-Submitted by a family member in recovery
How is this my life…how is this his life?!
Things like this were never supposed to happen to us, I made certain of it after I divorced my first husband, the alcoholic. I didn’t want Luke growing up like that, so I made it a point to finish my Master’s Degree, while working full-time. My second husband, who seldom drank, became a father figure to Luke and gave me my younger son Connor. He pushed his way up the corporate ladder to give us a better life. Eventually those things paid off.
We found ourselves in a big fancy house, in a nice suburban town. Our boys could play in the front yard without concern, and our neighbors came over once a month for dinner. We truly had a “white-picket fence” kind of life. My boys were raised with manners and a strong work ethic. They understood the importance of having an education and working hard for the things they wanted in life. Although raising two energetic little boys was a handful to say the least, all-in-all, they were great kids…Then the unthinkable happened.
Could I Have Done Something Different?
I still remember the first phone call that literally took my breath away. It was about 9:30 on a Saturday night. My husband and I were watching some meaningless television show and our youngest boy, Connor, who was 13 at the time, was upstairs in his room. Luke, our oldest, had been out for a few hours now. He and some friends were supposed to be at the movies, but the voice on the other end of the line told me otherwise.
“Good evening ma’am, this is Officer Williams, your son has been in an accident.” I remember my knees buckling before I hit the floor. The officer went on to tell me that Luke was currently in the emergency room with injuries resulting from a car accident. As I frantically gathered up my purse, my car keys, my husband and youngest child, thoughts of the worst possible outcome came over me. Only a mother can understand that overwhelming feeling of helplessness that consumes you when your child has been hurt. One minute you’re angry, the next minute you’re crippled with fear, all while trying to formulate a plan to fix the situation.
This accident was just the beginning of late night phone calls, sleepless nights and constant chaos that was not supposed to be our life. I look back to that first night and wonder, “Should I have done something then?” “Would that have changed the story?”
When all was said and done, Luke walked away with barely a scratch. He and his friends had been drinking and driving. His car was totaled and his face bruised from the airbag. Thankfully he didn’t hurt anyone else. My husband had an old friend in the police department, so legalities were not an issue. We were able to keep this “incident” under wraps, so no one could find out what happened with our 18 year old high school senior. We had to keep up appearances after all.
The Spiral Begins
Luke finished high school and began college without another instance like it. I thought to myself, “Well, boys will be boys. Thank goodness it was just a phase.” Then he came home for Christmas break. He had lost a ton of weight and always looked tired. The light that once filled my little boy’s eyes, was no longer there. I told myself it had to be the stress of college, but deep down in my gut, I knew it was something more.
Then the first arrest summons came in the mail. He was caught with drug paraphernalia. My husband took care of that. Next it was academic probation; we paid for a tutor and made a charitable donation to the university. We thought he was back on track.
Then the first overdose happened. That’s about the time the sleepless nights began. Luke barely finished up his freshman year and we sent him to the best rehab facility we could find. Thousands of dollars later, we expected for this to be behind us. We assumed this “phase” of Luke’s life was over.
Sometimes I wonder if my ignorance kept him sick. If my husband’s ability to always get Luke out of trouble enabled him longer. For the next 3 years, we practically went bankrupt, both financially and emotionally trying to “fix” the problem. Our beautiful little boy, who once loved baseball and race cars, turned into a thief, liar and criminal. He flunked out of numerous universities and went “on tour” to several treatment centers.
On our wedding anniversary, instead of spending the day with my husband, I had to drive down to the east side of town. Never did I think I would be carrying my 20 year old son out of an abandoned building, half conscious and wearing torn clothing. That’s also the first time he robbed me. I stopped at a nearby convenience store to get him orange juice and aspirin. By the time I got back to the car, he was gone…and so was all of my cash.
I’m not really sure if I ever got to a point where I had had enough. I think I would’ve gone on the rest of my life trying to save him. While Luke was addicted to drugs, I was addicted to him. Addicted to taking care of him, addicted to “fixing the problem”, addicted to trying to regain control. Eventually though, the legal system finally had enough. (Yes, I said it. Thankfully).
My son was in jail and I was grateful for it. I could finally sleep at night. I knew he was safe and alive. It’s a sad day when you start mentally preparing yourself for your son’s funeral. But that’s where heroin took him, and me, and everyone else who loved him.
Half Measures Availed Him Nothing
Luke spent the next few years on Drug Court, trying to repair his life. He left a trail of wreckage to be cleaned up. He got a small job, to help pay his fines and helped around the house. He also kept all of his appointments with his drug counselor and saw his probation officer weekly. In that aspect, he seemed to be on track.
