Since I began “recovering out loud” and sharing how addiction has affected my family this is the number one question I receive. “How do I keep my children from going down this path?”
I mean, you’re asking me? I obviously failed and I have my own demons I battle. I can tell you what we did. I can tell you the decisions from the past that I have poured over trying to find my own answers. Not sure what the golden ticket is though. Maybe I’m delusional and his childhood sucked. Maybe I let him get away with too much. Maybe I grounded him too often. Maybe not enough.
Do you think I ignored him at crucial times? When I became a parent at the early age of 21 the thought of addiction didn’t enter my head. I had this beautiful red headed baby boy and all I wanted to do was teach him Bible verses and how to play soccer. Two years later and his brother is born. I was ecstatic and in love with my two beautiful boys. And I really couldn’t wait until they played soccer. I loved reading to them. We would read every night before bed. This started at birth and continued until middle school. I read every single Harry Potter book out loud. Twice.
Do you think he had too much time on his hands? “Keep them in sports,” everyone said. “They won’t have time to do anything else.” That was my plan. They played soccer, baseball and hockey. The three of us took Tai Kwon Do together. Eventually summers were so full of baseball we did nothing else. We traveled all over and loved our baseball family. I remember thinking, “no way would they get in trouble, there is no time.” Summers were full of “drive ball” tournaments in our yard. They’d start early and end late. I’d make lunch for the whole group of boys that rode their bikes to our house to play. We’d have brackets and teams and a lot of fun.
Then high school happened. They get to high school and they make time for the bad stuff. When I was in high school I always wanted to push the envelope. Staying inside the lines was never enough for me. I always wanted more. I have passed that trait down to my children it seems. It’s funny when you look at your twelve year old kid and think, “uh oh, he’s just like me.” Only outside the envelope got a lot scarier. I pushed the envelope with drinking and pot and these things called pink hearts (today I think it‘s Adderall). Parties for my sons were prescription drug parties and drinking and pot and ecstasy and parents’ pain killers. It went up a notch and it’s scary.
Keep them in church? I started them out in church. Will say I failed on that one. But I do know that I was raised in church and I still tried everything. I still found a way to push against all the rules. I tried to be the good girl. Other days I tried to be the bad girl. I know of families that can’t understand how addiction got it’s way in and they were/are avid church goers. I believe in prayer — but I’m not sure the answer is just keeping your kids active in church. I was on the Bible quiz team for Pete’s sake. I still found a way to stumble. It definitely can’t hurt. Maybe it gives a kid a little more armor.
Teach them the consequences? I mean — you think I didn’t? You think that they didn’t do the D.A.R.E program at school? We had discussions. Heck, we had discussions about addiction and genetics and the fact that addiction runs in our family. But — we all have that moment where we believe we are invincible and that the bad stuff can’t touch us. We really believe it too. Until it does. Touch us. I mean, why specifically MY son. Why does he have to fight these demons?
He wasn’t alone you know. He didn’t try heroin for the first time by himself. Yet, I watch those kids have families, move on with their lives and have successful careers. While my son just fights for normal every single day.
You think it’s about moral fiber? Strength of character? I’m going to have to call BS on this. He shows so much strength every day that he stays clean. It is effort for him to exist. He has gotten to the point that nothing is comfortable without some form of being altered. He is learning new coping skills. The things we take for granted — breathing for example- are difficult for him. Every. Single. Day.
You think maybe I didn’t spend enough time with my kids? I was always with my kids. Their friends were always at our house. We traveled across the country together. The kid has been in forty something states. I’m sure he thought I was around too much. I was a stay at home mom from the time he was around 9. I played ball with him and his brother. I learned how to roller blade by playing hockey with them. I was always the room mother. The field trip mom. The score keeper. The soccer coach. Pretty sure that all things considered — I spent enough time with him.
He had a pretty decent childhood. He had a lot of family structure. I’m sure this doesn’t make the young parents feel safer. It’s true though. I mean, if you’re looking for blame, the buck stops here, so to speak. I don’t really know what I would go back and change. When I ask him — he tells me nothing I did or could have done would have made a difference. He is one of 4 and he is the one that is genetically predisposed to addiction. I think addiction is like a tornado, hitting one house, leaving the next, just swooping in at will wherever it wants. I guess maybe I needed better storm windows or something.
I think it would be better for anyone looking at us to find flaws with the way he was raised. To see neglect. To see abuse. To see mistakes. To see something that would make them exempt. If I knew what it was, I would tell you. I promise. I see all of the purple ribbons on social media and my heart aches. I wake up every morning and I wonder what the houses look like of the over 150 people who died while I was sleeping of overdose. And my heart aches.
Today looks different than I imagined it would when I held that baby boy with the blue eyes and the curly hair. These days his norm is rehab, work and meetings. It’s okay though. He is still my baby boy and I will fight this beside him as long as he needs me too and as long as he is fighting.