My Teen Left, But We Stayed
I came to Cornerstone on December 2002 because my son, freshly out of Sundown Ranch, needed an support system to continue his recovery. I was distraught, fearful, troubled, hopeless and exhausted, but I was willing to do whatever was necessary to help my son get well. Two years have passed since then and a lot of hard work was done. Today I feel blessed that we found Cornerstone. I am able to experience serenity, feel gratitude for the people I met in this program and share my strengths and hopes with others.
My son came into our life when he was five months old by way of adoption. He was born in Brazil and was cared for by my family until the adoption papers were cleared. His addiction problems started in High School during his sophomore year. He was very tentative and appeared to have little sense of self. His freshman year was mediocre, but he managed to pass his courses. He met his first girlfriend in his freshman year and they were glued to each other. During his sophomore year, his grades deteriorated and his behavior started to change. I noticed changes in his moods, attitude, and the level of aggression directed towards me. He was in a permanent state of oppositional defiance and of course his grades went south. He had also developed an authority issue. I didn’t know what was going on, so my husband and I sent him to the therapist. Seeing a therapist didn’t help much.
Life became unmanageable. I was lost and confused. Nothing we did worked. Home became a place of verbal and physical abuse. An unsafe place to be and fear was a constant companion. I never knew when my son was going to explode and we fought a lot. Anything and everything was cause for a fight. Holes were punched in his bedroom door and on the garage door. Then, on second fits of rage, his bedroom door was totally smashed. I had no idea that this was caused by the use of marijuana. I had had no previous exposure to alcoholism or drug abuse. I just knew something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what or what to do about it. One day I found a note that his girlfriend wrote to him saying that if he wanted to smoke pot that was his choice and it was okay with her, but she wouldn’t do it. When I read the note, I talked to my husband. He said it was a phase that kids go through and that it would pass and things would get better. Well, they didn’t.
During this time, I felt embarrassment and shame when dealing with people at his High School. I didn’t know what to say when I got calls from teachers and counselors. I couldn’t explain to them what was going on. I couldn’t tell them that I was scared. I was ashamed to tell them that part of the problem was marijuana. At one point, he refused to go to school. He refused to get help, so we took him out of High School. We thought that maybe a shorter school day would do the trick. Well, it didn’t. The first day he went to alternative school, he got blasted and then refused to go back and refused to do anything for himself. I felt pretty miserable and desperate when I saw my son spending his days in bed, doing nothing, or watching TV. He would go out, smoke weed and come home in fits of anger, break things and use incredibly abusive language. I got the brunt of it, since my husband was at work when these things happened. Sometimes I felt despondent and totally alone asking myself what I had done to cause this situation. Ignorance about drug abuse was one obstacle in our way.
I was afraid of my son and walked on eggs around him. Out of despair and not knowing what else to do, I tried to put limits and control his actions and his environment, but of course it didn’t work. My son was and still is a sensitive kid and I felt the need to protect him from the consequences of his behavior. That was another obstacle that I had to overcome. I hassled him about school, but I now understand that his education is his responsibility and not mine. During that time, most of my energy was taken up by dealing with him, but now most of my energy is used in staying focused on myself, allowing him to take responsibility for his choices. In working the 12 steps, I have developed the ability to maintain a healthy amount of detachment.
Emotionally, I felt anger, fear, hurt and distress, not to mention shame, guilt and overwhelm. I felt angry because I had always tried to be a good Mother and obviously I wasn’t succeeding. I was not aware that I was actually loving my son too much and taking responsibility for his actions and covering up for him. I thought I was being supportive and I kept hoping that things would change. I kept hoping that a different environment or situation would cause him to mend his ways, so he was transferred to a small private school. That worked for one semester and after that we were back at square one. I couldn’t get my husband to see the gravity of the situation.
In the summer of 2002, I sent my son to Brazil to spend time with my family thinking that a total change in environment plus the love and attention he would receive from my family would help him. Well, it didn’t. The height of my despair came on the morning that he got back from Brazil. He was home for about 1 hour and left to “ride his bicycle.” He came back stoned. That’s when a light when on in my head. I was terrified. We were in serious trouble and needed help right then. While I started searching for help, I tried to control his environment. I traced phone calls. My husband and I took privileges away. In the meantime, the level of aggression and abuse was becoming intolerable and life was complete chaos. I started losing weight. I couldn’t concentrate on my job.
We were heading for disaster. So I called his therapist and begged for help. She in turn made phone calls and referred us to another alternative peer group similar to Cornerstone in the Houston area. We started going to meetings. My son went two or three times and then refused to go. One Friday, he refused to go to the counseling session with us. So, my husband and I went and we took his car keys. When we got home, it was like a hurricane had passed through our house and he was nowhere to be found. He disappeared for almost three days. We felt terrified and helpless and were worried sick about him. That’s when my husband understood the seriousness of the situation. We were advised to look for residential treatment for him, so we made preliminary arrangements for him to go to Sundown Ranch. Our Insurance would not cover such treatment, so we decided we would pay for it ourselves. At that point, my son became suicidal. I missed a lot of work because I didn’t want to leave him alone. I was afraid he was going to hurt himself. That’s when with the help of the other APG we got him to Sundown Ranch. Without a doubt, the day we took him to Sundown was the worst day of my life. I didn’t know then that would also become a blessed day.
