By: Susan Collins, mother of Transformations alumnus
My son was born on March 31, 1988. He was a beautiful baby boy, peaches and cream with reddish blond hair. For the first year of his life he was all sunshine. When you would go to get him in the morning, he would be smiling. He didn’t scream or cry, that I remember. I’m sure he did a bit, but he was a very easy going baby. When he turned a year old, he found his voice and from that moment on, my son was a force to be reckoned with…and then some.
My son was very creative but very stubborn. He liked to write even at an early age and would write little articles for his school newspaper in grade school. He never shied away from talking with people and he made friends easily. As time went on, my son played baseball, but didn’t really like it much. He also played basketball for a short period of time, which he also didn’t care for. He did enjoy winter swimming for the YMCA for a few years and was a very good swimmer and won a number of medals. He was fun to watch. And although he didn’t like baseball that much, he was a really good hitter and made the All-Star Team. His father loved baseball, and I think that is why my son played as long as did.
My son went through a period of time where he got into the Catholic Church. He was an altar boy and a lector. We didn’t know it at the time, but my son, scared of going to hell, was afraid to tell us that he was gay. He thought that if he prayed hard enough and did what the church wanted, he wouldn’t be gay. That is so sad on so many levels. Not only because he thought he shouldn’t be gay and that the church’s influence would take away his gayness, but because his father and I weren’t there for him. I knew my son was different, but when I asked him point blank if he was gay, he told me no and I chose to believe him. I think I wanted to believe he wasn’t because being gay, in my mind, was a very difficult road because not everyone accepts you for who you are and your journey in life is going to be more difficult than for someone who is straight. I will always regret I didn’t force the issue and make him tell me the truth then.
My son’s entire temperament began to change when he hit eleven or twelve. He started hanging out with some kids that we weren’t thrilled with, but he was very strong willed and he insisted on being friends with them. He was also friends with others who we did like, but again, he was changing and not for the better. He became angry and he started skipping school. He was arrested for stealing cigars from a pharmacy and that was just the beginning of his downward spiral into a world that we sometimes chose to ignore or to not believe he was part of – whenever you look back on your life, you always see things you wish you could change. I have many of these with my son.
Coming Out and Needing Help
Finally, when he was a freshman in high school, he finally came to us and told us he was gay and also that he needed help, he had a drug problem. He would say horrible things when he was in the throes of his addiction. He basically had a kind heart, but his need for drugs buried his goodness leaving someone I hardly knew in its place. . He did get help at a treatment center, but he went back to drugs soon after he came home. My son spent his 18th birthday at a drug rehab in upstate Pennsylvania. Over the next ten years there were more rehabs and relapses. My son did receive his associates degree during that time but when he went to Temple University for his bachelors, he got more heavily into drugs and eventually he dropped out of school and with nowhere to go, he came back home.
I felt so helpless, but what I was able to do for my son was be his advocate to find the rehabs, work with the insurance companies, and continue to hold out hope that this time would be the time that he actually got it, that he wanted to be clean, that he didn’t want to be a drug addict anymore. Not that I thought he really wanted to be a drug addict, but in my mind he kept going back to the drugs because he wanted the drugs more than he wanted to be drug free – that whatever he thought they gave him…was something he thought he couldn’t live without. Sometimes I think it was because his friends didn’t change – same old, same old and the result was the same. Other times I think he just lacked the maturity to understand that he would eventually die from a drug overdose if he didn’t stop. I couldn’t make him stop, his father couldn’t make him stop. If love alone could have kept him clean, he would have never touched drugs again, but love isn’t enough.
