In 2009, my only son graduated high school with a 3.8 GPA and an academic scholarship to the university of his choice. By the spring of 2010, it was clear that he had “gone astray.” Our straight “A” student had suddenly lost his scholarship and was headed back home to attend community college. I tried to dismiss these actions as immaturity and experimentation — behaviors that many college-aged students display when they leave home for the first time. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but clearly something was terribly wrong. It was at that time that I pressed my son for an explanation and he reluctantly confided to me that he had a substance use problem.
The devastating news was crippling; and I would just begin to understand how severe it was. From that point forward, the road we traveled proved to be both difficult and one of the greatest lessons I would ever learn as a parent. I immediately sprung into action — “We can fix this!” “We must fix this!” After all, that’s what all good parents are supposed to do. It’s our job to protect our children.
You see, the thing with addiction is that everything you ever knew about parenting changes when the disease ravages the family. Suddenly, every action or non-action you take can manipulate the outcome. The grief becomes overwhelming and the panic sets in until you understand that you are powerless to change this; rather, it’s up to your loved one to make the changes necessary to overcome the addiction. As a mother you often times must learn how to resist your maternal instincts and balance love and support with non-enabling behavior.
I will always be grateful for the support I received in the early days of my son’s addiction — support from people who had walked this road before me; people in recovery from substance use disorder and the families that love them. I learned to navigate my son’s chronic illness by attending a 12-step fellowship for family members. I was a sponge. I listened and followed the suggestions given to me. I was starting to understand that my behaviors could either help or hurt the situation.
The thing about substance use disorder is that it is a family disease. The whole family becomes sick and recovery requires that the entire family become educated and healthy in their own right. I am grateful to say that this past May my son celebrated two years in recovery. His recovery (or lack thereof) was never up to me. This lesson took me a great while to understand. When the day came that I understood that it was up to me to take care of the things I could change, (e.g. myself and my own behaviors in response to what was happening to my family), that is when things began to change.
Having an adult son in recovery means that he must take care of himself and his own recovery above all else, even if it means that in the interest of his well-being, he must reside in another state. The journey of having an adult son with a substance use disorder has taught me that I must loosen my grip and release him with love and support, through his failures and triumphs. Above all, it taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.
Nicole A, Long Island, NY