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You Can Get Through It

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You Can Get Through It

My 23-year-old son first started using drugs when he was around 16. Suffering from severe depression and anxiety disorder, he attempted suicide by overdosing on anti-depressants and aspirin. Luckily, he survived that suicide attempt. But following that incident, his friends abandoned him, which put him into an even deeper depression. He turned to drugs and alcohol to help him feel “normal.”

Over the years, he has used an assortment of drugs: marijuana, prescription meds, inhalants, cocaine, heroin and probably more. My wife and I first got him into rehab when his pot smoking became a habit. Thirty days later, he came home clean. But just days after that, he admitted to us that he had tried snorting heroin. I think at that point we realized our son had a problem that was much more serious than we initially thought.

In the time that followed, I quickly learned that addiction is a family disease that affects everyone in the household. It also turns your life upside down. The sweet and innocent child I once knew became a liar, a thief and a high school dropout. But he was my son, and I still loved him. And at the same time, I hated him. I hated him for the stealing -- money from me, money from my wife, money from his little brother, the family video game console and a video camera, all traded for drugs. And I hated him for the disruption he had brought to our home. The constant angry battles we had, which sometimes got physical, were horrible. I can’t even remember how many times I called the police to come and intervene, just so no one got hurt.

Life in our home was beyond a nightmare and I kept wondering how this had happened to us. Having an addict in the family wasn’t on my list of life goals. Yet here I was, caught in the middle of a living hell. Like most parents new to a child’s addiction problem, my wife and I tried to control our son in hopes that we could “fix” him. We would limit where he could go, lock up valuables and medications in a nice new safe and regularly drug test him. For quite a while, he passed those drug tests and everything was fine and dandy. Or so we thought.

One day, after passing his drug test, my son came to me crying and said, “Dad, I need help. I need to go to rehab.” I was puzzled and asked him, “Why do you need to go to rehab? Your drug test was clean.” It was at that point that he confessed to being addicted to heroin. So how was he passing all of those drug tests? He had a 20-ounce Mountain Dew bottle full of clean urine stashed in his closet. Every time we tested him, he used the clean urine. Boy, did I feel stupid. This parent-of-an-addict thing was definitely a learn-as-you-go experience.

We drove our son to rehab that day and I’ll never forget that experience. It was like watching a movie. My son was in the backseat of our minivan, lying down, shaking, shivering and crying. I was heartbroken. Of course, the whole rehab process was another nightmare. Rehab is not cheap, and even though I have decent health insurance, it still cost us a small fortune. Dealing with all the insurance company red tape was a challenge too. One of the biggest obstacles in getting treatment for a loved one suffering from addiction is the crap you have to go through with insurance, if you’re even lucky enough to have insurance. Our country needs to wake up and realize that addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. Getting help for it shouldn’t involve jumping through hoop after hoop after hoop.

My son only did two weeks in rehab before the insurance company said they wouldn’t cover any more time. Two weeks in rehab for a kid addicted to heroin? I knew that wasn’t enough time but I couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket. So my son came home. To no one’s surprise, it wasn’t long before he relapsed.

That was a little over three years ago. After that relapse, there were short periods of clean time, lots of therapy sessions, more relapses, boundaries that my wife and I set but didn’t keep and more mayhem. A little over a year ago, we discovered our son was using cocaine, and that was the final straw. My wife and I decided that we could no longer let our son’s addiction ruin our lives and the life of our younger son. We gave our son an ultimatum, just like we had given him ultimatums many times before. Except this time we were 100 percent serious and would NOT back down. We told him he could go back to rehab or leave the house.

I’m sure my son thought this time was like all the other times, and that my wife and I would cave. So he declined to go to rehab. He refused to leave the house, too, until we told him if he didn’t we would call the police to assist us in getting him to do so. He finally did leave, and stayed with a friend for a couple of days before trying to convince us to let him come home. We dug in our heels and told him no. At that point, he agreed to go to rehab.

