We receive a lot of feedback about our programs, some of it moves us to tears. The following is a letter we received from a mother of a participant. She has graciously allowed us to share it here.
It was the chief resident of a psychiatric hospital, who weary from my insistence that my teenage son required more help, said to my husband and me from across the conference table, his bowed head shaking in exasperation, “Why don’t you just get on with your life. You have a good marriage—you’re young enough. You see Leaving Las Vegas? That’s your son. Accept it…forget him. He’s going to end up like the Nicholas Cage character.”
And for a long while, with episodic reprieves, ups and downs, he did end up living like him.
Just this past year, my now 32 year-old son walked into a Methuen, Mass. ER, desperate again for help. He said the heroin was going to kill him. And yes, he’d tried many times before (probably 40-50) and yes, it ‘didn’t work,’ but he was trying again. After the customary hours- upon- hours wait, evaluations, paperwork, questions, waiting, waiting, waiting, he was discharged to the desolate streets at about 4 AM. Sorry, no beds. He screamed, he cried, he begged. He told the hospital staff he’d be dead if they turned him out. They turned him out. But before he walked out, without money, a car, a ride, a phone, or the drugs that he would need before he started the torture of withdrawals, he asked, “May I use your phone?” He dialed 911 and screamed into the phone for help. He said to me later, “What else could I do?” They found a bed.
But these ordeals, the second-class treatment, the de-valuing and humiliation, take a toll. And often, the treatment options are not long enough—or in such poverty-stricken facilities, the depression can eat you alive…so even the streets look better. Too many of the treatment centers he’s been in are akin to homeless shelters or warehouses with the pall of misery and desperation, and the histories of many sufferers before them, the wall paper. It is no wonder recidivism is rampant.
I think also part of the retractableness of this disease is the bone-deep shame. Their own, the public’s, and all too often, that from caregivers. So seeking and obtaining treatment has been so demeaning and shameful–and hard, that it, itself, becomes a prohibitive factor.
My son had a daughter eight years ago. That was the first time he told us it wasn’t ‘just’ drinking. It was heroin. And he signed over his months old daughter to us whom we’ve raised. He and his girlfriend, also a victim of this disease and the mother of his daughter, tried many times to get help. But it was episodic. I have picked them up from alleys, hospitals, police stations, drug dens, and ‘the streets.’ And heartbreakingly and jaw-droppingly frustratingly, all too often the mental health system would refuse my son treatment because he had to ‘get off the drugs,’ first. And while I understand their thinking, if he couldn’t stabilize mentally, he couldn’t do the treatment. And if he couldn’t get off the drugs, he was refused treatment. We were stuck in a vortex of cycles and brick walls—and none of it made sense.
Sometimes when the ‘system,’ just didn’t make sense, the treatment philosophy would turn–sometimes entirely–to the patient. One clinician told me “This is your son’s choice. All of us have choices.” I asked her incredulously, “Do you think he chooses to be homeless? Do you think he chose to be coded in kindergarten and receive supports? Do you think he chose to be an alcoholic at 12?” She nodded her head, “Yes, some people choose to live under a bridge.”
I came to the conclusion a long time ago that the problem isn’t just the disease of addiction; but surely it is that—medicine simply has not caught up to the science of addiction. We clearly see it is no more a choice than color-blindness. But it is also the lack of treatment, education, resources, knowledge. And heart. How does a sufferer have a ‘fighting’ chance under those conditions?
But I marvel at my son’s fortitude—and oh, so many in his shoes, to keep trying. My son never gave up.
In June of this year I happened to see a post on Facebook from a friend I’ve not seen in over 40 years. I texted my son right away—the post said that starting the next day your doors would open to usher victims of addiction to treatment. Guaranteed treatment. My son said it was too good to be true—could I find the catch or the gimmick. So I vetted the post by Googling.
My son was the second person to walk through your program’s doors the day you opened them. My husband and I walked up the steps, into the station, and bore witness to the compassion, kindness, understanding–and value–he was shown.
My son left ‘Las Vegas.’ Because of you. He was cared for and shepherded through the process of accessing treatment by your officers and your angel with dignity. And hope. And heart. He completed his treatment at the detox center then headed to WV where he spent the summer away from the ‘streets’ and in his father’s home.
My son came back to town a couple of weeks ago. He regularly sees his eight-year-old daughter and his five-year-old daughter with whom he and her mother share custody. His former girlfriend, (mother to both), takes part in a methadone clinic. My son has started a new job.
This could have been a very different story. In fact, in my mind I have buried my son hundreds of times. But we, like he, never gave up. We just needed some angel intervention. You. And your officers and angels.
My husband and I full well know that though he is safe now, his journey is lifelong. Addiction is a formidable foe. But, unlike any other time, the specific door he walked through this time, won’t close. Nor will the compassion, kindness and dignity he was so met with, ever stop. Those two factors, I think, may be the pivotal difference. For him and countless others. It occurs to me that by you opening that one door, you opened 100s, one day thousands, more. You have started a revolution. Truly.
As a mother and a citizen, I could drop to my knees in thanks that you went into law enforcement. You have made us all safer. Today, you have saved my son. That badge on your chest is just where it should be – right by your heart.
I thank you with all of mine.
Most, most sincerely,
According to our last conversation with this mother, her son is still sober and we are rooting for him during his recovery. If you’d like to share your story, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “STORY”.