We are a family of five, one girl and two boys. We recently welcomed two grandchildren. All three of our children did a good job toeing the line through high school and we enjoyed most of their teenage years. Looking back, I could not have known what would come to pass for the life of our youngest child.
As a child, Joe had a wonderful disposition. He was happy most days and never had much to complain about. His interests were many and varied. His interest in birds started at the age of four and continued into his high school years. At the age of 7 he rescued some wild starlings and taught them to fly. After he released them, he would whistle them home and we would watch him coming home from the neighborhood pool with “Eclipse,” the starling, on his shoulder.
Joe’s interest in the piano was fueled by an ear for music which might have influenced his interest in languages as he speaks French and Spanish fluently. Through high school, he was a wonderful student and captain of the swim team. He played the baritone sax and made us laugh until we cried with his great sense of humor. He graduated high school with honors. Then came college and during his 2nd year, he revealed to us that he had struggled with SSA (same-sex attraction), struggled academically, seemed scattered on the phone during our check-ins, needed more money frequently, changed dorm rooms several times, and wasn’t showing up to meet friends. As he was away, we were unaware that he had an addiction to drugs (Adderall, Klonipin, Xanax) which he was getting from a friend.
Over the next three years, we sought counseling, tried transferring him, and had him live at home while going to a school near our house. NONE of this worked. The drug problem just got worse and worse. After countless sleepless nights, lots of anxiety, enforcing house rules and keeping watch of his comings and goings, we were exhausted. On top of that, there was less to show for our heartfelt efforts and our family, so precious to our hearts, was tattered, worn, and falling apart.
Even though the older two children were also away at school, they felt the effects. Their loyalty to our family had been betrayed and they were hurt, and they experienced the fall-out from the effects of their brother’s lies. Consequently, most all our neighbors, many of whom had been involved in our family’s life for years, walked away from us.
Joe continued showing signs of sketchy behavior, missed classes, missed work, slept all the time, and was defiant and belligerent. One night he came in the back door, soaking wet, inaudible and, as he climbed to the top of the stairs, he fell to the bottom, crashing his head against the furniture.
That was the final blow for us. Watching someone you love implode right in front of you and knowing they could possibly cause harm or death to another human was intolerable. We had him pack his bag that night and we drove him to treatment the next morning where he stayed for 45 days.
I heard that a friend had been involved in a support group, so I reached out to her and told her a little bit about Joe. She told me about PAL, and it became a strong source for us to hear from other parents that we were not alone. Hearing from them about what worked and what did not was the key to helping our son. The testimonies of the families at the meetings were raw and honest, heartbreaking and encouraging. It has also been a huge source of information for treatment options and counseling.
It’s hard to find your way on a road where nothing is familiar, and it feels that all is dire. PAL has helped us to reframe our conversations, let go and let God. I am beyond thankful for our PAL facilitators who have put so much time into helping parents of addicted loved ones.
Today, Joe is 25, is in sober living, has a full-time job and is 5 months sober. He goes to his AA meetings, shows up for work, is in service to others and is in communication with us on a regular basis. Through a contact via PAL, we have a family counselor who is helping our family to heal and forgive so we can move forward to hopefully be a whole family again.
A PAL mom
*Names have been changed to protect identities