When Someone You Care About is Institutionalized

I woke up sad and nervous before drug treatment court this morning.  My friend, Cee, was going to be held today in county jail until a bed opened up at a nearby drug treatment facility: she kept failing drug screens and this was her consequence. It would be meted out at court, but she knew already. Everyone in our group knew. Cee said a tearful good-bye to us last night at group therapy. 

Cee is in her 20’s, has Bipolar Disorder II and is addicted to heroin and cocaine.  Cee will be joining another friend of mine, Mary—also diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder II, also mid 20s and also a recovering heroin addict—at drug rehab.  Cee is scheduled to leave county jail and be transferred to the rehabilitation facility on the first of next month. Mary will graduate the 90 day inpatient program about a month after Cee arrives. Unlike Cee, Mary has no outside support to speak of, nowhere to go and no family she can stay with upon her release. 

When Mary left I felt this way too: inept, sad, scared for her, helpless…  So, what do you do when someone you care about goes to jail, the hospital or drug rehab?  How do you navigate the legal system/policy and procedures and limitations of the institution?  How do you make it easier for your loved one?  How do you deal with the loss and grief you feel? 

STEP ONE: Gather Information 

  • Physical address and phone number of facility (websites also hold many answers, if they have one). 
  • Policies/procedures regarding giving your loved one any of the following: 
    • Money: Many institutions offer commissary, where the person “living” there can shop for themselves. This is a joy when you are inpatient and I highly recommend doing this as early and often as possible. Creature comforts (esp. food) make missing home more bearable and give them something to look forward to. 
    • Letters: Most institutions have guidelines for what you can include in letters. Call to verify if you can send extra stamps/envelopes or pictures, etc… 
    • Books: Many institutions will not let you bring books in; ask.  If not, ask if you can buy a book from Amazon, et al. and have it sent directly to your loved one (this is the preferred method by jails/prisons).  Consider a variety of materials from self-help to light reading. 
    • Ask what other items you can bring or mail and which ones you cannot. 
  • Find out when visiting times are and schedule visits every time you/others can (a visitation schedule discussed and implemented amongst your family and friends may ensure that your loved one has frequent and varied visitors–a huge thing to look forward to).

STEP TWO: Advocate

Make a connection for advocacy. You may be your loved one’s voice on the “outside.” Know someone who can keep you updated on them and potentially get messages to them. 

  • Jail/Prison:  A Corrections Officer, Minister or Lawyer who has access to your loved one. 
  • Hospital:  Your loved one’s Psychiatrist, Counselor or Case Worker. 
  • Rehab:  Worker/s, Psychiatrist, Addiction Counselor, etc. 

STEP THREE: Self-Care 

They need you tonot get overly emotional, overwhelmed or exhausted trying to make their time easier. 

  • Delegate financial, writing, visiting and advocacy tasks among friends and family. 
  • Meet formally or informally with co-advocates to provide support for each other. 
  • Consider a support group. National Alliance for Mental Illness [NAMI] chapters often have family support groups for people living with mental illness. Al-Anon offers free self-help for families of people struggling with addiction and there are a variety of other self-help groups as well, Google it 😉 
  • Basics:  Eat right, get enough sleep, exercise, socialize and try to enjoy life despite your separation.  
  • Consider counseling if you are overwhelmed by this transition.  Talking to someone can help enormously.

I cried when both of my friends were remanded into custody for holding for drug treatment, but those were also tears of relief.  Having been in in-patient treatment, I know that it changed my life for the better.  It educated me, gave my brain time to heal from the abuse and –most importantly—gave me hope that I could be productive again someday (which I am). Mary will graduate soon and I hope that I can help her get reestablished, get visitation with her young son and get a job and housing, but I won’t be helping her alone. DTC has an extensive network, as I discussed last month, for easing such transitions. As the saying goes, “it takes a village.”  While I was sad this morning, I am energized this evening because I am one of the villagers!

Read the rest of Liz’s posts here

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