The best year of our lives

I am a parent of a recovering drug addict. Our story is at times sad but ultimately it is one of hope and happiness. Our son, we will call him Justin, was a typical teenager, he went to school, played in a band, had a solid group of friends, nothing out of the ordinary. When he was about 15 he came home drunk one night.

He claimed his drink had been spiked, we talked about it and as a punishment banned him from going to a concert he really wanted to go to (I still have that ticket in my purse as a reminder), we didn't notice any particular change in Justin's behaviour but we did begin to allow him to stay over with friends when we went camping which after a short while became a regular situation.

6 years ago when Justin was 17 we moved suburbs and it was then that he began to show signs of addictive behaviours. Justin and a group of friends were caught smoking pot in the grounds of a local school, as a result he came to us and we agreed he and his friends could hang out in our garage, rather than wander on the streets, he and his friends refused to give up their pot smoking and reluctantly we agreed that it was better we knew where they were and what they were doing than insist they give up and ultimately carry on with their habit elsewhere. This went on for about 8 months when quite suddenly Justin said he was leaving home, he was just 18. Initially we were quite pleased, Justin was excited about becoming independent and he had moved in to a share house not far from us, he seemed happier and we were hopeful he would organise to get some work. Several months after Justin moved out we moved quite a distance away to our dream home in the country. Justin did not see our new home for quite some months, he steadfastly refused to spend time with us and when he finally agreed to come home for a visit it was clear he was having difficulty living a normal life.

What followed was three years of sadness and fear. Justin ricocheted from one disaster to another, he lived in a string of progressively awful houses, sometimes sharing, other times on his own. Justin's health began to suffer, he was beaten severely one night and I was called to the Emergency Room to find him comatose and almost unrecognisable, he told us later the attack was unprovoked. Not long after this episode we convinced Justin to come home and live with us for a bit, during this time he agreed to try detox at a local private hospital. I was very pleased by this as I was convinced Justin needed help and that a medical intervention would help. On day 2 of detox Justin called us said he had to come home. He told us they couldn't help him and that one of the nurses had asked him to get some Ecstasy from his dealer!

Just prior to Christmas 2004, Justin managed to get a job. He was still living at home and appeared to be coping well with no drugs and an occasional social drink with us. In January 2005 Justin moved out to a lovely flat of his own, he was earning quite a decent wage and he was talking about what he was going to do with the money he was going to save.

By March of 2005 we began to get a clearer picture of what Justin was really doing with his life. With the extra money he was shooting up speed every day, he was managing to hold down his job but only just, he began to show signs of paranoia and drug psychosis. Easter 2005 Justin's life fell apart, he called us at home saying he wanted his bank card which we were keeping for him to try and curb additional spending. I took the card up to him and found he had quit his job, his flat was trashed and he was paranoid and incoherent. I pleaded with him to come home but he refused saying only he could work out what he needed to do. When I finally left him he was steadfast in his resolve to sort himself out without help and I was inconsolable with fear at the prospect of never seeing him again. The day after I tried to call him and as luck would have it he answered. Once more I pleaded with him to come home and this time he said he would. I drove up and collected him, took him home and we agreed we wouldn't make any plans until he felt well enough to think clearly. For a month we looked after him and tried not to put any pressure on him at all. At the end of the month with his health gradually improving we put our ultimatum to Justin.

I had researched some residential rehabilitation settings and one in particular stood out as having a good success rate. Our proposal to Justin was he either go in to rehab, with a one way interstate air ticket or we give him an air fare out of the state and he would be on his own with no further monetary support from us. Not surprisingly he chose the rehab option. What followed was four months of waiting, an early testing period to see if he had the resolve to go through what was going to be much more difficult and testing times. In August of 2005 Justin headed off to rehab. He went on his own with very little resolve except that it was apparently the less difficult of the two options available to him.

Two weeks ago we met Justin after 8 months apart. He had just moved to a halfway house after completing 7 months of rehab. To say he was a different person would be an understatement. It is hard to even begin to describe the changes in Justin, they are so profound. I am eternally grateful to the staff and residents of the rehab they are wonderful people, but even more so I am so proud of my wonderful son, he has shown courage and wisdom during his recovery, he has deconstructed his life and reconstructed it in a spirit of healing. He has always been a wonderful son we just lost sight of it for a period of time, as did he. His recovery is not complete in fact it may never be as he will always need to be aware that he could slip back in to addiction if he is not careful.

When we talk now we have ordinary conversations, so ordinary I sometimes feel like crying with happiness.

I have had plenty of time to dwell on what we could have done differently, what we missed and where we went wrong. Interestingly Justin himself said there was nothing we as parents could have done differently, once he became interested in taking drugs he was intent on doing that and the lengths to which he was prepared to go in order to satisfy his intentions were awesome to say the least.

If I was able to do anything differently it would have been to get help for our family earlier. It took four years to work out that we were not doing Justin any favours by "helping" him with money and other handouts. It is very very hard to be tough with your children particularly when they are being self destructive. Justin told me that if he should fall back in to addictive behaviour that we will go through it all again and when I replied no I wouldn't, I would know what to look for, he said he would just become more creative in his methods of getting what he needed. I hope we never have to put our respective resolve to the test!

It is early days for Justin and us but we are happier now and full of hope.