A very Special Guest Post
If you know anything about me, you know my story is one of triumph over addiction. Some of the fruit I’ve experienced in sobriety has been gaining control of my financial life. Hence, the birth of this blog!
Through blogging, I’m meeting so many amazing people and today I’m pleased to introduce you to a collaborative project I worked on with Fred (and his wife, Cathy) from Money With a Purpose.
Fred reached out to me in regards to a common thread in our stories – addiction. I’ve been happily sober 8+ years and Fred & Cathy have a son who is an addict.
Turns out working together on this project has been healing for all of us and a new friendship is blossoming. 🙂
Addiction is a rapacious creditor to everyone involved. Knowledge is power, so we joined forces to share our perspectives from opposite ends of the spectrum:
- Recovering addict
- Parent of addict
We sent each other a series of questions. You can read my answered questions over at Money with a Purpose today. However, stay here to read Cathy & Fred’s answers…
When did you know or suspect your son had a problem with addiction?
I’ll preface this by saying I believe God speaks to me in my dreams. In the summer of 2007, I had a recurring dream in which I’d see Jason’s real father (his name was David) shooting up his drug of choice. David was an addict. When I was 15 years of age, pregnant and married, I watched Jason’s biological father shoot up drugs often.
In my dream, David would turn around to look at me and instead I saw Jason’s face. This was one of my worst nightmares ever! God was telling me what was really happening to Jason.
My instinct as a mother told me something wasn’t right. Jason and his wife were always asking for money to buy food, pay rent or whatever, which seemed strange since they both had good paying jobs.
I finally felt the need to confront Jason. At first, he was very angry and denied any involvement. Later in the day, he phoned to confess, yes he was, in fact, shooting up drugs. He told me he was going to quit and get things right because he wanted to be the son I wanted him to be.
We had known Jason used drugs long before we discovered his addiction. We found out after a high school friend called Cathy and told her Jason was in trouble. Apparently, he owed dealers several thousand dollars. His friend wanted us to know they were not good people and our son might be in danger.
I flew back to our hometown of Indianapolis in 2000 to check it out. It was a surprise visit. I wanted to see what kind of condition he was in and how he was living. The short answer – both were a disaster.
His house was a pig sty. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a couple of months. Clothes were strewn everywhere, dishes piled high in the sink, and it smelled from the mess and his Labrador mix who roamed the house.
In consultation with Cathy, we decided it was best to pack him up and bring him home, along with his dog. We moved them into our townhouse. Our dog and Rubin, his lab, knew each other already. We had plenty of room, so we thought all was good.
He got a good job, a place of his own, and we claimed success.
A lot happened in between then and 2007 when we found out he was an addict. Cathy’s story explains how that happened.
What was your first reaction? Both emotionally and physically?
My reaction was one of total disappointment and shock. I was sick with anxiety which led into panic attacks. I could not believe my worst nightmare had come to life.
We had provided Jason with everything. Even when we didn’t have money to pay for things, we figured it out:
- Private high school education (which Fred’s parents graciously paid for).
- College at Indiana University and living expenses (we paid for). We later discovered he had dropped out of college without telling us. Of course, he continued taking the money for living expenses.
My first reaction was anger. We started piecing the stories together and realized he’d been lying to us for a very long time. My anger mostly came from what this was doing to Cathy. She was devastated. He has a gift of getting his mother to feel sorry for him. So that fueled my anger even more.
We had our best friends with us for the week surrounding Labor Day which had become a tradition. So, all of this happened during a time when we were enjoying a vacation with our best friends. They’re like an extended family for us. In some ways, I was angry it happened while they were with us. On the other hand, it was a blessing having them there for support.
The Power of Support and Prayer
We all four prayed together about it for a couple of days. Cathy and I had our own prayer time as well. Prayer helped calm my anger. After hearing Cathy describe her conversation with Jason when he finally confessed, I felt compassion for him. He was suffering and said he wanted to get better. I believed he was serious. To this day I still do. All of this happened before we understood addiction as a disease.
Jason came to the house a few days later. I simply hugged him and held him as he cried his eyes out apologizing. I told him I loved him, and we’d be there for him. It was, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a parent. Part of me wanted to kill him (not literally, of course). The other part, which fortunately won the day was to show him, unconditional love.
That was the beginning of our very long journey with his addiction.
When in the process did you start to learn about the disease?
Fred is the one who took the initiative of finding out about the disease.
It seems quite strange, but Jason and his wife kept telling us it was a disease.
Even knowing this didn’t stop them from coming back to their drug of choice, heroin. We provided and paid for extensive rehab centers for Jason.
After several bouts with his addiction and where it took us, I needed distance from him and his disease.
When I think of Jason and his addiction, I feel very tired and drained from it all. I really want it behind me. I also understand it will be in front of me for the rest of my life. At times. I wish he was just gone. That would relieve me of having to think about him or his disease. I know this sounds harsh, but this disease wears and tears on a parent.
