My son Dan spent nine weeks at a residential treatment program for OCD. When my husband and I decided it was time for him to come home, I was ambivalent to say the least. As I said in my book:
On one hand I was thrilled he’d be home in five days, and on the other hand I was terrified he’d be home in five days.
Many people who attend residential treatment programs for OCD are there because their OCD has become so unbearable that they feel they have no other choice. They are severely debilitated. As I’ve said many times before, Dan entered the residential program in the worst condition of his life. But he wasn’t the only one affected; our whole family also suffered.
Though my husband and I had our share of complaints about the program Dan was attending, there is no question the staff there knew how to treat OCD. In nine weeks Dan went from a young man who could barely function to someone who, for the most part, was able to manage his OCD and was eager to return to his life – the one he had before OCD took over.
But it’s so scary. And not only for the person with OCD. As family members we vividly remember the horror of what life was like before residential treatment. Yes, we can see our loved ones have made strides in treatment, and they do seem so much better, and sure they’ve gone “off-campus” to do all sorts of exposures, and it’s clear they now understand their OCD better than ever….
BUT…what if when they come out of their somewhat sheltered environment and into the real world, they end up back where they started? That is the thought that kept me up nights as we counted the days to Dan’s termination. Perhaps this concern was particularly relevant to us as we decided to remove Dan from the program against the recommendations of his team there. Still, I believe this is a common fear, not only for loved ones, but for the person with OCD who is leaving a safe, supportive environment and venturing back out into the world.
Of course there are things we can, and should, do to maximize the chance of a smooth transition. We can have good health-care providers in place, ready to continue ERP therapy. We can be vigilant about not enabling our loved ones and be sure to keep the lines of communication open. We can remain optimistic and confident that OCD can be beaten, even when dealing with some regression. We can maintain our senses of humor. And we can trust that those who have just gone through this intensive treatment will be better equipped than ever to handle whatever comes their way.
But still….what if?
It didn’t take me long to realize I needed to accept, and even embrace, the uncertainty of the situation, and of life. Sound familiar? This is exactly what Dan learned to do as part of his therapy – those with OCD struggle with the need for certainty, which is simply not attainable.
In Dan’s case, there were indeed many ups and downs once he left residential treatment, but we, like most people, were able to put aside the “what ifs” and deal with everything that came our way, until our son finally beat OCD. If our family could do it, yours can too.