I read her Facebook post. It was honest. Heartbreaking. Raw. I was shocked when I read the words, “My son is a heroin addict.”
She told a story of discovery, of how the light switches in the house had a sooty substance that she was always scrubbing off. She told her story of how the clues unfolded, one terrible fact at a time. And then there was the moment of confrontation and resolution.
“We’re in this together.”
Her story of fighting for her son is to me quite brave. She holds a senior position in my organization. She lives in the Washington D.C. suburbs in a good neighborhood with her husband. They have a comfortable life and raised their children as most of us do – never thinking that a drug like heroin was a possibility.
I’m keeping her last name out of the post, since it really doesn’t add anything to the conversation. However, Sue is not ashamed or backing away. If you face a similar situation I can put you in touch with her. Drop me a note.
But she does have some things to say and with her permission, I’m sharing them here.
This is my baby
My son is a heroin addict. I don’t feel any stigma or shame about it. It never even occurred to me that I should be embarrassed. This is my baby. I would have done anything — and continue to do what I need to do — to help him stay alive.
The reactions of others have been mixed. Some people are wide-eyed, open-mouthed shocked. Others try to keep a straight face. Maybe they are judging. I don’t know. It didn’t matter. It still doesn’t.
I urge you to get over any preconceived notions you may have. I had them, too. I’m here to tell you that ignorance isn’t bliss. There is a heroin epidemic happening all around us. And if people judge you because you or a loved one is in trouble, they aren’t people you should have around you.
How did he start with this drug?
During group counseling when my son was in his first rehab, the patients went around and spoke about what led them to using their drug of choice – there were awful stories of domestic violence, alcoholic parents, rape … you name it. It was awful. My son was last. I couldn’t imagine what he was going to say.
I was scared to death. What had happened to make him use these drugs? What happened to my smart, athletic baby — the one who used to be so afraid of getting shots — that would make him voluntarily put needles in his arms? His turn came … he said, “I have great parents, I have a great home and I’ve had a great life – I’ve never experienced any of what you guys are talking about.”
He went on tell how it all started, how he was experimenting with friends. OxyContin from a parents’ medicine cabinet and his brain “got stuck there.” Just. Like. That.
No one chooses addiction
The experts say it’s a disease – that having a substance use disorder is a brain disease – and I’ve seriously struggled with this. Cancer is a disease. Something awful that grows inside you — that eats at yo — something you have to fight with whatever course of action you choose in order to beat it and get healthy.
When I found out about my son, I screamed at him to just freaking stop it. He told me he couldn’t. Sure you can. Just! Stop! He told me “I need it to feel normal.” That stopped me in my tracks. What the hell does that mean?
No one would ever wake up one day and say “Gee, I want to be an addict.” No one would ever take a drink if they knew they would become an alcoholic. You’re a kid, someone brings beer or wine or vodka to a party you’re at, you have a drink, you might have more, you might get drunk and you might throw up. It’s almost a rite of passage, right? I did it – more than once. And today I love having a glass of wine or two. I’m not an alcoholic. I could take it or leave it.
There was a time when I liked vodka a little too much and a voice in my head said “Wow, you like that a lot – stop it!” And I did. And to me, THAT is the difference between non-addicts and addicts. They don’t have that voice in their head and they are hard-wired for addiction. There’s something in them that makes them react differently – that makes them NEED it — something that eats at them, literally and figuratively in some cases — something they have to fight with whatever course of action they choose in order to beat it and get healthy.
The hardest reality I ever had to face was that I couldn’t fix my son. I spent my time researching about addiction, detox and rehab. I spent my money on him detoxing and then going to rehab. I established rules for engagement.
I learned what “tough love” meant — and I assure you it was tough … especially for me and my husband. But we made it hard for him. We took his house keys. We took his vehicle. We stopped giving him cash. He was no longer welcome at home overnight when he was using. But he was encouraged to come home to bathe, change clothes and eat every day. We learned that when he’d eat, he wasn’t using.
There was nothing we could do to make him stop shooting heroin. Nothing. He had to make the decision to stop … and he had to do it on his own.
For us, there were only three outcomes to the situation:
• He was going to work hard and get sober
• He was going to jail
• He was going to die
You need help, too
I urge you, if you are close to someone suffering from addiction – especially if you are a parent, spouse, child or care-giver of an addict – I urge, urge, urge you to get help for yourself. You are going to say you don’t need it. I’m here to tell you that you do, because the stress will kill you before it kills them.
“It took me more than two years to realize what it was doing to me. I was an absolute mess and didn’t realize it because I was so focused on him. There are resources. Ask for help. There is no shame is asking for help. It takes strength and you’re worth it.
This really is a “one day at a time” kind of thing. I never really knew what that meant before all this happened. I’ve heard it before — we’ve all heard it before — I never understood the importance. Because it’s all about today! Making it through today … and just today. One day at a time.
Please don’t for a second look down on or believe anyone in recovery is weak. The demons my son fights every single day is something I will never know. But I do know that watching him fight so hard for his sobriety every single day makes him the strongest person I have ever known and he’s made me a better, more tolerant person because of it.
On August 4 he will celebrate one year of sobriety.