In June 2018, my wife, Cathy, and I decided to publish the story of our son's addiction to heroin. Dealing with addiction and its financial consequences involves the whole family, not just the addict.
We made plenty of mistakes in our journey through the years of Jason's (our son) drug use. Though he was a grown adult, our love for him and our desire to help him caused us to make some horrible decisions. In retrospect, we now know many of those decisions were ones that enabled Jason. We threw embarrassingly large amounts of money at the problem. We paid for attorneys, paid off debts, and even co-signed for a condo rental. And that's the shortlist.
We discovered his addiction in 2007. It's been a long, painful, and difficult process, to say the least. It caused stress on us individually and on our marriage. Cathy took it harder than me. Mothers always seem to get hurt the most. For a good part of those years, I did my best to protect her from Jason's mess. It wasn't easy.
Many things have changed since the original post. If you haven't read the post about our story, you should do that before reading it. It provides perspective to what follows. You may also want to read this Money Magazine story from the reporter, Kristen Bahler, reading our story. There are three families, including Cathy and me, featured in the article.
Table of Contents
Hope has arrived
For almost twelve years, it's been our daily prayer that God would save Jason from his addiction. That day has finally arrived. Jason has been sober now for ten months this month (March 2019).
In the process of reconnecting and rebuilding our relationship with him, I've discovered that some of what I said in the original post is inaccurate. I'm correcting it to reflect what actually happened.
Again, if you haven't read the original post on Dealing with Addiction, you should do that before reading our update. It's a long post that represents a long hard journey. We don't hold back. We want people to know what it's like.
At the end of today's update, I will also offer parents resources that have been extremely helpful to Cathy and me.
With that, let me introduce you to the hope that has come out of this messy journey.
Jason's recovery started when he went back to jail in May 2018. You'll hear more about that shortly. It's a remarkable story. He took a big step in the recovery journey this week. Part of this story is why I need to update the earlier version of the previous post.
You see, Cathy and I facilitate a weekly support group for parents and adult family members of addicted loved ones called PAL (Parents of Addicted Loved Ones). We started a local group in September 2018. Last Monday, March 18, 2019, Jason spoke to our group. He shared his addiction story – how and when it started, what it was like, how he lived, homelessness, serious thoughts of suicide, overdoses, and emergency room visits – the whole story. He held nothing back. We told the group they could ask any question on their minds. Nothing was off-limits. And they did.
Thoughts of suicide
One question asked was to Jason and us. To him – Did you ever have thoughts of suicide. He previously told us that he had a gun in his mouth at one of his lowest points, ready to pull the trigger. Fear prevented him from doing it. Ironically, he felt it would be a completely selfish act. Ironic because selfishness is the #1 trait of an addict. He was thinking about his girlfriend, her daughter, and us.
The second part of the question was to Cathy and me. She asked had we known that he was suicidal, would we have done anything differently. Without hesitation, we both said no simultaneously. In fact, I think we both said absolutely not (I know I did). Here's the thing that traps most parents.
When you're dealing with an addict, you want to protect them. After all, they're your son or daughter. Your job as a parent of a minor is to do just that. With adult children, it's different. Here's the rub. We see our addicted loved ones acting like children, so what do we do? We treat them like children. That often leads to anger and resentment on both parts that make the situation worse.
Preparing for death
We had prepared ourselves for Jason's death, exploring in conversation what it would be like to get the “dreaded call” or knock on the door that every parent fears. We had played out the different scenarios in our minds – overdose, killed in a drug deal, or suicide. It was several years into his addiction before we came to this point. But we did.
We knew there was nothing we could do to protect Jason from any of these outcomes. It was all up to him. We had to let go. We had our lives back to some semblance of normalcy during his imprisonment. The year he got out brought all the crap back into our lives. We were much better equipped to deal with it this time.
I think our answers took the questioner back. We were serious. You have to learn a different kind of parenting when dealing with a son or daughter who's an addict. It makes no difference what their drug of choice is, alcohol, opioids, or anything else. The symptoms are the same.
One of the tenets of Al-Anon that we adopt in our PAL Group when dealing with our addicted loved ones is this: I didn't cause it, can't control it, and can't cure it. The words may not be in the right order. But you get the point.
Parents are much healthier if they can accept this reality. That's why we could confidently say we would not have changed anything, knowing Jason was suicidal.
Probation from 2010
During his time of sharing that Monday, we heard a different version of the 2010 probation period. We thought he was clean during those two years (18 months, actually). That's what I wrote about earlier. It turns out he was using the entire time. He found a way to substitute clean urine in his dirty urine when he went in for the tests. In other words, his urine was never tested. Addicts are some of the most creative, clever people on the planet.
Cathy and I were blown away. He told us all on Monday that he was determined to get his drug no matter what. Nothing was going to stop him. That was true until he got into the system. By system, I'm talking about the criminal justice system. His rap sheet in Fairfax County Circuit Court spans probably a dozen pages – multiple grand larceny-theft, possession of bags with heroin residue, paraphernalia, check fraud, resisting arrest, escape attempt, and many more.
