Take back your life – S’s story

Last week I attended my son’s 5 year cake at an AA meeting, something I thought I’d never see years ago but never lost hope about it happening. What an amazing group of folks who have become S’s cheerleaders. My five visits to these AA meetings have spurred me to reflect on S’s journey and our journey through addiction.

Although our journey runs parallel to S’s and in the end we arrived at a similar place, the time frame varies. Early on we were counselled to look after ourselves through the teachings of Parents Together, a peer-led support group following the book “How to Deal with your Acting Out Teen” by the Bayards. This lesson was one of so very many that we learned through this wonderful group. My husband and I took it to heart and worked hard to maintain a great relationship with each other through the tough times.

Tough times…. that brought out tough emotions in me. It was vitally important to my husband and me to keep our family together in our home during S’s early years of using even when his using caused no end of grief. He quit school, became involved in criminal activity, used threats to try to get what he wanted, stole from us, disregarded the needs of anyone else and became a hostage to drugs. We held on by our fingertips for four years until it became apparent that what we were doing was not helping S or ourselves. I was angry, tired, sad and so sick of feeling this way. This was not the way I wanted my life to be. After giving S a week’s notice, we asked him to leave. What a miserable day, probably the worst day of my life but I knew it had to happen. Something had to change.

What ensued was six more years that saw S bounce from shelter to shelter with several attempts at treatment/rehab, one lasting five months, an occasional stint in jail and hospital, becoming terribly undernourished, homeless. But something began to change for me after a time, without the daily barrage of ugly behaviours, I began to realize that I needed to recover from S’s addiction, that his illness had affected my thinking, behaviour and feelings and had indeed affected my sense of well-being as well as my relationships with others. Around this time we started attending Parents Forever led by the formidable Frances Kenny. What an amazing woman! We learned valuable lessons, coping strategies, and gained strength from the folks at the group. We rarely missed a meeting in seven years. Little by little we climbed out of the pit.

Recovery for me was a lengthy process and not tied to S’s addiction or happiness. I managed to disengage from the chaos that is addiction and put energy into loving and accepting my son as he was. Photos of S as a child that put a smile on my face went up on the fridge, loving letters to him were written in my journal, never sent but the hopeful messages helped me turn my self-talk into positive messages rather than negative ones. My husband, who was and is my rock, and I would meet S for a meal weekly and this helped us remain in contact. Some of these meetings were tough but I learned to feel gratitude for the fact that S was still with us.

A number of years ago, during another cake celebration and after reading the AA steps posted on the wall, I began to think that, as a parent, I had probably gone through some steps too in my recovery. These are some of the ideas that came to mind then:

Admit that you are powerless to change someone else
Admit that you did not cause the illness
Admit that whatever you might have done to contribute to the situation, it was done unintentionally; let go of the guilt
Accept where your loved one is – his situation, his struggles, his addiction/illness – and love him as he is
Continue to hope that he has the strength and courage to seek help
Take one day at a time and refuse to let your loved one’s illness take over your life any more
Make gratitude a part of everyday
Live your life as you would want to be remembered

In conclusion I would encourage anyone struggling with the effects of a loved one’s addiction to seek out a support group. Folks in similar circumstances provide a safe place to be, to feel, to speak. You are definitely not alone.