Faces of Addiction: A Mother’s Story

August 14, 2010, my birthday. I had been looking forward to a family vacation. Instead my husband and I found ourselves sitting at Caron Treatment Center’s Family Education Program. Our 19-year-old son was in rehab; his drug of choice: opiates. For a long time, I couldn’t say the word “heroin,” I’d refer to it as the “H” word.

‘I wanted to “love him back to health” and couldn’t. Aren’t we, as Mothers, only okay when our children are okay? Is that codependency? How does a Mother discern between the two? I’m still not sure. Aren’t we only as happy as our least happy child?’

How did this happen? Our son comes from a “typical” middle class and loving family. He was taught wrong from right. He had opportunities; music, sports, travel. He went to Sunday School and attended church. He was (and still is) surrounded by people who love him.

When he was caught stealing pain killers from a friend’s house, we were scared and yet somehow allowed ourselves to believe it was something we could fix. I remember thinking, we’ll just get him help, the right doctor, the right therapist, the right medication, whatever it takes we will take care of it. And for a time, we believed that. He joined the PA Army National Guard. That would straighten him out. And then one day he came to me and said he was going to die unless he got help. That’s when I called Caron. My husband and I knew nothing about addiction. We thought our son would go into rehab, leave in 30 days, go off to college and be “cured.” I’ll never forget the day he was admitted, and Caron’s counselor looked me in the eye and said, “Mom, he’s not coming home” and “Mom, he’s not going off to college in the fall.” My teeth began to chatter; for the first time the reality and shock set in.

Three words to describe Caron’s Family Education Program; enlightening, powerful and exhausting. This was where we were introduced to the three Cs of addiction: I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it, and I can’t control it. Caron was also the first place we had a glimmer of hope. We listened to a parent of a Caron alumna share his son’s story, their family’s journey and how his son was living in sobriety, even attending college. Their family relationship was healing. I clearly remember hanging onto his every word and thinking and visualizing, “I want this for us.”

Our son completed 30 days at Caron followed by 3 months of extended care at Little Creek Lodge in Scranton, PA. Our son did indeed not return home to live with us and he did not go off to college in the fall. What he did do, was learn how to live. And what followed was six years of sobriety.

As part of our recovery, and a year into our son’s sobriety, my husband and I began sharing our family’s story during Caron’s Family Education Program. We did this monthly for five years.

For us, it was therapeutic and our way of giving back. It felt good to share our “success” and provide hope to these families. No one knew better than we did, what they were going through.

In those six years, I absolutely had moments of being scared and bracing for the “call” (I probably still do from time to time and I’m working on that). I also had moments of gratitude.

Our family got to take that missed vacation. Our son showed up when he said he was going to, we shared laughter, our son enrolled himself in college and earned an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice. We were a family again, a grateful family.

They say relapse is part of recovery and that’s something I continue to struggle with. I accept the words but never wanted to accept the reality. We faced relapse for the first time about a year and a half ago. For me, a brutal reality check. This relapse was rough and our son was hospitalized. After much consideration, a good amount of self-doubt and I believe a small amount of guilt, our son accepted the idea of medically assisted treatment.

I wanted to “love him back to health” and couldn’t. Aren’t we, as Mothers, only okay when our children are okay? Is that codependency? How does a Mother discern between the two? I’m still not sure. Aren’t we only as happy as our least happy child? I’ll be honest and admit that up until that time Al-Anon had not played a big role in my recovery; I dabbled in it from time to time. I had always heard you needed to try different meetings and keep going back; but it never stuck. A few months ago, I found and have been faithfully attending an Al-Anon group for women. I’m beginning to like it.

Thanks to an excellent doctor and continued support from the Caron community, our son is sober (a little over a year) again. He is currently living at home, working full-time, paying his

bills and reclaiming his life and I hope his happiness.

Lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn:

  • Addiction absolutely is a family disease.

  • Love – a mother’s love cannot fix it.

  • Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself. A good therapist (for me one who specializes in co-dependency) has been incredibly helpful. And I’ve recently reconnected with a supportive Al-Anon group.

  • We are still figuring things out as we go along. Some days are easier than others. Some days I’m sicker than others.

  • I still worry. I am still grateful.

  • Thanks to a very wise person, I recently learned “I can’t predict the future.”

  • The slogans are true, “one day at a time” and “let go let God” are not clichés. They are daily, sometimes hourly, reminders.

  • Pray & hope. Maybe, just maybe, God has bigger and better plans for his future than I do.

  • No matter what, I’ll be okay.


These are our Sons, Not Statistics

As proof that substance abuse disorder lives in every neighborhood, the next three articles offer the heartbreaking perspective of mothers who struggled with children suffering from substance abuse. The wisdom and words provided by these strong women teaches us all that, like any disease, addiction can hit closer to home than any of us imagine.

As a community we all need to remember that those suffering from substance abuse are not statistics, they are our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers; they are our siblings, they are our neighbors and our colleagues, they served our country and learned in our schools. On behalf of The Response and SOS Berks, we whole-heartedly thank these mothers for having the strength to share their stories. We acknowledge that these are ever changing stories and wish the families well in their recovery journeys.

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