When someone suffers from an addiction, the focus is on them. As it should be. We have services, counselors, and treatment for the one with the addiction. But what is there to support their partner? The husband or wife, who is left alone while their partner is admitted to hospital. Who stays home while their partner goes away for weeks or months for a treatment program.
Who looks after the Forgotten One while all the services revolve around the other?
I was the Forgotten One this summer. My parents did what they could from 4 hours away. I scrambled to find a counselor I connected with in our remote area. I was lucky a friend had already planned a trip to see me that coincided with Lennie’s first week away. She kept me out of the depths of loneliness.
There seem to be few resources, online, books, or otherwise for the ones left behind. How do you handle yourself when your partner goes to treatment? What can you do to improve yourself when your partner goes to treatment? Will your partner still need you when they come back from treatment? The longer he was away the more insecure I began to feel. Had he grown so much that I was going to be left behind when he returned? Would he be the same person? Would he see me in the same light? Would I still be good enough?
I had nothing to fear. But there were no resources to tell me that. I couldn’t find any writing from someone who has been there before. Forgotten.
The best resource I could find was the book “Trauma Stewardship” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, which certainly applied to us and the secondary trauma I was inferring from Lennie’s. But it did not address how to be alone. How to wait. How to be ready for his return.
I’ve now gone through this process once. I have been home (with daily visits) for two hospital stays while he got the help he needed from medical professionals. I ran our business, worked part time and ran the household, caring for all our animals for 5 weeks on my own. Where is the support?
I am not just talking “official” support structures. Though they are lacking. But in a way, the community doesn’t realize this is a need. That frozen dinners would have been THE most amazing gift. I subsisted on a diet of Kraft Dinner and jarred fish for a majority of the time he was gone. Checking in, going for coffee, following through with “We should hang out this week”. I looked forward to those gatherings and sighed when they didn’t materialize.
Maybe I should have done more. Been more forward. Asked for help. But until the day Lennie returned I didn’t even realize HOW close I was to not keeping everything together. I knew the loneliness was hard on me as I went through my routines, but I never realized HOW hard.
What can we, the community, do to support the Forgotten Ones when their partners go to treatment? How can we further open doors for people who don’t realize they could use a little assistance? How can we make this a less taboo subject?
It starts with conversations. Small ones. Large ones. Between friends, community, family, the organizations who are there to provide social support. I think this is a need that needs to be recognized and acknowledged, even if it is relatively minor in the scheme of things. But by supporting the ones at home, they will be better prepared to support their partner when they return.
Disclaimer: I did have some people who made a world of difference for me this summer. This isn’t to discredit them or any of the things they did to look out for me. Some people out there have more support. Others have less. I want this post to inspire conversations about when else we can do and what other ways we can step up to the plate to look out for the Forgotten Ones in our communities.
I love you all.