Denial: does it delay recovery?

Denial: does it delay recovery?

Is a parent ever prepared to hear bad news about his or her child?

When that first phone call came from Jacob’s teacher at the beginning of high school’s senior year, some sickly fear chilled our home, even on a warm late-August night.  I wondered if he had the wrong child.  I hoped he did.

Given the public position I held as chief fundraiser for our hospital, I buried my son’s addiction.  But the signs continued to sprout up like green weeds between bricks in our sidewalk.

First, there was the brightly-colored “thing” I found in his room.  He was just holding the bong for a friend, he said, and it didn’t matter.  Second semester his grades plummeted from A’s and B’s to C’s and D’s.  His teachers called my husband and me to voice their concern.  But wasn’t this just senioritis?  Jacob had been accepted into college.  So wasn’t he allowed to slack off a bit?  And what of his disappearances late at night.  Wasn’t it okay to savor these final high school days with close, guy friends?

He didn’t have to make any excuses.  I made them for him.

Arrested during Beach Week carrying drugs, he scared me.  The attorney admonished Jacob to go be a good “college guy” and put this behind him.  Lots of kids get arrested with minor drug charges. Even the psychologist Jacob agreed to see played down my worry.  It’s a phase, he said.  All kids do this.

And finally, after Jacob was evaluated at our local substance abuse center, these cold, flatly-delivered words startled me:  “Your son needs intensive outpatient treatment.”

Intensive?  Did Jacob really need “intensive” treatment?

Later, there were the shiny pieces of aluminum foil littering his blue bedroom carpet.  What was that dark smudge down the center?  And why did Jacob move furniture in his room so that he could sit behind a computer, totally hidden from the door?

Such sad, obvious, screaming signs that my son was falling deeper and deeper into addiction.

Even when I recognized the signs, fear, shame, guilt and isolation kept me from seeking the serious help we both needed.

Would facing my son’s addiction a lot sooner have spared him, and us, more pain?  Would it have brought him into recovery sooner?  Maybe not.  Experts say the addict is ready to get clean only when he is ready.  They also say “denial is deadly.”

Today, Jacob often joins my husband and me to talk with families about addiction.  I recount the warning signs and how we finally gave him the ultimatum:  accept treatment or leave our home. My son –  now more than five years clean – then asks, “What took you so long?”


Image courtesy of Wil Scott Productions


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