The first time my husband and I visited New Life House East, we thought it was a mirage. But instead of swaying palm trees and crystalline water, we were greeted by the refreshingly open faces and attitudes of one sober young man after another. The loving, open-hearted embrace of parents who related to the fear and weariness in our eyes.
And the warmth, intelligence and candor of Brett, Derek and Howard who made us feel like we were no longer wandering alone in the barren desert of our son’s addiction. Not only did they understand our son, each of them assured us they had been our son. They informed us that our son’s plan of “staying sober” on his own was a recipe for disaster. It was only a matter of time before we would get him to Torrance from Portland, Maine (where he had just gotten kicked out of a six-month program after six tumultuous weeks). They promised to coach us along the way.
As we said our good-byes, I found myself transfixed by the sight of a mother and son, kicking back under the gazebo in the backyard. No arms crossed. No eyes rolling. They were just casually engaged in the warm, comfortable flow of an everyday conversation. It was so “normal” it made my heart hurt. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a conversation with my son that wasn’t about him being in trouble, needing money or both. I watched that mother and son with the kind of longing that someone else might feel looking at the diamonds in Tiffany’s windows.
On the way back home, my husband and I were grateful that we had found the right program. But clueless as to how we were ever going to get him there. Everyday, that gazebo in Torrance seemed further and further away as more and more drama unfolded in Portland, Maine. He was in an addictive relationship with a girl fresh out of rehab. He got kicked out of a second sober living house. And was homeless and jobless in the dead of winter.
Next came all the phone calls, insisting he was staying sober. (Maybe he was, but he wasn’t acting like it.) And all the heart-tugging requests for money. Each time, my husband and I painfully repeated the same mantra: “We will only support you getting on the plane and going to New Life House.”
While our son didn’t seem to be going anywhere, my mind sure took me to some scary places—to jail, the gutter, the hospital and worse. (I’m sure you’ve all been there.) When the fear and the worry threatened to take over, I forced myself to take some deep breaths. I knew I had no control over my son. But I could control my thoughts.
So, in my mind, I went back to the gazebo at New Life House.
I let go of all strategies and plans. I let go of “how” or “when.” I just breathed into my heart and imagined my son and I sitting there peacefully on a summer day. I felt the warmth of the sun and the joy of an easy, breezy conversation flowing between us.
Meanwhile, back in Portland, my son and his girlfriend turned into Bonnie and Clyde. They sold stuff, stole stuff and stuffed their belongings onto a Greyhound bus with a one-way ticket to God only knows.
Well, I’ll save you the rest of the nerve-wracking, stomach-churning details. But the good news is our son finally got on that plane to L.A.
Now, four months later, he has stepped out of the shadows. The light is back in his eyes. And we are able to feel his heart and truth again. Then, one Saturday afternoon, just a couple of weeks ago, we actually found ourselves sitting there.
Under the gazebo.
We were that mother and son. Comfortable. Connected. And casually chatting like two old friends.