One year ago my son was homeless, sick, suicidal and had a warrant out for his arrest. He called and texted nonstop demanding money, begging to come home and sharing the horrors of homelessness – sleeping in garages, sneaking around houses to sleep on the back porch, nodding off under a bridge. He was furious with us because we kept saying “no” to all his requests to come home and demands for money.
However, one day after numerous calls, I did agree to bring him a coat he had left at our home. I met him on a street corner in a very unsavory part of town. I brought his coat and some granola bars and a pair of gloves. He took them disdainfully, obviously annoyed that this is all I was willing to do.
I was shocked by the sight of him – skeletal, dirty, disheveled. His face was pockmarked and pale, his eyes hollow, cheeks sunken. His clothes had burn marks where he had nodded off with a cigarette still burning. His movements were rapid, his feet unsteady, his eyes wild, his hair a brittle halo of tangles, his language course and angry. His attitude radiated rage at what “we” had allowed him to become. It was obvious he felt we had the capacity to save him if only we weren’t so uncaring.
But we had tried saving him too many times to count. How many times had we let him come home? Paid for a hotel room? Sent money for food? Paid for Uber to the emergency room? Drove in the middle of the night to pick him up from some place dangerous? It wasn’t working.
We had concluded that he must save himself. We knew our best efforts would always fall short. For his own sake we had to wait for him to realize that we would not and could not do the work for him.
So we were refusing to give him money or a place to live. Every time he asked for help, we sent him a list of phone numbers for rehabs, sober living, homeless shelters and food banks. At 34 years old we were finally insisting he grow up and take care of himself. Drugs were killing him, but his dependence on us was killing him too.
That day, after our meeting, I went home and cried, worried that my detachment might be a death sentence. I knew it was a possibility, but life with constant crisis, suicide threats, jail, meltdowns, risky behaviors, and being held hostage by drugs, was not a life for him or us. I told myself, he had to want to live as much as I wanted him to; badly enough to do the hard work of getting sober.
So, my husband and I sat with our grief and pain. We worried, cried, complained and felt hopeless… but we continued to say ‘no’ and send him “the list.” Every time we sent “the list”, he’d text back “I’ll die before I go to any of these places.” We’d text back “We love you and hope you choose to live.” It was becoming a sadly repetitive dance.
But knowing he had choices – a place he could sleep, or get food, or get help made it easier for us to say no. He was choosing to stay homeless, high, or hungry. It felt like he wanted to force us to be the ones to save him. It was brutal, but we stuck to our decision to wait for him to choose a better life.
Three weeks after our visit on the street corner, and buckets of tears later, he called and said, “I give up. I’ll go to jail or sober living, your choice. But I can’t do this anymore. Just let me come home and shower and look presentable before you take me either place.”
I knew the next day was an intake day at sober living, so we agreed to the shower and offered a good meal and a soft bed with the agreement that the next day he would go to sober living. He was surly and angry the 24 hours he was at our house, but he slumped into the car the next day, clean and well fed, and my husband drove him to sober living. Miraculously, he stayed and cooperated and eventually, thrived.
Today he is ten months sober. He is attending meetings multiple times a week. He has a sponsor who he takes his trouble to (instead of me… wow!!). He graduated successfully from sober living after eight months which gives him access to their meetings and counseling when he is struggling. He is working a job with people who really like him, are aware of his journey and help and encourage him. He has an apartment he shares with his girlfriend who is a recovering addict that he encouraged to get clean. He has held strong through the relapse of multiple friends and the death by overdose of several others. He turned himself in with the help of an attorney (an AA buddy) and is working on dealing with his charges.
I am so very, very proud of him. He has done it himself. He has worked through all the struggles with the support of his AA friends and sponsor and the sober living counseling. We mostly hear about financial issues and have floated him a few small loans as he gets back on his feet. Watching him finally learn to take care of himself is amazing.
His sponsor reminds him that he has to stand up for himself when his boss demands he work seven days a week. He reminds him that every person needs rest, and he is working on sobriety, so he can’t let himself get physically and emotionally overwhelmed. He tells him he must care for himself. He encouraged him to ask for a raise. He insisted he attend extra meetings when he was struggling. And my son has complied. The rebellious, immature, demanding child has finally grown into a man with the help of a mature, 30-year-sober sponsor.
This sponsor took my son to an AA meeting full of men who had all been sober 20 years or longer. It gave my son hope. He sees successful men who lived their younger years much like he has. At 35 my son finally feels like a man and is acting like one. He finally has a sober community to turn to. He never wanted to follow our advice, because we “didn’t know what it was like.” Now he’s surrounded by men who know exactly what it’s like and he can relate to them and will listen to them. They support and help him in so many ways. His whole apartment has been outfitted by donations from the AA community or people he works with. He has a sober network of friends for the first time in his life.
My husband and I no longer feel like his very survival is dependent on us. We have seen him learn to depend on his own efforts and the efforts of a community of sober friends and mentors who love and support him.
Having a safety net of other people surrounding my son takes such a weight off my husband and me. We will be forever thankful to the men who have stepped up to mentor him. We have never even met them, but that’s okay. Our son is an adult and he is creating HIS sober life. He is building a life apart from his parents and becoming independent. Our relationship has blossomed without the weight of being responsible for him weighing it down.
I have never been prouder.
But he would never have grown up, if we hadn’t quit treating him like a child and rescuing him from his choices. Detachment was the hardest and best thing we’ve ever done for him. I can say that now, but at the time it was terrifying. Looking back, I’m so glad we stuck with it.