I’d like to share my experience of getting my son into treatment, and how I was able to keep him there and get him healthy.
My son, D, had been battling addiction since he was 14 years old. When I realized the severity of the problem, and the extent to which he was using, he was 19 years old. He was smoking weed several times a day, using Xanax heavily, and experimenting with other drugs such as acid and cocaine. When young kids started to come by the house to buy drugs he was selling, and when he called me from a supermarket parking lot because he was so high he could barely walk and needed a ride home, I realized the problem was bigger than the two of us could handle. He needed dedicated and continual treatment.
My son did not accept that he needed treatment. But he reluctantly agreed to visit New Life House, check it out, and meet the guys. During the intake, David and Chad (the house Director and Manager, respectively) talked to him explaining the merits of the program and how helpful it was to many young men. D, agreed to give it a try. But he was still reluctant. Before I left, while I was saying goodbye, tears welled up for both of us. My son had lived with me for 19 years. Leaving him at the door of New Life House was the second hardest thing I had to do in my life.
But hardest thing was what I had to do 2 days later.
I left him at NLH on Wednesday 1/23/2019. Two days later on Friday, 1/25/2019 I got a call from management. They told me that D wanted to leave. D said it wasn’t right for him, he didn’t have a problem. Management told me they were trying to intervene and convince him to stay. But he was adamant. The NLH managers explained to me that nearly all parents will go through this. They explained that what they had found over the years is that parents who relent and let their boys come home, or give them money, or a ride, a phone, or whatever, almost never works. They explained that they have had the most success when parents just say “no”, you cannot come home and I cannot enable your addiction any longer. You are on your own until you agree to get better. They encouraged me to “close the door” on him and not give him an out, an alternative, or an escape route. I was more or less prepared to tell him this; I was convinced it was the only way. D wanted to talk to me, and they handed him the phone.
I asked him how he was, and what he was thinking. He explained that the house was great and that if he had a problem that is definitely where he would want to be. But it just wasn’t for him. He didn’t need it. He could quit on his own. I had heard this many times before. He wanted to leave and asked for a little money or a ride so he could get back to San Diego (where we lived) so he could stay at a friend’s house.
I honestly don’t know where I got the courage to say the words that I did. D and I have always had a special bond; since he was a little boy we had always fished, surfed, traveled, and he had always lived with me. We loved each other as much as a father and son could. Telling him he could not come home felt against everything I knew as a parent.
“D”, I said, “I love you more than anything in this universe, but I cannot be part of your life if you will not get healthy. It hurts too much to see you destroy yourself. The only way I know how to save you is to not give you an ‘out’ back to addiction. You need to stay here for 90 days and then we can talk. I love you.”
Leaving him with no option but to stay or walk the streets of LA seemed like a huge risk and ran counter to all my parental intuition. But something deep inside me knew it was the right thing to do. A few hours after that tough-love call with D, I got a call from Chad at NLH telling me that D had decided to stay for a few days. “Thank you, God” ran through my mind. Hearing this good news brought some relief to my anxious state of mind and hurting heart. Three days later, I got a call from D to let me know he was ok and was about to go out and play basketball with the guys. My heart leapt and I nearly cried with joy. I was so relieved he had decided to stick it out. And hearing that he was going to play basketball was such a gift to me. D had played basketball when he was younger, and it had brought him so much joy. But with addition, basketball had gone by the wayside.
In the ensuing months, things only got better. They weren’t without 1 or 2 tough transitions that he went through emotionally and mentally, but his growth and happiness improved consistently throughout. Now he is almost 1 year sober. And a changed human. He is a beautiful, thoughtful, respectful, and happy young man with high hopes for the future that any parent would be proud of. He just got his first job and is getting ready to graduate soon.
One of the most amazing parts of this story is not his success getting through the program, or how good he feels, or that he has been sober for almost a year. Of course, those are indeed amazing elements of his story. But what I didn’t expect is that D has thanked me, repeatedly, for saving his life. Even through my guilt of “closing the door” he has said “Dad you saved my life, and I can’t thank you enough.”
I think the term “closing the door” sounds harsh and counter intuitive to us loving parents. But without shutting the door to the world that keeps them in addiction, they are not able to walk through a new door to recovery. It’s a scary step to take, but an important one in the recovery process.