I have read your books, so I suppose you have a thousand and one messages to read, but without conviction, I am throwing a bottle into the sea.
I am the stepmother of a 19-year-old young man, and after several years of struggling, my partner and I are trying to help, support, understand, listen to, and watch my stepson sink into drug addiction.
After starting with support from the social worker (prevention against delinquency), adolescent homes, psychologists, gendarmerie, court, drug info service, and Alia for us since he is now of legal age, we do not know what else to do.
We asked him to comply with the rules of the house or leave. He decided to leave. We made it clear that we were not kicking him out and that if he was in trouble or changed his mind, the door was always open.
After two months of cohabitation, during which relations improved, he asked to come back because his cohabitation was going badly, and he did not know where to go.
And again, the same dilemma, tensions return since he does not work, has no driver’s license, wakes up at 1 pm, eats very little, stays in his room all day, and goes partying on weekends.
What is the solution?
To kick him out as the social worker and others suggest? As parents, we are incapable of doing that.
Except for his mother, whom we asked to take over, but it did not last more than a month, she kicked him out. So we took him back without a license and without a car (in which he lives when he goes away for several days).
He should get his license back around November, but I’m afraid he will go back to living in his car until the next license suspension.
What should we do?
– Anna & Laurent (Rhône-Alpes region)
I- THE DISCOVERY OF THE UNTHINKABLE
We are in the year 2008, and our son obtained his Bac ES (baccalaureate degree in economics and social sciences) as an independent candidate. Then, he obtained a university diploma (DU) in one year. It was an experimental training, and he was enthusiastic about it. He received praises from his professors. Gifted in negotiation, he started working in the telecommunications industry, meeting many people. He was a bit overexcited, but it was the youth, we thought.
One day, one of his friends raised the alarm in December 2010. We had no idea, especially since our son had always defended the weak and nature. He was anti-cigarette, very sociable and gentle, sensitive to justice and non-judgmental.
At first, we didn’t believe it; it wasn’t possible that the child we had raised, whom we thought we knew well, consumed drugs, and not just a little. The sky fell on us, but we had to face the fact: Alex had entered into toxic dependence. It was visible: his plans did not materialize, he started a course but stopped midway, then he went through a heartbreak that put him in great distress. He lost his drive, his will, and his life was no longer paced like that of a healthy young man.
We looked at the photos of the last three years: it was evident when we looked at the photos, especially his eyes; there was physical degradation, and, above all, he no longer smiled, he was very thin; the circle of friends had disappeared, social life was gradually extinguishing because his life revolved around consuming products that emptied his mind.
We consulted a psychologist, then we undertook family sessions. Frank and direct, the psychologist said: it is addiction that is directing your son. We had to face the fact: it was not just a passing phase.
A general practitioner told us: Try to take him away from his usual environment. We organized a departure to Italy, then to the south of France, for a resumption of studies, but it was a total failure. He was no longer capable of self-management after four years of consumption.
II- REACTIONS OF THE REST OF THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Some understood and followed our instructions: no giving money, no accommodation.
With some other family members, it was denial, it was hell paved with good intentions. We were told that we did not know how to handle the situation, and they interfered, which was not really helpful for our son’s well-being.
The reactions were unpredictable; it was not easy to find the right help at the right time.
She was at the forefront because our family life was parasitized. To cope, she needed to distance herself and had to undergo psychological support. Like us, she also went on a spiritual journey.
In the worst moments, she begged us to pick ourselves up, to do something for ourselves, to feel better. According to her psychologist: “You cannot bear this problem on behalf of your parents”; she felt like she was playing the role of the parents because we were so shattered.
“We don’t recognize you anymore; you need to take care of yourselves,” but everything revolves around our son, in fact.
A couple of friends
III – AND US, PARENTS, WHAT WAS OUR FIRST REACTION TO THIS TSUNAMI?
We cut ourselves off from everyone; few people know the tragedy that is unfolding in our family. We no longer sleep at night because apart from the feeling of guilt, the feeling of failure, we ask ourselves tons of questions:
o Drug addiction: what is it exactly? How do we fight it, with what means; what are the possible solutions…?
