12 Dec 19
mother and son hugging at beach

Two years ago, we lost contact with my cousin Robby* quite suddenly. He stopped coming to family functions. Telephone calls and messages stopped being answered. He completely disappeared from social media as well.

It was around Christmas time, so his absence was particularly noticeable. When we asked about him, his parents would give a vague answer about him being away fishing or at work. Something didn’t seem right. 

It all comes out

It all came to a head when a mutual acquaintance wanted to pay him for some labouring and handyman work he’d done, but couldn’t get into contact with him to organise it. I took on the role of intermediary and eventually called his partner Suzy*, who had also been missing. It all came spilling out.

She explained: “Robby has gone to rehab. He has been using ice again. Your Aunt and Uncle don’t want me to tell anyone, but you aren’t stupid. You know something is going on and I can’t keep this secret for them, it’s just not fair. He’s left me here with our baby and our finances are shot. I don’t know what to do and I can’t keep up the charade anymore.”

Wanting to Help

My first instinct was just to help them. I felt no judgement for anyone involved — only sadness that they hadn’t reached out so that we could help.  I believe that a lot of other people in my position would feel that way too. 

By explaining what was going on, Suzy had given me permission to lend a hand. I packed my own child into the car and we went over to see what we could do straight away. 

There were some practicalities that we could help with, like buying some things she needed, but the biggest thing I could offer was an ear to listen and some companionship.

Being a shelter in the storm

Over the coming months while Robby was away, we would regularly pop in and just give her the chance to vent and her son the opportunity to play. Having this safe space where she could talk about all of the different aspects of what she was experiencing seemed to really help.

We talked through the pain of him detoxing and the distress she felt at the other end of some pretty rough phone calls, the pressure and secrecy of the rest of the family and even just the monotony and complexity of being at home with a child who adores his dad and just wants to be with him.

It really struck me during this time that most people don’t know what supports are available for the community around a person who is struggling with alcohol and other drug use. While I know that rehab is really hard, I think we need to spread the word about services that are available to the people who are essentially being left at home to deal with many of the consequences, often in silence as they are too scared to talk to others.

Support is available

Finding support within your own networks may be possible. Is there someone close to you that you could share with and lean on? I was more than happy to be there for Suzy and lots of other people would be too.

It can feel like a long road supporting someone else who is struggling with their alcohol or drug use and asking for the help you need at different stages can be important too, varying people and support services might aid you throughout the journey.

If you’re not ready to tell the people close to you, did you know that online and telephone counselling services are open to friends and family as well?

Anyone can chat with a counsellor on our service. We speak to family and friends all the time. Depending on where you are, we can recommend local services to you as well, including a range of services like food and financial aid or family and friends support groups. 

The family and friends section of the Counselling Online Forum can also be a great place to read the stories of other people who have similar experiences to you. You can also ask questions or tell your own story.

Down the track

Robby has been out of rehab for a year and a half now and is doing really well. He has been sober for more than two years. He and Suzy had some ups and downs, especially in the first six months after he came home, but they have found their new routine and are going strong. I have continued to try and support both of them, but have particularly been there for Suzy as she feels comfortable talking to me.

For anyone who is in a similar place, reach out. You will find that people want to help.

* Names changed for anonymity