Memorial Day 2017, my husband and I had made plans to head to the beach for a few hours but I just couldn’t get myself to leave the house. Instead, I spent it paralyzed, crying on the couch, and counting down the moments until it was time for my son to leave for his summer job in the mountains the next day. I remembered how I used to tease my kids (only half-jokingly) that I wanted to home-school them so I could spend more time with them all. And yet, here I was; I couldn’t wait for him to be gone. I kept asking myself over and over again, “How did we end up like this?”
On the surface, things looked normal. He showered every day, made it home exactly in time for dinner, kept up polite conversation, and did his laundry, all while making every excuse possible to stay out of the house as much as he could. I knew there was something wrong. We had found pot in his car several times. Small amounts of money seemed to go missing frequently. His college grades were never quite what we had been led to expect, when we were able to finally get him to show them to us. But there was always a just barely plausible explanation. I was willing to deal with whatever it was—Adderall, pot, depression, anxiety, some other drug –and tried to actively seek answers. I made him go to counseling. When the counselor suggested I randomly test him at home, I didn’t want to but I did it. I would hug him when he came home just so I could “sniff” him. He hated it, I hated it. Our conversations became interrogations as I tried to catch him in lies and inconsistencies that might lead me to the real problem. Lies, self-doubt, shame, guilt, and fear were consuming his life. I knew he felt like a failure and that he was going nowhere, and it was hard to argue with that at the time. He had become such a master liar in his attempts to hide the truth that he had pushed everyone in his life away.
The next morning, the car was loaded and ready to go when he called me up to his room. I wondered if he was finally going to apologize for everything he had put us through. Taking one look at him, I could see he clearly had reached a breaking point.
Finally, he told me the truth. He had a problem with alcohol.
I know that there are no easy “cures,” that it will literally be one day at a time for the rest of his life but at least we had a direction. A friend of his had just completed his first year at New Life House/East. I had been so envious of the progress he had made, the insight his mother was gaining, the hope they all had for the future. He was sober, had a job, and was living a life of purpose, integrity and honesty. I wanted that for my son. And I knew that he wanted it too.
Exactly one week after that awful Memorial Day, I took him up to New Life. The memory that we share of that drive is one I am sure neither of us will ever forget. Heading back home to San Diego by myself, I cried for a few miles and then took a deep breath, accepted the truth, let go of what I could not actually control, and placed my trust in “The House.”
It was obvious from the start they knew more about it all than I did. And I soon learned that New Life is not just another recovery house. It demands, in a million different ways, that the guys confront the demons that bring them here and in return, gives them back the hope they had lost. Knowing that family plays a part in both the illness and recovery, I have tried to learn about the disease and myself in order to come from a place of understanding and knowledge.
For the first several months after each family meeting, I would drive home praying that he would be one of the lucky ones who finds that elusive serenity and higher power. And over time, I have watched with indescribable joy as the shame, guilt, and anxiety that had been overwhelming him for so many years were gradually replaced by understanding, confidence, and a sense of inner peace I never believed I would see in him again. Then one Saturday, as I headed south on the 405 freeway, I found myself smiling as I relived that spontaneous bearhug he had given me that morning—so big, open-hearted and sincere in fact that another parent actually commented on it. His hugs, and sharing in New Life’s deep spirit of community, are what make all the Saturday trips worthwhile now.
Now, eighteen months later, my son is sober, has been working for almost a year at a job that another House member recommended him for, graduated in August, recently moved out to his own apartment with two buddies and is supporting himself financially. Last month, he and 7 other guys took a road trip to those same mountains he gave up going to in order to get back control of his life and I know he has never been prouder of himself than he is now.
It is impossible for me to imagine the profound, intense and painful experiences that my son had in The House. Or to fully understand the deep relationships and self-discovery that grow as a result of those experiences. Or to express the immense gratitude I have for everyone, from the counselors, directors, house managers, graduates, other families, my son’s sponsor, and the guys on the floor, including the ones who didn’t make it. Each one has been a part of helping him build a new life for himself. And just as important, those same people will continue to be there to remind him of his commitments and the need to stay active in his community and program. And to my brave, wonderful son, I am ever, ever, ever so grateful that you had the courage to admit your secrets, face your fears, and work to become the person you always imagined you could be. Because you are, and even more.