CNM 013: Dealing With Addicted Family Members

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In this episode, Harry Josephson, author of Escorted Away, discusses ten years of a “living hell” with a heroin-addicted son.

Harry provided the following along with our recorded discussion:

“My son, Ronald, experimented and abused a variety of drugs and alcohol, starting around the time he was around 13 years old. By the time he was about 19 he became addicted to heroin, and for the next 5 years or so he risked his life daily. During this time, he took no responsibility for anything. He had a couple of jobs, none of which lasted very long, and had a brief stint in community college, but only finished a year.

Our home and family life was totally dysfunctional with lots of shouting, verbal and even physical abuse. He once threatened my life with a broken beer bottle. There were many incidents of swearing and disrespect. His personality changed and he seemed like a totally different person once the drugs took over.

Despite all of this, I loved my son and tried to “help” in numerous ways. I paid for fines, car towing charges, car repairs, fixed tires, hired attorneys to defend him and bail money to get him out of jail. I bought him the car, thinking it would help him get a job. None of the financial or other support worked to achieve the goals I had, which were to get him off drugs, give him a normal life, and keep his legal record clean.

My book is called Escorted Away because at one point, I paid almost $50,000 to have him sent, against his will, to a disciplinary boarding school out of state, hoping that he would be able to graduate from high school and get his life back on track. All of these efforts were dismal failures.

In 2010, I started attending Nar-Anon meetings to try to help myself cope. I thought I would lose my son to an overdose. In that process I learned a tremendous amount, and took comfort from the experiences of other parents going through the same things. As I got better, and learned how to “detach with love” from Ronald, my life improved and I came to the realization that I was “powerless” over his actions and choices (as stated in Step 1 of the 12 Steps).

I came to learn that in reality, I was addicted (“co-dependent”) to this kid. My life was so centered around him that I could not have a good day if he was having a bad day, which was basically every day. I had no life of my own separate and apart from him. It played a major role in ending one of my marriages and nearly ruining a second one. These things were not my son’s fault, I learned, they were mine because of my unhealthy attachment to him.

Perhaps even more dangerous, was that I discovered my attachment and determination to “cure” him led to a circumstance where I was a major part of his life-threatening problem. I was supplying him with the means to purchase the drug that was threatening his life on a daily basis. How could I live with myself if he had brought about his own demise from an overdose, where the drugs he took had been paid for by money I provided? (I came to these conclusions after serious self examination).
Ronald attended at least 8 different rehab programs, spent 3 different stints in jail, probably had 17 or so different criminal charges against him at one time or other, including 3 charges of driving under the influence. He totaled his car and walked away without hurting himself or anyone else (Thank God, and no thanks to me!).

The interesting thing, looking back, is that Ronald did not even begin to try cleaning up his life until I decided to cut him off financially and stop “helping”. When this occurred, he knew the end of this lifestyle was inevitable if he wanted to live and have a successful, happy career or even life itself. The leader of our Nar Anon group says every week that the “experts” (the addicts who got and stayed clean) always have a litany of some pretty terrible things that had to happen to them to convince them to get clean. None of them have ever said it was something their parents did to help them!

We discussed this recently. Ronald now says it was spending 33 days in jail, going through “cold turkey” heroin withdrawal and being sicker than a dog and having jail inmates beat him up that made the difference for him. He fears that anything he might now do with substances could easily lead him back there. The only thing I did was refuse to hire an attorney, bail him out or provide other “help”!

My son eventually got sober on July 17, 2012 after his second stint in a rehab in Northeast Ohio. He has learned to support himself, and is now back in college, making straight A’s!”

Thanks to Harry for the message, the frank reality of how best to deal with addicted family members, and perhaps most of all the hope that our beloved substance addicts can achieve sobriety.

In this episode we discuss:

  • How Ronald began using drugs
  • Harry’s initial responses and disciplinary attempts
  • A trip to a boarding school
  • The same old “friends” and their influence
  • Relapsing back into heroin
  • Jail-time and Ronald’s wake-up call
  • Multiple rehabs and sobriety
  • Harry’s advice for codependents

Items mentioned in this podcast include:

What about you? Did this story touch you, inform you, or inspire you? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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