Not too long ago, my son asked if raising teenagers had been a horrible experience for his dad and me. He asked if he had been one of those rebellious, disrespectful teenagers you see in many movies and television shows. In all honesty, he and his older sister were not horrible teenagers. I told him, that at that period of our lives I thought we were pretty lucky; our kids were making their way through teenage-hood with only a few bumps. We the parents, thought we were going to get through this period unscathed.
Life did not become hell until our son graduated from high school. In retrospect, we did not recognize the signs of addiction. Why would we suspect our son was an addict? He was doing well, he was involved in sports, his grades could have been better but they were good. He wasn’t rude or disrespectful and was interested in life. The changes were subtle and we brushed them off as expressions of Justin’s concerns about life after high school.
After high school things quickly took a turn for the worse. Justin suffered anxiety attacks, he dropped most of his high school friends, he failed most of his college classes and his circle of interests kept getting smaller. In general he distanced himself from being part of the family. My sweet son became an increasingly foul mouthed, disrespectful, uncaring individual. I would look at him and say “You were not raised this way”. I could not believe or accept what was happening to my son until I was hit in the gut with his addiction.
Our home was no longer a home, it was a war zone. It was the scene of anger, tears, recriminations, broken windows, holes in the wall etc.
For three years, his dad and I did everything we knew to “save ” our son- counseling, drug testing, throwing money at his problem, paying rent for his apartment, his gas, food, etc. . Promises were made to participate in an intensive outpatient program for addiction but the promises were never kept.
It is two years since the day we brought our son to New Life House LA. Justin now has two years, two months of sobriety. For us as parents, you would assume, life would now be without worry. But it is not. When Justin graduated from New Life, I welcomed each extra day he had in the protective cocoon of the New Life House structure and support. Moving out of New Life did not take away my worries; instead I replaced my old worries with new ones. As my husband says, we suffer from a form of PTSD. If the phone rings late at night or early in the morning, my stomach tightens into a knot of nerves expecting to hear that there is a problem. Though I enjoy being with my son when he visits, his visits force me to confront my lack of trust and my fears. I worry when he visits friends, even though they are supportive of his sobriety; I worry when he goes out- I want him to stay home.
I am learning to trust my son and his ability to use the tools he has learned in New Life House. I am also learning how with talk with my son. He is not a child. He is an adult recovering addict. I am learning to give him the respect. His dad and I are learning the difference between helping and enabling, and what we do that minimizes his abilities as an adult and keeps him a child. Being respectful of him does not mean that I think all his decisions and behaviors are wonderful. There are times when the old behaviors show themselves and it is okay to call him on it. However, through my participation in Al-Anon and with the support of the New Life staff, I am now able to address these issues with Justin in a way that promotes growth and awareness for both of us.
Addiction is a family disease. But we are all becoming stronger and healthier, one day at a time and sometimes one phone call at a time.