We are afraid that the worst will happen someday. Sometimes our son sends distressing messages by SMS; sometimes insulting messages, because under the influence of drugs, he is uninhibited. The adorable baby that you cuddled, raised, accompanied in his life, at school, in sports, on walks, is now a prisoner of this addiction. On the advice of a psychiatrist friend, we have him hospitalized at the request of a third party. In other words, our son is hospitalized in a psychiatric setting for a 15-day observation period that is supposed to serve as an addictive break and see how he copes with this forced withdrawal.
Another two years go by, with ups and downs, with borderline states when he consumes too much (he runs away several times to Amsterdam); we are torn inside, with the fear of reliving what we have already experienced. It should be known that drug addiction inevitably accompanies physical degradation; impact on our son’s health: lymphedema (with swelling of the legs); there are times when we lose hope of seeing our son resume a professional life, or at least a “normal” young life.
IV-IN A SECOND TIME, WE SEEK SUPPORT FROM THE MEDICAL CORPS
To our great dismay, we realize that the “medical system” has its limits, its own interpretations, whether it be the general practitioner, the addiction specialists (who happen to be psychiatrists), our contacts with them are confusing, demoralizing. Many of them consider drug addiction to be a psychiatric illness. Their discourse is as follows: addiction is a disease; if he doesn’t want to withdraw, he’s an adult, it’s his freedom, but we can prescribe him a substitution treatment, without a time limit. This is called “stabilizing” the person, but we don’t talk about recovery (as in the anonymous fraternities we discover later).
In fact, there is a strong tendency to medicalize or even “psychiatrize” addiction (which Dr. Olivenstein denounced). →2 hospitalizations in a psychiatric setting only add unnecessary suffering; tobacco and cannabis circulate in psychiatric services, you should know. →2 stays in a detox clinic; but in some detox centers, you are asked to be… detoxed 90% before entering detox, to guarantee the success of detox, but without support on exit. His sister exclaims: “they are asked to be detoxed before entering detox, it is not consistent!”. →Finally, one day we managed to set up a detox protocol with a woman general practitioner, the first one who had the courage to undertake a real support and follow-up of our son. →Then the lockdown comes because of Covid: 2 years during which no addiction service works (we no longer receive patients), 2 years of status quo. What we learn from these episodes is that a detox can be organized over 2 or 3 weeks, or a few weeks if you want to take your time; but
, the most important thing is not to relapse, and for a recovery to last, it’s like repairing a building, it needs a “support,” support to abstinence. And that’s where the problem lies; aside from occasional consultations with an addiction specialist, the drug addict lives alone: either at home, if they have the means and the ability, or with their family, where it is difficult to establish boundaries and where relationships are not always good, as you may have understood.
Like many young addicts, our son works very little or not at all. Without resources, he relies on RSA, then on the AAH allowance (a system that maintains him in another addiction: it is compensation, but there is no safeguard to fight against addictive behavior).
We are forced to question the medical profession: why does their posture as “knowers” hurt our hearts as parents? Would they have the same attitude if it were their child? Why does our anger rise when we face them, when sometimes they are willing to receive us (because our son is of legal age)?
We finally manage to articulate our thoughts: our fight is a fight for regained freedom, not for “stabilization” in a state of social dependency.
V- WE, PARENTS, FINALLY UNDERSTAND THAT WE MUST TAKE OUR OWN PATH IF WE WANT TO HELP OUR SON
A-So, for several months, we have researched and met with “credible” witnesses:
B-We made sure to maintain a connection with our son, have a minimum of family life; we tried family vacations to “forget all this.” One day, facing the ocean he loved as a child, our son said to us, “the ocean hasn’t changed, it’s me who has changed,” tears in his eyes in a moment of lucidity.
