My Son’s Winding Path to Recovery

When I was writing the script of my son’s young life…heroin, addiction, homelessness, were words I never penned. The following is the encapsulation of a 6-year journey towards recovery.

My son was 16 when we sent him to a therapeutic wilderness program. It was not an easy decision. It never is. But for us it was the right one. He was in trouble with the law, had dropped out of school, and checked out of life. He spent 92 days hiking, learning about himself and how to deal effectively with his problems and his emotions. He did well and graduated with self-confidence and a fire in his belly. His future looked bright and I had renewed hope. At that time, we never suspected a disease festering beneath the surface.

He remained on the mainland, because we didn’t want to return him to his old toxic environment. It didn’t happen overnight, it never does I suppose. Slowly over the course of months his drug and alcohol use escalated. His life was becoming unmanageable as he was spiraling out of control. One day, he pulled his head out of his butt and admitted he was an alcoholic and needed help. I cried tears of joy believing he could now begin to walk the road to recovery. I never expected the road to have so many detours and potholes. I was so naive.

He was in and out of several drug treatment programs in San Diego. Some he found on his own and others we aided in the process. None of the programs were particularly bad, they were all well intended and possessed all the right credentials, qualified medical staff, and touted long-term sobriety statistics. The 12 Steps of AA were promoted in each of the programs, and he managed to remain sober while in each of them. Sobriety was short-lived however and it was frustrating to watch his behavior deteriorate. One sober living home that was recommended by the treatment program he attended was considered high structure because that is what he needed. I discovered we had disparate definitions of the word “high.”  He did gain useful tools in some of the programs, and would start his Steps, but he never had a sponsor, and he never truly believed in the Twelve Steps…he was simply going through the motions.

My son would have been another sad statistic if not for God’s amazing grace and New Life House. He had spent many cold nights on the streets of San Diego, trying desperately to weave a meaningful existence as he walked through a drug-induced haze. Then it happened, a moment of clarity. He reached out and wanted and was ready for a change. He entered New Life House almost 2 years ago. From the beginning, I knew this would be different. In most of the places my son attended, he was one of the youngest clients. Here he would be living amongst his age peers.  I had always felt that the other programs were too short. How do you affect lasting behavioral change over 30 days or even 90 days? Here, it would be at least 18 months until graduation.  The staff was honest and serious. Everything they said was true. If my son was ready to change and put in the work, he could succeed. But even more, he would be surrounded and supported by a community of men committed to living a sober life.

During the first Saturday meeting I attended, I met my son’s fellow brothers, the young men whom he broke bread with, bared his soul to…the men who made him accountable for his daily actions. I met the graduates with years of sobriety. They were polite and gracious young men smiling, laughing, engaging, and having a good time. My son not only looked like a new person, he was a different person. He was sober and he was happy! I heard the phrases “sobriety with integrity”, “living life on life’s terms” and “doing internal work.”  And I heard this from my son! For the first time, he had an AA sponsor with whom he could connect and work the  Twelve Steps. It was apparent early on, that he truly believed in the House and what it stood for, and had the utmost respect and admiration for the management and all the guys above him. They had walked his walk and were his mentors. He loved what he saw and wanted what they had. He doesn’t know exactly when his drug obsession lifted, it just did. He was working a strong program and his sobriety was a result of his positive actions.

He recently moved into his own apartment with 2 other graduates. He is an independent, self-supporting adult. But more than that, he is a young man with character, integrity, humility, and gratitude. He remains connected to the House, lives a life of service, and hasn’t forgotten where he came from. New Life House gave him positive role models and a chance to restore himself into the person he was meant to be. Management was right; he is surrounded by a loyal, loving family unafraid to keep him accountable all the time!

New Life House provided my son the structure he needed, when he was ready for it. He is forging his way in recovery, eyes focused and heart willing.  Funny thing I learned along the way…there is no script. His journey is between him and his Higher Power. It always was.

Debbie O-A

Last Updated on May 24, 2022


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