“Real Stories, Real People”
excerpted from updated edition (pg. 297) of
Why Don’t They Just Quit?
Hope for families struggling with addiction.
Never give up hope.
I’ve been inspired over and over by the testimonies of those who have lived through the nightmare of addiction and managed to regain control of their lives. When you find yourself discouraged and ready to give up hope for someone you love, you may find these accounts to be the inspiration you need.
This story comes to us from a woman I recently helped coach through some very tough times. Little did I realize just how tough. I like to try to remember, “you never know just what someone might be going through . . .”
Although it was difficult for her to revisit these experiences, she did a superb job recounting the past and sharing her insights. But for the grace of God and her wise but painful decisions about how to handle Dan, she could so easily have had one more funeral to attend. ~Joe Herzanek
A Mother’s Painful Lessons Learned
It is difficult to think back on the story of my son, Daniel, and his addiction.
It is hard to experience once again the pain of that time in my life. I do so that I may remember more clearly the lessons I have learned and perhaps help someone else who may be facing this destructive disease.
Although Daniel’s father and I divorced when Dan was seven, it was in Daniel’s early middle school years when my family started on his painful path of using. Perhaps Daniel’s use started because there was more friction between his parents, or his best friend moved away in 6th grade, or that in six months time Dan went from a little boy to looking like he was eighteen years old. It really doesn’t matter how it began, the truth is Dan used because he is
My relationship with my son was very strong and loving throughout his young life, so when there started to be some tension and fighting, it seemed normal; it was important that he “break” from his strong ties with his mom to search out his identification as a young man. I still think that was a reasonable explanation initially but I held on to that explanation long after I knew in my heart it was more than that.
My son was an athlete who excelled at all team sports. He had gone through puberty early which gave him an advantage of size and coordination. He was unassuming and coachable; his teams were successful and his teammates looked up to him. For whatever reasons, he was attracted to the wrong crowd. He said kids his age were boring and since he looked older, he gravitated to older kids.
In eighth grade his behavior became erratic. He would get angry in a split second over little things and he started punching walls and breaking chairs. He got into some minor trouble at school and at the end of his eighth grade summer, he and a friend stole a car. He went through the diversion program and participated in a restorative justice program. It seemed he really understood that he needed to change his ways.
Daniel’s first year of high school had many successes in academics and sports. Socially, he still had friends his age but once again, the older crowd was becoming a big part of his life. Toward the end of his freshman year something changed and he started shutting me out of his life again. At the time I knew it was a red flag but could not convince his dad or his counselor that he was using.
Sophomore year was difficult. Dan would not speak to me, he lived full-time with his dad and was spiraling down. He was in therapy off and on with someone who was highly respected in the community and credible as an adolescent counselor. I kept insisting that I thought Daniel’s behavior was indicative of substance abuse, but no one agreed.
In February, Dan came to my house after school drunk with marks on his arms from hurting himself. He said he wanted to die. I called the police, Dan went to the ER and then was released to a psychiatric hospital. When he was to be dismissed, he said he would not do any outpatient care and his therapist recommended a wilderness program. I knew I couldn’t watch him 24-7 and I knew that is what he needed. He was there for two and a half months which gave me some hope and some sleep, but the program did not emphasize the disease of addiction. Dan had no 12-step skills, no understanding of his disease and the first weekend home he went to a party and came home totally smashed.
I don’t remember specifics of junior year. It was a fog of sleepless nights, days and nights of not knowing where he was or what he was doing or who he was with. Daniel’s dad was still in denial and refused to address the use issues. Most high school kids drink and get in trouble, right? “This is just normal high school stuff” was the response I would get from so many people. I knew it wasn’t; I knew Dan was one of those people who could not drink alcohol. I heard rumors about the people he was friends with and some of the criminal things they were doing. And I was torn about what I should do. I consulted many different therapists and was told there was nothing I could do. I called the police, I called a parole officer whose son struggled with the same issues, I talked to friends. It was the most frustrating, helpless, depressing time of my life. I would wake in the middle of the night in panic. Was my son dead somewhere? Was he lying passed out in the freezing cold? If I did something now, would I save his life? I would call his phone, not expecting him to pick up, but believing that it might wake him and keep him from dying. It was the most stressful and hopeless time of Daniel’s addiction for me. He ended up in the psychiatric hospital in February. Again, I asked the professionals if this could be a result of using and they said maybe, but they were looking at mental illness diagnoses.
In the summer after his junior year, my family experienced a tragedy. My oldest daughter’s husband was killed by an impaired driver. It was devastating to the whole family and a turning point for Dan and me. Dan, of course, stepped up his use. He started using hard drugs and dropped out of school. For me, I had to turn my attention to my daughter and granddaughter. It forced me to let go of Daniel’s use and abuse issues and give them to him to figure out. I still prayed that he would live and choose to live clean and sober but I stopped trying to make it happen. My response changed from “You have to stop doing this to yourself or you will die” to “I pray that you choose to live life clean and sober and let me know what I can do to help you.” I was consumed with grief over the loss of my son-in-law and with the need to help my daughter as a single parent. I had to prioritize my use of energy with a full-time job, my twenty-seven year old widowed daughter, my fatherless granddaughter, my fifteen year old daughter, and my using addict son. I just didn’t have the energy to continue worrying about him the same way I had been. I had to “let it go” and trust that he would figure it out.
