May 27, 2020

A Family’s Roller Coaster Ride Begins to Slow

by Midwest Mama

Founder of Our Young Addicts


My family boarded the addiction rollarcoaster unwillingly in 2008, my middle kid’s junior year of high school. Without warning, we entered the maze of mental health and substance use navigating twists and turns like none we had ever experienced, learning a whole new lexicon and connecting with people and professionals we never anticipated.

Fast forward to 2015, things are right side up again, albeit still regaining our balance after the scariest ever ride of a lifetime. Let me fill in the gaps:

My husband and I had become increasingly concerned about our son’s well-being. Until this point, he’d been a top-notch student, lettered in tennis and was serving as team captain. He had lots of friends, good ones. His got 34 on his ACTs. Colleges were already recruiting him. No problem, right?

In spite of these positive indicators, his zest for life had diminished. His attitude was unrecognizable. His behavior was pushing it. Not sure if he was having emotional struggles or something altogether different, we sought medical attention, and we wondered about potential mental health and substance use. All this was to no avail, until it was almost too late and spiraling out of control.

Surviving the first of many corkscrew turns and knowing the track included many more, I immersed myself in understanding his struggle – and ours, too. Answers remained elusive, helpful resources were few and far between, and the path forward was murky at best. Struggles filled the days, months and years that followed.

As our son hit bottom after bottom, bobbing up to catch his breath only to dip under again, our family embraced a balance of offering him support while tending to our individual needs – finding a self-directed, highly individualized recovery of our own. His addiction consumed us, but at the same time, we knew we had our own lives to live, and live them we must.

My recovery path entailed getting as smart as I could about addiction, treatment and recovery. I read extensively, saw a therapist with valuable personal and professional experience with addiction, attended Al-anon, connected with other parents online, and subscribed to a number of news feeds including updates from organizations such as Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Writing My Way Right-side Up

One day, a news release published by Renew reported the incidence of youth drug abuse and its devastating consequences including the neuro-science impact on developing brains. It was one of the first times that I had hard data to substantiate what I knew in my heart to be true. The report validated what I was witnessing in our son, who at the time was one year out of high school, addicted to drugs, had run away from treatment, and was homeless, jobless and penniless.

In a matter of minutes, I whipped off an email to the Renew editor and another to the features editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press proclaiming that the missing perspective from this report was, in fact, the parents’. Both publications responded immediately asking if I would write about my experience as the parent of a young addict.

Thus began a flurry of writing – columns, articles, blog posts, tweets and more. All of the hand-written notes I’d been keeping took on a purpose as I reconstructed the path to date and chronicled our real-time experience, all under the pen name of Midwestern Mama. It was important to me to share the unabated truth while protecting my son’s identity. To me, this was a modern-day twist on AA – appropriately anonymous.

On this roller coaster together

Some of the hardest aspects of my son’s addiction included his homelessness, lying and stealing not to mention his loss of potential to pursue his academic and athletic potential in college. Another difficult impact from his addiction was helping our older daughter and younger son grapple with what was going on (and sharing it in age-appropriate manners). And, as a parent it was particularly difficult to watch the relationship with our son deteriorate – most especially with his father – they had been the quintessential father-son duo that unraveled to shredded, fragile fibers.

Through it all, we continued to reach out to our son and include him in family activities. Most of the time, he showed up and participated. I believe it allowed him to keep a vision of the family foundation in mind, knowing that we loved him and that he would always be a part of us, addiction or not.

Choosing a new ride

According to the experts, the addiction and recovery specialists with all the letters after their names, we did “all the right things,” from the get go and throughout the process. We were executing textbook-perfect responses and proactive strategies, but none of these really worked.

Then one day, in July 2014, after nearly six years of addiction-related mayhem and many unsuccessful attempts to encourage treatment and recovery, my son was ready. The waiting was over. Not temporarily either. For real.

He entered yet another program and as of this writing is now one year plus into recovery. I asked him recently what made this time successful. He said it was the first time he actually wanted to stop using and had no interest whatsoever in returning to a user’s life.

Spot-On Insight

One of his former tennis coaches, who has family experience with addiction, once said that our son’s stubbornness would serve him well once he made up his mind to stop. He aced that insight. This trait that made our son’s addiction so frustrating to us is seemingly the trait that is now saving him. He has made up his mind.

Make no bones about it, my son’s recovery is on his own terms; I never would have doubted that would be the case. He’s not a 12 stepper and he’s not keen on meetings of any kind, but that makes him no less committed to sobriety and recovery. Through his own due diligence and personal experience, he’s found his right combination of dual diagnosis, co-occurring treatment, and he has the gumption to stick with it.

Equally key to his recovery is our family dog who listens without hesitation yet challenges and rewards him unconditionally This relationship brought back our son’s tender, loving and caring heart in a way I only hoped was possible. Seeing them together has made puppyhood and a young man’s detour through addiction and relapse one of the most affirming reasons ever to believe in the possibility of recovery.

Progress Not Perfection

During the first 12 months of his recovery, our son has made remarkable strides. He moved back in with our family, returned to college part time (earning a B in Differential Equations & Linear Algebra and an A in English Composition), has held a part-time job, paid off substantial debt incurred during his addiction not limited to fines and tickets as well as scams. He has also regained privileges such as driving a family car and having a house key. He is rebuilding trust in the family and is slowly reconnecting with friends who support his sobriety. More importantly, he is carefully and thoughtfully transitioning toward self-sufficiency.

How far we have come from that first article in Renew Magazine. How far our son has come from getting high all day every day, from homelessness, from stubborn denial.



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