I never thought that I would have a son who grew up to be an addict
Little did I know that Shortly after My Wife’s Passing, my Son was Self-Medicating with Marijuana
Disclosure: Names and pictures have been changed for privacy and use in this post.
We all think that it “will never happen to us.” Those things are reserved for other people, in those other neighborhoods, in those other states. We work hard, get married, have kids. We think of our kids being better off than us, and support them in their dreams of the future. This is exactly what David thought when raising his kids, Zach and Ashley.
“I never thought that I would have a son who grew up to be an addict.” I mean, I did everything for him, or so I thought. I was raised in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, had “normal” parents, played on the baseball team in high school, graduated from atop ranked University, got a great job, got married to the woman of my dreams, had two kids. American Dream, right? Wrong. More like the American nightmare. Even people like me can end up in the horrible struggle to get their kid clean.
David reminisces about Zach:
“He was a fun- loving, bit of a risk taker, artistic kid and interacted with his peers and adults. Everybody loved Zach- he had this great personality, made everyone he talked to feel special. He had this charisma about him, and showed great promise to be a success in life. ”
But then, a family tragedy occurred
“He had been getting teased at school a bit for some of his interesting looks, ( he liked a certain type of music and dressed as such) but he would come home and laughed about it. When I asked him about what he was listening to, which seemed a little “hardcore” and some of the lyrics promoted drug use, suicide, and anti-authority language, he just told me that he liked the “scene” and didn’t buy into it. His grades were good, he didn’t seem moody and swore that he would never touch anything drug related. And I believed him. And then his mother who had been battling cancer, and was told she was in remission, suddenly took a turn for the worse and we lost her in a few months shy of his 15 th birthday. He has a younger sister, who I guess I paid more attention to, as it seemed she was having such a hard time missing her mom. I have a full- time job as an engineer and was in the middle of a huge commercial build with deadlines. I didn’t have the luxury to grieve, just push on. And in doing so, I forgot about my son, who seemed to be adjusting OK. I did seek out a therapist and we went a few times as a family and individually, but time and stress from work took its toll and priorities of finding help, taking the kids to all their after school stuff we stopped. I hired a nanny and well, poured my time into work, just sort of “checked out.”
Little did I know that shortly after my wife’s passing, my son was self-medicating with marijuana. Funny thing is, I smoked pot in High School and it never led to anything, so how could I think that my son would be a full-blown heroin addict and alcoholic in the span of a few more years.?
This funny, articulate, artistic kid turned into a removed, isolating, angry and solemn young adult, one who lied, stole, and manipulated all to get his fixes.
Then it turned into hell
On Zach’s 19th birthday he ended up in the emergency room on an overdose by doing a “speedball”, something I later learned was when you mix methamphetamine (speed) or cocaine and heroin by injection. Because the effects of the speed wear off faster than the downer effects of heroin, fatal respiratory collapse is commons when the full effects of a heroin overdosage are felt. Because the “speed” counters the depressant of the opioid, an accidental high dose can be injected and the person doesn’t feel the damage until it is too late. It’s a delayed overdose and it’s more common than you think. It’s what killed my childhood idol, John Belushi. Then there were the singers David Crosby and Jerry Garcia who had done heavy damage with speedballing. Who knew? I thought it was just weed that the old hippies used. Then there was my son. Believe me, this normal middle-aged guy now knows everything to know about drug use from the first- hand education I received due to my drug addicted son. When he ended up in the hospital, I hadn’t seen him for months. I had fallen out of touch with him and often didn’t know where he was staying since he lost every phone I bought him and was kicked out of my house for crashing my car that he stole the keys to one night. When he regained consciousness, he had asked a nurse to call me, but he couldn’t remember my phone number. She found my name and business number on the internet, and when I started work at 6:30 the next day, there was an urgent message on my voicemail.
I rushed to the hospital and went to the room they told me he was in. But instead of my handsome, well-built son, there was an emaciated tattooed vagrant with scabs covering his face and arms.
