On a June night three years ago, my son was stopped by the police while driving down our street with marijuana, drug paraphernalia and too many other kids in my car. He was not under the influence. He was brought to the police station, and a court date was set and a lawyer contacted. Lots of yelling and crying and doors slamming around the house characterized the days that followed.
Another stop by police would follow about 10 months later, and this time, while under the influence of marijuana, he was processed as an adult. Many thousands of dollars were spent. Many professionals were consulted. We tried many types of formal treatment, such as day programs and an inpatient stay. No amount of emotional or financial pain seemed to faze him, not until he decided the lows of using marijuana for him outweighed his highs.
But this story is not going to be about his journey. It’s about the corresponding, overarching story of a 50-year-old woman, drinking too much alcohol since her own high school days, now trying to manage her oldest child’s addiction. The night the police brought my son home, I had been drinking wine. How many glasses? Three? Four? I don’t recall. I would “top off” my drinks and lose count. While I did not feel drunk, I had been drinking. I am sure, had I been required to go down to the station to retrieve him, it would have been noticeable on my breath. I am glad I did not have to drive that night.
How many other parents out there have a child struggling with substances while denying their own problem? How strange is it to tell oneself that your addiction (to something more socially acceptable like alcohol) is okay, manageable, acceptable, familiar and common — while his is criminal, deviant, embarrassing?
Deep down, I had known for years that I drank too much. Hangovers. Poor productivity at work. Portions of evenings I could not recall. Passing out in my clothes. Driving under the influence.
Over the course of two and a half years from my son’s first arrest, through two attempts at live-away colleges (impossible for him, given his daily substance use), I remained very angry at him. I wondered, “Why not just drink alcohol? I managed just to drink during college.” I actually thought it would be easier for all of us if had he just chosen an addiction I knew something about! After all, I grew up with an “active drinker” as my parent. I knew about hangovers! Why can’t he get it together, I wondered? Friends asked me similar questions. I would always answer, incredulously, “He just doesn’t like alcohol,” as if that was such a strange thing. I did not yet realize that he struggled with a substance use disorder and that no drug would be “okay” for him.
I held so much resentment toward him, toward marijuana itself, even toward the professionals who worked with him and were trying to pull me into family treatment. I resisted family treatment because I blamed my son entirely for this problem. I also did not agree to family sessions, I realize, because I did not want to talk about, nor be confronted about, my drinking. I had once been confronted by a friend, and had shut her right down. I refused to give up alcohol during a three-day period visiting my son at a rehab facility in Nashville, TN, when the facilitators of the family meetings urged us all to not use any mind-altering substances while visiting our loved ones. I drank each night I was there.
Then one day, something changed. After a late night of drinking heavily in my home this past fall, which coincided with my son’s return from college, exhausted, deflated, stressed and anxious from his substance use, he told me that not only could he no longer live on a college campus overrun with substances, nor could he live at home with my drinking. His exact words were, “This is not a safe place for me to live if I am going to recover.” His words cut me in two. They were 100% true and they hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to stop drinking.
I am hoping that my story can help someone else. Since that Saturday morning, coming off of my last hangover (God willing), I have made a commitment both to myself and to my son that he will never again see me with a drink. I am working on my own recovery, so I am properly able to support his. The road is still challenging for us both, but is so much more manageable now that I am no longer pointing a hypocritical finger at my son, angrily recounting all of the past events related to his substance use. Would I want for him to recount his childhood memories of Mom drunk? No. We both have to move forward.
It may sound obvious to say, but alcohol is as much a drug as marijuana. I am proud to say that as of this writing, my son hasn’t used substances for three months and I haven’t had a drink in six. We are both taking recovery one day at a time. The generational cycle of addiction in my family was long overdue to be called out, and then broken — and it came, in part, from the truth finally being spoken.