Embracing the “Inpatient” Label

January 16, 2020 - Mary Fran Bontempo


During the years of my son growing up, first as a beautiful, sweet, smart little boy and then a funny, talented tween and young man, I never, ever thought “inpatient” would be a word fit to describe him.

“Inpatient” conjured all kinds of images—none of them pleasant. My uneducated mind thought first of asylums—places where mental illness was treated. A One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest scenario. (If you haven’t seen the 1975 Jack Nicholson comedy/drama, it’s a classic.) Once I learned of my son’s heroin addiction, inpatient took on a new meaning, no more appealing than my original impression, but one I knew was necessary—for all of us. 

Every parent initially thinks they can help their child beat addiction. All we really need to do is talk some sense into them, show them how harmful their actions are, set down some rules, and our kid will see the light and just stop. It’s only after weeks, months or longer that we realize that we, no matter how much we love our kids, are in WAY over our heads. It’s then that the term inpatient becomes the one word we can add to our vocabularies that may also translate into the word, hope.  

When my son first entered inpatient rehab, I experienced numerous emotions, including fear, relief, and shame. For us to have come to this point, I must have failed, somehow. What did I miss? What didn’t I do? What did I do, to drive my son to become an addict, an “inpatient?” Even years removed from the experience, I still find myself holding back tears at the memory.  

And now that David was an inpatient in rehab, would they know how amazing my son could be? Would they see that the being before them wasn’t really him? Would they be able to exorcise his demons and return my son to me? 

God bless Bernard, my son’s first therapist, who patiently (at least on the surface), handled my multiple phone calls, during which I felt compelled to “explain” my son. Little did I know that Bernard had already experienced my son—through the numerous addicts he had treated before.

In fact, at that point, Bernard probably knew my son far better than I did.

Somewhere along the line, I learned to trust Bernard, to let go of trying to “fix” my son, because I couldn’t. In fact, neither could Bernard, or anyone, but David, himself. What they could do was give David the tools to live a clean life. Yet the decision to use those tools was David’s alone. But without Bernard, and others like him, both David and I would have been lost. 

Sending a loved one to inpatient treatment can be frightening. But know this: immersion in rehab as an inpatient, where the addict is removed from behavioral triggers and easy access to drugs, as well as supplied with therapy by knowledgeable, trained professionals, is nothing short of a lifeline—for the addict and you.

Mary Fran Bontempo is a 2x TEDx speaker, author and humorist. Visit her at www.maryfranbontepo.com

Her latest book, “The 15 Minute Master—How to Make Everything Better 15 Minutes at a Time,” can be found on Amazon.