It seems hard to know where to start, to really know how and where this all began. Stating the facts of it all seems to only really scratch the surface of so many feelings, beliefs , experiences and thoughts that all contributed to our son going to a clinic at 17 years old to address seriously challenging behaviour, alcohol abuse and the withdrawal from engagement with work and school and from old friends.
His friends were now those who would engage with him in whatever he needed, namely to drink. He stole continually, loading our bank cards into various websites, taking money from wallets, taking alcohol from friends houses, from places of work. He lied so convincingly and consistently that we lost all trust in him and it deeply affected our ability to engage meaningfully with him. As his addiction took hold he would search for and take anything he could get hold of, medicines, sleeping pills, his ADHD medication in any combination and quantity. As we tried to hide everything he got more angry, manipulative and aggressive. He put on weight, his face became bloated, he had dark circles underneath his eyes, he didn’t bother to shower or bath, wear clean clothes or eat well, if at all until the middle of the night. His bedroom was not just messy, but filthy. It stank of alcohol. His whole body was sweating alcohol.
We wondered often, are you still there? This man-boy in our midst was now unrecognisable to us. We would catch a glimpse of a photograph of our smiling, affectionate little boy or an old poem he had written at school or a painting from when he was little and our hearts would break. Sometimes we felt as if we hated him, we ourselves were so angry at the chaos he was causing, at the pain he caused his siblings, at the peace he robbed us of, the endless sleepless nights, the arguments we would have between us as his parents over how to go forward. It was consuming. We felt desperate for answers, for a path ahead, to know where to turn, what to do, how to help, how to claw our way out of the pain and sadness and hopelessness of it.
We were lucky in that we had family and friends with connections into the world of mental health and addiction and we came across Yes We Can. Interestingly the adolescent psychiatrist had not heard of it, despite being a wonderful and compassionate and insightful doctor who had helped our son for a few years. As well as the psychiatrist he had been to different therapists to help with the anxiety he experienced since he was little. At the age of nine he was diagnosed with ADHD. I myself was diagnosed with ADHD on the back of understanding so much more about it and had also experienced anxiety growing up. His grandfather, grandmother and uncle all struggled with addiction. We now know how potent the correlation of ADHD and addiction can be; how genetics play a role as well as family stories and inter-generational trauma. The traits of impulsion and compulsion coupled with low boredom and tolerance threshold are ripe ground for escape through addiction. The need for the dopamine fix to just feel OK, to feel that life is tolerable, worth it. Some way to find let-up from the ceaseless overthinking and anxious feelings – and increasingly, the notion that you are somehow wrong.