That’s a tough question. It was several years into it. I mean we knew about it, in theory. But it’s hard to see it as a disease when all you’re trying to do is clean up the messes made because of it. Things happened fast and furiously from 2011 and beyond.
Rather than rehash all of that here, I talked about that in my article in more detail if your readers are interested.
As for the disease question, I’d answer it in two parts. I’d say we learned about it throughout the process:
- We got a couple of books
- Attended Al-Anon meetings
- Went to Celebrate Recovery
- Had some counseling.
We learned a lot about the disease during that time.
Knowledge Doesn’t Necessarily Equal Acceptance
However, learning about it and accepting it are two different things entirely. It wasn’t until 2014 or 2015 that I began to accept it. It happened in a Providential way.
A business contact I met lost his son a week before Christmas. He told me about a DVD, Pleasure Unwoven. It was made by a doctor who became addicted to drugs after being prescribed opioids for pain treatment. That led to his addiction.
He decided to take a scientific approach to learn about the disease. He read numerous books, consulted and/or met with some of the foremost addiction experts from around the world. Pleasure Unwoven was the result of this research.
Pleasure Unwoven is a series of 8 videos that go into great detail about the disease and what happens to the addict and their brain chemistry. Furthermore, it goes into the most effective treatment programs. It’s a comprehensive analysis.
It was this video series that finally changed my view of addiction as a disease. I understood what actually happens to the brain chemically. It’s no joke. The brain, quite literally, gets rewired. The other thing it did for me was to turn the “choice” argument upside down.
You know that argument, right? It’s the oft-repeated mantra that, “they made the choice to do the drugs. They can make the choice to quit.” Not so fast. In reality, the opposite is true. They did make the choice to start. That point is inarguable. The reality of the disease is that once the brain chemistry gets changed, the addict no longer has the choice. They associate the drug with their very survival. In other words, literally, they think if I don’t get this drug, I’m going to die. I won’t get into to the details here, but I encourage anyone who wants to understand the disease to watch these videos.
Once we understood this, our view on addiction changed. It took years and these videos to do it.
How hard was it to practice tough love?
This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I let Jason take me to the depths of hell with him. I wanted to save or do whatever it took to take care of him. He manipulated, abused me emotionally, stole from us, and lied over and over again. All because of his addiction.
The tipping point for me is when he was arrested leaving Home Depot with a cart full of stolen tools. In the following months and years, he accumulated 24 felony theft charges. In Virginia, anything stolen over a $200 value is grand larceny-theft, a felony.
At the time of the arrest, Jason, his wife, and teenage son were living with us. They were evicted from their place a few months before.
We started the tough love after this arrest. When he went to jail, I quit taking his calls, emails etc.
During this time Jason was locked up or living on the streets; his wife and son continued to live with us.
We got a phone call from her on Labor Day weekend a few months after Jason’s arrest. She had gotten arrested with drug paraphernalia and empty packets of heroin. That’s when we discovered she, too, was an addict.
The Aftermath of Addiction
Once they all moved out I went downstairs to find needles, baggies, spoons, blood splattered on the walls and window sills in the bedroom where they lived. It was horrifying for me.
That summer was the first time I initiated tough love. He was killing me, and it was time. I didn’t speak to him or let him have any contact with me until after he was put in prison.
I had read several books on setting boundaries with an addict. Those books helped me to finally realize I was dying a slow death by hanging onto him and thinking I could take care of him.
He was released from state prison after 3 1/2 years, I didn’t trust him when Fred brought him home. Even though he gave me no reason not to, there was something totally different and off.
In my position at work, I have top secret security clearance and would have been required to turn Jason in if I knew where he was.
When he came back to Virginia, he went right back to what he knew. However, now he added being a professional poker player to the mix.
The Final Straw
I cut off communication again with Jason last September 2017. We were on vacation at the beach with our friends when, out of the blue, I got an email from him with pictures attached. He told me how successful he was at playing poker; that he went up and down the east coast winning lots of money. At the same time, he said his demons came back and was using again.
The pictures were to show me all the nice things he had purchased:
- Computer equipment, etc.
Additionally, he was living with his girlfriend in an apartment in our area, which is not cheap.
I was over it and didn’t want to deal with him any longer. I handed the phone over to Fred to answer the email for me. Fred is my protector and friend. I love this man for taking care of me. He dealt with Jason by telling him not to contact us or we would turn him into the police.
Jason stopped until he was returned to Fairfax County Detention this last time. Fred talked with him first. He set boundaries immediately. It took me a while to be ready to talk. To date, he’s lived up to the boundaries we set. We pray for him every day that God will change and save him.
