My oldest child was a great kid and a model teenager. He was smart, kind, responsible, polite and hard-working. I regularly received compliments about what a fine young man he was. I was so proud of him and considered him a product of good Christian parenting and homeschooling.

After high school, he didn’t pursue a traditional college path but pursued an electrician apprenticeship and started working on his 18th birthday. When he was 19 and still living at home, I noticed some changes in his behavior. Very quickly, my healthy, loving, responsible boy disappeared and was replaced by a thin, raging, irresponsible person who scared me. I was so worried about him, but it never crossed my mind that he could be using drugs!

It wasn’t until I had to call the police and have him arrested that I learned what was wrong. I’ll never forget when the police officer, who also happened to be my son’s great uncle, looked at me and said, “You know he’s on dope.” Utter devastation was all I could feel. How could this have happened to our family? To my boy?

The next several months were a blur. My son was in and out of multiple rehab programs and jail. My youngest daughter left for college, I was planning a wedding to my now husband and I was promoted to Executive Director at the nonprofit where I worked. Some wonderful things were happening in my life, but I couldn’t enjoy any of them because it was all overshadowed by the chaos associated with my son’s addiction.

It wasn’t until I discovered the book “Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You” by Charles Rubin that I began to get my own life back. Reading that book led me to look for other parenting resources, and that’s when I discovered PAL. Armed with new information and resources, I became intentional about taking care of myself and my mental health instead of obsessing daily on how to fix my son and the problems caused by addiction.

Early one morning in the summer of 2019, I sat in my favorite porch chair for some quiet time. I had recently heard about the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to reduce anxiety and, out of desperation, I gave it a try focusing on five things I could see, four things I could hear, three things I could feel, two things I could smell, and one thing I could taste. As I was listening for things to hear, I noticed some birds singing.

Curious about what types of birds were singing, I found and downloaded an app to identify birdsong, and just like that, I had a new hobby! Identifying birds by sound became a daily activity that brought me much-needed peace and relaxation. And the best part was that it was all around me – no need to leave home or take a getaway to reap the benefits. I could look and listen for birds wherever I was!

A few months later, I received binoculars as a birthday present, followed by a bird feeder for Christmas. As my hobby and passion for birds grew, I noticed my anxiety and stress lessened. Coincidentally, I also started seeing numerous scientific articles confirming what I was experiencing firsthand – birdwatching brings happiness! And I was particularly fascinated by the research that shows that the greater diversity of wild birds in someone’s home surroundings, the happier they become.

A little over a year later, I left my job running a women’s empowerment nonprofit to start The Happy Birdwatcher Company. We use data science to create customized birdseed blends that help people attract more birds and feel happier! Happy Birdwatcher is a Registered Benefit Corporation, meaning we have a mission beyond making a profit. One way we make a difference is by donating $1 for every 10lbs of birdseed sold to nonprofit organizations that help those struggling with mental health issues or addiction. PAL is one of the recipients of our ongoing charitable donations.

My son has had a long, winding journey. Today he is clean and has been in sober living for almost a year now. I am so proud of him. He even jokes that he deserves all the credit for my happiness and career change because if not for him (specifically, the stress caused by his addiction!), I may have never discovered birds and the joy they bring. He may be right.

 Susan Vandergriff

 The Happy Birdwatcher Company, Founder/CEO

 PAL parent

Susan is passionate about helping those whose lives have been impacted by addiction discover peace and happiness through birdwatching! Check out this free downloadable resource to learn more about birdwatching and bird feeding hobbies. For nature-inspired positivity posts about birdwatching for enjoyment, follow @happybirdwatcherco on Instagram and Facebook. PAL parents can also save 20% on orders from with promo code: PAL20