I Addressed My Own Drinking and It Was the Key to My Son’s Recovery

another glass of wine

On a June night three years ago, my son was stopped by police, driving down our street with marijuana, drug paraphernalia and too many other kids in my car. He was not under the influence that first night. Brought to the police station, 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. There was no emotional or financial pain great enough to go through until 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 not 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 son or daughter struggling with substances while denying their own? How strange is it to tell oneself that your addiction (to something more socially acceptable like alcohol) is OK, manageable, acceptable, familiar, and common — while his is criminal, deviant, embarrassing?

Deep down, I had known for years that I drank way 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 half years from his first arrest, through two interrupted attempts at live-away colleges (impossible for him, given his daily use), I remained very angry at him. I wondered, “Why not just drink alcohol? I managed 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 “OK” 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, my son told me that not only could he no longer live on a college campus overrun with drugs, neither 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.” It 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 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 and am now 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 drug 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 months. We are both sober one day at a time, as that is the only thing I can say with certainty. But 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.

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teen parent talking substance use
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    D Hicks

    May 30, 2018 at 7:08 PM

    The user must want to help themselves. No one can do it for them. No one can save them. One might think they are helping but they have to quit themselves. And anyone who is attempting to quit or has quit should be around users and no one using should be around the “recovering user.” They will always be recovering for life.

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    John Byrom

    May 30, 2018 at 4:41 PM

    Dear Mom
    I was a hopeless addict and my family helped me go to treatment. What would happen is truly amazing. I invited my family to my first year cake and 20 family members attended. We did this for 10 years straight. Then one by one other family members started getting sober. There was no interaction they got to see there was another way to live and followed me into recovery. Attraction rather than promotion. Now there are 14 members of my family in recovery, some in 12 step recovery and some through their church. When we get together we are the most fun at extended family parties.

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