My son Will: intelligent, witty, handsome, gay, sarcastic, artistically talented, cynical, clinically depressed, meth addict.
Until yesterday, we thought he was serious about working his way out of the last two of those. Now we know better.
A month or so ago, Will called in the middle of a meth hallucination-induced panic attack, experiencing chest pains and a racing heart, and we took him to the ER, crying, frightened, and dehydrated. That night he slept on our couch, and in the morning we took him to Wellstone Hospital. We’d been there in December 2014; then they admitted him for detox. He was there 5 days, came out clean, and stayed that way for what we thought was 15 but was in reality 8 months. We assumed last month that they would again accept him for detox, but this time they said no — that meth detox isn’t life-threatening, just difficult, so they no longer admit people solely for that. Instead they recommended their Intensive Outpatient (IOP) program.
He began going and also attending AA/NA meetings, as he had in early 2015. He also began taking his antidepressant / anti-anxiety med, and we could see and hear the difference. He came to our house to eat, do laundry, and talk about all he had learned: the psychiatry and physiology of addiction, how fucked up many people are, and how different he was because he had control over his addiction. The problem was the stress from trying to go back to school. From trying to meeting what he imagined to be our expectations. From trying to be someone he wasn’t. He just needed to figure out who he really was, and he would be fine.
Then, Friday before last, he stopped responding reliably to messages from us. We have learned (years too late) that I have an extremely reliable sense for when Will has gone off the rails. That sense activated. I was out of town visiting our daughter, so Doug checked, and sure enough, Will wasn’t at a doctor appointment where he belonged. Doug went to Will’s apartment and found him, high and in a very dark frame of mind. Doug drove him to IOP, where he said enough that the therapist had him evaluated on the spot; and Wellstone admitted him due to suicidal thoughts.
My son-in-law drove me and my daughter home in the middle of the night. We spent the weekend in family conversation, sorting out how to cope with various potential futures.
That Saturday I collapsed under the weight of fear and grief and cried for a very long in a ball on the bathroom floor. I think now that that was the beginning of me finally — FINALLY — separating myself emotionally from my son.
Wellstone prescribed a higher dose of Will’s antidepressant. We visited, and he called us during the hospital’s phone hours, and he talked about how he was feeling much better and making progress on writing affirmations and goals. They kept him 6 nights. The social worker — who can see through patients’ bullshit — wanted him to stay longer, but 6 nights was all the insurance would cover if he was no longer suicidal.
Thursday we picked him up. He talked about other patients in the psych and chemical dependency wards — how people would come in for detox and then sign themselves out after a day or two because they were going crazy. About how he wasn’t like that. About how he wasn’t about addiction, he was about depression, and the drugs had just been an escape. About how he would get his new prescription filled, because it felt so good to be on his med and see the happy and positive parts of life. About how he couldn’t wait to go for a long drive and listen to music, and walk to Cherokee Park, and find a job, and figure out who he was.
He spent Thursday reconnecting with his roommate. Friday we assumed he went to IOP in the morning. He responded to messages and said he was doing well. Saturday we were going to have lunch, but he begged off, saying he was tired and job hunting. Yesterday his responses came slower and then stopped.
And I knew.
I did something I have never done before: I checked Will’s phone records. It was all there, in a flood of endless text messages beginning Thursday, running nonstop for a night and day until he crashed and slept a few hours, and then starting again. (Meth does that: it fuels the brain and keeps the user awake for a day and a half.) No, we couldn’t see who all the message exchanges were with, but this is the other part of his addiction, and he was giving it full rein. He texted straight through the time we thought he was at IOP on Friday. All through the times he was telling us he was tired and looking for a job.
And suddenly, with great clarity, I realized what I had been refusing to see or believe: that everything our son has been saying to us is complete bullshit. That he started using again as soon as he got out of Wellstone, that he’s no different from all the other people he talked about, and that the books and articles that say addicts will lie and lie and lie are right.
I was so angry that Doug wouldn’t let me go with him to Will’s apartment. Doug is able to stay calm in even the most difficult conversations. So he went and had a brief, unpleasant talk with a very angry young man. Will denied using, but it was clear. He fumed about us checking on him and trying to control his life.
And — the most telling of all, the thing that has hit me hardest and made this Most Real to me: he told Doug that he never filled his prescription from Wellstone for the higher dose of the antidepressant.
We believe that depression is driving Will’s addiction. In the hospital, he took the meds and felt the difference. And he said what we and the doctor wanted to hear: that he recognized his mental illness as the basis for his escapist drug use and was ready to make a change.
But he didn’t even fill the prescription.
Instead he lied to both of us about it, and — as quickly as he could after talking his way out of the hospital and making us feel secure about his sincerity and wish to recover — undertook his own personal prescriptions of meth and sex.
I am angry and hurt and grieving — but I haven’t cried. I realized last night that I have stopped wondering If we’ll someday learn that our son is dead, and am instead waiting to hear When.
It feels as though I have a hard, fierce ball of resolve in the center of my chest that was never there before. For the sake of sanity and self-preservation, I have separated my thoughts and emotions from the person my son has decided to be. I love my son tremendously — but I’ve lost him. He is no longer there. In his place is someone who looks like him but who refuses to make good decisions and care for himself.
Doug told Will that we expect him to go to his three IOP sessions this week and to his psychiatrist appointment this afternoon, and that if he doesn’t demonstrate this willingness to do the things he should, we’ll begin withdrawing our financial support (his phone and car). Neither of us expect him to do those things. So this week we’ll talk and seek advice about how to separate financially when we still want him to be able to contact us and get where he needs to go in a city with lousy public transportation.
I’m calling today to make an appointment for Doug and me to see a therapist at a place recommended by the Wellstone social worker. We’re also going to find a couple of Al-Anon / Nar-Anon groups to attend. We’re joining the ranks of too many families who have mentally ill, addicted loved ones who refuse to help themselves.
We love him but have finally seen through the bullshit and recognized that he is lost. We must no longer enable his self-destructive behavior. We are grieving the loss of the person he could be — and hoping maybe someday our son will find his way back to us.