Reinvent addiction recovery for our age

reinvent addiction Recovery

reinvent addiction RecoverySeven years later, I am haunted by the questions: Was I complicit in the death of my child? Was I guilty of not being a good parent? People always tell me what a great parent I was. But was I? Why did I give birth to two children and now have only one?

We say that addiction is a disease and I do believe that. Or, I really want to believe that. But then why do I still blame myself as if I could have done something different that would have saved Isaac? If Isaac had cancer and died, would I have blamed myself that I didn’t do everything that I could to save his life? I guess that is possible, but would be uncommon. It would be easier to just accept that the disease took their life.

It has been seven years since my son passed away from an accidental opioid overdose. He would have been 31 now. I thought that at this point, it would get easier. But as my cousin who lost a child told me at Isaac’s funeral, “It doesn’t get easier. It just gets different.” I tell other parents who have lost their children that there was nothing they could have done. Al-anon taught me that it was out of my control. I know and believe that, but still, the doubts and the guilt get the better of me.

It seems that everyone I speak with knows someone who has struggled, someone who has lost someone. And everyone understands, but they don’t really. Unless you have lost a child to addiction, you cannot really understand.

It doesn’t get any easier, not even after many years go by. I actually feel that I miss Isaac now more than ever. I can’t remember what it felt like to hug him, his smell, his voice, his laugh. It’s fading, and that really sucks. Time keeps moving forward, and each year, it’s one more year that Isaac’s gone.

To the extent that I can move forward, it’s by understanding what happened to my son — and, I hope, giving other mothers and fathers a chance to stop it from happening to them.

My son was a bright, funny, compassionate and caring young man who had struggled with addiction for years. Despite access to excellent treatment centers, loving support, and a desire to recover, his story was one of many where a relapse leads to death. When Isaac left an in-patient treatment program for the last time, he was sober, in good health and optimistic. I saw the determination in his eyes as he told me that he was eager to face the future substance-free.
I saw his strength. Yet, just like the nearly 2 million young adults who complete addiction treatment programs each year, he came to realize that getting sober was the simplest part of recovery.

I have talked with countless other parents who also lost children, and it is clear that a massive blind spot exists in recovery treatment protocol specifically for young adults. There is big money in the system we have, of addiction, partial recovery and relapse. We are being blindly conned into believing the system cares and is trying to help, when in reality it is only fueling the very lucrative well-oiled machine that leads to relapse, not true recovery.

Why do we blindly accept this?

I am angry that we are stuck with a broken system that is not helping to keep our children alive, but is instead setting them up to fail as they walk out of a controlled 30-90 day rehab environment initially sober, yet unprepared to fit into the real world — lost in early recovery with the impossible task of how to get a life and meet young people, go places and do things socially, but safely — the kind of life needed to joyfully sustain recovery.

For a twentysomething in recovery, a house party, bar or a fraternity gathering are clearly not good choices, but neither is being in a church basement with a group of middle-aged people who are also on the road to recovery. The younger you are, the longer road you must imagine for yourself, substance-free. It can be incredibly difficult to find “your people” as a young adult in recovery, but it is a necessary task. People need people. Young people need other young people. Only by helping young people in early recovery experience full and fun sober social lives in a supportive peer community can we not only enrich their lives, but save them.