Several people have written and asked me this question: “What could you have done, if anything, to keep your son out of drugs.” I’m not offended by this question because those who have written it have asked me with humility and I know for a fact that they are simply concerned and loving parents who want to know if I have any advice for them. I promise you that my husband and I have wrestled and wrestled with this question since the very first time we discovered our son smoked pot. We’ve come up with some “answers”, and here they are:
“We should have home schooled him from the beginning”; “We should have never home schooled.”; “We should have never put him back in public school.”; “We shouldn’t have taken him out when he had problems there.”; “We should have put him in Christian school.”; “We should have never moved.”; “We should have moved sooner.”; “We should have been stricter.”; “We were too controlling and sheltering for too long.”; “We were too lenient.”; “We should have sought a different counselor.”; “We should have kept him in counseling.”; “We shouldn’t ever have taken him to that stupid counselor in the first place.”; “We should have prayed harder and more often.”; “We should have been more watchful.”; “We should have treated the first time more seriously.”; “We should have not overreacted so much the first time.”; “We should have made him quit his job.”; “We shouldn’t have let him get a job.”; “We should have made him work more.”; “We should have not let him be in that play.”; “We shouldn’t have let him listen to that music.”; “We should never have put him in that charter school.”; “We should have taken him out of the charter school.”; “We shouldn’t have ever told him about our drug use.”; “We should have gone to Hawaii for that vacation instead of San Diego.”; “We should have stayed home that year.”; “We should have forbidden him from that friend.”, and on and on and on it goes.
Of course, they say that hindsight is 20/20, but when I go down the mental road of where these different decisions might have led, I always end up here at the same destination. Because the ultimate bottom line is that I honestly believe that this was our son’s choice and it is a choice he would have made almost regardless of any of our decisions. He didn’t believe us when we told him the stove was hot and he didn’t believe us when we told him that doing drugs was a big mistake.
In other words, short of moving him to an isolated island somewhere, or hiding him away in a bomb shelter for 20 years, our ultra-cool, Uber-hip, hyper-social, bright, and charismatic son would have, no matter what, made the choice to try drugs. And once he decided to try them he set in motion a chain of events that even he didn’t have total control over.
I’m on the fence about the root of addiction…is it a disease, is it a character defect, a weakness of the will, a spiritual battle, or the result of bad parenting? I don’t know. Nobody knows. But I do know that something went terribly wrong somewhere and that I can’t figure it out and I can’t fix it.
Drug addiction is something that happens to good kids from good homes and bad kids from bad homes. It happens equally to the rich, to the poor, to the bright and to the stupid. Alcoholism and drug addiction don’t care who you are, what you have, or who you know. They are an equal opportunity destroyer.
Thanks to Bethany, I’m reading “Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff. It was on my reading list, but her encouragement sent me running to the bookstore yesterday and I’m 2/3rds of the way through it. It is a hard read for me because it is like reading my own autobiography that I never wrote.
If anyone wants to know what our life with our son has been like for the past 1.5 years, read this book. Up until page 93 at the end of the third paragraph, except for the divorce and the author’s atheism and the fact that his son started at 12, you will have an almost minute by minute account of our lives.
On page 88, the school counselor the Sheffs consult about their son says, “Nic’s candor, unusual especially in boys, is a good sign. Keep talking it out with him and he’ll get through this.” Except for the name, our son’s counselor said this to us almost verbatim the very first time we took him to counseling.
On page 91, the counselor “maintains that college will straighten Nic out.” Yep, we heard that one too, the second time we took him back to counseling.
On page 93, Sheff desperately calls on their “highly recommended” counselor because of some especially alarming behaviors he’s noticing with his son. The counselor “reassures [Sheff] that Nic will be all right, that he is appropriately ‘exercising his independence.'” Then the counselor goes on to say, “If [Nic’s] rebellion is extreme, it is because you have made it difficult for Nic to have anything to rebel against.” That statement literally took my breath away. I’m not kidding. I sat there on my couch and stopped breathing when I read this.
On our last counseling session, our own “highly recommended” counselor told us our son didn’t need anymore counseling because he was “fine”, and that he didn’t have a drug problem, and that his drug use was “normal”, and he was so “high functioning” that he “wasn’t concerned in the least.” He went on to explain to us that our son’s problem was that we weren’t given him enough freedom to explore himself and therefore the obvious answer to our problem was to “let go” because “your job is done”. He all but patted our little headies as he sent us off with reassurances that if only we’d let our son go, he’d be find in a no time.
Three months after that last session, I called him in desperation because the problem seemed to be escalating out-of-control. At first, it seemed to me that the counselor really was unclear about what my problem was. He asked matter-of-factly, “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to help us stop our son from using drugs!” (I left out the “YOU MORON!).
But he didn’t see a problem. He said, “Drugs are normal” when I didn’t let that go and pressed him for a better answer than that, he admitted that our son’s behaviors were possible dangerous and then chided me for being too lenient and not restrictive enough!!!
Which was it? Were we too strict or were we too lenient? Which one? You can’t have it both ways, mister! Were we too controlling and that was causing his rebellion or were we too lax and weren’t giving him enough guidelines???? After 20 minutes, I slammed the phone down in fury. What had we paid this guy good money for? He didn’t know anything more than us!! He didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. I was terribly confused about everything else, but on that point, I was absolutely certain, this guy was a charlatan masquerading as an expert on drug use and teenagers.
After page 93, paragraph 3, our story and the Sheff’s parts company (at least for now). Sheff listened to the counselor whereas we didn’t. The rest of this book are the “yets” that we are praying won’t be in our future or our son’s. Nic ends up running away several times and getting in trouble with the law.
I’m just starting chapter 18 where the Sheff’s are putting their son into rehab for the 3rd time at Hazeldon Treatment Center. (I went to their website and the cost of this treatment center is $1840 for the first day and $800 per day after that. After the first 28 days, long term treatment is $279/day plus $67 for room and board.) The Sheffs are extremely fortunate. They are rich AND they have good insurance. I’m not sure what the rest of us are supposed to do.
If I were ever to write a book about my child’s addiction, this book would be it. Every thought this man has, I’ve had. I highly recommend it. It is real and honest and there’s precious little of that for the parent who has a child using drugs.
We leave tomorrow for family week. If I come up with something that we actually could have done differently that would have changed our son’s choices and the course of events, I’ll let you know. I promise. Until then, hug your kids and tell them you love them and pray and hope and know that ultimately, you aren’t in control.