This time we sent him to a rehab facility in Palm Springs, California, which is a long way from our home in Michigan. But this rehab stint (38 days, followed by a couple of months in a sober living house) seemed to be very good for our son. He did relapse while in California, though, and got kicked out of the sober living house. He asked to come home, but we told him if he came home to Michigan, he would have to move into a sober living house here. So he did.

A few sober living houses later, I feel like my son is finally in a good place. He’s been living in a sober living house not far from our home since early July of 2012. As I write this, he is two days away from being seven months clean, which is the longest stretch of clean time he’s had since he first started using drugs. He recently got his first real job and has a new girlfriend who makes him happy. He also seems to be maturing as a person. It’s great to see the emergence of the intelligent young man I knew was inside that body all along. I am hopeful he will continue on this path of recovery but I’m well aware that there could very well be bumps along that road. Nonetheless, I am incredibly proud of my son’s progress. He’s been through so much over the last several years and has not given up. I truly admire him for that. My wife and I have never given up on our son, either. We have detached ourselves from his problem so that we could move on with OUR lives and OUR recovery. But we will always be there for him with love and emotional support.

The most important thing I’ve learned through my son’s struggle with addiction is what they teach in Al-Anon and Nar-Anon: ”I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it.” When you’re first faced with the addiction of a loved one, you tend to think exactly the opposite. It took years for me to finally figure out that the “Three C’s” are absolutely correct. And when I figured that out, a tremendous weight was lifted from me.

The other words that helped me start living my own life, without it being totally controlled by my son’s behavior, come from the best book I’ve ever read: David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction. In that book is the following paragraph, which I find to be so profound:

“Like many in my straits, I became addicted to my son’s addiction. When it preoccupied me, even at the expense of my responsibilities to my wife and other children, I justified it. I thought, How can a parent not be consumed by his child’s life-or-death struggle? But I learned that my preoccupation with Nic didn’t help him and may have harmed him. Or maybe it was irrelevant to him. However, it surely harmed the rest of my family -- and me. Along with this, I learned another lesson, a soul-shaking one: our children live or die with or without us. No matter what we do, no matter how we agonize or obsess, we cannot choose for our children whether they live or die. It is a devastating realization, but also liberating. I finally chose life for myself. I chose the perilous but essential path that allows me to accept that Nic will decide for himself how, and whether, he will live his life.”

Again, it took me years to accept this. But I finally have. My son will live or die with or without me. When all is said and done, it’s his choice. Not mine. Like David Sheff said, it’s a devastating realization, but also liberating. And accepting it means that I have been able to move on to my recovery. Which is just as important, if not more important, than my son’s recovery. I also have a wife and younger son who deserve my attention, which they weren’t getting when I was consumed by my son’s addiction.

If you have just recently learned of a loved one’s addiction, please realize a couple of things. First of all, your life and your recovery are not to be ignored. It’s very easy to forget that, but please don’t. Seek out Al-Anon and/or Nar-Anon meetings in your area or online support groups. There’s no doubt that the support of others in similar situations is an invaluable resource.

Also, know that you are not alone. Anyone can be afflicted with this awful disease. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Yes, you will experience emotions like you never have before. And you will more than likely embark on the biggest roller coaster ride of your life. But you will get through it. Trust me. You will get through it. You will learn from experience and from others" experiences. You will cry. You will mourn. You will wonder why the hell this is happening to you. You will love. And you will probably hate. You will experience a loss of trust. But you can get through it. One day at a time. Just like the addict.

You. Can. Get. Through. It.


This Story of Hope was created in celebration of recovery and to let families know that there are pathways to hope and healing. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families who are struggling with their son or daughter's substance use. Please consider sharing this page so that families know where to turn to for help, and that there is always hope.

