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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Four Years Can Make A Huge Difference

Four years ago today I was in a very different place than I am now.

In the middle of the night on December 7 I received a phone call from a friend of my oldest son telling me they had taken him to an ER. He told me that when he and their other roommate had returned home from an AA meeting, they found my son chopping wood. In the living room. He was unable to communicate with them, and when he moved on to chopping the furniture his roommates trundled him into the car and to the hospital.

This was far from the first emergency phone call I'd received about him. He had been a somewhat functional alcoholic for a long time, but over that year, when he was 27, he had also been battling heroin addiction. This call was the culmination of months of relapses, overdoses and arrests. I had come to sleep with a cordless phone on my pillow. A state of hyper-vigilance left me with a constant knot in my stomach and a sense of dread I couldn't shake. My other children suffered from the attention their crisis-ridden brother took away from them as they attended college and were making far less dangerous choices.

When I spoke to a doctor in the ER he said they were concerned that my son had suffered a psychotic break and that he may either be bi-polar or have schizophrenia. Strangely, drug addiction was a world I had grown to have a certain knowledge of and knew how to navigate. After fighting for my uninsured son to get into a decent detoxes and rehab centers, I'd become savvy about advocating for an addict, and always had hope he could recover. In my mind mental illness didn't offer that same possibility.

By the next day he was doing much better. He was in a locked ward and couldn't have visitors, but his dad, a medical professional, was able to see him. He had overdosed on a cocktail of prescription drugs and over the counter medications,creating a disastrous reaction that had thankfully worn off.

That was the last day he used drugs. As of December 7, he has been clean and sober for four years.

It hasn't been easy. A month after getting clean he awoke to the sober house where he was living surrounded by state police. An outstanding warrant stemming from a possession charge in Colorado brought them to his door. A week in jail for him, and countless hours dealing with lawyers and advocates for him later, and he was out.

Since then there's been no more drama. His commitment to his sobriety is inspiring, as is the help and support he constantly gives to others. He is the embodiment of what recovery can be if you commit to it.

I have always told my son I hit my bottom way before he did. Looking back I do not know how I made it through that time. There are times in life where you just put one foot in front of another. This was one of those. I'm someone who never gives up on people I love, and that determination is rewarded every single time I talk to him and know he's alive. Heroin takes people out fast. There are very few old addicts. I know I am incredibly lucky to have my son. Too many parents aren't so blessed.

Going through this changed me in many ways. I know what's important and what isn't. When you've watched someone you love come close to dying, many times, most everything else pales in comparison.

I would never say I'm glad for this experience, but I am happy to have made it to the other side with a strength and wisdom that is hard earned, and can perhaps help others. That's a pretty good gift to get, and even better to give.

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