Dear Worried Mom,
Let me start this letter by saying I know how scared you are. I know how confused you are. I’m a parent of 3, and at one time I was a very troubled teen who was emotionally lost, very depressed, drank and drugged heavily, and struggled to understand the world I lived in. Since those early years I found my way, and grew less frightened and learned how to live productively and create happiness and peace within myself. I grew up, and I am here to let you know that your son can do the same.
He really can.
Over the past 31 years I have talked with thousands of parents just like you; each wondering why their kid couldn’t seem to get over their struggles with drugs, depression, anxiety, you name it. Some sent their child to a rehab, many coerced them to attend several treatment centers only to watch them have glimmers of “getting better,” and then descend further into their slow destruction. I hear this story play out every day. Each story is different, but the pattern remains – frustration, anger, hopelessness, and guilt; guilt that they, the parent, did something wrong. How could their son end up like this? The guilt becomes debilitating – I hear the shame in their voice, the things they say, and the tears I can hear falling on the other end of the phone.
Treatment centers and 12 step groups don’t seem to help either. Counseling makes you feel even worse, because the message is never clear – “You are an enabler.” “You need to let go, and let God.” “You need to get him in treatment or he will die!” “Your son is struggling because he has underlying issues that cause his addiction.” Each message contradicts the previous one, so you question everything – even your own thoughts on the matter. The confusion just keeps getting worse as the years pile by. You ask yourself – “Do I continue to love my son, or is my love killing him?” “Is my divorce the cause of my son’s addiction?” “Is it genetic – I think it runs in the family?” “All my other kids are fine, why did Bobby end up like this; Oh God, I always made excuses for him. Is this my fault?” The questions never stop, and the answers never come.
It is not only this guilt that keeps you in the dark. It is all the contradictory messages. It is the fear that if you let your son fall he will descend farther into his misery or he might even die. So you keep trying one thing after another hoping this will be the answer. Maybe it is rehab, then support group meetings, and some psychiatric medication this time, maybe a halfway house before he comes back home. Maybe it’s kicking him out of the house. Maybe it’s ignoring it all, hoping he just grows up. Maybe it’s helping him get a job, or go back to school, or get his GED. Or maybe he is just a hopeless case and it’s time to give up.
It’s that last one that keeps me writing things like this. It’s the hopelessness I hear that makes me want to reach into every home and let the moms around the world know that if your son is alive it is ALWAYS a hopeful situation.
We live in a society that likes to make people like your son “sick.” Let me say this loud and firm – your son is not sick, he is misinformed, and so are you. Your son has the ability, the will and the power of choice at his back to become whatever it is that the world offers. He simply does not know what exists within him to get him there. He is doing exactly what he believes will make him happiest at this point – and that includes habits that ultimately hurt him. He is not weak, he is not sick, he is not without willpower – he is simply doing what he feels is best (as inadequate and dangerous as that might be.)
So let me tell you today, that your son can become happier, more fulfilled, healthier, and ultimately more successful and fully independent. He simply needs to be shown that it is truly possible from where he sits today. This takes change. It means you and he will need to no longer label each other – he will need to let go of labeling himself as an “addict” or “alcoholic” and you will need to let go of your shame and fear and “codependent” label. If you can allow yourself to change, it will become easier for you to believe he can too.
There is so much hope! People are amazing problem solving beings. Your son is full of drive! Yes, that’s right…drive. It takes tremendous will and drive to be a heavy user. It takes intelligence, fortitude, physicality, and skills in problem solving and manipulation to keep a habit running consistently. Don’t you think it is possible for your son to place these powers into activities and goals that will bring less risk and better outcomes? Of course he can!!! I have witnessed thousands of “hopeless” cases change into some of the most well adjusted, successful individuals in the world. All the needed raw materials are there, sitting right inside your son’s mind, waiting to grow into a proud man. Your situation is not hopeless, it is HOPEFUL. Literally brimming with hope and possibility.
I know, you think I am being a bit pie in the sky. Make no mistake, I was a nineteen year old with the barrel of a rifle in my mouth, asking God why I was brought into the world. And that was after counseling, outpatient “therapy” and years of exposure to AA and NA. But I did not pull the trigger. Instead, I had a moment of clarity and made up my mind to find the answer. Through effort and time, I discovered it was right inside of me the whole time – I just needed someone to show me how to find it and I am here today 31 years later, writing this open letter to you, to let you know that it can be done and that the path need not be so difficult.
Mr. Mark Scheeren is the Co-Founder and Chairman of the St. Jude Retreat, as is co-author of The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap, the original Non-12-Step approach for people who struggle with serious substance use issues. Mr. Scheeren and his staff of Researchers and Instructors have helped many thousands find permanent solutions to their drug and alcohol problems.