I found marijuana in my son’s room when he was seventeen. This was following odd behavior, like offering to walk the dog. Mom’s look for those signs of maturing and being helpful and considerate, but in our son’s case this was not maturing. It was just one of the many ways he would find to get away and medicate.
It was difficult to know when we caught our son using if what he was telling us was accurate. Was it a “poor decision” or as we parents may want to believe “a boy experimenting”. This drug took our son into a world cemented in dishonesty and deceit. Because he drank alcohol and only used marijuana and not harder drugs, it was a couple of years of catching him “in use” at various points in his high school junior and senior year before we found our way to the right drug counseling. It was agreed after one session with a “successful” drug counseling professional that our son agreed to nine months of outpatient drug education and weekly drug testing before we would allow him to live away at college. He spent the second semester senior year and the summer following in the outpatient setting. Wanting to go “away” to college, he got his letters written and applications filled out with no help from our family, and in turn got accepted to MANY colleges. These acceptances came during the first three months of outpatient. It seemed to give him a boost in confidence that we as parents, could enjoy seeing. We saw him finish up senior year with one slip that we knew of, and again while we were away on vacation in the summer following – all during outpatient. (He had found ways to pass drug tests such as using someone else’s clean urine).
During this two year journey leading to him going away to college, it was still unclear to us whether he had an addiction or this was just a phase. The day he went off to college, as we loaded the car with great excitement, I found his friend’s sling bag filled with drug paraphernalia. Because our son was still getting drug tested, I believed him when he told us that he himself was done with pot smoking. I was so upset that this was in my home, ruining the joy I was feeling that he was going off to college. This was a ‘God Shot’ I did not recognize. Fast forward to the end of that college freshman semester…… We were planning on picking our son up at college to drive straight to his little brother’s basketball game when we had been connecting via text two hours before we arrived. The expectation was that he would be all packed. At arrival he was standing in the middle of his room, which was in COMPLETE disarray, holding a black trash bag, asking what he should put in the bag to bring home for a six week break. I knew at this point he was a mess, not sure if hungover or high or extremely tired from finals. He packed some things and I attempted to organize the room. It became clear quickly why he was out of it, as I found drug paraphernalia. Second ‘God shot’…
We told John he would not go back to live at college, yet we were not sure what our plan would entail and we were scared and discouraged. Before he had started outpatient his senior year in high school the drug counselor had explained to us his plan for John’s recovery. First would be the outpatient drug program, if that did not work there was a place in LA where he could go into an age specific sober living program. This 18 month sober living seemed drastic when we first heard of it the year before at that first meeting. It still seemed drastic now that we were faced with his marijuana use at college. We had a six week break from his college to make a plan. The drug counselor had already given us a plan the year before, but faced with the reality of this long term program, we were waffling.
Three nights after coming home for break, he negotiated with us to sleepover at a high school friend’s house. He said they would stay at this friend’s house and they would not use marijuana, but maybe they would drink some beer. ‘God shot’ number three……. 3:00 AM that next morning we were woken up with a call from jail. Our son and his friends had decided to drive drunk to a friends house and he had volunteered to be at the wheel. Spotted weaving on an empty freeway, the CHP pulled them over. Thank God no one was hurt and the answer to what our plan would be was crystal clear at 3:00 AM Christmas Eve day. Our son had an addiction that needed this seemingly drastic, next level of treatment. We spent that next day in conversation with the director of outpatient and the New Life House. Bailing him out was not a priority. The old saying that you get one call from jail must be a Hollywood line, because he kept calling and insisting he did not have a problem and please come get him out of jail. Knowing how important it was that we have a solid plan set first, he would have stay where he had gotten himself for a while. His phone calls consisted of explaining he did not have a problem and that he missed his family and needed to spend more time with us. My husband kept firmly asking him during each call from jail to look where he was at.
We would get him out when New Life House could review his case and let us know they would take him into long term recovery. New Life House had to ask us to wait until the day after Christmas, to have us come up and evaluate our son for consideration of accepting him into the program. My husband went downtown to bail him out and they came home to a houseful of Christmas Eve guests and family. Not one of our closest family or friends in our house that night had any idea what we had been going through the last two years or the last 24 hours. We kept it that way through the night and following weeks and months. When John got home during the party he slipped into his room to shower before facing the Christmas Eve celebration ,and I went in behind him seeing him for the first time that sad day. He collapsed into my arms in tears, and I said “You are ill and have a disease of addiction”. He said “I know Mom”. This was a new person at his bottom, different than the one calling all morning from jail who did not have a problem.
We were not sure what Christmas day would bring, would he still be willing to go up to LA the day after, would he still be at our home or leave? He was with us all Christmas Day and wanted to tell his two younger brothers what had happened and where he was going. It was a sad and happy day all wrapped together. Christmas night my husband and I wondered the same questions as the night before. Will he still be here in the morning to go up to New Life? Also would New Life accept him into their program? He was still with us the day after Christmas and we drove to LA where he was accepted into New Life.
The New Life House 12 step based program has saved our child’s life. He went through 20 months of working to live a sober life. Greater and more valuable than keeping him from drinking or smoking they helped him see himself, with defects he could understand and accept without reaching for chemicals. When we delivered him to New Life House, we explained to the intake staff that our son was a master of deceit. Our visits each weekend revealed a brilliant program peeling away for our child the need to retreat into his disease when defects raised their ugly head. Each week we visited John, and though sometimes painful, over time we saw growth in huge leaps. We now have a son that is living a self supporting, sober, honest life, living outside the sober living house and enjoying and participating in the huge network of Alcoholics Anonymous in the LA area. He is 21 1/2 and keeps in contact with his younger brothers and us, his parents, and gives us all great joy to have him alive and sober.
I am so thankful for the ‘God Shots’ along the way that may have seemed like tragedy and disappointment. These events led up to our son and us as parents identifying his chemical use as more than a phase, and were the catalyst to seek help for a gripping disease. Thank you New Life and Alcoholics Anonymous!