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

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  • [email protected]
    Posted at 06:33h, 24 April Reply

    Reading this stories gives us hope. Thank you

  • Avi Satz
    Posted at 08:58h, 24 April Reply

    Hi Celia, this is definitely a story of hope. Achieving recovery isn’t impossible, but it can be quite a journey. It takes willingness to surrender. Debbie’s son had to experience some desperation to change. Fortunately, he got to a point where he was willing to truly accept help. It is a great personal story of hope!

  • Robin Hilton-Folk
    Posted at 13:22h, 24 April Reply

    WowI What a beautiful story of HOPE, RESTORATION AND RECOVERY! I remember when we were new in the house and I was feeling hopeless and helpless for my son. I was beside myself, feeling defeated and sharing our turbulent journey with a manager from the house. To this day, I have never ever forgotten what he shared with me. He said “As long as your son is breathing, there is HOPE!” From that day forward, I clung to his inspiring words that he shared with me, which replaced the hopelessness I was harboring in my heart. I am very grateful for him taking the time to renew my hope. I will forever be eternally grateful for what New Life has done for all of our sons. New Life has given our sons a new lease on life.

  • ingrid
    Posted at 19:27h, 24 April Reply

    I never tire of these stories! Written or oral, they are an integral part of other families success in recovery. My son just celebrated 7 years of sobriety and took a cake at New Life House. Listening to the stories of the people who went before us, always gave a boost to my faith in the program and I’m sure to a lot of the boys on the floor and their parents. Thank you Debbie for taking the time to share and give back

  • Pete
    Posted at 01:02h, 25 April Reply

    This is my moms blog and is very touching to hear my story in her eyes and to see how pumped she is on my life of sobriety. Gotta love moms

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh
    Posted at 14:12h, 25 April Reply

    Beautiful message of hope for other families. Thank you Debbie!

    • Martha
      Posted at 10:45h, 26 April Reply

      Cathy, it is a message of hope that we all need to hear to keep us moving forward. Thanks for your comment!

  • Grant Ota
    Posted at 16:12h, 27 April Reply

    when I first went into the new life house system I did not want to be sober and I didn’t think I had a drug or alcohol problem. But the reality was that I was broke financially, couldn’t hold a job, couldn’t pay rent, burned most of all my bridges with friends and family, and would not turn down drink or use. I was fortunate to enter a structured sober living with 20 or so guys around my same age who were all motivated towards sobriety. I was impressed by my peers who understood the plight of an alcoholic/addict and were able to hold each other accountable to a degree that I had never witnessed before amongst friend and as a result of that support I was able to grow and mature in a way that I had never experienced. Thru realating to others I was able to accept my disease and got a sponsor within 2 weeks and started to slowly go through the steps. The theme that came up with me the most and I had to work really hard on was putting care and passion into myself and ultimately others. It was pointed out that my disease of alcoholism was selfish and it was up to me to do everything contrary through selfless actions and that if I put others before me I will stay sober. I was 22 when I first went in and 29 now with 6 years sober. It was the tools and foundation i learned my first year in the house that have kept me sober in AA. I have the opportunity to still be involved in the house and take guys to meetings and relate my experience to them and thru those actions I have found something more fufilling than money or materials things could ever fill the void. I have found something greater than myself and have gotten closer to god. Would like to especially thank Avi s. Joel w. and John j. For my sobriety

  • Jason Kier
    Posted at 21:03h, 27 April Reply

    This is amazing to hear, thank you for sharing Debbie. I had a very similar experience. I to was very lost, addicted to drugs and couldn’t get out. I found my self in and out of rehab and eventually ended up in a wilderness program. I was great, I was out of my old environment, getting time clean and exercising! I left telling myself I would never use again. Unfortunately I returned home and eventually started running around with my old crowd. It took a while for me to realize that my good intentions could not keep me sober. With my life crumbling beneath my feet, I had to get out so I went back into the wilderness program hoping to find some answers. They suggested I look into a sober living to transition. Fortunately I found New Life House! I went immediately after my 2nd stint in wilderness. I had so much to learn about living a sober lifestyle but I was ready. I immediately started learning about myself and what it takes to stay sober. I trusted the knowledgable staff and jumped in with both feet. I can honestly say that my life has not been the same since. I’ve stayed sober and am living my life to the fullest! It’s great to hear your kid is doing the same, thanks again for the post.
    Jason Kier
    Sobriety date 6-12-06

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