Hope Has Arrived (March 2019)
As I said in the introduction, Jason has been sober for ten months this week. We are praising God for his mercy and answered prayers on Jason's behalf.
What changed for him?
He finally grew tired of living life as an addict. His girlfriend stayed with him throughout the years of his incarceration and drug use. He lived as a fugitive for most of 2018. He hid his drug use from her during part of that time. When she discovered it, she laid down the law. If you use, I'm gone. He loved her enough to wake up to that fact.
He called me from jail soon after being arrested. I completely lost it with him on the phone. It was like eleven years of frustration and anger spewed uncontrollably out of my mouth. I'm not at all proud of it. How did he take it? That's the thing. He just took it. He didn't try to make excuses, place blame, or any of the past behaviors. It didn't dawn on me until after the conversation what a change that was.
A week or so later, he had the tenacity to call back. I'm not sure I would have after the tirade I displayed. He said something to the effect of “Dad. I know you're a Godly man. I know I need God to get through this. Will you teach and mentor me to help me get there?” I was completely blown away. We raised Jason in the church. He attended youth group throughout and never had so much as mentioned anything like this. In fact, he avoided conversations about God entirely.
He asked me to send him a Bible and any books I thought would help him. Over a couple of months, I'd sent him probably a dozen books.
Do you know what else was different?
He talked to me about those books. I mean, he devoured them. He asked me detailed questions about what he was reading and how he could apply it. He asked me to send him commentaries on particular books of the Bible to help him understand them better.
During much of that time, his mother refused to talk to him. She was not going to go back into the pit with him again. I didn't push her. I knew Jason had changed. She had to come to it on her own. One night, when he and I were talking, she said, “Put him on speaker. I'm ready to talk to him.” This was another answer to prayer.
He got out of jail ten days before Christmas. He stayed with us for about a month. Yup. He stayed with us. It was an amazing time of reconnecting and getting to know one another again. He moved into an Oxford House (a sober living house) in mid-January 2019 and has been there ever since.
He has a great job with a local restaurant, mostly working on a food truck. It's a perfect job for his recovery. He makes decent money and has little stress. His boss knows he's in recovery and is very supportive. One of the hardest things for addicts who come out of the system is getting a job. Most don't get an interview when they check the box about having a criminal conviction.
He is very fortunate.
Fairfax County Virginia instituted a drug court program in December 2018, just before Jason was released. You can learn more about our county's program in this recent article. Jason applied for and got approved to enter the program. He was the first one approved. If you're not familiar with drug courts, I'd encourage you to learn more about them. They offer an alternative to the criminal justice system for addicts. It involves a very intensive long-term treatment regimen. In our county's case, it's a 14-month program.
There are multiple phases. The first phase (2 months) requires weekly visits to the drug court, twice a week urine test (observed by a law enforcement officer. no substitute pee here) twice a week, visits with the probation officer, participation in an IOP (intensive outpatient program), and regular attendance at twelve-step meetings (AA, NA, etc.). Depending on the person, counseling may be required. He made it through the first phase and is now in phase 2. He has a sponsor who works with him on the twelve steps.
Here's an interesting nugget that shows how hard recovery is. Jason and one other guy (out of six or seven people) are the only ones who have not had dirty urine during their drug court program. We are very proud of him for his progress.
Shortly, I'll be doing an interview (for this blog) with the judge, prosecutor, and probation officer of the drug court. It's the best alternative to prison that treats the disease and supports the recovery process.
Stay tuned for the interview.
I couldn't be more excited about Jason's recovery and the reuniting of our family. We have longed to have the “old” Jason back. Well, we didn't get him. We have a new and improved version. He has a strong faith and loves talking about it with anyone who will listen (Relax. He's not obnoxious about it). Jason is laser-focused on the two things that are most important to him – his relationship with God and his recovery.
He knows he has a long road ahead. He knows how hard it is to stay sober. He's left all of his old friends behind. The really cool part of his recovery is reconnecting with people he used to back in the day. He sees them in AA meetings. One of those guys has been clean now for three years. They used together a lot in the past.
Parents who have addicted sons or daughters ask us all the time how we know he's different this time. After all, Jason's been in treatment, probably seven or eight times in the past. The answer is straightforward. It isn't what he's saying anymore. It's what he's doing. It's how he's living.
In our PAL Group, everyone has some version of the same story of dealing with their addicted son or daughter. The goal of the group is to help parents get healthy themselves. Part of that is learning to let go of their son or daughter. Like an addict, parents will only do that when they're ready.
Don't go it alone
If you or someone you know is dealing with addiction in your family, don't go it alone. Get help.
Ours is a story of hope. It took a long time for that story to develop. Addiction is not usually a short-term event. Hang in there. Pray. Take care of yourselves. Find a community to connect with.
I can't tell you what a relief it is to be in a group with other parents who completely understand what it's like. You will feel the same way when you join one. Never give up hope. In some small ways, I hope our story gives that to you if you're in the midst of it.
You didn't sign up for it. And remember – you didn't cause it, can't control it, and can't cure it.
Here are some resources to consider: