On our first visit to the Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC), we met with a counselor by the name of Alana who made an attempt at explaining to us that addiction was a disease. We didn't have our son, Brandt, with us that day but had told him where we were going. In hindsight, we were not prepared to admit him. It was most likely a scare tactic. Prior to working a 12-step program I would likely be thinking that had we admitted him then, things would not have gotten so bad. However, I know that we were exactly where God wanted us to be at that time, so I have no regrets. Needless to say, we didn't admit him at that time.
The year following that visit was really bad, and Brandt changed from an innocent young boy to a young man I didn't even know. I stumbled upon a Kingwood area support group for parents whose kids were abusing drugs. It only took a few meetings to gain the strength, support and knowledge we needed to help our son. One of the parents told us about the PaRC and how much it had helped their son and their family. Their son was about to have one year sober.
The week before we showed up at the PaRC to finally admit Brandt was a bad weekend. He had stolen money from my bank account, had strangers in our home during the day while we were at work and was clearly selling drugs out of our home. Out of anger, we kicked him out. The next three nights were very hard for us. We had no idea where he was, who he was with or what he was doing. A friend saw him in a nearby neighborhood and told us that he didn't look good at all. We couldn't take it any longer, so my husband went to the house where we believed he was. It was late afternoon, and the single dad that lived in the house with his son answered the door and told my husband our son was there. He and the other kid were knocked out on the living room sofa. My husband woke my son up and told him "Come on, let's go. We're going to get you the help that you need." Our son, very lethargic, left with him and came home. He told us that he would go to treatment because he did not know how to stop using drugs. He cleaned up, packed his things and got a good night's sleep in his own bed. The next morning we arrived at the PaRC and admitted our 17-year-old son into rehab. The day we admitted him was exactly one year from our first visit to the PaRC.
We attended every meeting the PaRC had to offer. We drove from Kingwood four times a week for 44 days. It only took a few visits to begin feeling lucky for the first time in three years - lucky that our son was in a safe place, lucky that he was willing to see us, lucky that he wasn't running away and lucky that he was alive. The program I stumbled on just before he was admitted was an Alternative Peer Group (APG) program. From the first meeting I attended I felt that it was the right place for me to be. I felt understood, I felt no judgment and although I didn't know the other parents at all, I felt loved. While my son was in the PaRC, I continued to attend the APG meetings. I had become a recovery junky -- still addicted to my son's addiction really. I got a sponsor, attended all functions so that I could get to know the other parents and kids, read the recommended books and worked Step 1.
The PaRC offered a three-day family program. My husband, our 13-year-old daughter and I attended. It was during that program that I came to truly understand and believe that addiction is a disease. I also realized that I had addicts in my immediate family and am likely an adult child of two functioning alcoholics. This revelation allowed me to feel compassion for my son. Each time we visited the PaRC we could see signs of our son -- our true son -- returning. It was in his eyes mostly. When he was using drugs, his eyes never looked sincere, caring or loving. I once read a book that referred to that look as "shark eyes" and that resonated with me. A blank, non-blinking, cold-blooded stare was all we ever got from him.
Despite all that we had been through, the scariest day of my life was the day he was discharged from the PaRC. I was so afraid he would get out, and we would be right back where we were 44 days earlier. Sure, I had been educated about the importance of Aftercare but residential care gives a parent that peace of mind that has been long gone when their kid is using. I called my sponsor that morning asking her what I should do, and like any great sponsor, her response was that it was a decision I had to make. I spoke to her son, who was two years sober and working towards a goal of becoming a counselor, and he told me whether my son was in residential treatment for 45 days or 45 weeks, my fear would be the same. He could not live in a residential facility forever. I decided to suck it up and get tough! I had the education, I had the tools, I had the support and I was prepared to use them all.
While my son was in the PaRC, we let him know that in order to live in our home after discharge he would be required to attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), a sober high school and have no contact or association with anyone outside of the APG we had chosen for his Aftercare. While at the PaRC he got an idea of what real friends looked like. Kids from his APG wrote him letters, attended the APG meeting at the PaRC on Monday nights and called him.
Today, he got his one-year sober token at an AA meeting and is exiting his outpatient program and moving to their second-stage recovery program. He has made amends for all of the things he has done in the past, not just with words but with actions. My son and our family have grown so much from this experience so far, and I know we will continue that growth. We know we didn't cause his disease, we can't cure it nor can we control it. However, we did and can contribute to it and if we don't continue working with a program, we can relapse back into those old behaviors just as easily as he can relapse with drugs or alcohol.
Brandt is very active in his APG. He has sponsees and reaches out to new kids trying to get and stay sober. He comes to the PaRC on many Monday nights for the APG meeting. He is attending school and is trying to catch up on the two years he attended school but wasn't there. He is now 18 and has the tools he needs to live a life sober from drugs and alcohol - if he chooses to do so. If he doesn't that will be unfortunate, but it will be his choice.
I hear parents in our APG say "I came for my kid, I stayed for me." That is so true. I have made some amazing friends during this journey and I expect I will make many more. Another thing parents say is that they are thankful for this experience because they are now living a better life as a result. Honestly, I am not quite there yet. I'm thankful for the majority of this experience, but I am not thankful that my son is an addict and that he lost three years of this youth abusing drugs. I am very thankful that we were able to celebrate his 18th birthday with him here. I am thankful for the people I have met, many of the memories we have made, the real FRIENDS (Freaking Real Individuals Everyone Needs During Sobriety) that my son has made, how rewarding service work to others really is, and that this experience brought me closer to God.
The road to recovery and of life is a winding road that never truly ends. However, a 12-step program can help you learn how to navigate the road; how to recognize that despite its dangers and the uncertainties that lie ahead, there is beauty to behold every single inch of the way; and most importantly how to enjoy your ride regardless of how others' rides might be going. My sincerest gratitude to the PaRC staff and all that we learned during my son's stay there. I continue to refer parents to your facility, letting them know how much it helped our family in our recovery.