How do I know he’s clean?

How do I know he’s clean?

It happens often.  When my husband and I are invited to speak in family workshops to help parents and spouses of loved ones battling addiction, we learn more than we give.

During a recent event – on Zoom – a mother shared her profound love for her adult daughter and her despair at not being able to help her.

This mother’s anxiety was palpable.  She believed her daughter was clean, but she wasn’t sure.  It never lasted long.  “She hides it so well,” this mom said.

Then she raised a question I’d never before been asked.

“You say your son has been in recovery for nearly 8 ½ years.  How do you know?”

Seconds ticked by.

To gain time, I responded, “That’s a great question.”

Indeed.  How did I know that Jacob was clean?  How do I know today?

The way in which I responded – I later learned – was wrong, and it felt wrong even as I gave it.  I told her I could tell by the “external” trappings of his life.  He had finished college and started two businesses.  He bought a house.  He is engaged to a smart, beautiful young woman.

What’s more, he responds promptly whenever I text or call him.  He’s just – present.

This mom accepted that.

But much later I reviewed this conversation with Jacob.  His answer was far better.

You know me, Mom.   You can just tell.”   

Regardless of my son’s profound response, it occurs to me that’s not even a question I should ask.

It’s not for me to know about his recovery.  That’s up to him.

The only question I should  ask is about my own.


2 Replies to “How do I know he’s clean?”

  1. Thank you for this post. It could not have been more timely for me. My son has spent the last year in inpatient rehab. He has worked so hard and has learned so much about himself. He will be looking for a job next week and eventually a place to live. As he puts it, he can start living his life.

    While I am so proud of all he has accomplished, I’m terrified of him actually being free from the confines of this program. I find myself wondering how I would know if he was using again. How will I learn to separate my life from his? But as you so rightly point out, it’s his recovery. I still have a lot to learn.

    1. Paula, even today this is still so difficult for me. It sounds like your son has a great start. I’m sure you are proud of how far he has come, and yet, we know how far he has to go.
      But he CAN get there. One day at a time.
      And us too, as the moms who love them.
      We need to stay focused on ourselves, support them with love and pride, but understand we each have separate recovery paths.
      I really wish you all the best – for him and for you.
      Thanks so much for writing.

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