Addiction reaches every aspect of a person’s life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It affects family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. No one is left untouched by this disease. Our focus in the month of February, turns to a four-part series with an esteemed author and colleague, Dr. Jason Brooks, who will explore one family’s struggle which involves enabling addiction and co-dependency – and what it looks like to “love someone to death.”
Recognized as one of the most prominent emerging voices in personal and organizational transformation, Dr. Jason Brooks is also likely to be one of the most authentic, transparent and “real”. Viewed by many as the “youth pastor of personal growth and success”, his life mission of “bringing hope, healing, and inspiration to everyone he meets and leading on the journey for change, growth, and success” provides the foundation and focus where his purpose and passion are fully unleashed.
As a bestselling author, inspirational speaker, and Chief People Officer of Vertava Health, Dr. Jason brings a heart for helping others to achieve their greatest potential and success…one step at a time.
Loving our Son who is Addicted
I remember it like it was yesterday…
Because of my full patient schedule, Joe and Sarah (names changed to protect confidentiality) had been waiting for several weeks for our first scheduled appointment. When the day finally came for us to meet for the first time, and they came into my office, I immediately saw the pain, exhaustion, and utter defeat in their faces and in their body language. They looked defeated but it was not until they began to tell their story that the realization of what was really happening became clear.
“So, what brings you to me today, Joe and Sarah”, I started.
They looked at each other, with tears in their eyes, and Joe said softly, “We just can’t take it anymore. It’s just too much. We don’t know what to do.”
“That’s why we’re here, together”, I said, “to help you start the journey to help things be better for you. So, tell me a little about what’s been happening that brings you to the place of not being able to take it anymore and not knowing what to do.”
For the next thirty-five minutes, Joe and Sarah shared about the struggles they’ve endured for the last six years around the drug and alcohol use and addiction of their middle son, Michael.
They had three children, a first son who at this time was 23, Michael who was 21, and a younger daughter who was 19. A middle-class family where Joe worked in a leadership role with a hospitality company in Nashville and Sarah had worked a part-time job for the last couple of years after their daughter graduated from high school, but had been a “full-time mom” while the kids were at home. They were active in their community, served on several volunteer boards and involved in their church family. From the outside, they looked like the model family. But, inside the four walls of their home was a very different story.
They told of how Michael had first been introduced alcohol when he was 15. Actually, Michael was a little later on taking his first drink than most teens. The average age for adolescents to try alcohol for the first time is 13! Since that first drink, Michael continued to experiment with prescription drugs he stole from his parents, and then moved into illegal drugs including marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. Once the downward spiral began, it escalated rapidly.
“It was tough for us early on”, said Sarah. “We didn’t drink, we didn’t smoke, we didn’t take drugs. It was hard for us to believe that Michael was involved in this behavior when he never saw it at home. Looking back today, it’s clear that we ignored some of the warning signs. We thought his bloodshot eyes were just because he was staying up late studying at night and his neglecting his responsibilities, not doing homework was just a ‘teenager thing’. He became much more secretive and withdrawn from us, but again, we just thought it was because he didn’t think his parents were ‘cool’ anymore.”
“Right, all the signs were there”, Joe said, “but it wasn’t until we got the first call from the police when he was 18, saying that Michael had been arrested for drunk driving, that we recognized there might be a problem. Even then, we didn’t want to accept it.”
I was wondering, and just had to ask, “What stood in your way to recognizing Michael was struggling with a potential alcohol or drug addiction at this point?”
Sarah jumped right in, “He’s our son! We love him! And, that’s not who our family is. We did all the right things…I did all the right things. We thought he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or one of his friends made him do it. Plus, what would our friends at church say?”
“What did you do when you picked Michael up?” I asked.
Joe looked down. “We started the ‘lecture series’”, he said. “We told Michael how stupid this was. We didn’t give him a chance to share, but immediately said, ‘We know this is not who you are and you were probably forced to do this by your friends, right?’. Of course, Michael said, ‘Yes’. We were so naïve.”
“He’s our son!”, Sarah said, tears streaming down her face. “That’s love, right? It’s keeping those you love from pain and out of trouble.”
“What do you think?”, I said.
“Well, that’s certainly what we thought back then”, Joe said. “We would do anything not to have a black mark on our family or our son. Unfortunately, that misdirection on love came back to bite us, and him, in the long run.
“So, what I’m hearing from you is that you first saw love as keeping Michael from harm and just trying to make it all ‘go away’”, I said. “But, now you see that love is really about not keeping everything ‘whitewashed and clean’, but may actually require jumping into the messes of life with someone, asking the tough questions, and being willing to sacrifice image, pride, prestige, time, resources…whatever…to ask the hard questions, do the hard work, and confront head on the challenges in someone’s life.”
Sarah looked at me and said, “That’s exactly right. What I thought was love…well, now I see we were wrong. But, it took us a long time to see and the depression, guilt, and strained relationships we’re now trying to heal through is the price we are paying.”
The story of Joe and Sarah was not unique…I had heard it from countless parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, and loved-one before. When I ended the session, I asked both Joe and Sarah if they were willing to do the hard work to learn about themselves, the challenges their son was facing, but believe that their relationship could heal. They both agreed. I knew the journey would be long and would require this couple who had been through so much to again face some of the issues from their past. But ultimately, healing could come and relationships restored…one step at a time. I knew what we needed to do, and the hard work would begin in our next session…