My son came to New Life House a little over a year ago, his third sober house after checking himself into a 30 day rehab program. I knew he had a problem before he chose to seek help. But I couldn’t admit it. Not to myself, not to my husband, my daughter, or to him. Denial is a powerful thing. Even as we drove him to the rehab facility, I thought 30 days will “fix him right up” and he’ll be home and we will just move right along with life.
I cried a lot in those 30 days. I mourned the life I thought I had. I thought we had it all. A good marriage of 22 years. Not perfect, but who had a perfect marriage? My son was the dream son, an athlete, handsome, well mannered. So he drank and smoked pot. He had temper tantrums and put holes in our walls when he was mad. Didn’t all teenagers? My daughter was beautiful, happy and we had a close relationship. Should it concern me that she was embarrassed to bring her friends to our house because she never knew if her brother would be smoking pot or drunk at home? I mean, this is just living with teenagers, right? I couldn’t believe that my son actually had an addiction problem. I was an involved parent. I was the room mom, the team mom, volunteered in classrooms, went to all the games, events, back to school nights, I was THERE. Isn’t that how you keep your kids off drugs and alcohol? I did everything right. What happened?
By the grace of God, my husband encouraged me to get out of bed and to an Al-Anon meeting. I started to listen to other people who had shared experiences. Others who also mourned the loss of a “perfect” life and who, like me, were left wondering “what happened”.
By the time my son came to New Life House, the willing participation in his own recovery was gone. He was now bitter and angry that we wouldn’t let him come home. By that time, I had enough time in Al-Anon to see that I couldn’t “fix” this. He did actually have a problem. While I still had my own codependent issues, I could finally see that my “helpful” behavior like cleaning up his messes, giving him money, making excuses for him and turning a blind eye to his antics were only hurting him in the long run. I finally had the strength to do what needed to be done. We told him that it was his choice: New Life or figure it out on his own.
We sat through many family barbecues, getting one word answers from him, trying to engage in conversations, barely able to stand the visit. I would look longingly at the other families, wondering how they were able to smile and laugh with their son. “How did they do it?” I’d wonder. How did their son seem so happy here? My son was clearly angry, unhappy and unwilling.
We visited our son on our 23rd anniversary last July and I left in tears when he told us that he was only faking it in New Life, that he didn’t see any potential of any good coming out of the program. We met with the managers that day, telling them that we were unwilling to visit our son anymore. It was just too painful to see him so angry and unhappy. I clearly remember the manager telling my son, “Keep working it, one day the miracle will happen.” I also clearly remember thinking “ya, right. You don’t know MY son.”
We kept visiting him. Slowly things started changing. A little of our son came back. He started to engage sometimes. I had the great honor of giving him his 1 year sobriety cake in March. It was the first time I heard him identify as an alcoholic. While it was a shock to hear the words come out of his mouth, it was also an incredible experience to hear him tell his story and to hear him thank us for NOT rescuing him and bring him home all those times that he asked. In May he gave me his amends. It was a beautiful day of spending time with him. I believe the best day we have ever spent together. No drama, no difficulty communicating, just a lovely time spent together enjoying the day.
My husband and I will celebrate our 24th anniversary next week. My son graduated from New Life last month. The miracle happened. We sat at a family BBQ 2 weeks ago and we laughed and celebrated his graduation. My son laughs. Real laughs, not fake ones, the ones from his belly. He smiles deep down, even in his eyes. He is happy. He told us that he has never been more proud of anything than he is of graduating from New Life. Not even his accomplishments on the baseball field make him as proud of this accomplishment. He told us that he understands why the program does what it does. He talks of moving out of the house and in with other graduates. He talks about going back to school. New Life promised me a Miracle last year and it delivered.