My son came for a few months over the summer and it was a visit unlike any other we had had. There was an ease about our conversation and I recognized how comfortable I felt asking him questions, knowing that God had used Group Therapy to shape a new relationship between us. We were different because I was different. He began asking me questions about mental health and ties between substance use and depression. It appeared to me as though my internship at Samaritan Daytop Village gave me credibility in his eyes, that my presumed knowledge or experience in the field opened doors to his questions and his vulnerability with me. I noticed heavy alcohol use while he was with me – a few times when he called me to pick him up, he was drunk and apologetic. And he enjoyed playing softball on Sundays with his old high school friends, and loved to have me go to his games. But I noticed he would drink 8, maybe 10 beers during a game, sometimes taking a beer can out in the field with him.
I recognized that he was likely in the throes of addiction – probably always has been and has only progressed his substance use since high school when I used to do battle with him. He hadn’t changed, only I changed – I stopped asking “parental questions” and looking for signs, out of sight, out of mind – I told myself he’s an adult and has a right to lead his own life. When I backed out of the parent-child relationship, the cost was backing out of relationship altogether with him … instead of building a healthy adult to adult relationship. As I prayed about the situation and how I might intervene in a helpful way now that the door seemed open, I could almost feel God telling me, “Now you know why I led you to your internship site”.
I had an initial conversation with my son that was refreshingly open and honest on both sides. It was the first time I had talked directly – and non-judgmentally – with him about his substance use, and shared what I now knew about significant risk factors for him because of my own family history of substance abuse, gambling addictions, and mental health issues. I was able to ask him specific questions learned at the outpatient substance abuse treatment center where God placed me to assess the stage of change he was at and level of treatment that would be helpful if he was open to it. Perhaps most poignant, I was able to voice that I wanted more for him, that I wanted him to feel well physically and mentally, that I wanted him to know it wasn’t a moral failure on his part, but there was a heavy genetic predisposition to addiction because of multi-generational family patterns and tracks laid down in the brain as a result of past use – both compelling forces he had to fight against to gain freedom.
I asked my missional community to pray that God would get ahold of my son’s heart and break any strongholds of addiction, that He would lead us as a family into acceptance rather than judgment or shame. The following Sunday, two unknowing people approached me at church to talk with me about their sons’ struggles with alcohol and drugs. I don’t know if God brought these women across my path to support me or if He is calling me to something greater, but we started a prayer circle and are praying for each other’s sons until we find out what God is up to. It is amazing when we bring our own needs and heartstrings out into the Light what God will do, even as we doubt our ability to make a difference in the situation.