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“There are millions of people out there who live this way, and their hearts are breaking just like mine. It’s okay to say, “My kid is a drug addict or alcoholic, and I still love them and I’m still proud of them.” Hold your head up and have a cappuccino. Take a trip. Hang your Christmas lights and hide colored eggs. Cry, laugh, then take a nap. And when we all get to the end of the road, I’m going to write a story that’s so happy it’s going to make your liver explode. It’s going to be a great day.”
I haven’t been able to write about my journey with my son lately. I have written about his drug addiction in the past hoping that it would help someone and heal me in the process. I hesitate because I still don’t have all the answers.
What I have come to realize is that it is difficult to do when you are in the midst of it. There is no lesson learned and no how-to article and no success story. However, all that set aside, there is progress and there are wins that we do celebrate.
Today my son has 105 days of sobriety, and I am so proud of him for that.
Over the weekend my parents and I went to visit my 17 year old in rehab, a long-term facility 6 hours away from home. We get to spend 3 hours with him as the first part of the visit is required parent counseling which included a video on enabling. The last part of our time with him was spent in a counseling session with his counselor.
I have to be honest, this weekend I learned in visiting with my son that I am in recovery, a very different kind, and I still have issues to deal with. I am bitter, not so much with my son, but with the system we’ve been chewed up and spit out in. I still have some negativity, doubt, and fear I have to deal with in a better way.
This attitude is not going to help my son in recovery. I may even have a tone here which means I believe I am writing from my gut, and I apologize if I offend anyone. I’m growing and learning, so thank you for giving me a little space to do that here. I’m not an expert, I’m just a mother speaking from my point of view.
The Frustrations of Finding Appropriate Help
So, back to this weekend’s visit realizations, and our story (If you make it through this post, God bless you).
I was asked what the ‘plan’ was upon his return home. I found myself angry at this question. I proceeded (with attitude) to tell the counselor there was no ‘PLAN’ and that it was up to him. There would be rules he would have to follow, and he would have to finish school, and we would do what we have to do, and that I was not rolling out the red carpet for him. After all, we had just finished a video about enabling.
This is where counseling comes in, ruffles feathers, and starts to really frustrate and bewilder everybody sometimes. I said that I will be there to support him and help him if he chooses to help himself. I know this sounds cold. I can only explain my reaction by the numerous times I have sat in front of a 20 year old counselor telling me my son is ready to come home, only to have him complete one rehab program in four years of heavy use, come home and go missing four days later for two weeks, where he is literally living on the streets, and the family left dumbfounded again.
I go to meetings and hear things like, “ground him”, at which point I feel like standing up and saying “[expletive] off!” Number one, we don’t live in the middle of nowhere and my son has been missing for weeks at a time with four different police districts looking for him at the same time. And..there is no number two!
I’m not saying that meetings are not helpful. In my experience, my son’s use is beyond what anyone in them can give me to benefit my situation, which seems to be more on the severe helpless side. Normal disciplinary actions a parent could use to control their child’s behavior were no longer working and neither were the threats of jail or death. I’m not implying that my situation is worse than anyone else’s either. I have met people who have lost their children to drugs.
I met a woman at a local meeting whose son completed the rehab program my son attempted to go through. Her story didn’t have a perfect ending. He was now in his 20s, is still struggling with his addiction and living on the streets. I could really relate to her story about her son’s addiction and she basically told me what I already knew.
At some point, you have to detach with love.
In detachment lies the wisdom of uncertainty . . . in the wisdom of uncertainty lies the freedom from our past, from the known, which is the prison of past conditioning. And in our willingness to step into the unknown, the field of all possibilities, we surrender ourselves to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the universe.
Little does this woman know what a huge impact her story had on me. She talked about things I understood so well, particularly about her son. She also spoke about the isolation and loneliness she personally went through and how not fun you are to be around when going through your worst nightmare with your child. Yet here she was, speaking to parents and helping other people. It was very inspiring.
A Look Back
My son is court-ordered to his current treatment and has two court cases pending. Whether or not that plays a factor in his seriousness to get better, I do not know. I can’t possibly know that. I know that there is very little the current drug court system for teens was able to help us with. Once they get involved you are at the mercy of their rules and it wasn’t until adult court overrided them that things began to change.
He had an innate ability to hide his use well which is quite common. His addiction grew quickly and went from prescription painkillers, cough medicine with DXM, and alcohol to cocaine and heroin. He became extremely manipulative. But, once the addiction took over, it was too late, and eventually he could not control or hide his drug-seeking behavior any longer.
