It sounds terrible, but bear with me here. On the tragic side, I had to accept the unacceptable—that my only child could actually die. This was not just an exercise in coming to grips with mortality in general. I had to accept that I could lose him at a very young age. And, possibly, quite soon. I had spent many years vacillating between hope and despair when it came to his behavior and drug use. We rode every behavioral wave with each new diagnosis, medication, and therapeutic modality. We kept hoping that something, anything, would work. And all we ended up with was more questions and fewer answers. As brutal as the journey must have been for him, I indeed found myself mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Finally, I realized that I had to exit the wave pool for my own sanity. I was losing it. Hanging on to hope kept resulting in profound disappointment, and I wasn't sure how much more I could take.
So, I told "hope" to go f*ck itself. And it ended up being one of the best things I ever did. It released me from the future. It released me from all of my hopes and dreams—from everything I'd projected into the beautiful eyes of my newborn son. It let me breathe. It allowed me to step into the here and now. It allowed me to see him less as my child, my dependent, and more as a person in the driver’s seat of his life. Someone who would make his own choices and deal with their consequences.
And it actually helped me to relate better to my son, who is currently in a 12-step program. "One day at a time," they say. We now say. Cliché, yes, but genius at its core.
A few months into the program, my son and I had a huge argument over the phone. I was so angry that I decided to take a long break from speaking with him. I stayed mad for weeks and weeks. As a pretty optimistic and upbeat person, staying angry for that long was unusual. But it ended up being a gift.
Combined with eliminating hope from my quiver of emotions, I detached from him in a way that allowed us both to rediscover our individuality. We ended our codependent relationship and started to rebuild a new one. I wouldn't have been able to do that had I not had that time to let go of the little boy in him—and to let go of the little boy in myself, too, now that I have reflected on it.
When we reconnected, the energy in our dynamic had shifted profoundly. There was a surprising new maturity in our interactions. We still disagreed and bickered on occasion, but those moments became the exception rather than the rule.
My son is now working for the very program that helped him overcome his drug dependency. He is an official staff member and charged with organizational and logistical responsibilities for young men just like the one he used to be. The other day, I asked him, "What would you have said a year ago if I'd told you you'd be in a leadership role, helping other people deal with addiction? Without missing a beat, he replied, "I'd have told you to f*ck off."
While I am incredibly proud of my son, I am not hopeful for tomorrow. This allows me to be newly proud of him every single day. His new job is intense, and it’s physically and emotionally draining. He sometimes works overnight shifts, and his time off is spent recovering and responsibly managing his own life. His free time is no longer dangerous, but productive.
Has he done permanent damage? We’re not entirely sure. It took over a month for his speech to be fully restored after the intervention. We think any damage may be negligible because of the body's and brain's resilience at his age. His short-term memory is still recovering. His long-term memory seems to be OK. If this proves to be the extent of the damage, he’s beyond lucky.
Bottom line: He has become a man. My son is an adult, who has a sense of purpose. He writes beautifully and intelligently. He is articulate, communicates more easily, and he cares to ask about how others are doing. He’s empathetic, honest, and responsible. And it chokes me up to think about how far he has come in the last 24 months. He wants to stay with this program for the time being. But for now, he’s taking it one day at a time. As am I.