My Son Has a Drug Problem

I can still see my mother’s face when I came clean with the truth about my penchant for long-sleeved shirts in the summer. My family knew something was awry. They watched before as addiction took me tumbling down an abyss. The illness progressed rapidly in my mid-20s, and now, coming up on 30 years old, it had me down for the count.

For months I desperately wanted to tell the truth. I’d think about blurting it out at our traditional Sunday dinner. Just get it out already. The more you think about it, the worse it gets. And it got bad.

Heroin brought me to my knees. My methods to get off the junk only made things worse. I knew I didn’t have long before Johnny Law or an overdose put me out of life for good. On Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012, I looked my mom in the eye and told her something I knew would break her heart.

That’s probably what kept me from coming clean earlier. I knew the devastation it would cause, the heartache she’d endure. Again.

But I had no more options. It was get help now, or fall to the lash of heroin and opiates. I watched people close to me sink in the sands of substance abuse. That day I decided that wouldn’t be me. I was going to kick the habit.

The Drugs Go Away, But the Pain Begins

A hellish opiate detox allowed me to discover why it’s called “kicking the habit.” My legs ached with pangs of growing pains I’d felt as a child. My body shivered. My mind dove into darkness. The lady in the needle wouldn’t go without a fight.

Perseverance is a powerful ally when your body cries out for a drug your soul no longer desires. I endured in spite of an incredible biological urge to roll the dice one more time with the needle. Yet I couldn’t shake an overwhelming guilt from the knowledge that my mom had a son with a drug problem, and I was that son.

Shame shatters even the strongest glimmer of hope. How could a guy like me, who loved his mom so much, do the things I did? She exemplified self-sacrifice. She gave up her career to raise the family. She devoted everything to us. What did she receive for a life of service? The devastating news that her son had a drug problem, and all the misery that goes with it. The lies. The arrests. The broken hearts. The lost dreams.

I’d like to tell you I wasn’t the son who stole from his mother’s purse. I’d like to tell you I was the son that showed up for the family. And I’d really like to tell you I didn’t bring emotional turbulence into our family like a temperamental tornado. Truth is, I did.

I knew writing this article wouldn’t be easy. It resurfaces memories I’d rather forget, but recovery taught me that a grim past can help others in similar situations. In a letter to my mom, I asked her a few questions and received this response:

A Letter from My Mom

I've been thinking back to that day when you showed up looking disheveled, smelly and desperate. And if I had to pick one word to describe how I felt it would be just that...desperate.  And shocked and confused and resentful and sorrowful and defeated and furious - that you were doing this to yourself when I felt that I'd tried, along with Dad, to put you on a good path in life. I also remember questioning myself, whether or not I should just say to you, "you've dug this hole and you need to find a way out, I'm done.”

For a mother, especially, it's extreme emotional turmoil - you love your 'child', and it's killing you to see what he is doing to himself, and you are ready grab at anything to 'make it better'. On the other hand, you wonder if it wouldn't help your 'child' more to 'let the chips fall where they may', the tough love thing. I know you had absolutely nowhere to go but to us.

The most positive thing I can remember feeling is 'at least he came clean on what he's been doing. I respect honesty, and we hadn't had much of that with you for a long time.  Plus the relief and joy that I felt when I remembered Parthenon Pavilion (the hospital where I underwent opiate detox), and they said "bring him down.” It was as if I jumped on the train just as it was moving down the track.

What has helped me through the process? That parent meeting at Al-Anon has helped me, hearing other parents talk about their son/daughter. It helps to realize you're not alone, that we Moms and Dads, first and foremost, need to take care of ourselves and try to live our own life. Still, it can be an effort.

These gatherings help you gain insight, hearing what other parents have been through with their son/daughter. Most of all, what's helped me is when I see you looking clean, with clean clothes -- your hygiene when in that hole was a huge signal; seeing you flourishing at Discovery Place, sticking it out and trying to get better, every day, even though it is an arduous journey. I respect the daily effort you're making to get through one more day, to handle your house and your finances - we are very proud of you - to be healthy and find a little happiness. But I know that I can do nothing but offer you my support, and my many, many prayers.

I would tell any mother that this struggle is heart-breaking, frustrating, depressing... it's an effort to just go about your daily business, your responsibilities to your other children, your spouse, your friends, to be honest. But you have to give let go of the control that, of course, you don't have, and pray and hope that your 'child' has the strength -- that he/she loves himself enough -- to want to get through that dark tunnel and become a better man/woman for the struggle. Most of all, you have to live your own life.

Jazzercise helped me immensely. I had a very rough time letting go of all of your problems, issues and unhappiness, but I discovered that is not a productive way to live - the madness of trying to direct and control another's actions with the conceit of thinking you can solve their problems, even if it is your child.

Hope this helps, sober and wonderful Christmas tree buying son!

What Recovery Gave My Family

Somber as the letter is, my mom states something interesting at the end. You see, addiction robbed my family of a son and replaced it with a junkie. Recovery returned a son and so much more. Now, when my mom calls me because my dad is out of town and she needs help getting a Christmas tree, I get to show up.

When our family gathers on Sunday to eat dinner together, I get to show up. Usually, I help by grilling burgers, chicken or steaks. I arrive at the house early and typically stay late.

Recovery allowed my family to see the person I can be. It gives me the strength to be present and giving, even when I want to sit at the house on Sunday and watch television. When my parents look at me now, I don’t experience the shame in their eyes and anxiety in their demeanor. I see a shimmer of serenity, brought about through spiritual recovery I learned at Discovery Place.

I sat down with our Family Director, Lisa Komisar, to ask her some questions regarding addiction and family dynamics.

Lisa Komisar on Addiction Recovery and Family Dynamics

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