Up until a few years ago, my wife and I led a charmed life. We had an amazing marriage, great jobs, a beautiful home, good health and were blessed with two beautiful sons. Our oldest son, John, is 28; and our younger son, David, is 23. As they grew up, we went through typical struggles with their behaviors, but nothing out of the ordinary. Both of them were involved in their youth group at church and had great friends who seemed to be positive influences.
Then one day when John was 17 years old and in his senior year of high school, we received a phone call from the mom of one his friends that would change the course of our lives forever. She informed us that her daughter had told her John was using prescription pills and many of his friends were concerned he would accidentally overdose. By then, we both knew something was amiss with John; but we were knee deep in denial. Surely, between the two of us, we would recognize a serious drug problem, right?
After the phone call, we immediately confronted John and demanded a drug screening. The test confirmed that opiates were in his system. He denied this and continued to lie, manipulate and insist there was something wrong with the test kit and with us.
We were ill-prepared to deal with the situation. For the next several years, we were in and out of addiction doctors’ offices. We insisted he be evaluated by a psychologist. We would later learn that he had been using numerous drugs at the same time: heroin, meth, spice, bath salts and others.
Like most parents in the early days of their child’s addiction, we thought we could help John overcome his addiction. We worked tirelessly on his recovery “for” him. We became mentally and physically exhausted. Though our marriage was strong, we had no idea of the depths of despair we would find ourselves.
Through all of this, we maintained the hope that our younger son was on the right track. He had completed high school and had gone on to college. Unfortunately, due to our preoccupation with our older son, we failed to notice the obvious signs that our younger son was headed down the same path. He dropped out of college and lost his job. What we feared most became a reality – both of our sons were addicts.
All of our efforts to fix our sons had not only failed, but John’s addiction had worsened. He had become an intravenous heroin user. David informed us that he thought smoking marijuana was perfectly acceptable. We later learned that he, too, was deeply involved in meth, heroin and other drugs.
We had to remove John from our home after he destroyed it in a psychotic meltdown. In this moment of complete desperation, we finally reached out for help for us. We searched the Internet and found a support group and a counselor.
The support group was called PAL, Parents of Addicted Loved-ones. By attending their meetings, we started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We learned practical steps we could utilize to improve our helping style. We were able to accept that while we could not fix our sons, we could work on ourselves. That effort could bring healing and hope to our family and, in time, might save our sons’ lives. Our history of enabling and rescuing had not only delayed their growth, but had likely kept all of us stuck.
During the past few years our sons had trips to detox centers, emergency rooms, recovery centers, halfway houses and even jail. They lived in parks, cars and friends’ couches. They had to lose everything they owned. However, today John has 18 months of sobriety and is working full time at a recovery center in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. John and his fiancé recently had a baby girl, our first granddaughter – they are wonderful parents. Our younger son just celebrated 10 months of sobriety. They both have embraced this change in their lives and seem truly humbled by their experiences.
Today we facilitate a PAL meeting and love working with parents wherever they are in their journey. We can now confidently say that we are happy for our journey and the lessons we have learned. By working together, our marriage is stronger than ever; and our faith in God has grown as we learned to trust Him under all circumstances. There is no judgment, no condemnation – just acceptance, surrender, empathy and compassion.
PAL – a free, educational, support group facilitated by and for parents – was founded in 2006 by Mike Speakman, a licensed Arizona Substance Abuse Counselor and author of The Four Seasons of Recovery for Parents of Alcoholics and Addicts.
Recently, a committed group of parents formed PAL into a non-profit corporation in Arizona. As of this date, PAL has expanded to 18 weekly meetings in Arizona, Kentucky and Indiana. Our mission is to provide hope to parents of addicts through education and support. Our vision is to make our meetings available to all parents who have an addicted child. You can find more information about PAL at www.palgroup.org. and on Facebook at Parents of Addicted Loved Ones.