A parent discusses their son’s addiction, how it tore their family apart, and how recovery brought them back together. The names in this story have been changed or omitted to preserve the anonymity of all parties involved.
I sat there looking at my son through 2 inches of plexiglass. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit, emblazoned with the word ‘INMATE’ spelled out across the chest in black stenciled letters. This was my son, Mason. I thought about his first steps, his first words, his first day of school, his soccer games, his graduation from high school, his first day at college. All his achievements reduced to one word on an orange jumpsuit. I wondered how he got here, and I wondered if he would ever get better. Luckily, with hard work and a little bit of help from addiction recovery professionals, my son is now healthy, sober, and living the life I’d always hoped for him.
Mason was a normal kid. He liked superheroes, Star Wars, sports, ice cream, and all the things kids love. He was warm, good natured, kind, and sensitive. As he got older, I noticed that he started developing an edge to his demeanor, but I chalked it up to puberty. My wife would say “you know how boys are at that age,” and she was right. I did my fair share of sneaking around and breaking rules when I was a teenager, so we decided to give Mason enough room to make his own mistakes and learn from them. Before we knew what was happening, he was skipping classes, hanging out with kids that we’d never met, sneaking out at night, and of course, getting in trouble. Mason was 16 years old the first time the police brought him home. They said they caught him and his friends drinking at a local park, being loud, and acting like stereotypical rowdy teens. Five years later, Mason would be calling us from the county jail, asking to be bailed out because he got arrested breaking into someone’s home. The police had found heroin in his pocket.
For years I would wonder if I had been more attentive, more strict, given a little more tough love, could I have stopped his habits from turning into full-blown addiction? The answer, of course, is no. Once my wife and I realized my son was a drug addict, we decided to educate ourselves by going to Al-Anon family support meetings. It was there that we learned that addiction isn’t caused by inattentiveness or a permissive parental attitude. It isn’t caused by moral failures or defects in character. Addiction is a disease. A disease of the mind, body, and soul. And in order to treat Mason’s addiction, we had to look at it like a disease. If a member of our family had cancer, we wouldn’t hesitate to ask a doctor for help, so why should we treat his addiction any differently?
After his arrest, Mason was released on his own recognizance. He came home saying that he needed help. It seemed like he was finally ready to try recovery. He quit drugs cold turkey and started going to local 12-step meetings. Meetings were a big help in those early days of Mason’s recovery, but he needed more than just meetings to recover. A few months into recovery, Mason relapsed, disappearing for a week, only to return, going through withdrawals, or what he called being “dopesick”. After a few more stints of sobriety followed by a relapse, we decided that the next relapse would be the last straw. To preserve our family’s safety and sanity, we would have to cut him off and let him figure things out on his own, without our support. We shared this in our Al-Anon group, and after the meeting a concerned friend came up to us to talk about Mason’s problem. With urging from our friend, we decided that our last attempt to help Mason would involve help from professionals.
We hired an interventionist to lead a family intervention, just like on TV. It wasn’t what we expected. The interventionist explained to us that despite our views about Mason’s relapses, he was definitely trying his hardest to get sober. Instead of the intense group interventions we’d seen on TV, our interventionist suggested we try a softer, more empathetic approach. My wife and I sat down with Mason and the interventionist and simply talked about his addiction. We asked him questions like “how do you feel when you lie to us?” He told us that most times he felt like he wasn’t in control of his own body, and couldn’t stand the sight of himself in the mirror. It was then that we truly began to understand the nature of Mason’s addiction.
The interventionist helped us develop a plan for Mason’s recovery. He would start by going to a medically supervised detox clinic, where doctors would treat the physical symptoms of his withdrawal, while experienced addiction counselors would address his emotional and mental health. Once he was through the detox process, he would go to a 90-day inpatient facility. Luckily, we had called our health insurance provider and found out that our policy included drug and alcohol addiction treatment, so the cost wasn’t as high as we’d feared. In rehab, Mason really started to change. He got excited about recovery and the light returned to his eyes. We’d visit on weekends and he’d tell us all about some exciting new recovery “tool” he’d learned about, and how he was really feeling confident about his new sobriety.
We wanted Mason to come home after rehab, but after talking with the interventionist (who is also a certified recovery coach), he suggested that, even though our home is a safe, drug-free environment, Mason would benefit from a few months in a sober living facility. After doing some research on our own, we decided to give it a try. Mason stayed in a sober living for 6 months, surrounded by other people on the same journey, fighting the same battles as him. He learned to be responsible and accountable for his whereabouts and actions, abiding by curfews and house rules. Things we were never quite able to teach him. Turns out he just had to learn them on his own.
During his stay in sober living, Mason started going to meetings again, but he also started seeing a therapist, and going to an outpatient program, participating in groups and exercises similar to the ones he’d done in rehab. By the time Mason left the sober living, he was almost a year sober. We realized that if he had come home directly after rehab, there’s a good chance he would have soon gone back to old patterns, hanging out with old friends, and possibly using again. When he finally did come back to our home, Mason had a sponsor, a huge group of sober friends, and a great foundation of healthy recovery techniques that he’d learned in rehab, sober living, outpatient, and meetings.
A little after a Mason celebrated his first year of continuous sobriety, he mentioned to us that he was feeling a little “squirrely” and was thinking about going back to outpatient or maybe going back to the sober living. We decided to ask our interventionist/recovery coach what he thought. After much discussion, we decided that Mason would benefit from regular check-ins with a recovery coach. Through this process we learned that a recovery coach isn’t the same thing as a sponsor. Mason’s sponsor helped him stay sober from drugs and alcohol, but his recovery coach helped him build his new life. Mason’s recovery coach was supportive and encouraging, and really pushed Mason to go above and beyond the “average” recovery benchmarks. At the recovery coach’s urging, Mason started exercising, volunteering at a local shelter, and taking classes at the local community college. He met a girl and seemed to treat her well. He fell in love. He got a job. He started talking about his future, something we hadn’t heard him talk about for a very long time.
After celebrating his second year of sobriety, Mason moved out of our house and got his own apartment. Finally, we feel like our son is back on track. We can see that he’s doing well. Of course he has his ups and downs, but who doesn’t? Life doesn’t get easy just because you get sober, but does get easier. We’re so proud of our son and the progress he’s made in his recovery. We’re grateful for the professionals and the meetings and the people who helped him along the way. But most of all, we’re grateful for having our son back.
-- Submitted Anonymously, 2018