By Gina Rhodes
When I first learned my beautiful son was a drug addict, I started praying. “Where do I send him? Show me! Please, show me!”
I remember staying up all night, frantically searching online for the perfect treatment center. The advertisements were terrible—they all seemed to say the same thing—and reviews were hard to find. I had to find the right place for him to get help.
“Oh, please don’t let my baby die!” My pleading ran non-stop like a tape in my head. And on side “B” of that tape was the sound of my agonizing guilt: “My job was to protect him, and I’ve failed miserably.”
Like so many children today, my two boys were the products of a broken home. I also came from a broken home and here I was repeating the cycle! How did it happen?
The lessons I have learned through the experience of supporting my son’s recovery will fill many blog posts. I will share with you many of the amazing discoveries we have made and therapeutic tools we are using. But for now, let’s just start where I was… where you may be right now.
Like many parents of children who face addiction, I was simultaneously terrified and panicked, wondering what things I had done—or failed to do— to cause this crisis. I had suffered a horribly traumatic childhood at the hands of my step-fathers, two abusive, narcissistic addicts. My actual dad was clueless about my abuse and couldn’t help me, so by the tender age of six, I was parenting myself. My safe, happy and secure childhood only existed in my dreams.
As soon as I could work, I found a job that took me as far away as I could get from it all. I became a flight attendant and married a pilot. It all seemed perfect, but as you may have guessed, we didn’t live happily ever after.
My traumatic childhood and marriage made me a fighter. Once I realized he needed help, I fought for my son with the passion and determination that only a mother knows. I was lucky to find him a good trauma-based treatment center where he got the help he desperately needed. But the story doesn’t end there.
The treatment team at the rehab facility explained that an important part of Ryan’s growth and healing would require my own participation. I had to have the courage to revisit the haunted houses in the nasty neighborhoods of my own dark past. I was horrified at the thought, but love for my son won over my own personal terror.
It was nothing short of a miracle that I was not an alcoholic or drug addict myself, but I discovered I had been “checking out” emotionally in other ways. Through powerful therapeutic work, counseling and participation in 12-step support family groups, we started to heal our broken home. Yes it was painful, but once I started, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I was so grateful for a second chance to grow up with my children—to be the mother they deserved. Having been robbed of carefree childhoods, my sons and I embarked on a very long road to healing. It continues to be an interesting journey, but today we do it as a close-knit family with compassion, understanding, love and forgiveness.
I’m in awe of my son Ryan’s courage. His strength and his compassion for others is inspiring. The same determination he applied to avoiding his demons through drug use is now manifested in his efforts to maintain his own sobriety and help others. I watch him, I see the work he does and I am inspired to continue my own journey of self discovery and growth.
Today, my beautiful son Ryan is living out the dream every mother has for her child: He has a life full of satisfaction and joy, and he’s not keeping it all to himself! He is passionately encouraging others to find the same satisfaction and joy he has found in recovery. He has purpose. I see it in his eyes. I feel it when he smiles. I’m so very proud to be Ryan’s mom.
Looking back at this difficult journey, as crazy as it must sound, I can now say I am grateful for it all.
I was with all my sons recently and someone made a joke. We all started to laugh hysterically. I’m pretty sure you know the type of laughter. It’s the type that comes from a place deep in your belly. You can barely breathe and your eyes tear up and it seems to go on forever!
For me, the tears were not just from the laughter. They also came from the realization of how far we had all come, and that I was now truly living my dream — a dream that started a very long time ago, when I was a little six-year-old girl, terrified and alone.
Of course, our journey is by no means over. Continued growth and daily maintenance are vital. But I wanted to share my experience for those of you about to embark on this journey. If you were standing in front me right now, I would look into your eyes, hold your hands and assure you of this: It’s all going to be OK; and, more importantly, to quote a book you will come to know well, “You will be amazed before you’re halfway through.”
Then, like the mom that I am, I would give you a hug!