“I Have My Son Back”

By The Fix staff 03/07/18

Between the one-and-one counseling sessions as well as the group discussions, he started to see a life without alcohol.

Mom hugging adult son at beach
A Better Today has a wide range of treatment options to cater to specific needs.

It’s not like my son didn’t know he had a drinking problem. Joel had been struggling for nearly a decade, especially after losing his father at 17 years old. None of his friends understood what he was going through and, if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t know what I was going through at the time, either. Still, as his mother, it’s like I can feel everything Joel is going through. I’ve struggled on my own, sure, but when your child is processing pain and loss, you seem to feel their emotions twice as much. Even the things he kept hidden from me—all the things he never talked about—had a weight that pressed down on the two of us. All the things unsaid may as well have been full sentences about the horrible places he’d found himself in and the unfortunate characters he surrounded himself with. I didn’t want to know any of the details but, somehow, I managed to feel those details all the same. I’ve always kept wine bottles around in all the same ways that Joel’s father had kept the fridge stocked with beer cans. It was normal. And yet, it never once occurred to me that I was simply setting the stage for my son’s downward spiral.

My husband slipped away suddenly—an accident at work—but my son seemed to slip away slowly, like the tide steadily erasing a beachfront. Day after day, I had less of my son around. In many ways, my son’s alcoholism has been harder to deal with than the death of my husband. But I also understood Joel’s need to retreat into something. As an only child with more friends on his Xbox than in real life, it makes sense to me that Joel would start drinking. Truth be told, I didn’t even notice it at first. I thought that maybe I was drinking more than I was keeping track of because I had to buy more wine at the grocery store more often. And just when I started piecing it together, Joel was starting to stay out late at night and murmur something about where he’d been the night before. I didn’t know any of the people he mentioned and he didn’t particularly sound interested in talking about them, either. But it was clear to me, from the slurred speech at night to the dark-circled eyes in the morning, that he was drinking.

Honestly, I gave him a pass in that first year following my husband’s death. I totally let him off the hook. But you can’t live your life hoping for the best for your child when they’ve clearly given up hope on themselves. In fact, his story is pretty predictable: falling grades, worried messages from teachers, isolating in his bedroom. When he lost his job at the movie theater, he said something about getting into an argument with the manager, but I knew better. His drinking was the reason. I’d worked the courage up to search his bedroom, which isn’t the thing a mother wants to do to their eighteen-year-old son. I found half-drunk bottles of cheap liquor hidden in his clothes drawer. When I confronted him about it, he angrily drove off and didn’t come back for a full night. I didn’t sleep at all. Joel somehow managed to graduate high school, but his future was dark and uncertain. He cobbled together some odd jobs here and there, but nothing steady. When the DUI happened, I was less surprised than I was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

Joel fought the idea of treatment at every turn, saying that he wasn’t an alcoholic. He just kept saying he was going through a rough time. And while that was true, I wasn’t going to let it be the final word on his future, though. But the problem was almost less about Joel being an alcoholic than Joel being Joel: he insisted that treatment wasn’t “for him.” Even if he was an alcoholic, he told me, he wasn’t going to go along with any conventional treatment program. No matter how many times I tried to tell him otherwise, he told me that his problems were special and unique. Alcohol was helping him, he’d say. If he stopped, the wheels would really come off. I finally decided that we both needed to take that risk. Joel couldn’t live the rest of his life under the shadow of the bottle. I’m not going to tell my son how to live his life, but I’m certainly not going to sit back and watch him act as if his life wasn’t worth living.

I knew nothing about addiction treatment, let alone an inpatient treatment facility. I could Google “addiction recovery” with the best of them, but I didn’t know what would be best for my son. I read countless testimonials online and wrote down just about every treatment method imaginable. Intense outpatient treatment was about the only thing Joel would “sort of” agree to, but I felt like that would benefit him later down the road, not when he was most suffering. When I came across A Better Today, I immediately felt something click. I can’t even fully explain it, but as I browsed all of their services and methods, I felt relief washing over me. All of the Frequently Asked Questions were the exact same questions that I had for my son. “Why can’t he just stop drinking?” “Have I supported or enabled his problem?” “When happens if he relapses after treatment?” I came to understand that alcoholism is very much a family disease. My own work was suffering because I had zero peace of mind when it came to Joel. I wasn’t the trusted employee I used to be. Now, I was scattershot and distracted. That said, A Better Today didn’t just seemed to understand our needs—they seemed to genuinely care about being part of the solution.

For me, A Better Today offered such a wide range of programs and treatment methods that I even felt comfortable presenting it to Joel without him immediately getting angry or shutting down. They didn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment—they had inpatient rehab treatment programs tailored specifically to whatever substance you’re struggling with. I sat down with Joel and talked through not only the alcohol rehab program, but all of the other approaches: cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, creative arts, and even equine therapy. Joel couldn’t argue with the number of options, but he still didn’t want to go. In real life, no change happens overnight. No one flipped a lightswitch and my son was suddenly willing to go to rehab. It took another month of suffering (for both of us) and when the pain of drinking finally got too great, he agreed to go to the Portland, Oregon facility. Between the one-and-one counseling sessions as well as the group discussions, he started to see a life without alcohol. And when his program was done, he understood that his recovery wasn’t over. Far from it. He’s now three years sober and still working with outpatient rehab specialists through A Better Today. He’s full of life, yes, but in a lot of ways, I feel like he’s constantly surprised that he’s doing as well as he is. A life without drinking just didn’t make sense to him. That said, I’m proud to have my son back. He’s present and engaged. But more than anything, A Better Today also reminded me that my son was actually right about one thing: he is special and unique. And even though he used to say that all the time, it’s only now that he actually believes it about himself.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

The Fix staff consists of the editor-in-chief and publisher, a senior editor, an associate editor, an editorial coordinator, and several contributing editors and writers. Articles in Professional Voices, Ask an Expert, and similar sections are written by doctors, psychologists, clinicians, professors and other experts from universities, hospitals, government agencies and elsewhere. For contact and other info, please visit our About Us page.