In hindsight, I see where he went wrong. While he made some small attempts to get better, they were just that, small.
They asked him to get a sponsor and start attending meetings. He continuously made excuses as to why he couldn’t find the right person to ask. “They are too old; I’m not comfortable with him; He wouldn’t understand me.” Excuse after excuse, he talked himself out of the importance of following this suggestion. He went to meetings, but didn’t really make connections with people that had substantial clean time. Luke always seemed to find the person that was in the exact same shoes as him. That’s where he was comfortable. He never worked the steps or went on commitments. Really, he “white-knuckled” it for a long time.
I think he believed that because he wasn’t using, he was okay. At the time, I wanted to believe that too.
Then the day came that I dreaded most. The day that keeps every parent of an addict awake at night. The mental preparation from years earlier did nothing to ease the drowning sensation that came over me when I found out. Connor, who was now 17, found his brother dead in his room. The sound of his loud screams still ring in my ears today.
Luke was almost 23 when he died alone in his bedroom. He had been sober, for what I think, was a few years. I didn’t know he relapsed. I’m still not sure if that was the first time in years, or if he had been using for some time before his death. I guess it really doesn’t matter. All I know, is that I had to bury my oldest child at 22 years old, and I felt responsible to a degree. I was instantly filled with regret.
I regret that although I am educated, I was ignorant. I regret that I avoided the reality when my intuition told me differently. I think back and ask myself, “Could I have stopped it?” I do not have an answer as to whether or not it would have changed Luke becoming an addict. I do know this. I wish I had someone to tell me how sick his addiction made me; how my denial and avoidance in the matter was loving him to death.
What I Wish I Knew
I wish at some point someone told me what to expect from my child, the addict. So here are some things to keep in mind, if: A. Your child has gotten into some trouble in the past; B. Their behaviors are out of character; and/or C. You know they have some “issues” with drugs/alcohol and you think you can “fix” it.
Love Won’t Fix It
We all love our children; that doesn’t need to be said. Nevertheless, love won’t be enough to keep addiction away from you. Addiction doesn’t have a face. It doesn’t care how old a person is, how much money they have, or what kind of family you come from. Our case proves that. My boys never wanted for anything. My husband and I rarely had a glass of wine in front of our children. Yet, my son became a heroin addict. I told myself that if I showed him how much I loved him, he would stop. If we got him out of trouble and allowed him to stay in our home, he would understand that love and no longer need to do drugs. The only thing my love did was keep Luke sick longer. It enabled him to continue on the path of destruction. It’s called TOUGH LOVE for a reason, and is often needed in the case of addiction. Do not love your child to death!
Don’t Assume It’s A Phase
Not everyone that drinks alcohol or experiments with drugs turns out to be a drug addict or alcoholic. I wanted to believe this was the case for my son, but it wasn’t. It was not a phase for him, and through my ignorance, I allowed for my son to continue on the path of destruction.
Don’t avoid it; don’t brush it under the rug. Addiction will not just go away. It will manifest into something larger, until it destroys your child and family. Also, educate yourself and family on the issue. Understand what the warning signs, symptoms, and negative side-effects include.
Genetics Play A Role
My husband and I did our very best to show our children a normal life. My first marriage, to Luke’s biological father, was short lived and toxic. I knew him from college and was soon pregnant with Luke. We had gotten married when Luke was 6 months old, right before I was about to finish my Bachelor’s. Things went downhill quite quickly. Luke’s father stayed out all hours of the night. When he would come home, I could smell the alcohol on his clothing and skin. Soon, he stopped going to the bars, and would just drink for hours at home. I didn’t trust him to take care of our child and I was concerned for my well-being. Needless to say, he couldn’t put his family before his alcohol, so I took the necessary steps to divorce him.
Luke’s father never attempted to see him, call him or send a birthday card. He simply didn’t care. Luke would ask about him from time-to-time, but he never seemed that interested in really knowing. My second husband adopted Luke when he was 3, and he has known only him as “Dad”. Since Luke was so young when everything transpired, I assumed that these traits would never affect my child. I figured since we showed him love and affection, gave him a stable home, and were good role models, the possibility of Luke becoming an alcoholic himself was slim.
