So now I find myself at my final chapter of my blog about our family and the demons of drugs. The havoc that is brought into the family: the fear, the sadness, the anger, and the bewilderment is paralyzing. I will briefly continue the story of our descent into the abyss of drug addiction and then offer you my thoughts looking back.
After we discovered that Justin was using heroin we realized we had to do something drastic. That turned out to be an intervention from a drug counselor who found a recovery program out of state. We knew we had to get Justin away from the familiar places and people he knew here in the South Bay. The mistake we made was allowing him to go to a treatment program in New Mexico. Justin did not last long in recovery there – New Mexico abuts Mexico and the availability of drugs there exceeds most other places. Justin was arrested numerous times, kicked out of living arrangements, and in and out of other sober homes and programs. When he was finally jailed the last time, only $50 bail would have gotten him released, but we finally refused. He sat in jail for 9 months. It broke our hearts, but we came to realize that he was probably safer there than out. When we made a trip to New Mexico to clean out an apartment he had been evicted from, we found evidence that he had graduated from smoking heroin to shooting it. That discovery was more difficult than any other we had made on this tortuous path.
We pleaded with the New Mexico courts to allow us to bring Justin closer to home, and eventually they allowed Justin to transfer his probation to California. We knew he could not return to his old ‘neighborhood,’ so we chose to locate him in north San Diego county. Here he had another ‘new beginning,’ and we had hope. At first it went well, and he seemed to grasp the golden ring of hope. But, over the next two and a half years, Justin was again in and out of programs, sober homes, and jail – unable to refuse the lure of drugs. He lost his battle on January 25, 2016, just as he was preparing to enter another program that he felt might be his salvation.
The thing about drug addiction is that it is surely hell for the addict, but it is also hell for the family and loved ones of the addict People ask me now, ‘What would you do differently if you could?’ That is always a difficult question to answer because there is no guarantee it would change anything, but we like to think it would. The other caveat is that what may work for one family, may not work for another.
Keeping all that in mind, I think the first ‘do over’ I would be when we discovered Justin was using drugs in high school: we should have had an intervention done and shipped him off to a boarding type of school out of state. I believe now that getting him away from bad influences may have had a positive effect on him. It is true that he would have been very angry with us, and in retrospect, I believe that was one of the factors that kept us from doing that.
I also believe that I needed to listen to my ‘gut’ feelings more than I did. I knew something was really wrong, but I hesitated to acknowledge it because, if you do, then you have to face it. I was scared. I thought that Justin would be afraid of drugs, just as I was in high school. Even though I realized Justin was a reckless and fearless person, I did not think he would honestly cross that line. I guess maybe I was naïve, but I was also afraid to face what might be.
As I went through each phase and stage of Justin’s addiction, I felt more and more ashamed and alone. I did not have the resources to help me that are available to all of you today. Of course I went to AL anon meetings and sought out professionals along the way, but Justin’s downward spiral continued unabated. It is also true that we enabled Justin longer than we should have. In his last 6 months of life, he chose to be homeless rather than accept our offer of a treatment program. It is very hard to see your beautiful child descend to that level and know there is nothing you can do to help him. You finally realize it has to be their choice, and nothing you do or say will fix the problem.
In today’s news, it is finally come to light just how serious the prescription medication problem has become. Nearly every day there is something on the TV, radio or in the paper about addiction, in particular about opioid dependency. It begins with prescription pain killers and morphs into heroin use because of the availability of the drug from south of the border and the cheap cost. On March 29, 2016, the New York Times quoted President Obama at a meeting of the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit as saying, “We are seeing more people killed because of opioid overdose than from traffic accidents — I mean, think about that. It has to be something right up at the top of our radar screen.”
Most importantly, I want to tell you to love your kids, watch them closely, monitor their use of media, know who their friends and the parents are, and don’t be afraid to call other parents to check up on what the kids are doing. You may not be popular with your child, but our role is to be good parents, not good friends to our children.
Lastly, trust your gut. If something feels wrong, it is better to overreact rather than to ignore it.
Thank you for following me on this journey. I hope to meet you someday at a South Bay Families Connected event. I am always available to listen, answer questions, or lend a shoulder if you need it.
I have just founded Blankets of Love South Bay in memory of my son, Justin. I urge you to check it out at www.blanketsoflovesouthbay.com and hopefully volunteer to help me in this noble cause. A knitted or crocheted newborn baby blanket “Made with Love, Donated in Hope” will bring joy to a newborn and the mother. I welcome you to be a part of this cause!