Recovery Story of Father and Son
In March of 2011, my family was faced with a mind-blowing declaration from our son, Zack, when he confided to me and my wife, Debbie, that he had a serious substance abuse problem. Zack, who was 20 years old at the time, evidently was caught up in the prescription drug abuse epidemic that is plaguing Staten Island and he could not free himself from the grips of drug addiction.
It all came down one afternoon when Debbie realized that most of our good jewelry was gone – nowhere to be found. I ran home from work and immediately called 911 to report the robbery, not knowing that the thief was actually standing in front of me – my own kid. In the midst of the chaos, I guess Zack came to the realization that his silent world of drug use was about to blow up in his face with the strong possibility of an arrest, so he finally came forward and confessed his actions. For good or for bad, I called-off the police, and then tried to put the pieces together to see what the hell was going on.
I wondered – how could this be? How could he do this to us? We had enough problems to deal with – money, mortgage, and our own health issues, let alone trying to manage with our younger son’s severe disabilities for the last 18 years. We thought our “normal” son had it pretty good for a handsome 20-year-old guy living in New York. He was not for want of anything. Even though we were struggling financially, when he needed or just wanted something, somehow we managed to get it for him. We enjoyed providing for him and seeing him happy. He had parents that loved him and protected him, and he had our complete trust. Zack also had full access to everything we owned as a family – the house, the cars, the yard, and even an in-ground pool. With lots of friends, who were always welcome in our home, our basement was the “hang-out” to play video games and to hold band practice; our thinking was that we knew where he was – under our own roof – safe and out of trouble.
Zack is fairly intelligent and is also a very talented musician. He easily earned good grades in school, and then had the opportunity to fulfill his passion for music and attend college to secure a career in the music industry, which we fully supported. All we asked of him was to “do the right thing” – take care of your responsibilities and then enjoy life – good things will come if you just give it some effort. Unfortunately, all that was afforded to him wasn’t enough, and eventually his addiction, his disease, took control of his life and nothing else mattered to him except how to get his hands on more pills and at any expense, no matter who he hurt or what the consequences were to himself or to anyone else.
In hindsight, it should have been obvious to recognize what was festering around us. Under our careful watch, the signs were all there, but we did not pick up on them or perhaps, weren’t ready to face the reality. However, we were aware that Zack was very shy and uncomfortable in certain social settings. And, his behavior patterns were typically self-centered, compulsive, and obsessive. He also had a very negative attitude towards society and pessimistic feelings about life in general. But, we also knew that Zack smoked weed –a lot of weed, and he couldn’t wake up for nothing in the morning or the afternoon, or even late afternoon. And, he couldn’t hold a part-time job for any length of time, nor could he bear to travel to the city to go to his classes – an audio technology curriculum that was supposed to be his dream. Yet, he was able stay up to all hours of the night and managed to do the things that he wanted to do – like hanging-out with his friends, playing his guitar, playing video games, smoking weed, and sleeping. We just figured that he was who he was – a difficult teenager. Then again, you would think that the money you thought you put down “right there” or the ring or the watch you thought you misplaced would show up eventually but really never did would bring our attention to a problem here, but then you start second guessing yourself, thinking that a rational explanation would surface.
And then there were the strange and unexplained aches and pains that Zack constantly complained about. He also didn’t eat well and he basically looked like crap. So, as any parents would do, we took him to several different doctors and specialists, who examined him and ordered all kinds of lab tests, (except drug abuse tests, by the way); meanwhile, Zack played along under the radar with his antics. Of course the lab results were negative, but the doctors concluded that Zack suffered from chronic depression and treated him with an anti-depression medication. It’s amazing to me that not one of those professionals picked up on signs that I now see as pointing to a possible problem with addiction, but then again neither did us, so I guess we’ll leave it to the fact that Zack, being the addict that he had become, had an incredible ability to deceive the best of them. Looking back, there were so many indications brewing that would eventually lead up to the “storm of the century” for our family.
Our first reaction on that awful night when he acknowledged to us his addiction to prescription pills was to get him help – not to kick the living crap out of him like I wanted to, not to throw him out or turn our backs to him. Of course those thoughts did cross my mind, but I knew not to go there. Sure I was devastated, distraught, angry, afraid, and even embarrassed, but at least Debbie and I had some sense to know something had to be done about this crisis and done first thing in the morning.
We knew of the YMCA Counseling Service by word-of-mouth and from our family, so we decided that that’s where he would go – very simple – the plan was that he would stop abusing the pills, go to the program for a few weeks, get cured, and get on with his life. Wrong answer! We never fathomed that he was in such a serious life or death situation.
When Zack entered the out-patient treatment program at the Y, we thought it would be quick and easy. After all, “he wasn’t that bad” compared to other people’s stories we had heard. As we know now, addiction is addiction and the journey to recovery is a slow and conscious process. Unfortunately, in the beginning phases of his treatment, Zack was stringing everyone along, leading everyone to believe he was clean and doing what he supposed to be doing, but in reality he was only fooling himself. Yes he was going to treatment, wasn’t getting high – so we thought – be he was still sneaking around and picking up drugs. After six weeks, I guess when he realized that the Y was “on to him” and getting on his case despite his several successful attempts of fooling the random drug tests, Zack decided that he was “done” with the program and that he was “good,” “That’s it – done,” as he said. However, little did he realize that for the last six weeks Debbie and I were beginning our journey to recovery too; getting stronger and stronger and more educated about addiction and our “family” disease. As was strongly suggested, we came to Nar-Anon and kept coming back.