He stayed at Sundown nine weeks. We made many trips to see him and we kept going to meetings at the APG. I couldn’t sleep well and I continued to lose weight. I went from a size 10 to a size 4 pretty quickly. At work, my colleagues were wondering why I was losing so much weight.
Was I on a diet? “Yes, I was on a stress diet “ I told them. They suggested I get myself thoroughly checked because they thought I might have some form of cancer. I did. I spent many hours at the doctor’s office. My teaching suffered and I who had been given several awards for excellence in teaching got for the first time in my life a mediocre evaluation. It was a sad and distressing experience.
My son was discharged from Sundown after Christmas in 2002 and we were advised to come to Cornerstone for follow up work. We were also told that because of abandonment issues, we should be very careful about asking him to leave home. That became another obstacle that we had to overcome. We were all pretty shaky about the holidays coming up. We met with Kirk in late December and our son went to a Cornerstone New Year’s party and then to Oregon with the some of the kids. I began to breathe more easily. Help was now really on the way. Both my husband and I started going to Climbers. I got a Sponsor right away. I went to meetings. I did step work and I cried. Doing all this plus working was exhausting. My daughter, who was a freshman in College couldn’t handle school plus the stress of our family situation. She quit going to classes and went into a deep depression. I didn’t know how to help her. All my attention was on my son.
My son did well in group counseling and went on the trip to Alaska. He successfully completed the program in July 2003. He has had a rocky road since then. Right after that, he “slipped”. He went and lived with another Cornerstone family for a few days and then to another one. For a while he did okay and managed to get his High School Diploma. Then he was “out” again. At this point, he decided he wasn’t going to have anything to do with Cornerstone anymore. He left the program in the summer of 2003, but my husband and I stayed.
Working my program when my son was out was a challenge. Some days I felt miserable and hopeless and the only thing I could do was to go to a meeting. The abandonment issue that the Sundown Ranch counselor had discussed with us haunted me on a daily basis. I went to several meetings a week. I started attending Al-non. I hung onto every word I heard in the meetings and relied on the love of the group and my Sponsor. After all the work my son, my husband, and I did at Cornerstone, it was heartbreaking to see him being lost and using again. However, we had learned and experienced enough to know that they only way to support our son was to keep the Shots & Boundaries. So, I didn’t lose faith. I had learned that recovery is not a straight road. Slowly my husband and I became spiritually strong and kept enforcing the shots and working the 12 steps.
Progress was happening, but it was slow. One day at a time was my motto. With each meeting and each step I worked for myself, I started releasing the guilt, shame and resentments that were in me. I was able to find the strength and gratitude that I needed to continue working on myself.
My son was not allowed to come back home until he was willing to be clean and work a program. At the end of 2003, he decided that we wanted to go back to school. So, he registered at the local Community College. He also moved to an apartment with a friend. I felt hopeful. My hope only lasted for a little while. Soon he was missing classes and in the middle of the semester he quit altogether. We quit paying for his expenses and we took his car away. That March he came to us desperate for help. He asked if he could move back home.
He was willing to work a program. He moved back home. I watched him go through withdrawal symptoms. It was scary, but there was progress. He did all right for a while, but his willingness to work a program didn’t last very long. He simply was not ready and willing to stay sober. It was a hard pill to swallow. Once again, he was stuck, not doing anything, sleeping late, not looking for a job. This time, we acted quickly and asked him to move out. It seemed like we were back at square one. It was distressing to think that he was not willing to use the tools he had to keep his sobriety. I had to go back and work step 1 again and internalize the fact that I was completely powerless over him. I had to turn him over to the care of God.
Both my husband and I continued to actively participate in Cornerstone. For 3 weeks we had no idea where our son was. It took working the steps pretty hard not to try to interfere and find out his whereabouts. Later he told us he was staying with a former Cornerstone member. He has contacted us and told us that he was actively looking for a job, carrying his weight at the house, and beginning to take care of his affairs. Recently, he let us know he found a job and spent a weekend in training. Even though he turned 19 in July, this is the first time he has gotten a job on his own. He feels good about himself and for him this is a major accomplishment. So, I’m once again grateful and hopeful.
Right now, my son is still not back at our house and I’m not sure that he will be coming home at all. He is of an age that he needs to learn to become independent. We are willing to help him as long as he is committed to helping himself. Our son resents us for having kicked him out. That is his issue. We will continue to work the steps and take one day at a time. Today I accept my powerlessness over people and situations much more quickly. I am willing to honestly look at what my part is and take action to correct it. One of the benefits of working the 12 steps are the new parenting skills that I have acquired. Another is that both my husband and I regained the love and tenderness that we had for each other. Tomorrow will bring new challenges and our son has a long way to go in his recovery, but I am hopeful that he will eventually succeed. He was given tools to work with and we will be there to love him and let him take responsibility for his life. I have to stay strong and grounded and keep healthy boundaries.
“The steps are not easy, but they are simple and they work if you work them.”