“Trying to reason with an addict was like trying to blow out a lightbulb.”
Looking back there were clues, factored in with some unfortunate series of events which led to his addiction. In 2010 he was hit crossing the street on foot by a pickup truck. He suffered a head concussion and severely broken right leg which landed him in surgery for a plate and screw insertion. He was in the hospital for a week, and out of school, his first year as a freshman in high school for over a month. He was given Dilaudid in the hospital and a prescription for Lortab which was highly guarded by me as I did not want him to depend on them. The prescription was never refilled and he took Tylenol dispensed by me for the remainder of his physical rehab.
It was difficult for him to catch up in school. I think his depression worsened at this point. He started experimenting with drugs and at the time I was unaware, and his use increased from this point on. He started skipping school and running away from home. I took immediate action and yet was still met with resistance from everyone including him. I took him to a Kids Escaping Drugs face-to-face interview with two peers, and he convinced them as well as the counselor that he was not using. I was not convinced.
The school called me to report his absences and ultimately sent me a note threatening me that they would have me arrested if I did not put him in the county youth program called PINS (persons in need of supervision). I had him placed in this program as well as in-home counseling, and outpatient drug rehab when he admitted to using.
His use increased dramatically and because of his noncompliance with these programs, he was basically shown the door everywhere. School advised him to get his GED, which gave him more time to do drugs, and he never completed the GED program. Counselors recommended inpatient rehab, from which he escaped several times as these programs are voluntary. I took him to the head child psychologist in the area who told me he had a drug problem and needed to be treated first, said he was ‘a little depressed’ and advised I give him some Melatonin.
Yet, over the past eighteen months, my son had been hospitalized eight times for overdosing.
“The truth is that your spirits don’t rise until you get way down.”
His primary doctor recommended a priest, and gave me the number of some camp to go ziplining…way below and outside the scope of what he actually needed. I kept searching for the right help for my son. Meanwhile, he was never home long enough to benefit from anything I could find for him and with warrants out for his arrest in the county program he was in, he was unable to just ‘come home’.
Whenever he was found or came strolling through the door, I had to call the police, and have him arrested and taken to a nonsecure detention. Key word ‘nonsecure’. He escaped from there too. This is the recommended program for troubled teens in the area. This is your only choice, go to drug court weekly, wait for an inpatient bed to become available and hope he doesn’t leave the nonsecure detention he has to stay at until a spot opens up. This can last for weeks, and months, and for us, a year to get him the proper help.
I say all this not to complain, because as a parent, you do what you have to do. The system that is in place, is completely ridiculous and broken, the main problem being, you just can’t lock these kids up. Even if I signed a waiver for his safety to be held, they don’t accept minors; I can’t force him to stay home, or anywhere for that matter. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to pray that he gets arrested.
“Addiction should never be treated as a crime. It has to be treated as a health problem. We do not send alcoholics to jail in this country. Over 500,000 people are in our jails who are nonviolent drug users.”
My prayers were answered and when he was arrested, unbeknownst to me, because he was in the county youth program, they could not detain him. On top of that, during his short stay at the holding center he was easily able to obtain drugs before his transfer to nonsecure detention, where he rested and planned his next escape.
Four years of drug use, the last eighteen months of missing persons reports, warrants, arrests, escaping from detention centers and drug rehabs, all ultimately ending up in the same place, without treatment on the streets.
With his recent arrests, my son is going to finally have to take responsibility for his actions and deal with the consequences of all that he has done.
I know that his anxiety and depression are finally being addressed and treated with medication and he is otherwise drug-free and safe. I know where he is, this is something I haven’t known in quite a while and such a relief. I now have to mentally prepare myself for his return.
“The mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help, they have no hope.”
Things You Can Do For a Person in Recovery
**TAKE ONE DAY AT A TIME, just like they do. I know it sounds cliche.
Becoming aware that there are always things you can do to help improve the situation takes daily work. It forces you to take a deep long look at yourself when you love an addict, especially when you are the parent of one. You deal with feelings of extreme guilt, despair, shame, disappointment, hopelessness, and exhaustion.
If I had to describe what it has been like being the mother of a drug addict, I would say it is like having your child grab your hand, and pull you on a roller coaster ride you never wanted to get on.
You can stay on it with them for as long as you can tolerate it or decide to get off the ride at the next stop. You are not giving up. You are detaching with love. You are letting them know that you will be there offering your hand back when they choose to get off the roller coaster.
