"I'm scared, Mom," Mike said over the phone. "I'm scared and I need help."
My 21-year-old son, Mike, was talking to me from a cheap, drug-infested motel a few miles away from his college in Vermont. After hours of me trying to track him down, I was overcome with emotions of relief, fear, denial, and shame.
Mike's fight with addiction started when he was in high school. He was injured playing lacrosse and needed surgery on his shoulder. Following his surgery, Mike was given prescription painkillers, which he began abusing throughout most of his high school years. It wasn't until years later that I discovered my son's internal battles with insecurities and anxieties which drove his need to use drugs during school hours, before lacrosse games and during social gatherings. Once Mike reached college, he discovered heroin, which inevitably led him and our family to rock bottom.
When Mike would return home during college breaks, I noticed he was skinnier, easily irritable and not interested in spending time with our family. As Mike moved further and further away from the person he once was, my husband and I grew more and more ashamed. We often found ourselves making excuses for his poor behavior, hoping it was all just a phase he would soon grow out of.
As time went on, Mike became unrecognizable to us, but my husband and I were still in denial. Watching my son struggle and reflecting on what his addiction was doing to our family, I often felt helpless. I even began treating my son's addiction as if it were my fault.
For years, I lived under the "this cannot happen to my son" spell that physically and emotionally affected me. As a parent, it is hard to come to terms with the fact that your child has a serious problem. My husband and I chose to believe Mike's lies and would send him money while he was away at school -- money he used to fund his addiction. While my husband and I are not to blame for our son's choices, we are guilty of wanting to maintain our "perfect family next door" image and allowing denial to cloud our judgment.
Luckily, after years of self-destruction, my son was able to admit he needed professional help. During a one-month stay at Caron Treatment Centers, Mike was able to turn his life around and my family was able to start our long and difficult journey toward a happier and healthier dynamic.
As a mother, it was hard to accept that my son needed to go to rehab. Perhaps the most awakening part of the experience was going to Mike's college in Vermont to pack up his room while he was in treatment. There, I needed to get Mike out of his lease, pay back friends he had stolen from and clean out his room. When I opened the door to his room, it was filled with drug paraphernalia and things that I would never think belonged to him. Finally, I was forced to see my son and his addiction in its truest light. In that moment, there was no more denying that my son had a real problem.
Accepting that our son was a drug addict and helping him get treatment was half the battle. For years, my husband and I hid behind our embarrassment. It took time, but finally we realized we had to stop worrying about what everyone else would think and start worrying about what would be best for Mike. In fact, the only thing to be embarrassed about is worrying what others will think of your family instead of helping your child. Once we stopped fearing that people were judging us or talking behind our backs, we sought refuge among family members and friends who were supportive of our situation.
After freeing myself from the shackles of shame, I was finally able to focus on my new career (which was hard to do at age 50), my own health and most importantly, my family's healing process.
My family has a story that I believe many others are able to relate to, but are afraid to discuss openly. Today, I am proud to tell our story. Mike, who is now 26-years-old, has been sober for more than four years, is working full time at a treatment facility and continues to work on his recovery every day.
Together, Mike and I decided to write a memoir called, S.O.B.E.R.*, which opens us up in a completely vulnerable light.
The only thing to be embarrassed about is worrying about what people will think of your family instead of helping your child. It is our hope that by sharing our story, we are able to help other families find the strength they need to seek help and support for a family member struggling with addiction.