I'm Not 'Happy' About My Son's Sobriety

by Jennifer Lima
Originally Published: 
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My 28-year-old son is about to get his 60-day chip. He has struggled with substance abuse since he was a teenager. He goes to AA meetings five days a week and calls his sponsor daily. These are good things. They should make me happy. Instead I feel sad.

He is currently in a six-month program at a recovery center in southern California (we are from the East Coast). He lives in a multi-million dollar ocean front mansion. His meals are provided for him, as is a gym membership, bus transportation, and job placement assistance. He undergoes weekly drug testing and attends group and individual counseling sessions.

He is not there because of his insurance or because we are paying for it, but because some of his childhood friends arranged for his stay. Otherwise, this would have been out of his reach. As it would be for most people. Even with good health insurance, most policies only provide limited coverage for treatment. How can we expect a few days in detox and some outpatient sessions to fix what for many has been a lifelong problem?

At one point, when my son was 22, my insurance company told me he didn’t qualify for detox as “his liver wasn’t sick enough.” At that time he had already been a habitual drinker for almost 10 years. Was I supposed to wait another 10 before he qualified for coverage?

Doing the work required to stay clean is hard enough. Then toss in a job, childcare, money issues and all of life’s other daily stressors on top of it. I know that sobriety only happens when the individual is ready to take that step for themselves. They can have all the help in the world and it still won’t matter. People can and do achieve recovery anywhere. But doesn’t it stand to reason that it might be a little easier under certain circumstances?

Treatment should not be divided into a land of the haves and the have-nots. My son has always been lucky to have people to advocate for him. What about the ones who don’t? I know that centers like this require money to operate and that state funding doesn’t make that possible. But what about the long-term cost of addiction to our society? There are so many “soft” costs associated with it that the state is also paying for — unemployment, medical expenses, incarceration, foster care, etc. Doesn’t it make sense to invest the money in treatment programs that provide the best chance for success?

Since most of us don’t have fairy godfriends, what can you do to support a loved one who is working towards sobriety? Offer to drive them to a meeting or to their court hearings (include babysitting if needed). Buy them clothes for job interviews. Bring them some healthy meals. Encourage them to move their body. Let them know you care.

Will this make everything better? No. Will it make things too easy for them? Maybe too easy isn’t always a bad thing. Will you get taken advantage of? Only until you realize it’s happening. After that, it’s on you, not them.

Recovery is not a straight line, and the ups and downs are as bad, if not worse, for family members. Maybe some people remember the good and block out the bad, but for me it’s the opposite. A few from my highlight reel include weekly visits to drug court during high school. Seeing him led out of the courtroom in handcuffs for a night in juvenile detention when he refused to provide a urine sample after winning the state championship. Attending his high school graduation while he was in residential drug rehab. Convincing a college coach to take a chance on him only to have him flunk out after the first semester. Months of no contact. Sitting with him in more courtrooms than I can count. Arranging for another rehab stay after two DUI’s in one weekend. Paying out-of-pocket for him to live in a halfway house. Having him steal from a friend of mine who had agreed to mentor him and gave him a job. Calling the police when he took my car without my permission in the middle of the night. Discovering he was living in a homeless shelter. Watching him go through job after job over the years with none of them working out. The details of every family’s story are different, but the underlying pattern tends to be the same — being happy and hopeful means you are vulnerable to being hurt again.

But if I believe everyone is worthy of help, then why am I not happy for my son? I wish I could say. Maybe it’s feeling like he’s been given chance after chance while others have been given none. Maybe it’s feeling like this chance (like all the ones before it) will ultimately disappoint those who created it for him. Maybe it’s being afraid to believe after too many years of having the other shoe drop. Whatever the reason, none of us should be happy until everybody has the same chance.

If you’re thinking that I should be grateful, believe me, I am. My son is alive while there are so many who are not. I know this all too well as I will never forget the morning he called and told me his best friend had been killed in an accident while they were out the night before. As long as there is breath, there is hope, and hope is the only thing stronger than fear.

I don’t know why he has been graced with the gift of multiple chances. As a friend pointed out to me, maybe the gifts have been given not to him but to the people who have had the chance to help him. Help works both ways. I just hope he makes the most of this chance and is able to pay it forward someday.

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