Tough Love: My Most Excruciating Night as a Parent

During the four months before my son turned 18, I think I saw him maybe 12 times. He would leave early in the morning and return late in the evening. When our paths did cross, his eyes were glazed over.
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Preface for reader: This is the first time I have written publicly about the intimate events surrounding some of my son's substance abuse issues. It was a hard piece to write and even harder for my son to read. But I post it here with his blessing.


During the four months before my son turned 18, I think I saw him maybe 12 times. He would leave early in the morning and return late in the evening. When our paths did cross, his eyes were glazed over, his body language screamed F-you, and he would slink into his room, slam the door and turn up the music. I knew the drugs were racing through his body and I felt powerless, helpless and confused. Most of all I was scared to confront him. I was met with lies, fights, yelling, more lies, excuses and accusations. Addicts are the best liars on earth. Where was my son? How could this have happened? I'd helped thousands of children turn their life around through education and mentoring -- Why couldn't I help my own son?

I lived in fear that I would get that call. The one all parents with kids addicted to drugs fear; that he was either dead or in jail. That call came. He had been arrested. The cops found him passed out in his car, at a stoplight and they couldn't wake him up. They had to crash the window of the car to rouse him and get him out of the vehicle. Anguish and dread slowly filled my entire body. He wasn't hurt, thank God, but he was stoned out of his mind! He was arrested on the spot and taken to jail. All I could think about after that call was, "Thank God he hadn't killed someone."

But that was not the Most Excruciating Night.

After he was bailed out of jail, his behavior and substance issues got worse. One night I walked to his bedroom. There he was, passed out cold, lights on, with music blaring. My heart was racing, my breath was rapid, and I ran to his bed. I could not wake him up. I yelled, pushed him and shook his head, all the while screaming his name over and over. He was breathing, but just barely. Just as I was about to sprint out of there to grab my phone and call 911, he moved and his eyes slanted open at me. I yelled, "What did you take? Tell me what you are on!" And he told me.

But that was not the Most Excruciating Night.

A few days after that night, he turned 18. For the past four months I had been in contact with addiction specialists, other friends who had navigated this chaos, rehabs, counselors and anyone who would listen to my story. Mostly I heard, "he has to hit bottom first." I was incredibly grateful for the advice and support I received, but I was still an emotional wreck, constantly sick in my stomach, riddled with anxiety, deprived of sleep, and lost.

And then something came over me that I can only explain as a shock and awe epiphany. I CAN'T LIVE LIKE THIS ANYMORE. And at that moment all the emotional shit that I was holding inside of me morphed into a raging burst of epic anger directed at my son. YOU CAN DO THIS TO YOURSELF, BUT YOU WILL NOT DO THIS TO ME! Get treatment or get out of my house! There would be no more negotiations, no more lies, no more empty threats, no more contracts, no more waiting for him to die in my home! So I gave him the ultimatum -- substance treatment or pack your bags and leave this house! At once he knew I was serious. It was not only in my voice, but my conviction was spewing from every cell in my body. My eyes sent darts to his heart. To say he was floored would be an understatement. I could see he was scared to death. But he was addicted, and addicts turn their fear into anger, and he grabbed a backpack, no money to his name, and walked out of the house screaming, "You always mindfuck me!" I pleaded at him, "Please don't make this decision." He kept walking.

But that was not the Most Excruciating Night.

He was gone. One day turned into four days, which turned into more days. I had no idea where he was. I didn't know if he would ever come home and get help. I didn't know if he was alive. I couldn't eat, sleep, or communicate. I tried searching for him to no avail. I was fully absorbed by this experience and the longer this went on, the sicker I became. On the tenth night, around midnight, I heard a light tap at my door.

Here comes the Most Excruciating Night.

"Mom, let me in. Mom, open the door." I was scared to death, my heart beating so hard it felt like tiny earthquakes in my chest. I opened the door slightly. Standing before me was my dirty, stick thin, pale, sunken-eyed son. "Mom, I need a place to sleep. I'm cold and hungry, please." As my heart sliced itself up, I looked at him and said, "You don't live here anymore. You made that decision 10 days ago. You need to leave." I was turning my own son away at the entrance to our home! What type of sick mother does that? What type of mother can look into the face of her disheveled, filthy, scared son and turn him away?

THIS type of mother, damn it! I knew I had to do the most excruciating thing ever in order to save my child. It went against every instinct, and every fiber of my mom being. Would he turn around and leave again? It was an unbearable risk. The longer he stood there in the sickening silence the more scared I became. "I'll get help" quietly slipped from his lips, and before I sank to the floor, I opened the door, and he stepped through into the rest of his beautiful life.

A wise person once told me that our kids like their zip codes. They'll come home, but you might first have to endure your most excruciating night.

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