A Mother describes her feelings and decision making process centered around her son’s addiction and recovery.
Writing this is an interesting challenge for me. You see, this is one of the most personal stories of my life. I’d rather show you my underwear drawer, seriously. Writing this makes my stomach do flip-flops. That’s my cue that I have a lot more healing to do.
My son just celebrated one year sober this month. During the week of that anniversary I reflected on the events of the past year: where I was emotionally then, where I am now and where I could be tomorrow if he relapses. You see, I continue to grow just as he does. My son has the disease of addiction and I am the mother of an addict.
A year ago, my 17 year old son was missing. I was terrified. I didn’t sleep or eat. I was consumed with fear and shame. I was barely functioning at my job and I’d become isolated from friends and family. I never let my phone out of my sight because I would regularly text “are you ok?” (Code for “are you alive?”). He would eventually text back “yes”. We both knew he wasn’t “OK” but I knew he was alive and that was literally all that mattered.
We reported him as a runaway. About six weeks after he left, our local police department contacted me and asked if they could put out an APB on him. In this state that includes the local newspaper, statewide news broadcasts and social media postings. I said “no”. You see, I was too fearful of others’ opinions. I was ashamed. I was afraid what other people would think of me as a mother but most importantly I was afraid of what people would say about my sweet boy. Thankfully my colleague reminded me that addiction is a disease and she asked me simply “would you feel this way if he had cancer?” It was a monumental shift for me. I realized my son didn’t wake up one morning and say “today is a great day to become an addict”. He has a disease that, if left untreated, is fatal.
It was then I called the police back. I had to find him and I needed help. Once the report went public we received an outpouring of love and support from friends as well as complete strangers. What once had been a daunting secret was now out there for the world’s comments, a few cruel commenters were quickly silenced by the bountiful compassion of strangers. I learned we weren’t alone. He came home three days later and asked to go to a treatment program. We flew to Wilderness Treatment Center in Montana two weeks later. I drove away with tears in my eyes grateful that my son would be well at the end of the 60 day stay…I was wrong.
You see, he and I were still sick in our own ways. His lies and manipulation continued during family week and my moods continued to be greatly affected by his actions. I was still a mom who wanted to fix everything. As a mom, I still needed time to heal. My heart was breaking, I didn’t know what to do or how to help. I held on to hope but just barely. He would be getting out of there in three weeks. The fear snuck back. What if nothing had changed? Wilderness Treatment gave us a stay of execution. They recommended aftercare. We were given three choices, one was to do nothing and bring him home. The other two choices were structured programs. That was a no brainer. After I got over the shock that my son wasn’t cured I called New Life House. He entered the program three weeks later.
He got there and “did great”. He did what he was told and more. Then the pink cloud dissipated and I got a call. “Mom, I’m outta here. Send me a ticket!” The lies and manipulation were still there, he did his best to scare me. Luckily New Life House supported me through it. You see, we were both still very sick in our own ways…but we were getting better. I was able to tell him “No, I will not support you if you leave. You can’t come home”. Guess what happened? He stayed. The old fears crept back and there was some sleepless nights but he stayed and I held my ground. I also didn’t feel the shame anymore. I reached out to friends and family as well as the staff at New Life House who supported me through it. I focused on my other children, my husband and my job and gave myself time to breathe. I actually felt some amount of peace. Even though I was scared I knew I had made a good decision. We both still needed help. He was receiving treatment for this deadly disease so as a mother I kept a tight hold on my hope.
Not to scare those of you who are new to parenting an addict in recovery, but there is more. The lies and the manipulation continued. He came home to make amends to a dying friend. On the last day of his short stay I woke up in the morning to find him gone. Looking back, I am amazed at how the whole family collapsed right back to where we had been nine months prior. He was running the show! But then something happened, we found him. Even though he said he didn’t want to be found, he was in a place he knew we would look. He told us “I’m not going back”. After a bit more bluffing he got on the plane and went back to Los Angeles where he returned to the program. He proved to us that he knows where he needs to be and so do we.
Drugs and alcohol are a tempting mistress for my son and she will always be waiting in the wings. I do my best to focus on the now. Right now he is working, contributing to his stay at New Life House, attending AA and most importantly for him he has not used drugs or alcohol today. I’ve refocused my energy on finding that which feeds my soul and I remind myself constantly that I cannot control anything, only the way I react to it. Are we both still healing in our own ways? You bet, but he is getting treatment for this deadly disease so there is hope and that is powerful.