December 01, 2016
This piece was written by Kim P., the mother of a Caron alum:
Looking back, I realize there were signs something was wrong with my son. After he graduated, he moved home and was having a major failure to launch. He became unreliable and lethargic. I thought my son was just going through a phase, so I brushed off his behavior. I didn’t know, or maybe I just didn’t want to acknowledge, that something deeper was at play. I should have asked him more questions about what was going on with him. Unfortunately, I knew nothing about the disease of addiction, so I wasn’t able to identify the issue.
There came a point where I felt overwhelmed with my son and his behavior. Finally, I asked him what the hell was going on and he was luckily honest about the fact that he needed help. At that point, I was feeling alone and helpless. I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go for support. When we reached out to get recommendations from two therapists we trusted, they both suggested the Young Adult Male program at Caron. It was important to find my son a treatment center where he could be around people his own age to whom he could relate. This way, he could get the most out of treatment.
I was a wreck when my son went to rehab. I felt incredibly stressed out, anxious, ashamed, heartbroken, and I was blaming myself for his addiction. At Caron’s Family Education Program, I learned about enabling and that I needed to detach with love and let go; that was a very difficult thing to understand as a mother, but I slowly began to realize how important it was. I had to let Caron teach my son the tools he needed to fight for himself and his own well-being. He needed to achieve honor, integrity, and responsibility in his recovery on his own. I also needed to work on my own healing. It was extremely important for me to educate myself about the disease and find reprieves like meditation.
At first, when my son finished treatment, I was hesitant to reach out to him. I wasn’t sure how to strike the balance between enabling and being there for him. Now, we have a lovely pattern of checking in weekly. I hear his voice and I can tell he’s happier. Our whole family talks a lot more openly than we did before. It makes a difference for him to know everybody in his family is on his side and there to support his healthy decisions and improved outlook. We understand that because addiction is a chronic disease and there is no cure, he has to work daily to maintain his recovery. We are all so proud of him because he is doing the work. My son has a whole new life; it’s so much better.
I am speaking out because I believe it’s important to help end the stigma of addiction. It’s unfortunately still part of the dialogue when the disease is discussed. I hope people will start to acknowledge addiction is a disease, just like cancer. It’s something that can’t be helped; it’s in a person’s genes, it’s part of their DNA. We need to start treating people that way rather than assuming they are at fault and it’s a moral failing. Raising awareness that addiction is a disease, talking about the issue, is an important part of dismantling the stigma.
People often ask me, “What happened to him?” “How do you think it started?” The truth is, the American Medical Association (AMA) and other medical organizations officially termed addiction a disease in 1987. While events can make it manifest faster, if you have the gene, you’ll likely become addicted. Addiction is often seen as something so dark. It seems like people don’t really even want to know about it. And, because it’s not well understood, many people fear it.
If I’m completely honest, there are ways in which I still fear addiction, too. For instance, it’s hard for me to say the word ‘heroin’. Growing up, we were taught drugs are bad. If you tried them once, that was it, you would become addicted. Heroin was always positioned as one of the worst drugs. For my own child to be doing that – it scared me to death. When talking about my son’s addiction, I like to focus on the prescription drugs my son took, or, if I do talk about heroin, I say my son didn’t shoot it, he snorted it. Somehow, my mind rationalizes that talking about my son’s addiction in that way makes it less of an issue, not as big of a deal. I know that’s the stigma and shame talking. Having now educated myself about addiction, I understand what drug he took or how he consumed it isn’t what’s important. What does matter is he was suffering from the disease and needed to get help to recover.
To any parents out there with whom my story resonates, know you are not alone. There are great programs out there, like Caron’s, designed specifically to help the whole family recover. This is so important because addiction truly is a family disease. There is hope and things do get better.
This blog is part of Perspectives on Addiction: From a Mother. To see additional content, click here.
Watch a video of Kim talking about her experience with her son’s addiction and recovery.