After John was born we had our daughter three years later. Growing up they both played sports – his sister was more intense and dedicated while John was more laid back. Still, he always wanted to be in charge and didn’t like structure or rules. Both of our kids finished college, she in four years and John in seven years.
We started to notice some marijuana and alcohol use in his senior year, with his first DUI just after graduation, then came opioid use after hernia surgery later that year. He had several car accidents through high school and lost his license with the DUI. He also did Xanax bars and probably other things we didn’t know about.
For a while he lived with a friend who apparently was also using and who had been through drug rehab numerous times. This friend and another both died of overdose within a year of each other. John had a couple of real jobs, although he always had a hard time passing a drug test. Often he worked in lawn care with a family friend. He bummed rides until he could drive again, then when he got his license back, he lost it within a year when he was arrested for drug paraphernalia and reckless driving after hitting a tree. It was actually his third accident, but he wasn’t caught the first two times so he never had to face responsibility. Repeated efforts toward recovery weren’t particularly successful.
Eventually he stopped the opioids and heroin, but he was on Xanax and Suboxone. Then came trouble with alcohol, a bar fight and concussion, being beaten up in a parking lot late one night when drunk, and self-harm when he burned himself with a lighter causing a third-degree burn on his inner thigh.
We had friends and family who supported us, and we relied on each other for strength, prayed a lot and read material – but we never really felt empowered until we began going to PAL. The group’s volunteer parent facilitators were amazing, and our group provided us with immediate support and comfort.
With the help of PAL, we learned how to stop helping in unhealthy ways, although we weren’t always successful. I tricked him into going to the ER for the burn, but he wouldn’t get out of the car once we got there and put his fist in my windshield. On the way home he tried to jump out of the car, all the while talking to someone who wasn’t there.
PAL helped us to realize the vicious circle we were in. We needed to stop trying to manage him and instead focus on taking care of ourselves. The meeting taught us about delayed emotional growth, the disease process, setting boundaries and recognizing our role. We learned to make better decisions, quit feeling responsible, to respond rather than react to him. My husband went for a while, and I continued to attend through the COVID year. I loved the Gems and kept a copy with me to have the right response when I needed it.
So, when the day came that he called me crying and asking for help, I had the strength and the know-how to respond objectively. He had binged for a week on vodka and cocaine and felt broken. We helped him find a nearby sober living house and agreed that we would pay the first month’s rent if he would go.
His sobriety began in August of 2020. It hasn’t always been pleasant – there have been lots of angry texts and calls, threats to leave, denial and adjustment – but we all stayed strong and gave him no other options.
It has worked. He’s still living there 13 months later and says he’s trying to be an adult now. He’s caught up on his taxes, made amends for his accident and continues to work with two part-time jobs. He’s doing the 12-step program and we see him maybe once a week. I just try to let him live his life without question.
I’m happy to say my husband, daughter and I are doing much better, as well. We’re trying to forget the past – and working on moving forward with hope.
A PAL mom