Six months ago, I was certain our family was destroyed. Our 20-year-old son had admitted to us that he couldn’t go a day without drinking, getting high or both. He was admitting himself into a 30-day residential treatment program. He pleaded with us to understand that he needed, wanted help. Help that I, his mom, couldn’t give. How did my begging, yelling, bribing, talking, loving, threatening, bargaining, crying and everything else I had done in the past 20 years not prevent this?
But, I thought, OK. He does his 30 days, gets his help and we move on. During our family weekend, I was out of my mind excited to see him. He was going to be BETTER! He was going to be HIM again. I was shocked to see his shaved head, the anger spewing from every molecule of his being. This was not my child. There was no love, no begging for forgiveness. Just anger. Vile word after vile word telling me he “was not like these people” and he needed out. The dream visit I imagined crumbled when he was removed from the weekend due to a verbal outburst, taken back to his center without us even being able to say good-bye.
It was at that point that I realized our life would not return to “normal.” But was that so bad? Did I really want to return to walking on eggshells? To having our lives controlled by his every emotion? To worrying about whether he was using? Was he drinking and driving? Was my daughter going to be embarrassed to have her friends over because of her brother? The new calm in our house was actually kind of nice. Although I felt guilt over this realization, it was my first step towards healing. Although I had sort of joined Al Anon, after that weekend, I regularly started attending meetings. I found a sponsor and started working the steps. I started learning that I needed recovery too.
When he left the residential program, it took me 8 hours to get him in the car to go to a sober living house. I had to drive away from him when he stormed away saying he would never live there. I’ve taken numerous calls from him, telling me if I loved him I’d bring him home. I’ve had to tell him that he’s not welcome at his sister’s high school graduation. I’ve had to tell him that his sister is going away to college at the school he dreamed of attending. I’ve had to establish and hold boundaries with strength I didn’t know I have.
Where I used to have all the answers for him, my new favorite phrase with him is “I’m sure you will figure it out”. I’ve learned the greatest gift I can give him is the dignity to live his life and make his own decisions, to have his own successes and failures. While I gave him life, it took me 20 years to actually let him HAVE his life.
When his first sober living house closed, we found New Life. It started off the same. The anger, the bitterness, his explanation that he was just “faking it” because he had no other alternative since we won’t let him come home. But slowly, we’ve seen him come back. We’ve seen a glimmer of the son we know is in there. He laughs. He asks how we are. He calls his sister. We see him support others in the house. He admits that he has a problem, that even though he “only drinks and smokes weed,” he is an addict. He is no better or worse than anyone else in the house. And he admits that he needs to take things one day at a time. He talks to the guys in the house and seeks guidance from his sponsor. In 20 years I’ve never seen him so communicative. It is a true miracle. And I am truly grateful for it.