‘Helping’ my son—letting him be the man he needs to be

My son’s addiction took a toll on our family. The pain and chaos caused by his illness had trans-formed our family life into a screaming, blaming, shaming, and guilt-ridden nightmare. We were living in a feuding daytime talk show. I had started out playing the loving, concerned, and supportive role but, all of a sudden, that role turned into that of the supporting culprit.

My family was exhausted. My constant insistence that we had to remain supportive and my controlling notion that there was something else we could all try were about to become the catalyst for the complete disintegration of my family. With my relentless refusal to accept what had to happen, I was helping to complete what my son’s addiction had failed to accomplish in breaking up our family.

I just knew that my family didn’t get it. How could they not understand that he was my child, and that as long as I was still breathing, I couldn’t let one of my own children destroy his life while I stood by and watched? No one was making sense to me at all! Until one day, it all became perfectly clear.

My son made the decision to seek help for his addiction. He sought out a rehabilitation facility and admitted himself for treatment. The decision had been his alone. He took the steps he had to take to begin, and complete, the program. But to hear me recount the events that led up to this decision and the weeks that followed, it was as if he and I had accomplished this together. I would tell everyone how he and I had gone together to the facility where he would be staying and about the pre-counseling session “we” had to have with the facility’s administrator to understand what “we” would have to do in order to complete the program.

One of the conditions of his admittance was that no family visitation would be allowed for the first two weeks of treatment. I was not hopeful that he would stay and complete the treatment, but if I had to stay away from him for two weeks in order to help him succeed, it seemed like a rational thing for me to accept.

When the initial two weeks of treatment had been completed, I was allowed to visit. My son called me to see if I could bring some quarters, just so that he could buy himself a canned drink out of the vending machine.

I was more than happy to do this for him. So happy, in fact, that I thought I could help even more than that. I wanted to do whatever I could to make his stay there more comfortable, so that he didn’t decide to abandon his progress. So, on the way for my visit, I decided to stop at the local superstore and buy him a couple of cases of cold drinks. This way he would have cold drinks that he could store in his room and have whenever he wanted one. And while I was there, I thought he might like some snacks too. And he might be more comfortable with a new pair of shoes, and then I remembered the cigarettes. The other residents of the facility were smoking “economical cigarettes” (as if those two words even belong together in the same sentence), but my son only smoked a special brand.

Looking back on this now, it all seems quite ridiculous. I just remember thinking to myself that someone, finally, would be able to see just how much I loved my son. These other men at the treatment center would identify with how much I loved him. My family hadn’t gotten it, but here was someone who would finally understand my sacrifice.

When I drove into the parking lot and greeted my son, the other young men who were in the program with him were all watching in disbelief as the two of us were unloading the car. They understood the situation perfectly. My son had a long way to go in his treatment; he had many hurdles that he had to overcome. But he had one obvious problem that had the potential to completely derail his attempt at sobriety. That problem was…me.

Today, I know that I don’t need to do anything more for my son than what he absolutely cannot do for himself. I cannot let my need to be a help end up hurting and doing more harm. The greatest help I can give to my son today is to let him be the man that he should be, the man that he needs to be, and that he has always wanted to be.

By Dynell M., Texas
The Forum, July 2014