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Comments

1. Trish
I am so sorry..I am in very similar situation and am totally lost with grief!
2. Trish
Oh boy..very similar stories, although my beautiful heroin addicted daughter is facing felony changes. From 17 years old she found a drug addict boyfriend. Changed our lives from happy to a nightmare for 6 years. She was in a plea bargain with the state for drug trafficking and selling drugs to stay clean and go to counseling and drug screening but couldn't handle that and has now blown that chance. I have spent thousands on her hoping but it's gone now again. She has blown probation and is on the run from the police. I am heartbroken. How can she do this to me? I am the one person who stood by her! Well, I am done now until she can prove she is honest. In the meantime when they catch her (there is a warrant out for her) we will have to trust a God!
3. Lorena
This is truly amazing!! I am so happy for you Bill and Audrey. I think that it's great that yall are able to turn this tragedy, into something positive that the struggling alcoholics and addicts to come are able to use and benefit from. It's an inspiration to me, and I am sure many others. If there is every anything I could help with, please just pick up the phone.
4. Mahesh
Basically, drug treatments vary depending on the severity of a patient's addiction to drugs. There are some programs that are designed to treat the physical wounds that drugs caused a person and there are those that target the psychological part of the patient. I've provided you with some links regarding drug treatment programs. But you can do more research by visiting some drug rehabs in your area.
5. Cherrie
Your story is heartwarming. I know how difficult this is for you & your family. My husband & I finally chose to go the "tough love" routine with our 35 year old son...basically the same history a your son. On Nov. 1st our son died of "Drug Intoxiction". With this said, I hope more parents read our stories and get help for their kids. Just because our story did not end well, does not mean we did it wrong. We had no choice @ his age if there was any chance of him having a normal life. We miss him every day & go thru the What Ifs & Why Didn't We....Jim is at Peace now probably for the first time since he was about 18 years old. Ten days after he passed, my Mother joined him in heaven. Mom never knew he had gone since her health was bad so, we get a little chuckle out of thinking what she said to him when they met....Good luck to you & your family & stay strong!
6. Dean
Thanks for all the kind comments. Don't ever be ashamed if your child is an addict. You are not alone.
7. Linda
thank you for your story and your insight, hope your son is doing well. My Daughter is also 23 she is home now, just got out of prison in December, she is doing okay, going to her meetings, but is smoking pot. I do take advantage of our insurance, but wish I could have sent her away from this state, I think it would still be better. I worry and pray every day it consumes my life and I am her only parent as my husband is not her Dad and has an addict of his own. it does help to read other stories, thanks again.
8. Joanne
Thank you so much for sharing your story . It is the story of so many devastated families. Heart felt happiness for your son's 7 month's free. What you said about him maturing as a person really stood out. The use of drugs prevent our young people from doing this and when they beat the monster back their brains heal, it is a precious miracle to witness. God bless.
9. Nick
Thanks for sharing your story. I put my father thru the same ordeal, my heart goes out to you. Like my father you sound like a great dad who is very caring. I am glad you found Al-Anon they really seem to help people! And don't feel to dumb for being tricked by the swapping of clean urine for dirty. I tricked my dad with that one also LOL. Good luck to you and your family!
10. Lisa
Tough love is often the best medicine and one that parents don't get support for very often. Great job and good for you taking care of yourself by letting go. As a recovering alcoholic/addict and parent of a teenager in recovery I know both sides can be difficult. Kudos to you!
11. Mary
I am so grateful for our story and pray every day for the strength to let go and move on with my life. My story is very similar to yours and has been going on for almost 9 years. I am so glad that your son is clean and sober just for today and that you have finally learned to separate yourself from his addiction. Keep strong!
12. Paula
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can relate to so much of your story.
13. Kim
God Bless you and your family. I admire your attitude, I know how heart wrenching it all is. My story as a mom with a 20 year old son who is in recovery is very similar to yours. It's comforting, if anything, to know that a lot of loving, normal families are going through the same pain. May the Good Lord watch over each and every one of us and give us all strength and courage.
14. Becky
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know you are proud of your son and your story sharing will help so many others!
15. Jane
I love the last paragraph of this story- really strikes a cord. Thank you so much for sharing!