It was brutal. We got all kinds of advice from friends, coworkers, and other parents telling us to impose tough love. Don’t be an enabler. And you know what? Most of that advice was spot on. Every parent, spouse, or family member dealing with an addict has to come to this decision on their own. As a parent, it’s incredibly difficult.
Every addict reaches their bottom. I’d say every parent does too. His addiction (and our response) was killing us financially. Additionally, it was putting a tremendous strain on our marriage. The hardest thing for me was not with Jason. It was with Cathy. He had her in his grips. He triangulated us.
I finally reached the point where I had to tell the woman I loved more than life itself that she had to make a choice. It was Jason or me. It wouldn’t be both anymore. Fortunately, we are a couple with a strong faith. She listened, we talked, and we prayed. We finally came to an agreement that we needed to cut him off from everything – contact, money, the whole enchilada.
Prior to practicing tough love, what was the biggest financial mistake you made concerning your son?
Here’s a partial list:
- Bailing him out of his messes
- Paying off his school loans
- Providing for his wife and son when he couldn’t
Additionally, letting them move into our house was a huge mistake. They stole valuable jewelry that I loved. These were pieces I inherited from Fred’s mom after she died.
It’s hard to explain how fast things happen with addiction. It’s one mess after another. Addicts use the chaos to manipulate the situation.
When it was all said and done, our financial mistakes were in the low 6 figures.
I will always love Jason as our son. I also know that, because of his addiction, he will never be the same. He’s a totally different person from the Jason we knew. Jason was always a loving, caring person to all. But I believe there was a hidden side of him we didn’t know. It breaks my heart!
We could write a book about this one. As a financial advisor, it’s embarrassing to talk about it.
Here’s a partial list:
We paid the $6,000 debt he had to his dealers back in 2000. The first big mistake that started the snowball.
In 2008 (his first arrest) we paid several thousand dollars for an attorney.
He went for a couple of years without using and maintained decent jobs. The court required him to get drug tested randomly. The judge told him if he so much as got a parking ticket, he’d go to jail. It worked.
Things hit the fan in 2011. He was behind on rent, car payments, and utilities. You name it – we covered it all.
He married and got a stepson as part of the package. That’s what hooked us. He was eleven or twelve at the time. He was the innocent victim. Our excuse was we needed to protect him. HUGE MISTAKE!!!
We cosigned a lease for a condo rental. You know how that turned out. We ended up having to pay off the lease.
We tapped our investment accounts, including retirement plans, to bail them out.
The total damage was well into 6 figures.
What would you change, if anything, on how you’ve handled your son’s addiction?
I’ll answer this for both of us. We’re in total agreement on it.
In 2000, we would have left him there to deal with the consequences of his decisions. We thought we did the right thing bringing him here. We later determined that his major suppliers were in our area. Go figure! We brought him closer to the source.
We would not have paid for the attorney in 2008 and never, ever touched retirement account money under any circumstances. That’s the dumbest and most embarrassing decision we made by far.
Most importantly don’t let the addict triangulate the two of you as parents. Jason was very good at it. He would come to me after figuring out what he thought Dad wanted, then work me to convince me I should hold up his request.
Jason was very smooth at convincing you what he was saying was true. He had already placed it in his mind it was the truth. Jason was/is the best con person I’ve ever known.
My advice to any parent who finds out their son or daughter is an addict is as follows:
- You are going to have some kind of financial mess from their behavior. I can tell you not to help them, but the reality of it is you likely will; especially in the beginning. Do yourself a favor. Set a limit to how much money you will spend. Don’t go a penny over that amount. Never, ever touch your retirement money. That’s a disaster. Since writing my blog post about this, I’ve heard from several parents that have done that. It’s not worth it.
- Don’t let them move back into your house. If the police come and discover drugs or paraphernalia in your house, you could be at risk of being charged. It’s not worth it to put yourselves in that kind of jeopardy.
I say this with a complete understanding of how hard it is to implement. The advice comes from experience going through our own situation.
You’ll make mistakes. You do things in retrospect you wish you hadn’t. Be easy on yourselves. Be forgiving. It’s hard sledding filled with rough terrain and high emotions.
The good news is, you can get through it. If you’re in the midst of it and we can help, reach out to us. You don’t have to go through it alone. God bless you in this journey.
Ms. Fiology’s Final Thoughts
This project has opened my eyes to the devastation addiction brings on the family. In my situation, I did not steal from my family. I did, however, isolate, lie and cause a lot of fear and concern.
Fred & Cathy’s advice is spot on. Allow the addict to hit their bottom and get to that dark and lonely place. It’s the only real thing that will cause an addict to want to get help and recover. I imagine this is counter-intuitive for a parent.
Lastly, if you want to read my answers to questions that Fred and Cathy asked of me, go on over to Money with a Purpose.
Please let us know any thoughts, questions or comments you may have. We are here to help in any way…