When I first stepped into the Nar-Anon in August 2011, I thought I was there to fix my son’s addiction, but I soon learned that was there to fix myself. From the get-go, the words, “This meeting is for you” stuck in my head. I needed something for me. I was completely engulfed in the chaos and symptoms of his addiction – the lies, the manipulations, the stealing, and the false promises. My whole life was revolved around what he was doing or not doing, where he was going, and who he was with. I was even doing most of the work for his treatment – I was keeping account of his schedule, reminding him of his NA meetings, driving him to meetings, making sure he was on time , calling people for him, even yelling at him to take a shower when I wanted him to. I was not only neglecting myself and the rest of my family, but I was also driving myself crazy. In fact, I was addicted to him.
I learned after a few weeks at Nar-Anon to “Say what I mean and mean what I say”. So, when Zack chose to leave the ‘Y’ in May, Debbie and I finally had the strength and courage to give him the opportunity to make a decision – we told him you can stay in treatment and work at getting healthy, or you can decide not to stay in treatment, but you’ll then have to leave our home. “We’re not going to stand by and watch you slowly kill yourself.” That morning his choice was that he would not return to treatment, so as difficult as it was, we told him he could no longer live in our home. However, in the heat of the moment, we didn’t exactly follow through with our word; we sort of caved in at the eleventh hour as he was literally packing a bag to leave and we offered him “Plan B”. That plan was to do 90/90 (90 NA meetings in 90 days), get a sponsor, and go to one-on-one counseling. Of course he agreed, then again who wouldn’t in order to stay nice and comfortable in their own home, and so we began the next chapter of his addiction. Again, he went through the motions and did what was asked of him, doing it his way, but something was still wrong – he wasn’t doing it for himself – he wasn’t ready. As we believe everything happens for a reason, sadly he relapsed – an unfortunate reality of the disease, but this time I was prepared, and I was prepared because of Nar-Anon.
This time around, the symptoms of his addition were so obvious that we all knew what had to be done to save his life. Zack himself finally realized that in-patient treatment was what he needed and he finally surrendered in July of 2011. Ultimately, we took control of our house and made it known that active addiction will no longer have a place in our lives or in our home. We flew him out to Los Angeles with the help of my nephew, and Zack signed himself into a residential drug treatment facility. He then followed through with what was suggested to him- he humbly worked the Twelve-Step Program. After 2 months, Zack was prepared to enter a transitional living arrangement (a sober living house) in LA, called “The Last House”, and he also signed up for 2 months of intensive out-patient treatment. He successfully completed his out-patient and graduated from sober living after 8 months. When I visited him in LA, he proudly showed me his name inscribed on the house’s commemorative graduates’ plaque – Zack was one of the only three clients at that time that has completed the program in the last two years since the house opened.
This time around his recovery was not for anyone else but himself. He is learning to practice the tools he needs to cope with life on life terms to sustain his sobriety “one day at a time.” In his early recovery, Zack continues to do his step work with his sponsor, attend his meetings regularly, make his commitments, and reach out to his people when he needs to. He decided after sober-living to stay in Los Angeles and he re-enrolled back in the same audio technology program that he attempted in NY. However, his last month in LA had been trying for all of us with Zack’s emerging health issues with his kidneys and him questioning his plans to stay in LA, we made a conscious decision that he should come back to live at home in NY -with the pros of this choice outweighing the cons. We believe that Zack is strong enough at this point in his recovery to maintain his sobriety no matter where he is geographically. With guarded optimism, I am proud to say that my son is now clean and sober for twenty-three months! His behavior, his honesty, his attitude and his actions are proof of his accomplishments. There is renewed hope for his future and his relationship with us, which is really all we ever prayed for. It was a blessing to hear him say last year that he was so grateful that we were attending Nar-Anon meetings. I am now truthfully able to tell him that, “I get it – I understand.”
I know that Nar-Anon is where I need to be every Tuesday night. It is here that I feel I am not alone. I meet other people and families that share my feelings and I realize that my story may be different, but my situation was not unique. “My people” at Nar-Anon really understand where I’m coming from – they can relate. It is so comforting to know that in our meetings we can say anything about what we are going through without being judged or criticized, while knowing that we have complete anonymity. There are some folks that are further along in the program and some with more experience with addiction, but because of their sharing, I gain more knowledge every week and become reassured in what I have to do for myself to stay healthy. Even the newcomers can shed some light by reminding me what has led me here, and it also gives me the opportunity to give a little back. It feels good to know that you might make a difference in someone else’s life. I know that there is no magic cure for this disease, but I also know that I can cope with it and I can grow at my own pace. I’m better prepared to make the decisions that are right for me. I leave every meeting in a better frame of mind than when I walked in. Others may sympathize with us, but they really have no clue. We need to be with those who are experiencing similar situations so that we can all help each other.
I cannot say enough about everyone in Nar-Anon and the information and comfort that they have imparted on me by sharing their feelings. Everyone makes themselves available beyond the meeting time for any questions and or help, or just to listen, no matter how big or small the issue. The education I’ve gained about addiction and its effects on the family are invaluable. I learned about the addict, how to respond to him instead of reacting to him, and how to try to have a good life despite with my addict is in a good place or not. I learned that Zack has to follow his own path. I cannot do it for him, for I have my own path and my own journey. Our paths can run parallel, I can love and support him, and cheer him on, but he has to make his own life choices and I must let him. If he falls, he must learn to pick himself up, seek help, work it out, and get back on track. I also have learned that I can help him, but not enable him, I can “walk” next to him in his journey, but I cannot “carry” him, and I learned that that I have to continue to concentrate on my own recovery. I now know that in order to help my son – my qualifier, my addict – who I love dearly, I have to first get my own life together, stay healthy and focused, and most importantly take care of myself. The group has given me the tools to do this and I am forever grateful.
…written by a father of one of our alumni