As a Mom, I knew something was terribly wrong. I knew it in my gut. I just kept trying to coach myself through the nagging fear, to not overreact or add more worry to my already overloaded plate.
Our family was working through the most difficult year we had ever endured due to other traumatic circumstances causing us to heavily shift our focus to our younger child. Despite how obvious it was our son was pushing the partying limits at college, we were beyond our capacity to take a close look at the warning signs and it was easier to let him manipulate us with his uncanny charm, intelligence and logic rather than take a look at what we didn’t want to see – things like rumors of his being the “party” house, erratic texts, excuses for it never being a good time to visit, his distancing from his family etc… When questioned, he denied hard drugs but admitted to excessive weed use explaining it’s many benefits such as: it’s socially acceptable, eases anxiety, isn’t addictive, is being legalized etc, and provided numerous facts to support his statements. Even though we had significant concerns, he was on track with his grades so we addressed the issue by cutting off his allowance and laying down what we would/would not tolerate and gave him another chance. We tried to convince ourselves his behavior was normal for many college kids and we had pushed the limits ourselves at that age and turned out just fine. We were in survival mode at home and had very little emotional energy left in our tanks to handle more stress. Despite how many times he had shown poor judgement in the past he had somehow always landed on his feet so we convinced ourselves he would again. With no clear family history of addiction/alcoholism we had no clue our son was genetically predisposed to this disease and was walking a treacherous line and that we were falling into a pattern of denial and enabling.
Not surprisingly, he held on to his “HOPE” scholarship his Freshman year at the University of Georgia, had some great friends and was now in his sophomore year. Like we had hoped, he seemed to have landed on his feet. Yet, I continued to feel a gut fear for him and by now he was complaining of uncontrollable anxiety, stomach issues and unhappiness. He was under increasing academic pressure as his course load started to become more demanding. Tall and naturally slim, he wasn’t eating well as a college student so these things combined with him having tested positive for the celiac antibody some years earlier made it easy for me to explain away his weight loss. By the second semester school had started to slip and things were falling apart. He was highly resistant to my pleas of therapy and with the emotional struggle we were still enduring in our household he had us convinced bringing him home would just make things worse for all of us. This time around he seemed to be “owning” he wasn’t in a good place and since he was always fiercely independent we agreed we needed to allow him to try to work through his issues “his” way to bring things under control. There were so many logical explanations for what was going on we continued to miss the warning signs. So continued our pattern of denial and enabling.
Unknown to us, he was “waking and baking”, the weed use having become abusive and there had been a progression in the potency of weed related substances he was using. His brain had been “hijacked”, he had developed a chemical dependency and was spiraling downhill. It was March 2015, the night before his Spring Break when he brought himself home and finally confessed he was in serious trouble. He said he was “afraid if he went on Spring Break with his friends he wouldn’t make it home alive”. He was suffering from extreme anxiety, wasn’t eating and had been “self medicating” with all kinds of drugs. He was literally convinced he was “crazy” and “beyond help”.
After entering a 90-day local residential rehab program he completed everything the program required of him and in short order could speak expertly on where he had gone wrong, what he had learned and to put it bluntly was believing his own “bullshit”. In fairness, our family had no prior experience with this so we all believed his insistence he was “different” than other people in the program and he had received the much needed “wake up call”. After he graduated the program, it was our impression as long as we addressed his anxiety/depression issues – something we did have a family history of – life would settle into a new normal. We had no knowledge of the journey we had embarked on nor the daunting challenge of a 21 year old young man finding “authentic recovery”.
I embraced my role as a loving Mom by rewarding him and helping him put his life back on track in anyway possible as long as he remained sober. Within a total span of 5 months, our son had resumed classes at UGA online, started a job…and relapsed.
I finally and reluctantly acknowledged my son was an addict. As a friend in long time recovery put it “I had stepped into a foreign country and I didn’t speak the language”. Through the support and encouragement of parent groups and Alanon, I started to learn the concept of “detaching with love” and what “enabling” looked like. I realized I had no control over my son’s life and I was starting to lose control of my own.
My constant and exhausting presence in my son’s life which I considered the greatest measure of my love and protection were doing nothing more than opening the door for his continued manipulation and prolonged journey of recovery/relapse. The closer I stood beside him, the more I was crippling him as well as myself. Thus began my own agonizing and terrifying journey of pulling away from my precious, first-born baby. As a family we drew a hard boundary of what we would no longer support regardless of whether he was sober or not. We had our own plan of how things were going to look moving forward and prayed he would trust we knew better than him what he needed. He was either on board, or on his own. No more negotiations. We had learned about New Life House and the large young adult recovery community in LA. Somehow Brad found it within himself to trust our judgement and headed to CA into a complete unknown and entered the New Life House program.
Today our son is 23 years old, 16 months sober and as he says “is a new and improved version of the old Brad”. Through New Life House he has been challenged and tested to learn “authentic recovery” and the difference between being “dry” versus “sober”. It’s the hardest thing he has ever faced but on this journey he is gaining immeasurable tools to cope with the inevitable ups, downs and unexpected curves of life. He can admit when he’s struggling and leans on his community. He “shows up” for others in distress or to lend a hand the way New Life House consistently “showed up” for him. He is surrounded by a huge graduate community of motivated and ambitious men with long term recovery who have stayed connected to each other, hold one another accountable and give back to their program. He has made life long friends who have walked through the pain and dark days together and become a family. These guys are some of the most “real” and impressive young men I have the pleasure of knowing. They are working good jobs and many have chosen to resume school. They spend free time together at the beach, hiking in the mountains, meeting for meals and attending AA meetings together all over LA. Brad recently commented to me, “Back in high school I wouldn’t have ever imagined I would be carrying this burden, and yet instead of seeing it as a burden I choose to see it as the very thing that may have saved me from walking through my life asleep.”
As a Mom, I am eternally grateful to New Life House for their integrity and commitment to helping young men like my son who are falling victim to the drug epidemic our society is facing. I thank them for their constant encouragement of our family and for involving us and educating us along the way. I am inspired by the transparency of these young men in recovery and the many enlightening letters written by parents before me.