C-We expanded the space in our tent, as stated in the Bible. One day, a couple of friends told us about a God who forgives and saves; this was the beginning of a quick path of conversion for us, for our daughter, and hopefully soon for our son too (because he does not reject faith). We have accepted spiritual accompaniment. However, our son’s healing takes time; many seeds are sown, which have not necessarily yielded many results, in view of the efforts invested, but what is certain is that we do not give up. Where there is a will, there is a way. We continue to fight, but with faith. We need to accept being told: it is not you who will save your son, only God saves: strength and courage, he tells us, but also patience!
In fact, our wandering ends the day we decide to meet the young people who have overcome addiction. What have we discovered?
At that moment, we discover that, although each story is different, what drug addicts have in common is an existential quest, a deep wound of which they often have no idea because consumption makes them lose the thread of their own history. Coming from affluent or modest backgrounds, this does not change the problem.
→ Those who have succeeded have allowed us to understand the psychology of addiction, and above all, the concrete means to get out of it. Finally, a message of hope, but hard to hear. As they testified to us
(Simon, Bernard, Jean, Alban, Guillaume, and Cristina, Camille, Thérèse, Marie, and many others):
Addiction marginalizes us. It puts a finger in the process of social exclusion.
Addiction attacks the will: the person is not able to take control of themselves to change, they need support. Without support, they seek to live on social welfare: this is the lot of many drug-dependent individuals who seek compensation in the system; all testimonies agree.
For a long time, they are in denial; denial means that it hurts to face reality, inside there is a wounded child, there is no more self-esteem, and so outside, we victimize ourselves. The refusal to be helped persists for a long time.
It is only when they fall very low, hit rock bottom, feel the lack of everything (family, friends, financial means, roof, food, hygiene, etc…) and the loss of friends (deaths from overdose, for example) that they finally react by accepting help… Understand: let them hit rock bottom, hoping to see them react…
This was the case for our son. Who went through most of these stages.
➔ Those who have come out of it have given us the means to understand how to move beyond the stage of addiction and get back into LIFE: Through living in a community, alongside peers who have experienced the same pitfalls related to addiction, it is a matter of fighting against: a. ISOLATION: loneliness is bad advice; addiction cannot be treated by staying at home; break away from the usual living environment (family). b. INACTIVITY: limited horizon due to dependence, always returning to the desire to consume. c. EXCLUSION d. PHYSICAL DEGRADATION / having a healthy lifestyle, real daily support And in parallel: e. REBUILDING self-esteem becomes crucial: “he is a bum in his room” (this is a former drug addict saying this); it is urgent to work on rebuilding oneself, taking into account one’s personal history. f. finally becoming an ACTOR in one’s recovery: otherwise left to oneself, one’s universe revolves around itself and remains a consumer (of treatments, social assistance, etc.) g. by being HELPED BY PEERS, finding a perspective for the future, because they have experienced the same thing and know the difficult passages, doubts, pitfalls to avoid – according to the Minnesota model, proposed by Christian communities and also by anonymous fraternities (narcotics anonymous) As parents, we remain convinced that only this experience of living in a community can allow for a radical change, the return of the desire to live, the restart of the will to get out, relying on this indispensable peer support.
1- We have received the living and true testimony of young people who have come out of it; they have regained their joy of living, their social life, their projects, a family life
2- We have also seen this support model working from the inside, by experiencing immersion in the community, and what our eyes have seen is remarkable: life regained, joy regained, peace regained. And we have learned a lot about ourselves, parents. Since meeting these “saved, healed” young people, our hearts have been calmed.
For our son, there have been small steps, small progress; many things have been sown, through providential people he has met with whom he has taken a step forward, events and information that have been resources for understanding, including psychotherapists who are more gifted than others; all of this takes time to germinate. Our son is undergoing therapy with a psychologist and he is sticking to it,
that’s already something. The rest is in the hands of the Lord.
Humanly speaking, we have done everything we could for our son; he is now 33 years old. A word of knowledge was spoken to us in Paray-le-Monial a few years ago: the Lord is at work!
