This is the story of our son’s journey (I’ll call him Ian) from an outgoing very lively child to three stays in clinics. Ian was diagnosed with ADHD at age 7 but it was clear from early on that he was an unusually active boy. He struggled at school until the diagnosis and then began to thrive once he was on medication.
The years went by and Ian went off to boarding school. You will second guess different decisions when it comes to your child’s path. I certainly do when it comes to sending him away from home for school. I remember thinking and commenting smugly at times to peers that the school told us there were no drug problems. It turned out not to be the case. But, in fairness, Ian was already doing drugs before boarding school (at least that is what he says). One of the hardest things about dealing with an addict is lying and manipulation. As a result, I don’t think I’ll ever know what is true from fiction when it comes to Ian’s drug years. He was a fan of all the majors–benzos, Oxy, Percocets, Xanax, and other assorted opioids. He liked something called Lean (a mix of codeine cough syrup and soda) and he also smoked a lot of pot.
The first memory I had of his drug use being out of control is when I came to visit the family at Christmas. His mom and I had split up but we did get together as a family once a year. I drove to her house by taxi and as we approached the entrance I saw Ian and a couple of his friends on the driveway. I asked the driver to stop and I put the window down and called out to him. He looked at me with glazed eyes and walked away. Let’s just say that moment changed me forever. The next two weeks were incredibly difficult as I got up to speed about just how bad things were at home. He was being kicked out of an international school (he had left boarding school after GCSEs). He was verbally abusive to his mom and sister (I don’t think his sister has really recovered from that time). We worked overtime to find him a clinic. He left for Yes We Can in early January.
I think the time at YWC was good for Ian but honestly he was not ready to be sober. If that is the case, a clinic will not work. I’m not saying don’t try it but be ready for disappointing results. I recall one of the YWC counselors saying that Ian was among the most manipulative patients they had ever come across. Clearly, the road to recovery was going to be a long road.
Ian came back to my home after YWC but immediately went to a group home. He stayed there for three months. When he got out I was able to connect through a friend to a top addiction specialist. I remember calling her and explaining Ian’s life to her. She said I should find a place in the world like a remote ranch and keep him there for at least a year. Her advice was impractical but it shook me. I was still naive. So, when Ian did leave the group home I was eager for him to go to university. Another mistake on my part. We push our kids to do things that we think will be good for them as if everyone can live the straight and narrow path. Ian had other ideas. I won’t go over the next couple of years. It was mostly in and out of other clinics–the last on on Ibiza of all places seemed to be the one that understood Ian and he listened and learned from them.
They say that addiction impacts the whole family. I could not agree more. I think going down this road with my son has changed me forever. It broke my upper middle class bubble that so many parents live in. I found myself (and think this has continued) being more sympathetic to other family’s internal issues. I walk around with a dark cloud over me that sometimes brightens but never goes away. I wake up every morning and check my phone first and foremost to see if anything has happened to my kids. I know all parents worry about their children but there is a special place for those of us who have kids with mental health issues.
Ian relapsed last summer while living with me. I was sad but not surprised. Statistically, an addict will go through many relapses before hopefully finding a way out. Ian is currently at university and appears to be doing well. He says he is off drugs. Meanwhile, I share my feelings (mostly) with a therapist. I never ever thought about seeing a therapist until Ian’s life took over mine. I highly recommend it and I highly recommend doing everything possible to come to the recognition that your child’s well being will always be part of your life but as hard as it is to reconcile, you have to get on with your life as well. I wish you all the best.