It pains me that it took entirely too long to realize my son was an alcoholic. I have realized parental denial is akin to enablement and prolongs addiction cycles, denying loved ones expedited treatment.
As I reflect on my son Zach’s slide into addiction, I think of the mountains we quietly moved on his behalf to no avail. With rose-colored glasses removed, we realized he could not battle his addition within the confines of our private life. After his admission to New Life House, we finally realized the depths of Zach’s struggle with addiction. This journey stole years of peace, but we are thankful to have found a light in all the darkness.
Zach’s struggle started in his early teens. We did everything we thought parents should do – we talked to him, we loved him harder, and we implemented tougher punishments week after week. We sent him to one qualified counselor after the other, hoping they could “fix” him.
It is difficult to confess now, but there was an occasion Zach admitted he believed he had a problem. However, my eyes were closed, because I did not yet understand the complexity and prevalence of addiction – I was completely ignorant to the scope of devastation for which this beast was capable. Thus, I gave him a tearful hug and told him he would be okay, as mothers do. We continued to trudge along.
It was not until much later, when missteps began to compile, that my husband and I recognized Zach’s behavior was not traditional teenage angst. He would get high or drink alone, he stopped hanging out with friends, he did not care about school, he was prone to outbursts, and exhibited other alarming warning signs. Desperate, we decided to try a new counselor, praying this one would know how to help our son.
After a brutal hour of sharing our concerns regarding Zach’s conduct, the new counselor looked us dead in the eye and firmly stated, “Your son is an addict and needs to be in in-patient rehabilitation.” He stood up and left to call a local facility. Zach was admitted the following morning.
I have never cried so hard in my life. I was utterly crushed. I could not fathom what was happening to my sweet child. I felt shame, sadness, fear, and tremendous heartbreak. How did we fail him? Where did we go wrong? What did we do to cause this? What didn’t we do to prevent it?
We had no idea what to expect when we sat him down the next morning to inform him he was going to treatment. He cried, but agreed to go. He went upstairs and packed his bags. The entire family drove him to his first facility. When we pulled in my son said, “I’m scared, but I know when I leave here I will be a much better person.” In that moment I felt hope.
During his first 60 days of in-patient treatment, we learned about addiction from counseling and family week. We achieved many breakthroughs. My husband and I were finally able to sleep again, no longer living in a constant state of fear, as parents of addicts do. However, in the end, I was still not convinced my son was an addict.
Upon completion of in-patient care, it was advised Zach participate in long-term sober living. We declined. He was now sober, and our lives would return to normal. This arduous stage of our lives was behind us, exclusively existing as an obstacle one overcomes on their way to adulthood. If I could restore that moment, I would cure myself of the ignorance for which I possessed. Alas, this momentary lapse of judgement serves as another chapter in our journey.
Two years passed, and Zach relapsed. It was inevitable. Thankfully, he willingly agreed to return to rehab at the Wilderness Treatment Center. Again, it was another wonderful experience. As we anticipated, we were warmly received at family week and provided with the routine information regarding addiction. However, we were now the veterans, having been “here” before. The majority of families expressed this was their first experience with rehab. They were either still in a state of denial or attempting to assess their options for their children upon completion of the program. I sat there listening incredulously among the circle of families, inadvertently shaking my head. I finally realized my error in denying long-term care for my son. The counselor asked if I had something to share. Boy did I!
I shared everything. I spoke of our past mistake bringing Zach home too soon, and implored them avoid venturing down our path. I pleaded that after in-patient care long-term sober living was the only safe option for every child experiencing addiction. I hope I was heard. It occurred to me that sobriety can only be attained after the addict unmasks what substance abuse cloaked; revealing, addressing, and resolving the issues by which they attempted to conceal.
Zach has been at New Life House (NLH) approaching a year now, and has committed to remaining in a sober community for an additional three years. He celebrated one year sober on May 10, 2018. We could not be prouder! When I explain NLH to folks, I admonish that all teenagers should go through a program of this magnitude and quality before being released into the wild. Addiction aside, the NLH program focusses on the individual holistically, preparing them to be responsible, trust-worthy, honest, kind, and productive members of society. The kind of people we should all aspire to be. NLH establishes an internal infrastructure within these children for which they may garner strength when their demons return. NLH participants who complete the program, leave knowing they can live happy and productive sober lives.
Zach has grown into a respectable man under the care of New Life House. It is impossible to put into words the positive impact that the incredible individuals whom run the NHL program have had on Zach, NHL graduates, and the young men whom currently reside in the home. Zach now possess maturity, self-reflection, honesty, love for life and sobriety, a healthy fear of relapse, and an optimism about his future, the likes of which we have never seen. My heart is at peace as I write these words and as I think about the significant influence the staff of New Life House has had on our son. Additionally, I am eternally grateful for the knowledge, love, and support they have provided us as a family.
Healing begins when you open your eyes and accept the realities of addiction. As a part of recovery, we as parents need to get involved any way possible. Al-Anon can serve a wonderful resource on the path of recovery and beyond. I started going early on, and though our son is thriving now, Al-Anon provides a healthy perspective that keeps me grounded, administers communal support, and serves as a way for me to give back by encouraging and engaging those whom are starting their sobriety journey. They will also be there if my son, God forbid, experiences another relapse. We certainly cannot do this alone, so get involved, and discover the strength, solidarity, healing, and love offered by this community.