Loved Ones Can Only Do So Much
What I finally learned was that my son’s recovery was never my decision. No matter how much money, time, or love we gave him, it would never be enough unless it was what he wanted. He was the only person that could do it. He had been preached to, sent to therapy, and been told countless times what he needed to do. He had been given the tools and thrown them back in the faces of those who had tried to help him. I didn’t know what to do. My husband didn’t know what to do. What we had been doing, not realizing we were doing it, was enabling our son to continue to be a drug addict. That sounds horrible, but it was the truth. We gave him money when we shouldn’t, we believed him when we knew he could be lying, we tried to keep everything on an even keel – thinking that would keep him happy and off drugs. Our problem was that we gave him the control. We needed to take it back, but we were afraid he would go totally off the deep end….so we played the game…a dangerous game…
I never wanted to believe he was going back to drugs or that he was on drugs after he had promised me he was done with them. I knew the signs, the change in temperament, but I ignored them. My son had learned how to manipulate my husband and myself. He could lie right to our faces and make us feel guilty for questioning him. We were prisoners of his addiction every bit as much as he was, and he used that against us. He used our love against us. Sometimes I thought to myself, I just want him to go away…to leave us in peace, and then I would feel so guilty because I shouldn’t feel that way. Was I a bad parent? The guilt I felt was also a weapon in his arsenal to be pulled out and used because he knew all the strings to pull to get what he wanted. My son was a victim of drugs and we as his parents were a victim of those same drugs that were claiming the life of our son.
This is the Last Time
The last time, three years ago, we didn’t want to believe he was back on drugs even though his sister kept telling us he wasn’t acting right. I knew he wasn’t acting right…he was mean and angry and he would walk away from a conversation before it was over if something was said he didn’t like. He was lying to us and I was choosing to believe him like I always did. My husband has since told me that it was our own self-preservation that was kicking in. We weren’t sure how much more we could take. We were at our wits end. We were sick from living with a drug addict and we were tired, so very tired of repeating the same mistakes over and over. However, when his sister brought us a syringe that she found in her car, there was no denying the truth.
This time it was difficult to get my son into rehab. He wasn’t on my insurance any longer, he was over 26. He was now in the Health Care Marketplace since he had been fired from his job. Luckily we were able to get him the right kind of insurance through the Marketplace, but even that wasn’t a sure thing because of the variety and different types of rules. I called one rehab and spoke to their Admissions person, Beth, and it was Beth that helped save my son. She worked with us and our insurance company to get him into the detox he needed to go to for his particular problems. She talked to my son and kept him focused and gave me the encouragement and help I needed. The day he flew to Florida, I felt like Beth and I both were sitting there next to him, holding his hand until his plane landed and he was met by the person taking him to detox.
The Mental Toll of Addiction
Somehow, I’ll never be sure quite how, we have all survived. We never gave up on my son even though there were times when I have to admit, I was so very close to losing my mind and just letting him go. My son has told me that drug addicts are like onions – some have more layers to peel back then others. His layers were many, so many, but the boy I gave birth to, the child that I loved was still there, buried beneath those layers…if only he could find a way. In the end, my son did find his way. My husband and I helped instead of enabling. We made the phone calls, we got him on the plane to Florida, and we answered the phone when he called. He never lost us, but we were different.
We had both told him before he went to Florida that we had nothing left…that we could never do this again…His drug addiction had taken its toll. We had both been sick, physically and mentally from his years of addiction, and this time, it was up to him. He had to want it enough to make it work. At one point, he called me and said he wanted to come home. I knew that wasn’t the answer. I sent him an email with a list of homeless shelters in the West Palm Beach area. He was absolutely furious, but he didn’t come home and he continued on his journey into a drug free life. He has told me that I did the right thing. That email helped save his life.
Recovery IS Possible
I have sometimes been known to call my son, my child of endless night, however, since his “Transformation” and having three years clean, I must say, I now think of him as my child of endless light. He has taken something that almost killed him, and could have destroyed those that loved him, and turned his passion for drugs into his passion to stay clean and help others do the same. I would never presume to tell another parent what to do with their child, but I can say this, there is always hope, never give up, but know your own limitations. I have told both my children…although I know I’ve made mistakes, everything I’ve ever done for you has always been done with the best intentions.