“I’m addicted to heroin and I need help.”
Those are the words that rang through my family’s ears as my two older brothers and my mom and dad sat with me that memorable Christmas Day in 2009. I couldn’t believe it. Did those words just come out of my mouth? Yup, they sure did. Did I just share that with my parents? I vaguely remember thinking to myself, so much for everyone having a Merry Christmas.
The room was consumed with devastation and urgency. Staring back at their then-17-year-old adolescent son, just months away from graduating high school, my parents took immediate action to find me care and treatment. It was as if my family had been replaced by a SWAT team as they rushed to help me breach the door of willingness into the rooms of recovery.
I didn’t know the first thing about treatment for addiction. What I did know was that I was not capable of making any type of crucial decision regarding my personal health and well-being. Back then, I had little comprehension of how health care worked. That’s where they came in. I couldn’t tell you who they called or how it happened, but somehow an opportunity became available for me to be admitted to inpatient treatment, and I took it.
Going through treatment for heroin addiction
Almost daily, while I was in inpatient treatment, I received letters from my family. From “you got this” Hallmark cards to hand-written letters and inspirational quotes. Lots of inspirational quotes. Each letter was a representation of what encouragement and love looks like. In my family, addiction was treated with the same love and affection as if I had suffered from any other potentially fatal illness. On days when my recovery from addiction seemed unbearable, receiving words of encouragement from my family gave me hope and strength to continue moving forward.
When I was away in treatment, my parents learned all they could about the disease of addiction and the recovery process. Somehow they instinctively knew that family was a key role in recovery support. Help your son get to recovery groups and counseling. Take care of yourself. Get involved in your local community. These are some of the fantastic instructions my family received while I was in treatment — and that is exactly what they did.
My parents did massive amounts of research on their own, learning about how to aid in the prevention of relapse and how to empower me to foster and grow my recovery. They wanted to understand. They gathered the information they could find and implemented it. They accepted that it wasn’t any fault of their own that led to their child suffering from addiction. It was a disease and it needed treatment.
When I was unexpectedly discharged early from inpatient care, my parents reached out to numerous extended-care programs to find a facility where I could continue the treatment I needed. They were told by professionals that no program would take me because I had already been in treatment for a considerable period of time. Not taking no for an answer, my parents swiftly found another program to continue my care.
Finishing my treatment and preparing for recovery
While continuing my care was now a possibility, I felt otherwise. I felt as though I was stable enough to return home. And I wasn’t stable enough to return home. I was not yet equipped with the tools necessary to continue my recovery. It was my parents who relentlessly urged me to continue with treatment that ultimately led me to proceed with my care. After what felt like an eternity (which was about an hour) of discussing additional treatment, their urging paid off. I was admitted to another treatment facility that same day. I stayed another two months to complete my inpatient care.
Before I returned home, my parents removed all alcohol and potentially risky substances from our house. They provided me a safe place to live. They wanted me to have a place to come home to that would be cleared of potential temptations. For my recovery, they gave up alcohol themselves, something they’ve continued even to this day. In a lot of ways, I think the willingness my parents showed to help me engage in recovery has been more powerful and beneficial than even the acts themselves. It showed me that they meant business — that they were all-in with Team Keegan, and that this recovery thing was on.
Early in my recovery, my parents and I sat around our kitchen table every night to review our day — an exercise that I had learned in treatment, found beneficial and wanted to continue at home. We would talk about things like whether I experienced thoughts of using substances and how I dealt with them, what I did that day for my recovery and what each of us had done to contribute to the good of others. We ended each review of our days by discussing what we could do better for tomorrow. It helped us all to share our vulnerabilities.
I was two weeks out from high school graduation when I completed inpatient treatment and returned home. I didn’t want to be around the hoopla and predictable, potentially high-risk graduation parties, so rather than walking for my diploma, my family and I packed our bags and set off for Cleveland. We had my “graduation” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame instead! It was an amazing experience.
Following addiction treatment
My parents supported me in putting my recovery first. Even on family vacations. I was always able and encouraged to explore and attend new recovery meetings wherever we went. My parents would make certain that if there was a recovery meeting nearby I wanted to attend, our day was planned around it — sun and sand would happen before or after.
Through every event my family always supported me. We established a secret code for extended family gatherings where alcohol was served. We made certain that there was a signal that meant it was time to go, no questions asked.
My parents have accompanied me to countless medical appointments in recovery. Knowing the medical community was far less informed on my condition than it should be, they taught me how to navigate the health care system. They helped me enforce my recovery through self-advocating for proper care as a recovering person and educating providers about addiction and recovery, and helped me time and time again to reinforce to physicians what medications are safe and unsafe for a person in recovery.
Support. This one word has enveloped my entire experience. My parents have physically, mentally, emotionally and financially supported me through each step of my recovery. I would not have the life I have today if it were not for the support that my parents have provided.
My life in recovery today
Today, I work in the recovery field and provide the same type of invaluable support to others as was given to me. I provide support services to people seeking recovery from addiction through engaging them in treatment and in local recovery communities, and empowering them to become independent members of their lives and own recovery.
I have a friend who frequently compares recovery to the ending of The Chronicles of Narnia. Just as soon as you reach the end of Narnia, a more beautiful and miraculous world than the last presents itself. A world that, prior to breaking through to the other side, was not thought possible to exist. That is what recovery has continuously provided for me. And I have had the opportunity to experience it in large part due to the irreplaceable love and support that has been provided by my family.
Today, I am a person who is living in long-term, sustained recovery. My family celebrates my recovery anniversary with me year after year. Christmastime now has an additional special meaning around our neck of the woods: This December 24th my family and I will celebrate my eighth year of recovery.