Our first born of three sons is introverted, caring, personable, sweet and smart. He was a compliant child who wanted to please. He was physically active in sports and involved in our church. He ran Varsity Cross Country and Track, where he was captain of the team one year, won several awards, and qualified for State. In High School, he was on the Youth Council at church, where he led retreats and even gave a sermon to the congregation during Youth Sunday. He is an Eagle Scout and a National Merit Scholar. He received a full four- year tuition academic scholarship for college, where he began studying mechanical engineering. He is also an addict. Addiction does not discriminate. It doesn’t see educational or socioeconomic status, race, religion or gender. Our family’s seemingly perfect life was shattered, but thanks my commitment to Al-Anon and other support, our family has found hope, acceptance, and peace.
My gut ached during my son’s sophomore year in college. Our son had become distant. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew something was wrong. He “lost” countless phones, was always out of money, and wouldn’t tell us about his grades. Sounds like a typical immature sophomore boy in college, right? My gut knew differently. And, there were the car wrecks- 3 in a year. He should have received a DUI for the first. He would have run into a house at 2am had it not been for a metal fence. Since I couldn’t ever reach him and he wouldn’t respond to my calls or texts, I simply showed up on his door one morning at 10am. He was in bed and high as a kite. In his stupor, he handed me a cell phone, explaining that he had a phone. I took that phone home and read a year’s worth of texts about drug deals, blackouts, run-ins with the police, bar fights, and random sex. The language was vulgar. Who was this person? I didn’t recognize him. His semester exams were in two weeks, so my husband and I decided not to discuss any of this with him until after exams. Within the week, I received a phone call from him asking for bond money, as he had been arrested on felony charges. We bailed him out and brought him home. He came home and lived with us, began seeing an addiction professional, and got a job. However, we all walked on eggshells. Everyone was miserable because of his mood swings. The physician administered weekly drug tests. He soon became disenchanted with the sessions with the addiction specialist and thought he wouldn’t have to go any longer. Soon, he was stealing and consumed hidden narcotics in our home. My gut just knew it, and my husband thought I had gone mad. I threw a fit. Truly, I was acting like a crazy lady. Our other sons were in shock and retreated. I was uncontrollable, threatening to leave our marriage of 22 years stating that I refused to go to our son’s funeral. Finally, my husband went to the local drug store, bought an at home test, and my suspicions were correct. On Mother’s Day, we took him to his first inpatient rehab facility 3 hours away from home. A tear rolled down my husband’s cheek, and he said he could not leave our boy there. We drove home. That night was the first I mentioned anything to my parents. Chest heaving, sobbing, I explained how I had spent my Mother’s Day. Over the next several weeks I remained isolated, lost and feeling alone as to what to do (with a husband still in denial) for our son. I stayed home and cried most of the time. This did not go unnoticed by our 17 –year- old son. I did not want to drive this bus. I felt like our family was on a roller coaster, but we were each in a different car.
These are all just facts from the beginning of our family journey with addiction. What other emotions have there been along the way? To say I was devastated sounds just like what one would say, but I was. There was disbelief, anger, frustration and overwhelming grief. As our journey progressed, it was this deep sadness that was the most difficult to overcome. I grieved the loss of the dreams I had for this beloved son. It broke my heart at the waste of such potential and talent. Then, there was the fear! Would he die tonight? Tomorrow? Would someone else be killed in his path through his negligence? I got my first night of rest the night I took him to an inpatient facility two hours away from home, without my husband, and left him. He was safe. My incessant worries subsided. He spent three months at this facility, and the financial stress was ever-present. He relapsed within a few weeks of “graduating”. His relapse began with alcohol, then progressed back into his drugs of choice. He is a poly substance abuser. Four months passed before he would agree to go back to rehab. He had been stealing from us and lying more and more. He was not living at home. It wouldn’t have been healthy for the other members of the family to have him home. I learned that he had not shown up for work in a week and called his boss. He too had not heard from him, was confused and concerned for his well- being. I got in the car and drove two hours to see if I could find him. He was at his house and in his bed, knowing he was supposed to be at work, three days before a court date. He just put his head on my shoulder and said, “Mom, I’m not doing very well.” There was no way he could pass a drug screen by the court, so it was either rehab or jail. My marriage was hanging on by a thread and so was my heart. This time, my husband and I were in the same car on the roller-coaster; he agreed that our son needed help. The three of us researched which program would be best for our son. Although reluctant, he agreed to go to a six-month program the day before his court hearing. This time, I did not take him alone.
It was there where I was first introduced to a 12-Step Support Group for families. I drove the 2 hours there and back once a week for three months and learned more and more about the disease and the fact that I needed recovery just as much as my son. My life was unmanageable. I was a mess. I listened – a lot. I bought Courage to Change and began reading it. Soon after I bought One Day at a Time. Then I visited groups in my hometown and began going to meetings. I sobbed and released endless tears in my first meeting with a group of complete strangers. I couldn’t speak, but I could listen to the laughter and the hope. I could relate to the stories. Every time I attended a meeting, someone would share an experience or incident similar to mine with my son. I was not alone. Finally, I allowed myself to be vulnerable and started sharing. There was no judgment, just nodding heads and empathetic smiles.
One of the first principles that I learned was that of the 3 Cs. I didn’t cause this; I can’t control this; and I cannot cure this. His illness is not my fault. Nothing that I did or did not do as his parent caused his cravings to abuse alcohol and drugs. Nothing I do or do not do can keep him from following his own choices and actions. I cannot cure him and this awful disease. There is no cure. I can offer help in the form of treatment, but he has to want sobriety and do the work for himself. He is on his own, with his Higher Power. Someone close actually said to me, “I would never have imagined that ____ would have the weakest of souls.”!! Fortunately, knowledge is power, and I had learned enough already to know that my son has an illness, not a weak soul.
I needed to lay this-all of it- at my Higher Power’s feet. Fortunately for me, spirituality was not a new concept. I had a strong personal relationship with my Higher Power. I prayed. I asked for close friends to pray over me. I still struggled, as a mother, to “let go and let God.” I desperately wanted to help my son. I continue to work on it daily, and when I can let go, I find rest. My Higher Power has plans for my son, and they are not to harm him but for good. Those plans may not be what I had envisioned and dreamed about, but He is greater than I. How dare I raise my level to believe that I can ruin or change my Higher Power’s plans?
When I am able to detach with love from my son, we are both healthier for it. Detaching with love does not necessarily mean cutting the ties of your relationship. It doesn’t mean not communicating or cutting him off financially. It simply means setting healthy boundaries. I will not deprive my son of the dignity he deserves in making his own decisions and allowing the positive, or negative, consequences of his actions to follow. I do not do things for him that he can do on his own. I do not tell him how he should live his life. He has to figure this out on his own, working his own program with his own Higher Power, support group and sponsor. My life has to continue, as do the lives of my other boys and my husband. My marriage needs work. I need to focus on my own recovery because addiction is a family disease, and if the family doesn’t change with the addict, progress is not made. If nothing changes, then nothing changes. I have to be okay even if my son is not.
Our son has now graduated from his second six-month rehab program, Purple. He is a bit scared and nervous to enter the “real world”, and I am cautiously optimistic. He had an interview recently to work as a bug man, and we are thrilled. A reaction I would have never had had if it had not been for the help I’ve received.
One day he hopes to be ready to continue his engineering degree, but we will wait until he initiates the process. I acknowledge to myself and others that this is a life -long journey. I will continue to work my steps daily, attend my meetings, and help other parents who are just becoming members of this club that none of us signed up for. But, it is a club where we support each other and find strength and hope and serenity. I have found joy again in my everyday life!