This is obviously not the case. His father’s traits most certainly affected Luke’s. Whether it was completely a hereditary aspect or the fact that Luke lived knowing his father wanted nothing to do with him, figuring out which of the two contributed to Luke’s fate doesn’t matter. I believe they both did. I also believe that by me not addressing these concerns with Luke at an early age, and instead hiding what kind of man his father was, also contributed to his addiction.
Many Addicts Turn To Criminal Behavior
A person addicted to drugs, does not wake up one day and decide it is a good idea to steal from their parents. Addicts don’t enjoy breaking into neighbors’ homes, selling drugs, doctor-shopping or stealing from retail stores. Nevertheless, they do.
Your child is no longer the person you once knew. They will do and say anything they have to get more drugs, even if that means taking money from your purse and helping you look for; and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Criminal behavior can obviously lead to a multitude of problems. Many recovering addicts have a difficult time finding employment opportunities with a criminal background, which in turn makes it almost impossible to pay off debt incurred from those charges, i.e. fines, restitution, and lawyer fees.
Due to Luke’s felony charges, he became virtually unemployable. No one wanted to hire him. My husband and I had already spent thousands of dollars attempting to save our son, and now we had to figure out a way to help with his debt. He racked up fees from attorney retainers, DUI costs, fines and insurance costs.
The Cost for Criminal Behavior
- Insurance Rates – Car insurance rates usually rise once a person is charged with a DUI. They can go up at least $5,000 more per year.
- Drug Offenses – Fines for drug offenses can widely range depending upon the charge itself, the type of drug (heroin, marijuana, etc.) and how many times the person has been convicted. In the state of Pennsylvania, where my family and I reside, fines can start at $500 and go up to $5,000 or more.
- Attorney Fees – The cost to hire an attorney can get quite expense, as we all know. Again, these numbers range depending upon the offense, but the average retainer for a misdemeanor drug charge can vary between $2000 and $5000. A retainer for a felony charge can range from $5000-$15000.
- Interlock – In the state of Pennsylvania, if an individual is charged more than once with a DUI, which my son was, they are required to have an Ignition Interlock installed in their vehicle. The average cost for both the unit and install is $1000.
These are just a few examples of the financial burden of my son’s heroin addiction. This does not include the cost for bail, restitution, Drug Court costs, impound and towing fees, and cost of treatment. These numbers are a generalized example, and they may differ from those in the state you reside, and/or circumstance(s) you may be experiencing.
Addiction Is A Disease, Not A Shameful Lack Of Willpower
For a very long time, I stuck my nose up at the idea that addiction was a disease. How could it be? You are warned at a very early age of the dangers of drugs and how they can destroy your life. I believed if someone used drugs, it was because they made a conscious choice to do so. My idea of a drug addict was a homeless man sleeping on the floor in a subway station. Sympathy for “people like that” never existed for me. I would think to myself, “Well they put themselves there. They had a choice to do something different with their life.”
And then, my son became a heroin addict. How could this be? He didn’t fit the “criteria” for addiction. My smug attitude and lack of knowledge on the matter fueled his addiction even more.
The reality is, my son was addicted to drugs, and he didn’t choose to be that way. Yes, he made a conscious choice to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Yes, he decided to hang out with the wrong people. He did not, though, decide to become a heroin addict, thief and criminal.
Eventually, an average person crosses this invisible line of experimentation/recreation, into dependence and addiction. While at first it is intended to be an enjoyable experience, it eventually turns into a physical need and mental obsession for the substance. Once that line is crossed, all bets are off. That is why I wonder if I had only done something that first night, would it have changed Luke’s fate?
Don’t Wait Too Long
Don’t wait until it is too late. If your intuition is telling you something, you need to act on it immediately. Educate yourself on addiction. Talk to your child about the dangers of addiction. Let them know that you are there for them. If there is an issue, confront it, don’t brush it under the rug.
Avoiding the issue or “waiting for the right time” will only further harm your family and child. It gives them permission to continue what they’re doing and allows for a worse outcome. According to most recent reports, in 2014, more than 28,000 people died from drug overdoses related to heroin or prescription opiates. In that same year, Pennsylvania ranked 8 in the country for overdose death, and saw an increase of 23.4% from 2014-2015.
It goes without saying, heroin is poison. It has one mission: To kill your loved one. Please do not wait until it is too late. Don’t live with regret. If you suspect your child is abusing drugs, get them help today.
For more than 40 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been treating drug addiction and alcoholism. We offer a medically supervised detox protocol and customized addiction treatment program for those in need. If you or a loved one is suffering with the disease of addiction, contact our Admissions Specialists today. They are available to answer any questions you may have, 24 hours a day.