At 19 years old my son, Will, went for surgery for kidney stones. Will was given 50 pills from his doctor. From this initial prescription, his use spiraled into a bad addiction problem. My son was always on the honor role, Eagle Scout, played baseball, and wrestled. He was not someone that you would think would go down that path.
Will is very afraid of pain, so the doctor made opioid pain prescriptions very convenient for him. Will could simply get his prescription refilled when needed. Then we noticed changes in him; Will wasn’t able to keep a job, and we weren’t seeing him much. We decided it was time to investigate further, and as we explored his bedroom, when we pulled back his dresser there were 500 blue little packets of heroin behind it.
Will started getting arrested frequently and was in and out of treatment programs. In July of 2015 he tried to kill himself one day when we were away. He was no longer only using heroin but other substances as well. We got him to the hospital, but recovery wasn’t available. A friend told me about this place in Georgia that was called Penfield Christian Homes. We called the rehabilitation center, got him a physical, rented a car, and drove to Georgia. He was there from July until the following June. It was very difficult for him to be away, but it was a really good atmosphere; he even had a good job and good boss.
However, his sobriety was short lived. Will came home for Christmas, and he began using again. A pattern started of him being arrested, taken to jail, and then let out. On one of these instances, he went missing for 54 days. I didn’t know where he was. My daughter and I were looking at the traffic cameras to see if we could see him walking around in Kensington. I was riding around at night looking for him. It was so difficult, he was living on the streets and selling drugs. He got arrested and he went to jail for a month.
I got in touch with someone who runs a program called Self-Help. They helped me get an attorney, and we were able to get him out of jail. He was in and out of Self-Help for 30 days, until he used in Self-Help and they kicked him out. In May I received a call that he had been arrested again. Fortunately, that was the last time. The judge told him if he sees him in his courtroom again he will be in Chester county prison for four years, and I think that was what scared him into not going back. I sent the judge a thank you note.
He couldn’t go back to the recovery house, so I took him back in my home again. Today at 29 years old Will has been in recovery for eight months, and he is working full time. We’re slowly getting back to where we were. This Christmas was the first Christmas I had both my children with me.
Will still faces challenges. He dropped out of school, and has to deal with the financial impact of loans and fines. Finding employment is also difficult, employers don’t want individuals with records. Recently he’s had five friends that died due to overdoses.
During Will’s addiction I met these women that called themselves the ‘Mom Squad,’ who were moms that supported one another as they worked through addiction in their families. There were five of them, now there’s probably 70 of us or more. When we put the call out that we need help, everybody comes. When Will was missing I gave them his picture, and they went looking for him. Our goal is to make it easier for our loved ones to get help. I’m also involved with the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania. I’ve been trained to do family education, now I can facilitate the class. Speaking about this issue and helping families with their struggles has helped me.
My advice to others witnessing the addiction of a loved one is to be sympathetic, be proactive to get them help. Addicts already feel really bad about themselves, they already feel that they need to escape by using. Reach out to them, call the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania or your minister or your priest. People need to understand that when addicts need a bed they can’t wait a day or a week. People who have never known a person who’s dealing with addiction don’t understand the concept of the desperation. For things to get better, I believe there needs to be more beds and the length of treatment has to be longer with a focus on lifestyle changes.
This is why I am sharing my story. My son hasn’t given up hope, he’s done a great job, and it hasn’t been easy. I experienced his desperation and I have such empathy and sympathy for someone in that situation. Where I live, the New Hope community, is so helpful and so supportive of addicts and families that I don’t feel stigma when I’m in that community. There’s so many people that have jobs and are lawyers and doctors and you have no idea they faced addiction; they give me hope when they speak out about their experience. When we all help each other, share our experiences, we can provide the support needed for those with addiction and their families.