My oldest son fought every rule, despised authority and wanted “to be the boss of me” since he could talk. In his teens, he discovered drugs and then life reached a new level of difficulty. For ten years we fought the devil and lost. He did multiple rehabs, jail time, sober living houses, and multiple trips home to live with us and get sober. He kicked drugs only to discover alcohol and then ended up using meth when alcohol lowered his inhibitions. Eventually, he was sent to prison for a year and a half for a felony.
Then seven years ago, I met a son I never knew. My rebellious, meth addicted, angry son, came out of prison sober, humbled, and thankful. Gone was the argumentative, condescending son I had known for 25 years. On his own, he had gotten sober in prison and in the process his attitude had changed. We hesitantly let him back into our lives when he got out of prison and every step of the way he proved himself to be a changed man.
Over the next seven years of sobriety, he got a dog, a car and a girlfriend. He came to work for me in the family printing business and started college and earned excellent grades. He was not interested in taking over the family business, he wanted a degree, and we were content with whatever he chose. We lived in unexpected happiness. My husband and I thought we had lost him forever and now, here he was, pursuing a life we could all be proud of and most surprisingly being someone that we really enjoyed spending time with. He even repaired his relationship with his younger brother. Our family felt complete again. Both our boys got married three months apart and now we had daughters-in-law too. Both couples bought houses and life was good, I never expected to be this happy. All was well…or so I thought.
In March of last year, exactly one week after I sold my business and retired, my son relapsed in spectacular fashion. He got high and stayed high for days, he became angry, combative and immediately returned to the personality I remembered from the years before. I was completely devastated. My new-found freedom from work just gave me long hours to worry incessantly and I did. I went around and around in my head about how to help him. I wondered what went wrong and I worked to find the right words to bring him back. I sent and answered endless text messages and answered the phone at all hours. But he continued to use as weeks turned into months and my retirement happiness evaporated. So, after the shock wore off, I began working to cope. I found a counselor and an NA meeting, and I pulled out my old, worn copy of Codependent No More. Then I discovered The Addicts Mom Facebook Group. What a difference that made! The first time posting, I cried. It didn’t feel like I was going crazy anymore. So many other people were experiencing the same thing. It really helped as I worked to survive and waited for him to find his way back to sobriety. I felt so alone the first time he used drugs, this time I had a huge community to turn to and I turned to them often as the months stretched on.
It’s now been ten months and my son has not “found his way back”. His wife divorced him, he lost his job, wrecked his car and lost his house. He is currently couch-surfing and using an old truck given to him by a friend. He has lost almost everything. The first two or three months we tried hard to help him get back on track, but nothing worked. He was once again defiant and determined to be his own boss. So, once we remembered we can’t control him or cure him (thanks NA) we set strong boundaries. He cannot move home. He can’t use our cars. We won’t buy new phones or pay his bills. If he’s rude we quit answering his phone calls and texts. We call the police when he threatens self-harm. We probably enable sometimes, but we do what we can live with. We also consistently point him to local organizations that can help him (although he currently refused to even consider them).
As this drags on I’m going through grief over the loss of my sober son and the future I dared to imagine for him, and I miss him terribly. I have spent months in survival mode. I want to help him, but I don’t think the worry and obsessing are working. So, I have decided to save the one person I can save – ME. I am determined not to be destroyed by his relapse. I have taken all the energy I spent worrying and directed it to help me break my addiction to him. I continue to see my counselor faithfully and a psychologist who helped me get on the appropriate dosage of antidepressants. I read everything I can on detachment and mental health. Most importantly, I have found that focusing on MY LIFE is my best distraction from his life. I am working to make my life healthy, happy and full. I’ve been trying to be healthier – mentally and physically. Yoga, walking, and paddleboarding are my go-to exercises and discovering new recipes, with fresh, healthy ingredients, is fun. I have started planning trips with my husband, which we have found to be a great distraction – the planning as much as the actual trip. I’m currently learning French in preparation for a trip to Paris (my husband has lots and lots of points from business travel. We decided it was time to use them before he loses them). I’ve started some remodeling projects and am working to make my house a retreat from the world. I’ve committed to having lunch with friends regularly and trying to be more available to my other family members. I am seeking out positive people and developing new friendships. I am taking classes, and writing, and volunteering with TAM (The Addict’s Mom). So, instead of needing my son to be sober for me to be happy, I have decided to be happy, busy and productive now. Sometimes it’s hard to push through the sadness, but I realize my sadness doesn’t help anyone, so I am doing my best to live my life to the fullest. I love my son, but I can’t live his life for him, I can only live my own and I’m working to make it something I love. There are a lot of people who depend on me to be a positive part of their lives and it’s unfair to let all of them down. It’s also wrong to let myself down. I will always love and have compassion for my son, but I will let him live his life, and I will live mine.