How do you recognize addiction? I think many of us have a preconceived notion of what an addict looks like. But for those of us who have walked this path with a loved one, we may have found that the face of addiction can be hard to recognize. The overwhelming power of denial blinds us to the treacherous road that our loved one is headed down, and we miss the posted signs at every turn. But whatever the process of addiction looks like, the final destination is the same for all who venture down this avenue; a life spent in stagnation, always on the threshold of ruin; potential for great things never realized; true happiness and pride never attained. And it can get worse from there, with the possibility of financial ruin, poor health, relationships irrevocably destroyed, jail time, and even death.
For us, the journey began when our son was 20 years old. A tragic accident catapulted us into uncharted territory. Our worlds changed forever, with a precious life lost, two families devastated, and our son at the center of it all. Words cannot describe the depths of despair, sadness, and anxiety that ensued, and that we still battle with to this day. What might have started out in the teen years as experimentation eventually morphed into an ugly, all consuming drug dependency on pain pills and anti-depressants. Our son hardly stood a chance of getting through these formative years unscathed with the burden he now carried.
His drug addiction was initially unknown to us. We saw him suffering and tried to rescue him from his demons, as parents do. After his accident, wanting to escape the sad reminders of his surroundings, we all agreed on his moving up north to go to college. Aside from counseling, we didn’t know what else to do. But, the report cards mysteriously never came, the degree never materialized. Neither did the part time job, or the phone calls home. He was near impossible to get ahold of and we lived in a constant state of worry and desperation. His drinking and drug use wouldn’t have stood out in a college town with a university that was touted as one of the number one party schools. Much later we came to realize that our son had retreated into his own self-imposed isolation, the drug use an attempt to fit in, and to numb his depression. At some point, we knew that he was under a doctor’s care and receiving prescription drugs. We didn’t know that his use would spiral out of control, and that the very thing that was supposed to help him would eventually make his life exponentially worse through his abuse of them.
When phone calls did come, we flattered ourselves that our son missed us, or wanted to finally confide in us. But the calls always turned into tales of woe; always ending in requests for money. All the money we sent for tuition and living expenses was never enough. Where was all this money going? Two intelligent parents should have seen the red flags of addiction, but we didn’t. Our son became a master manipulator, honing his skills to protect the secret of his destructive habit, and to maintain his means of securing money to pay for his drugs.
As the years passed with our son away “at school” the lies blew up and our bank accounts sagged low. And still, our denial prevailed. He was just a troubled guy we reasoned (no comfort in that!). When we did speak with him, or see one another, he always sounded sober, we justified. Even word of semi-frequent trips to the ER and unexplained seizures didn’t convince us that there was a drug problem. He had a seemingly believable explanation for everything! He was very persuasive. The miles between us prevented us from seeing the truth up close and personal, and denial won out. After all, we had asked him if he was abusing drugs, and he said no! He was even insulted that we had asked! Though everything about his existence screamed otherwise, we were sure that drugs weren’t the problem, only depression (only!). Our own sadness and anxiety had clouded our ability to see things clearly.
It took a move by our son back to our hometown about two years ago when he was going on 26, for us to finally assess situation head on. Our now fully adult son was painfully not on track. He looked and seemed sober, not like an addict, though his behavior was peculiar at best. For part of this time, he even lived under our own roof. We could see that he rarely drank alcohol. Surely, he was NOT under the influence! After all, he had landed a couple of really good jobs (but couldn’t keep them). Yet, when he had a paycheck, he still never had enough money! His explanations of things never made sense, and money kept going missing, here, there, and everywhere. When a particularly large sum went unaccounted for, it was time again for a therapist to intervene—another expense for Mums and Pops. To us, his life was spiraling out of control, but to him it may have been “business as usual” so sad was his state of affairs. Our denial began losing its firm grip on us.
The final straw was when our son lost his last job and had a fender bender, all in the same week. That’s when the denial and excuses collided with the reality of a devastating addiction. At wits end, we knew it was time for a final confrontation. Unbelievably, we still questioned ourselves! Maybe it was because outer appearances suggested that he was “kind of” a normal guy, but his life was a wreck—a FAIL! With drug test kit in hand; we demanded answers. We reasoned with our son that either he was mentally ill and needed help, or that he was incredibly cruel; both a liar and a thief, or that he must have a drug problem. He dropped his head in his hands and wept as he revealed his all-consuming, years long secret–that he had become hopelessly addicted to prescription drugs. Ever thought you’d be glad to hear that your son was a drug addict? Out of the three possibilities, we felt this might be the most fixable problem. Little did we know how difficult this journey was to be, and how great the possibilities were, and are, for relapse.
Our worlds changed again when our paths converged with New Life House in July of 2017. Maybe it was always going to take all these years of denial and secrecy; the eons of heartache; the many painful trials and tribulations to arrive at this place in time. Our son urgently wanted to change his life but was trapped in the powerful clutches of addiction. In the past he had been too proud to ask for, or to accept help. He lived his own form of warped denial–that he could manage his addiction. He hadn’t hit HIS rock bottom yet. Finally, he was exhausted from all the lying and hustling, hating the very skin he was living in.
In our desperation to make things happen quickly, we almost signed our son up for a 30-day residential treatment program, with outpatient aftercare. THAT WOULD NEVER HAVE WORKED FOR OUR SON. PERIOD!! He needed long-term support to become sober in order to reinvent his life. Detoxing, with all its painful withdrawal symptoms, turned out to be the quick and easy part. It was the many months of aftercare in a structured living house that has made a lifetime of sobriety a possibility! The community found at New Life House–the camaraderie and brotherhood, and yes, even all the rules to follow from morning until night—that’s what changes the men in remarkable ways. Under the guidance of the dedicated staff members, who have been there, done that, with the support of fellow housemates, a sense of acceptance and responsibility finally comes into play. Learning to rely on a higher power, working the program and teaming up with a sponsor—all these things work miracles in the lives of the participants who WANT to make a change.
Fourteen months after entering New Life House, ours is a changed world! Our son is now 28 and poised to move out as of this very writing, into an apartment with two other graduates. The key to their success will be in maintaining an active role in the sober living community, making it a lifestyle choice, and giving back to others. Our son’s hard work, willingness to change, and self-introspection have paid off. It’s been a long road, but the future looks more promising than we could ever have hoped for! It has been an awe-inspiring, life-changing experience—for us, and our son. Not only is he sober, but also he is genuinely happy! He has learned the gift of gratitude, humility, and integrity, and exudes a new confidence, the likes of which we have not seen from him. He has become aware of his shortcomings; working to improve upon them while keeping his character flaws in check. Now, he is refreshingly honest, and acts like a gentleman. He has a great job, and the most wonderful friends within the sober living community. His has been an amazing transformation, the kind that we hope all families living with the disparities of addiction can one day experience. It’s feels so good to be at peace at long last, and to finally be able to take pride in our son! THANK YOU NEW LIFE HOUSE!