In the middle of my son’s rampant use, it was difficult to know exactly what I had to do. I was extremely stressed, cleaning up a lot of his messes, and busy with the legal ramifications of his actions. The damage had already been done once I found out he was using. It’s hard for a parent to just ‘get off the ride’ when your child is 14-17. Now he’s 18 and we are in recovery phase. The only advice I can give on prevention is to never think it can’t happen to you and to know early warning signs.
**EDUCATE YOURSELF. This is so important. You must learn about addiction and what it is. Learn what enabling is and don’t do it. You have to do the work and you have to stay aware. You will have to do your research to help find the right treatment. In addition to this, you have to practice ‘tough love’. You can no longer allow the addict in your life to manipulate you. The sooner you change your focus of blaming and beating yourself up, and feeling ashamed to advocating, learning, educating, and reaching out for help, the better.
**STAY POSITIVE AND MOVE ON FROM MISTAKES. You cannot live in the past, it does not help. You also can’t live solely focusing on the addiction constantly. You have to stay positive for yourself and them, and be open, honest, and not resistant to change. Prayer and meditation are extremely helpful when dealing with an addicted child. When patience is running low, it is important to take a break and do something for you.
**GET YOUR OWN SUPPORT. Realize there is no one answer or band-aid and everyone is different, what works for one person may not for another; for the addict and for the one who loves them. Get your own counseling, research online, look in books, find a meeting locally, talk to a friend, get your family on board with you; any and all type of support you can possibly find to help you and that resonates with you. Family members should all be aware and on the same page with you as far as the seriousness of the problem, rules (no lending money, etc.); and all working toward the same goal of sobriety. Don’t give up and keep reaching out until you get what you and your loved one needs. You need an arsenal of support.
**CELEBRATE EVERY STEP AND EVERY MILESTONE in recovery. You have to throw away your own dreams and expectations you have for the person and let them discover what they are truly capable of on their own. You have to know when to step in when needed, and when to back off. Focus on the positive changes they are making no matter how small. Know that relapse is a possibility and that recovery is a lifelong process with no end.
“Expectations are resentments under construction.”
6-Month Update on Our Story
I am happy to see more people speaking out about drug addiction, particularly recent stories in the news about heroin. In the last five years use of this drug has increased because of its potency and low cost. The gateway drugs leading to heroin are prescription narcotics. When I was growing up, we associated heroin with heavy-hitting drug addicts on the streets, now it is just not true anymore. Today our teenagers can easily obtain it, and the scary part is that it is widely known that some batches are laced with Fentanyl, which is a lethal combination, usually killing a person within minutes of injection; yet they still take the risk. Opiate addiction is the hardest to recover from. The first time I found needles in my son’s possession, my heart sunk to my knees. I literally could not breathe. I had a police officer come to my house to confiscate them. I also found his card for the needle exchange program, one that he easily acquired downtown at age 16 without parental consent.
Like I stated above, look for early warning signs of drug use. Families should watch the availability of over-the-counter medications that can quickly lead into addiction, and let us not forget to monitor this and lock up our medications. My son starting hanging around with the other drug users in high school. Luckily, he never brought them around. I am thankful for the fact that he used for the greater part, out of the house. He grew up in a loving and supportive family and went on yearly family vacations, played sports, and went to a Catholic elementary school. He was not abused or neglected and I never tried to be his ‘friend’. Addiction has no preference to social class so be aware of that, and the fact that we are in a new era of easily accessible deadly drugs.
No one is immune from addiction; it afflicts people of all ages, races, classes, and professions.
-Patrick J. Kennedy
Our journey continues, we have good days and bad days, but we still have a lot of hope. Since the post in October, my son has completed long-term rehab and is home. He doesn’t like to count the days of his sobriety, so I won’t either. He turned 18 this year and is doing well! He has an INCREDIBLE counselor now and it took quite a while to find the right one for him. He will be graduating from outpatient counseling soon. This will be the high school graduation for us.
As for myself, I can say I have changed for the better, even in the last six months as I learn how to live with this new person. I feel so blessed to have my son living at home with me and never take a day for granted that I can see and talk to him. It has been an adjustment, but my attitude and emotions around what has happened have significantly improved. I’ll leave you with a final quote from the book Courage to Change One Day at a Time by Al-Anon.
“With a change of attitude…past actions can be put in proper perspective; love and respect can become a part of family life.”
-Youth and the Alcoholic Parent
Books for Parents
I read Courage to Change every day, there is a passage for every day of the year. The other two books I have read and recommend.
Tree of Recovery | dedicated to my son and all people in recovery | “Every great tragedy forms a fertile soil in which a great recovery can take root and blossom…but only if you plant the seeds.”-Steve Maraboli