Renee has also written and self-published a series of guides entitled Best Kept Secrets. Find out more about Renee and the memoir at her website.
Bobby was newly released from another in a growing list of rehab centers, and he was now living in a half-way house. Although he was substance-free, he was still having back pain, and he was very depressed. He could not see an end to this cycle of rehab, recover, release, and repeat. Bobby had called his father to say he was contemplating taking his life.
I am impulsive by nature, but when I suggested to my brother that Bobby come to Durham and get a comprehensive medical exam, I did not feel I was acting impulsively. Bobby had a back problem. He was prescribed opioids for this back problem while in college and became addicted. It made sense to me that if we could fix the back, maybe we could lessen his need for pain relief. I also thought that a couple of weeks with me, an excellent diagnostic doctor, and Bobby could begin again in a new city with a job and an apartment. When Bobby arrived, we had no idea that he would spend the next sixteen months living with us.
Bobby’s family had done all that they could think of to help his recovery for the past six years, with enormous costs to the family emotionally, physically and monetarily. Addiction affects not just the addict, but the family and the community. Letting Bobby come to Durham for a comprehensive physical was the next step in the family’s help for Bobby. Bobby’s father also came to North Carolina to oversee the initial evaluation and the first week of Bobby’s testing before eventually leaving Bobby in the doctor’s and my care and returning to Louisiana.
What a great question. When I began putting together the original manuscript for Bobby, I was amazed at the wealth of emails and texts I could find. I am not much of a techie and my adult children will come home from college and chastise, “mom, have you updated your computer since I was last home?” or “mom, do you ever empty your trash?” My responses: “no,” and “no.”
It was a gift that a push of a button pulled up sixteen months of Bobby’s recovery into one neat little file. These sent and received emails and texts did not tell the whole story but coupled with my nightly journal entries, they made for a nearly complete record of Bobby’s sixteen months with my husband and me. There are a lot of stories that I did not document and reflecting back, I wish I had remembered to include in Saving Bobby.
As my relationship with psychologist Mary Costello developed, she graciously let me send her emails documenting what was going on in my head and household. These emails helped Mary to know precisely where my thoughts were when I walked into her office allowing us to jump right into the meat of the matter without having to spend the first fifteen minutes of our weekly session bringing her up to date. For many months, I sent these updating emails to her assistant and she forwarded them to Mary. It wasn’t until the last months of Bobby’s stay when I started sending these email updates directly to Mary. Mary is the consummate professional and it meant a lot to me that she trusted I would not abuse her email, nor would she cross the therapeutic invisible boundary. Everyone needs a Mary in their lives.
Lastly, I would journal to myself to relieve anxiety before falling asleep. Putting down my thoughts on paper acted as a sedative, and I used this method throughout Bobby’s time with me.
Having all of this real-time correspondence is important to the book as the reader feels as if they are on the journey with me, and this makes Saving Bobby a very riveting, raw and vulnerable read.
I did not know that by opening up to friends, family, and community, by honestly sharing Bobby’s story and asking for help was going to help Bobby, or me. It just stood to reason that if I wanted to help Bobby, I should surround him with an atmosphere of full disclosure and transparency, a supportive place where he could not hide or be hidden. What a powerful choice this was.
For years, I watched as my family hid from the stark reality of addiction. All those years of secrecy had simply allowed succeeding generations to be blindsided by their vulnerability to addiction.
It wasn’t until Bobby came to live with me did I also realize that I carried as much shame as my family members who are/were addicted.
Our community helped lessen the shame and stigma of this disease and ultimately helped Bobby save himself. It also helped take away the shame I did not know I had, and that I had been living with it all my life.
By being open about the disease that runs in my family, I realized that many others had been living in secrecy battling this disease alone. We must be open about addiction, not hiding it or denying it if we are to help our loved ones to recover.
As much as I would like to pretend there is no addiction in my family, there is. Addiction is a brain disease and, like breast cancer or heart disease, it can run in families. And, it ran in mine.
I am the granddaughter of an alcoholic, the niece of an alcoholic who died of liver disease, sister to recovering siblings, and the aunt to Bobby, a recovering opioid/heroin addict.
For years, I watched as my family hid from the stark reality of addiction. If we don’t say it, it ain’t true. If you can’t see it, we don’t have to face it. Excuses, avoidance, and denial. My family, like millions of other families, felt that talking about addiction openly would be airing our dirty laundry. All those years of secrecy had simply allowed succeeding generations to be blindsided by their vulnerability to addiction.