I watched this person sleeping in the hospital bed for a moment before realizing that it was Zach. I just started to weep. I totally broke down. The nurse came in and escorted me to a room and that was the beginning of my education on drug addiction and what the family of an addict could do. Zach moved back with me and my daughter after the OD, I mean, what else would I do? I wanted him close, so I could keep an eye on him, keep him alive. He did OK for awhile, and he went to a recovery group, learning about his addiction. He was so apologetic, and did extra things like drive his sister to high school and help around the house. He would wash my car once a week to try and make up for his past actions. After a few months, he seemed stable and Zach had stopped wearing black hoodies and cut his hair. His skin cleared up and he was putting on weight. He even talked about getting a job, or going back to school. We made an agreement that he could live with me if he did wither of those things and I would support him for two years if he stayed clean. All he had to do was stay clean……
I had no idea the extent of his self-harm
I went on a business trip to Las Vegas and left the kids for ten days. By the third night, my daughter Ashley called crying. She told me that Zach had not returned home and hadn’t picked her up from school that day. She had called the hospitals and the police department already she said. I didn’t want her sleeping at the house on her own, and I was horribly worried about Zach. I asked a friend to stay the night and told my daughter I would call in the morning, and if he wasn’t back that I would fly home. The next day, I received a call from my friend who told me that Zach had returned home but was “totally out of it.” I opted to stay on the job for a few more days but left a few days early, letting the client know it was a family emergency. They must have seen the worry behind my eyes and asked what was wrong. I just sort of spilled it, not realizing how I had been keeping so much to myself. Fortunately, this person understood and told me that they too, had gone through this rollercoaster of addiction with their son, but had found help. Wow, here was another person who I would never thought of having a drug-addicted son.
I asked what that help might be and they told me about rehab. I had heard of drug rehabs but again, they were for all those other people.
I had thought I was untouchable, you know, coming from a “good” family, raising your kids in a “good neighborhood.” How naïve I had been, thinking that way. The client, Richard, told me that he was so afraid of the drinking and gambling in Vegas, that he had not seen the signs of heroin and meth. How he had received his drug education had almost been too late. When I asked where his son went, he told me with a slight laugh that his son attended nine rehabs before he found Vogue Treatment Center. He had learned from Vogue Treatment more about himself, and that he had to get clean for himself, not for anyone else. Richard told me about the mistakes he had made. It sounded eerily familiar. I thanked him and let him know that I would check Vogue out. But we lived in Pennsylvania, not Nevada, so I thought I would return home and check out some local rehabs. When I got home, to my surprise, Zach was still at the house, but his mood and looks had again drastically changed. He couldn’t meet me in the eye when we talked, he was mumbling with one-word answers. He just looked at the floor and scratched at his arms. I told him I forgave him, that I wanted to help him, and that I would do anything to get him back to center but that he alone needed to get clean for himself, and not for anyone else. His sleeve got bunched up, and I could see multiple track marks, and razor blade scars and cigarette burns from repeated cutting and self-harm. He told me how much he hated himself, and how he felt that he would never be good enough.
Then I did something I had never done: I grabbed him and held him in my arms and told him that I loved him. I held him for a very, very long time.
I told him how guilty I had felt by abandoning him to work, how much I missed his mom, how much I missed him. We actually started a dialogue and talked about our feelings. I mean, I’m not really like that, but I found out that we really needed that. I needed that. We started family therapy together, along with my daughter, who was starting to have anxiety issues around the possibility of losing her big brother, her hero, to drug addiction. But therapy wasn’t enough.
Therapy wasn’t enough
Therapy was working on a few great things with our family dynamics, and I learned some new communication tools, but I could tell Zach was slipping again and had started smoking pot and drinking. I let it go. I guess I was still in denial, wanting it to “go away” wanting the reality of the addiction not to be what it was. I really thought it was about willpower, not a disease. Months went by, and things weren’t getting better. When Zach let me know he was actively using again and couldn’t stop, we sat down together. He said that he felt unsafe in our town because “it was so easy to score,” and that he knew a lot I asked him if he would consider rehab. He waffled about it but knew he needed help. He told me his therapist thought it was a good idea to not visit his usual hangouts, but he said he didn’t know how to do that. He said he wanted to spend his 21st Birthday in Las Vegas with his friends. That’s when it flashed on me. That Las Vegas rehab that my client had told me about where his son went. I dug up Richard’s card and gave him a call. He told me that his son had stayed clean since he had been in Vogue Treatment. That was the clincher. That’s when I told Zach that I would pay for a ticket to Vegas, but it would be one-way. His birthday could be there, but it would be in a rehab. The other choice was that he leave my house that day and that he and I would stop having contact. It was the hardest thing for me to say, but I was at the end of my rope, and I felt that I had to hardline it with him. He said he needed some time to think about it. I said he didn’t get the time. He agreed to go. Thank God. Then I called and spoke to Jacque, she answered all my and Zach’s questions. She was so cool that Zach said he was actually excited to go and turn his life around. I agreed to pay, and since my insurance was still covering him, I had a lot of the financial worries removed.
Zach spent a total of 90 days in the program, 30 days in residential, and then he moved to what is called outpatient while staying at a sober living facility with other young men and attending sessions at Vogue. It’s been 304 days that Zach has been clean. I can sleep again, not be torn apart by worry, and be able to look my son in the eye and tell him how proud I am that he’s beating this insidious disease… that can happen to anyone. My son got his help at Vogue Recovery Center, Click here now to give them a call at 1-855-700-8648. It’s free to talk to them, so you have nothing to lose. If they could help us, they can help you. We’re in this together…