Many verses from the Bible have helped us through this rough sea. We would now like to share some among many others that have sustained us:
* Nathan, born in 2000, was an exceptional child, bright, playful, creative, social, happy, a musician, loved by all…
However, from birth, he had to face “difference” due to his severe food allergies until the age of 6, and then due to his difference of being “very sensitive and the best in the class at speaking, but not being able to read and write in third grade” – the dyslexia that the school did not dare to name…
His parents, who were concerned, searched for answers, adapted to him, and spent hours accompanying him in his schooling to keep up with “everyone else” so as not to leave Nathan out of school. They later called it dyslexia (because one must not say that before seeing numerous psychologists, doctors, speech therapists, etc.).
In middle school, we were forced to go through the MDPH process to put Nathan in the box of “disability” in order to get help, an AVS, PAI, etc. It was a heavy burden!
Nathan suffered from teasing in middle school because he was kind, sensitive, and naive, too “different” in this jungle-like mode of adolescence.
But in high school, Nathan (very intelligent) unfortunately had to choose a vocational baccalaureate. What to do? Difficult to answer at 14 years old. What profession can you pursue if you can’t write? Nathan had to go to a very specific vocational baccalaureate program in a private boarding school far from home. That’s where he met drugs.
We, his parents, didn’t see it right away. And around the age of 16, teenagers experiment with cannabis at parties (like alcohol), which may seem “normal”. But the problem was that Nathan, later tested as gifted, HPI, and a “zebra,” was far too sensitive and naive. He was led astray by “soft” drugs and then fell into hard drugs at the age of 17.
He gradually distanced himself from his old friends, his family, and his world, to join in increasing drug use and violence. He hid, becoming more and more violent.
After celebrating his 18th birthday, his father and I found out that our son was using cannabis and hard drugs. He no longer wants to do anything, he lets himself go, he doesn’t want to sleep at night but party, and sleeps during the day…
Nathan got his vocational baccalaureate, he had a nice party for his 18th birthday, but unfortunately, he couldn’t pursue higher education.
From that moment on, Nathan didn’t want to become an adult. His father and I suddenly entered a world where our son is in danger, doesn’t eat, doesn’t bathe, doesn’t get up, uses drugs, doesn’t want to be an adult, talks about suicide, is violent, dirty, mean, no longer respects anything, gets extremely angry, no longer listens to us or anyone else except his “guru,” doesn’t want to finish his driver’s license, doesn’t respect the house, steals money, lies, doesn’t want anything anymore, and wishes to die, so he uses drugs to forget? Be part of a group? Destroy himself? Not become an adult? By addiction?
The most difficult thing is that at 18 years old, when parents who love and try to help their child contact numerous health services, psychologists, psychiatrists, hospitals, etc., they are told, “You can’t do anything as parents. Nathan is an adult, and it’s up to him to act, make an appointment, want to heal, he decides because he’s 18!”
Just two months away, we could have helped our son, because he was 17 years old. Two months later, at 18, we can no longer do anything for him and it’s horrible to live with.
Because he, addicted, doesn’t want to save himself, to stop, or to heal… Because he has decided to use drugs to destroy himself!
POWERLESSNESS INCOMPREHENSION SLEEPLESS NIGHTS DESPAIR BROKEN FAMILY LIFE TEARS SHOUTING, ARGUMENTS, HIS SUFFERING, OURS, HIS LITTLE SISTER’S FEAR day and night (of being beaten, of him dying from an overdose, of him running away, of him being on the street, of him committing suicide, of him dying from hunger or cold, of him bringing his dealers home to burn and destroy the house, of him stealing to buy his drugs, of him dealing, of him going to prison, etc.)
For 5 years, his parents have been trying to help him, trying to maintain communication, to give him guidance or talk to him, to tell him “I love you”, to force him to take a shower, to force him to put his plate in the dishwasher (but he, out of provocation, stopped doing anything, and spoke to us with contempt, about everything, all the time).
For 5 years, we have been calling on specialists (or ideas) to try everything we could: Family therapy at the addiction center Private psychologist for him (very expensive!!!) Psychiatrist (who gives him very strong meds that make him even more out of it? Maybe even more?) Astrologer Energy healer Family medicine The local mission A gentle reminder from the police Prayers Forced hospitalization, as Nathan physically threatened his mother. (1 week and then the hospital let him leave without care, without detox… he is 18 years old, it’s up to him to decide!!!)
