A New Life House Mother Shares Her Secret to a Happy Life
My son loved his chemistry teacher, knew how to use a scale, read scholarly books on intoxication, studied the effects of drugs and dosages. A budding pharmacist? Nope, a drug addict. Well, if he’s so smart how come he’s living on the street having been kicked out of the car a friend had provided as a temporary home? Because he was steadfastly loyal to his chemical companions. That was a relationship that drove him to despair and isolation. Connecting with others is what has led him to a happy, meaningful life.
The affinity for drugs developed slowly at first, then took on much more power. His life, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, became all about getting drugs. Mom and Dad, friends, and family weren’t able to reach him because he had a “best friend” and that’s all that he believed in or cared about. As a mom and someone who did her share of drugs in high school, I spoke to him about his drug use many times and urged him to walk away from his tormentor, grow up, and start a new life. He didn’t see it that way. He told me, “I like doing drugs and always will.” Friends did try to help. Some were subtle; “you don’t know the half of it” she told me when I lamented about his situation. One was mature beyond his years; he arrived at my house, made small talk for nearly an hour while we waited for my son to get home, and when the awkwardness got too much, he explained that my son, someone he had known and hung out with since elementary school, was a heroin addict. When my son arrived, his friend told him to get help and face what he had become. He tried to dispute it with his friend, but the friend held tough and the message was clear—he was a mess. The next part most parents who have an addict in the family know already or some version very like it. The dates and order of things are a blur, but the story is straightforward.
“I’m going to get clean, send me to the UC campus I got accepted to and I’ll change” was his mantra. After months of faked drugs tests, failed classes, bundles of lies, extreme partying and a big, big dose of denial and ignorance on my part, my scholar was given the academic boot. That finally landed him in a drug rehab through our HMO. Me, I did what any skilled drug-problem-denier would do; I went off to Spain for 4 months and let his Dad handle it. He’d call or text me through Whatsapp complaining about what terrors his dad was subjecting him to and regale me with stories about his ex-con roommate with a swastika tattoo and a murder conviction. Yeah, he did some AA work, attended group, grew a little, got to meet guys who had a dug hole much deeper than the one he was in, researched a sober living place for himself and was done with rehab. Lots of failed agreements and angry ultimatums later, he was dumped by the sober living place for getting high. More drama ensued, more manipulations, and lying, and more denial. But then he got lucky, very, very lucky. A therapist in town, who had seen another family member and my son a few times, suggested a place in L.A. called Reality House, New Life House, or something like that. I envisioned more Nazi tattooed degenerates and more failure. Yeah, I was pretty beat down myself and the doctor added “insomnia” to my list of health issues.
Seventeen months ago, my son woke up enough to willingly accept what he so desperately needed. The mangers at New Life House talked to him on the phone and he responded to what they told him. He was ready, finally, for change. To let go of his pride, humble himself–well not right away, of course–that took what Harvard researchers discovered in their 75 year study of what brings fulfillment and happiness in life, and what Grandma always knew. Our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being depends on meaningful relationships. That’s exactly what my son found at New Life House.
Day by day, week by week, month by month he learned to depend on others, open his heart and soul, follow rules, embrace the 12 steps, get honest, and accept the direct, blunt, tough feedback of his peers and house management without constantly weaving and dodging and denying. He’s learned to be comfortable in his own skin, gets along with and enjoys the camaraderie of his restaurant coworkers, and knows how to have a good time, sober. He knows that maintaining his connection to the people he has grown close to at New Life House is what will sustain him when life gets tough. Our connections to people, not degrees or careers, or wealth or fame are what matter. Meaningful work that involves helping others is part of the secret. Ultimately, the relationships he has built over these many months and those in the future are the stuff of a happy life.
I’m the mother of a New Life graduate. And I have a new relationship with my son that is part of what sustains me. No fancy chemical formulas or complicated knowledge–just building our connection to each other, one day at a time.