousin, in-law, aunt or uncle, then you may wish to keep them apprised of your situation. But if you rarely communicate with your extended family at all, you might not deem this necessary. And depending upon how soon you plan on entering treatment, you may simply not have enough time to inform everyone. Prioritize those who mean the most to you.
If you can identify a specific family member who you’d rather not know that you are entering treatment, you should discuss this with the rest of the family. This holds especially true if you are entering treatment right before a family event such as a wedding or reunion. But even without such events on the horizon, you should discuss this with your immediate family. If something pops up unexpectedly, such as a phone call from a grandparent, they need to know what to say. Do not put your family on the spot by forcing upon them the sudden choice whether to divulge personal information or lie to a loved one.
There is also one case in which we might hide the truth from immediate family. This arises in the case of addicts and alcoholics with young children. If they’ve already seen us at our worst, we should let them know that we are sick and getting help. But if our children have yet to see us intoxicated, we may not wish—or even know how—to explain the situation. In such cases, we might deem it acceptable to simply tell them we’re going on a trip. If our treatment center allows visitors, as many do, we might tell them that we have gone camping. When they get older, we should tell them the truth. But at a very young age, trying to understand such a complex disease will only cause them stress and confusion. We might prefer to avoid worrying them while they are still too young to understand.
Telling Our Friends and Acquaintances
Again, the matter of which friends to tell about entering treatment becomes a matter of priority. You might have a friend who calls you at least once or twice a week, or even daily. Such friends deserve to know when you are entering treatment. And to be frank, those who know you best will likely express very little surprise at such news. We sometimes think that we can hide our addiction from those closest to us. But when we inform them that we are entering treatment, their lack of astonishment reveals this to be sheer delusion.
When discussing our choice to seek treatment, our relationship with the friend in question may inform the length of our conversation. Those who know us well may wish to ask follow-up questions. We can choose to answer these if we feel comfortable, although nothing requires us to do so. But if we choose to tell a friend with whom we are not very close, we might find the conversation to be very brief. In fact, some acquaintances may not even ask a follow-up question when told that we will not be available for a while.
Some people choose to post about entering treatment on social media. Obviously, these are people for whom the fear of reputation is not as much of an issue. You can choose to do this if you wish, but you might take caution in doing so. Even with the strictest privacy settings on Facebook, you cannot be entirely certain that only trusted friends will see your post. If you have friends who tend to gossip or engage in wild speculation, you might not want them seeing context-free posts about entering treatment. On top of that, closer friends may feel offended to learn this information online instead of hearing it one-on-one. The choice remains yours, but you should proceed with caution when using social networks as a medium for this type of announcement.
There are some friends and acquaintances with whom we probably shouldn’t discuss the matter at all. These include drug dealers, drinking buddies, and anyone else with whom we only associate due to our substance abuse. Once again, you can choose to tell whomever you want. Just be warned that fellow users may try to dissuade you from entering treatment. If you accept the need for sobriety, you might find it better to avoid this hassle altogether.
Telling Our Employers and Colleagues
We can avoid telling certain friends and family members about entering treatment, but we cannot avoid telling our employers. Unless our job grants us a uniquely significant number of vacation days, they need to know about our upcoming absence. This may fill us with dread, especially if we work in a position with a high turnover rate. The easier our employers will find it to replace us, the riskier it becomes to take between thirty and ninety days off work. Nonetheless, we must bite the bullet and tell them of our disease. You’d be surprised at how many employers can be quite understanding, and may even grant us a leave of absence until we complete our inpatient care.
Employers who grant us this sort of leeway usually want some sort of reassurance that we take our recovery seriously. Some may require progress letters from the treatment center, informing them of our success in recovery. Others may impose a probationary period of at least ninety days upon our return, allowing them to terminate our employment if we relapse. If we can trust our employers to let us keep our jobs after entering treatment, we should show them that they can trust us in return by agreeing to these terms. Furthermore, we should express our gratitude upon returning by working as diligently as we can.
Despite an understanding boss, some of us may still fear entering treatment due to gossip in the workplace. If gossip reigns supreme in your place of employment, you should apply the same rules to coworkers that you apply to friends and acquaintances. Prioritize by first telling those with whom you work most closely. This includes immediate superiors, those with complementary job positions, and possibly a few people working below you. Outside of these individuals, you might wish to only inform friendly coworkers with whom you maintain a trusting relationship. If you don’t want anybody else to know, make this clear to your employer before leaving their office after your initial conversation.
Of course, not all employers are so understanding. Some people do lose jobs as a result of entering treatment, particularly in places with strict anti-drug policies. This leaves open the question of whether to tell prospective managers when seeking new employment after treatment. They might very well wonder about the three-month gap on your resume. You can decide for yourself how to handle this matter, but we might suggest honesty. Perhaps some employers will discriminate and choose not to hire you because of your disease. This is technically illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act, although it’s admittedly only illegal insofar as they choose to divulge their reasons for refusing your employ. But most professional interviewers can see right through a lie. As such, it might be much less risky to simply tell the truth.
Final Note on Entering Treatment
No matter who we tell about entering treatment, we must also come to grips with it ourselves. Telling others gives us the chance to speak the words aloud. When met with understanding, we can overcome the perceived stigma that often keeps people from getting sober at all. We may still take some time to become accustomed to the idea. More than likely, this will not happen until we have already been in treatment for at least a week or two. But we will eventually become more comfortable with the notion of acknowledging our disease. Sooner or later, even if it takes a long time, we should find ourselves able to discuss our sobriety without fear of rebuke.
Remember, these considerations only come into play once we decide upon entering treatment in the first place. If you or someone you know struggles with alcoholism or addiction, it is vital that you waste no time. Contact Amethyst today for more information on our programs. We’ll help you set an admission date and begin working toward a new and better life. By the time you leave, those you told about entering treatment will be proud of the progress you have made—and you’ll be twice as grateful that you chose to let them in on this exciting and transformative stage in your life.