Dan expressed survivor guilt after his brother-in-law was killed, thinking he was the one who messed up, he was the one who caused so much pain to the family and he was the one who deserved to die. He ended up in jail the summer after what should have been his graduation from high school. He had stolen a car again and was writing checks on his dad’s account. When he got out of jail he came to live with me amid promises of not using and following the terms of his probation. After a few months his use escalated to using heroin and he attended a 30 day treatment program in December. His sisters and I came to family week to support him in his recovery. We wanted to show him we cared, but we also were resentful that he was asking more of us. We hoped for the best for him this time, but we still saw signs that he didn’t take full responsibility.
Most importantly, during these family sessions I gained clarity about what my boundaries needed to be and made a commitment to hold to them. If I suspected that he was high, I would not ask him to confirm or deny it, I would ask him to leave. He could not live in my house if he was using. And I learned to trust my intuition regarding whether he was and I did not need someone else to agree with me. I had the confidence to believe that I knew my son and his behavior well enough to know when he was clean and when he was not. I also came to the realization that there was nothing I could have done to keep my son-in-law from being killed and there was nothing I could do to keep my son alive if he was determined to die.
A few weeks after he “graduated” from rehab, he started using again. I told him I loved him and he was not following the rules we established. He needed to leave. When I came home from work I began to realize that he had been coming in the house through different windows. He had done this in the past just to get in, but this time was different. This time, he was coming in to steal from me. He stole gold jewelry, tools, and musical instruments. I went to pawn shops in town and was able to track down some of the items and get the names of the young men who had pawned them for Dan. With this information, I filed a police report. Although it was difficult to do, I was certain that my son was begging me to do something drastic. He was out of control and could not stop himself. I was going to help him by keeping my boundaries.
The next time I talked with Dan I gave him a choice. He could admit himself into a detox unit and make a commitment to staying clean and sober or I was going to file charges against him for theft. He choose detox. He worked with his probation officer on some different living situations after he detoxed, but one required a year commitment and one was not an option because Dan was on probation. Joe coached me through this trying time. I had read Joe’s book and knew I needed to be clear about my boundaries and the consequences. When my son got out after 3 days of detoxing, once again, he got high. I told him to leave again. Joe had told me to tell Dan not to come back until after he was clean for 90 days. I told Dan that. Dan left the house and I broke down in tears.
The next day I called one of the counselors at the detox and told him that I kicked Dan out because he used. The counselor said good. I needed that support. I called Joe and asked if I should file charges, like I said I would. Joe reminded me that my son would not die of an overdose in jail. I needed that reminder. I needed the support of these recovery experts in order to do what I needed to do.
The next morning I went into the garage to let out the dog before I went to work. My son was sleeping there, huddled up next to the dog. It was one of the most heartbreaking sights for me. How could it have come to this? My once sweet, loving boy, now a heroin addict who is living like a dog? Again, I told him I loved him and the agreement we had was that if he used I would file charges. I told him that I would file charges after work. That afternoon I got a call from Daniel’s probation officer who said Dan had come and asked her to do something for him. He needed help. She called a Christian sober living home and Dan could come and live there, but needed to make a one year commitment. Dan agreed. I did not file charges that afternoon, but there is no doubt in my mind I would have. And I think there was no doubt in Daniel’s mind that day that I would have.
“How could it have come to this?
My once sweet, loving boy,
now a heroin addict who is living like a dog?“
The relief I felt for the next few weeks was unbelievable. I woke up in the morning after a full nigh’s sleep. I rested with the assurance that my son was in a safe and healthy place. The surrender that began when I turned my son’s addiction over to him ended with complete relief. I couldn’t talk with him the first month he was there and I was glad of that. I knew I could get hooked back in and I knew it would not be good for any of us.
I went to see him after about four weeks and he looked better than he had in the last year. My son looked like himself, talked to me with love and gentleness and wanted to stay where he was and be clean.
That was over twelve months ago and our relationship continues to rebuild. I learned well that he was not trustworthy and I’m not sure how long it will take for me to believe what he says. I have always believed in him and I still do. The lying, deceit, and stealing destroyed the foundation of our relationship. That is a reality of the using addict’s life. I imagine it will take as many years to rebuild my trust as he spent destroying my trust.
When I look back, it’s hard to say if I did the right thing or not all those years. I have come to believe that life is a process and I can only know what I know when I know it. I am grateful that Dan is where he is now and I relish each day of his sobriety. I pray that he chooses life each day and not the death that comes with using. Recovery is a marathon and he is in the first mile. I am clear that my role is to support and not enable, to have clear boundaries and to love him. Everything else is up to him.
I am grateful today not for the pain of these last few years of my life but for the lessons I have learned from dealing with that pain. Those lessons include learning to trust my intuition, learning to set and maintain clear boundaries with love and kindness, learning acceptance for what is, and trusting the judgment of people like Joe.
As of this posting, Dan remains clean and sober, working and living out-of-state with his father.
“Real Stories, Real People”
excerpted from updated edition (pg. 297) of
Why Don’t They Just Quit?
Hope for families struggling with addiction.
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Best book ever about addiction. Written by one whose done it and is recovering. Easy to read, not preachy, just honest. I recommend this book to anyone with an addict in their life! ~Lynda A
Got an addiction problem in your family? Read this book. Joe knows his stuff. This book helps you better understand those dealing with friends and family that are addicted to drugs and alcohol. I have read several of these books but this one is the best. ~RJ
I, like many people, have some knowledge of what drugs and addiction are, but are clueless on what the process of recovery entails. This book does a great job in what it would take to help a loved one, who is an addict and is willing to get clean and stay clean. It also gives one hope that your loved one will survive the nightmare they are living through with their family. ~CG
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