He’s wasted so many years. He’s so old. He’s not moving forward. These thoughts kept me up night after night. Everyone else’s kids from his high school class were enjoying college and are now graduating seniors. I stopped asking about their kids when chit chatting because I was terrified they’d ask about my kid. I became an expert at walking away from a conversation just as they were about to ask.
There was an understood timeline for success and my kid wasn’t even at the beginning. I made excuses, I mumbled, was vague, and became antisocial to avoid the subject.
I judged myself and assumed everyone else would judge me also. He couldn’t finish a semester of college, although he was accepted into excellent universities every time he reapplied. He was described by his teachers as cerebral and creative – a fantastic combination.
He also was suffering from anxiety, depression and had a genetic disposition for addictions, which all eventually led to substance abuse.
And as everyone else’s perfect children were moving forward in their lives, mine was holed up in his childhood bedroom sinking deeper into the mud, spinning around desperately searching for something to cling onto to pull himself out, only to be sucked in deeper with all of the flailing.
He suffered and I suffered. But something else happened also. We both gained tremendous knowledge and learned invaluable, life changing lessons.
He is today sober for 1.5 years, is a manager in a sober living home, and is in college working his way toward becoming a psychologist. He lives in an apartment across the country and is part of a community. This is some of what we’ve learned.
- There is no timeline for success. Period. Timelines are false. Everyone has their own journey to travel and it must be done at their pace. I used to think he was so old. Now I think he is so young to have learned so much about himself, to have a manageable plan for his future, to have coping skills for life’s unpredictabilities, and to be so resilient.
- There is no universal definition of success and following what’s expected does not guarantee happiness, purpose, or triumph.
- There is no reason to feel shame if my child’s journey is different from other people’s children’s journeys. Had I shared my vulnerabilities, other people would have opened up to me and we likely would have found important support. If you scratch the surface, everyone has struggles they’re experiencing. Sharing together makes us all stronger.
- Clear boundaries are lifesaving when in a relationship with someone with substance abuse. If I had kept stronger boundaries, we each likely would have been ready sooner for the necessary outside help.
- He had to be ready. I could not take this journey for him. I could provide the support but he had to want the support.
In our case, my son felt he had exhausted every other option when I informed him that we were on the next morning’s flight to an inpatient recovery center. Although he wasn’t happy to be going, after a day at the center, he took the branch that was being offered to him. He grabbed onto it and not only pulled himself out of that sinkhole, but whittled new devices to help others pull themselves out of their holes, and he hasn’t looked back.
He and I have both admitted recently to each other that 1.5 years ago neither of us could actually picture him as a grown adult. We each secretly feared he would not have a future. I view his transformation as miraculous and I am grateful every day. But I also know that he had to go through the suffering to be in the strong place he’s in today. This was the timeline he needed. This was how he would reach his personal success.