For 5 years, Nathan has been accumulating more and more debts and consuming more and more drugs.
For 5 years, we have been fighting against the drugs, the addiction Talking to him about a great clinic (in the forest) for young people, 2 entries into this clinic, and 2 expulsions.
A horror during confinement A drug addict without drugs, a mother alone on the verge of a heart attack to deal with this, a mother is not a psychiatric nurse !!!!!!
No one to help me, Alone, with my son who is destroying himself, who is destroying me, and who is destroying his sister
I propose after the 8 weeks of detox in 2021 (We had to threaten him, “if you go get treatment, we’ll pay off your debts of 3,600 €”… And since Nathan was threatened with death, torture, rape, etc. He was scared and said yes to go to the clinic.), to take him to Cenacolo (Lourdes) a collective place for people with addiction, or the Berdine farm (Alps), but Nathan refused, he was too under the influence of the 15 daily “bangs” and hard drugs… He was trapped. The only motivation in the morning is to know how he will find his dose of the day. Nothing else interests him anymore. It’s the infernal cycle that we observe, powerless and desperate, us parents.
In 2021, I gave him a phone number, Laurent Gay, and I read him a testimonial text.
Six months later, after Nathan was expelled from the clinic for the second time, he ended up pitching his tent in a field behind his mother’s house, as his so-called drug friends wouldn’t let him stay with them – it’s a cutthroat world.
At the beginning of 2022, his campsite flooded, he was hungry and cold, and didn’t know where to go. He watched a video of Laurent Gay and told me he wanted to write a song about him!
I seized the opportunity and gave him Laurent’s phone number. He called him and then said to me: “I’m going to stay with a lady, Mom, can you call her?” (It was a miracle because Nathan hadn’t had any plans for himself for five years and had been refusing everything.)
Laurent listened to him and directed him to Myriam in Burgundy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Laurent. Sometimes it just takes a little bit – a contact, a video – for a connection to be made when the timing is right or when the young person is ready for their life to really change.
As parents, we did everything we could to support Nathan’s “momentum” and make his departure easier. We paid for his room and board with Myriam. We also needed this distance to take a breather and recover (being a caregiver for your child day and night for five years is exhausting).
He arrived at Myriam’s place, where she was able to guide and welcome him with kindness, despite his anger, addiction, insults, and lack of energy. Nathan spoke with her late into the night, and Myriam was always able to guide him, encouraging him to find work and complete his paperwork.
Myriam prepared delicious meals to make him happy, and every day she had the energy to support him. She managed to create a bond of trust with him while still earning his respect. Myriam was transparent with us parents and was able to speak to Nathan with firmness at times, but always with kindness. As a host, educator, and psychologist, Myriam has the ability to adapt to young people in difficult situations.
Thanks to Laurent and Myriam, Nathan was able to reconnect with his life. After spending two months with Myriam in 2022, he was homeless for one month, but then was taken in by an association and went to a drug treatment center, to the local mission, and benefited from the young commitment contract. An association found him a place to live in a youth hostel, and as of January 2023, he has an 8-month job placement.
Today, Nathan is choosing his life. He only consumes CBD and still smokes a lot, but he has decided to live! On April 1, 2022, Nathan called me and spoke kindly, asking how I was doing. We have been in touch every two weeks since then, and things are going well. He came to see me for Christmas on December 24th. Anything is possible; you should never give up hope and always try to maintain a connection with your drug-addicted child (while of course, separating the unconditional love you have for the person from the actions you cannot tolerate).
Myriam is still in contact with him. She provides him with a reassuring presence through her regular phone calls today, and the love she gives in sincere support. She has been a guiding light on our son’s path. Because sometimes, young people stop listening to their parents. Nathan must have been suffering a lot to want to destroy himself in this way with drugs, and parents are powerless in the face of it.
Laurent, Myriam… A third person can, I think, help guide the young person towards life rather than death. Laurent, Myriam, thank you for being and having been guardian angles.
A grateful mom. (*his first name has been changed of course)