Every situation is different and unique, but what stays the same is that this disease cannot be hidden away, as much for the family members who are not addicted as the ones that are. As a family member of addicted loved ones, I was affected by addiction every bit as much as if it were my own.
By treating Bobby’s disease openly, both Bobby and I were able to lessen, and eventually release, our shame.
My husband Will is a planner and methodical doer. It may take him five trips to the tech store and several days on the web to buy one small product.
Bobby must have been an atom bomb dropping in Will’s world. But, Will is also caring—and he knew that Bobby was in deep distress with nowhere else to go. He knew that offering to help Bobby was the right thing to do.
One of the difficulties that Will had with Bobby living with us for the sixteen months was that we had just packed our youngest off for her freshman year in college and were several months into our newly empty-nesting life. WE were reveling in it, taking cooking classes at Sur La Table, a Sailing 101 course off of the coast of NC, thinking of taking up golf and playing more tennis. Did I say Atom Bomb? I meant it must have been like ten nuclear bombs exploding into our living room and a direct bull’s-eye.
Although Will was reticent, and although we struggled at times, we did try to find balance in our newly, stressful, situation. We did not know much about recovery and Bobby was incapable of going out in the world on his own when he first arrived. We engaged a drug counselor to advise Bobby and a psychologist to give us advice, two decisions that I feel are important for families during this recovery period.
As time went on, I learned and tried hard to put Will’s needs first, unless it was an emergency situation. Will and I love and support each other and Bobby was our family. We would do what we could for Bobby, but we always reminded each other that Bobby’s recovery was Bobby’s recovery.
I learned so much from the time my nephew spent with us that it is difficult to pick just one or two.
I learned that the good in people will always far exceed what you expect. Bobby may have lived under my roof, but if not for the help, love, prayers, and encouragement of many different people, including my family and Bobby’s family, Bobby would not have regained his self-esteem, eventually making the choice to save himself.
I learned not to judge. Addiction is a disease and not a parenting failure or character flaw.
I learned that we are all in this together. It is cliché because it is true.
There is a risk in opening up one’s life to the public, so the decision to publish Saving Bobby did not come easily. In the end, it was Bobby’s decision. It is his story, although in a surprising twist, it turned out to be my story, too. Bobby and I both want to change how people view addiction, #noblamenoshame, and we both feel that the healthcare profession needs to take a stronger look at the period of recovery when someone leaves a treatment facility or half-way house.
I have never been silent when I have seen injustice. It is probably impulse control, but I am not afraid of getting involved. I felt resolute that if I could help Bobby in his quest to educate and advocate about shame and recovery by sharing his story, I would not say no. If by publishing this book I could help just one person– be it Bobby, a caregiver, someone in recovery, or a community member, I could never be silent.
Thank you for asking this question. Bobby’s story illustrates how ill-prepared many addicts are when they are just beginning recovery. Many people think that because someone is substance-free and has spent 28 days in a treatment facility, that their loved one is well enough to assimilate back into society seamlessly. We want desperately to believe our loved one is fully recovered, but in thinking this way, we miss an important part and the most vulnerable period of an addict/alcoholic’s recovery. This period is right after leaving the safety of a treatment center or half-way house when they begin to assimilate back into society.
For instance, Bobby did not have money, a job, and he had little prospects. He did not have a wife or kids waiting at home for him. He had huge gaps in his resume. He had no job skills or training. He had a chronic back problem. Bobby had been heavily medicated while he was in treatment, medicine used to stop his cravings, to alleviate his back pain, and to alleviate any emotional pain. Upon release, he was taking thirteen different prescription medications and was a body double for The Walking Dead.
Bobby had lost touch with the outside world. He did not know what was happening in the news, in politics, in sports. He had no friends to go back to visit or to room with. Technology had moved on and left him behind. He had poor eating habits and little motivation. Dating was horrendously difficult. And, he carried so much shame that he self- isolated from the rest of the world. Yes, he was substance-free, but he had a long way to go before he would have a full recovery.
My point is this: Mr. Legislator, after the government mandates that insurance will cover much longer stays in rehabilitation facilities, we need to turn our attention to the period of recovery when a patient is discharged. The focus should be on programs to help newly released substance-free addicts/alcoholics to integrate back into society. These could be family education, patient education and community awareness and education. I am not a doctor, counselor, or social worker but I am one of the millions of Americans that have been touched by this insidious brain disease. Help us to take the shame and stigma out of addiction, much like what has been done for breast cancer, domestic violence, and workplace harassment. I believe this is how we can best help our loved ones.