“I’m just curious…”

“I’m just curious…”

It often begins like this. I’m at a book talk. A woman seated in a back row slowly raises her hand.

“I’m just curious. What does your son think of the book?”

It’s a question I’ve come to expect. And since honesty is at the core of recovery, for both the addict and the family, I answer it completely.

Secret No More never would have been published without my son’s permission. Through the long, painful hours of referencing him in personal journals spanning more than six years and narrating our story, I knew at some point I would have to seek his approval.

For most of my life, I’ve kept a journal. So when that fateful phone call broke the “normalcy” of our household early in Jacob’s senior high school year, I naturally turned to pouring out my heart into various paper supply store notebooks. The quality of the notebook didn’t matter. What mattered was a handy page ready to receive whatever torment that day or sleepless night had delivered.

I’m not sure Jacob knew I was keeping a journal. Nor did he care. While he was living at home, after flunking his freshman year at the University of Maryland, he showed little interest in his parents’ life, let alone his own. Later, when I began writing the book, he was living in Florida where he was testing sobriety, one day at a time. A year later, eleven months into his recovery, I showed him the first draft. His reaction was hilarious.

“Mom,” he commented,” It isn’t very literary, is it?”

Had my son the critic expected a Faulknerian novel?

“Well, no. Maybe not. This is my story – as I remember it.”

For a time he tried to correct parts of the book. I learned more than I needed or wanted to about where he was and what he was doing until, finally, I reminded him, again.

“Jake, this is my story. It’s what I saw and felt at the time. What matters is that I wrote it honestly and shared how I reacted to what I thought you were doing.”

“Yeah, right. It is your story. It’s how you saw it.”

I’m told every new author receives lots of rejections from publishers. I certainly was in that group. So I decided to share these with Jacob. When the emails came suggesting “Your book doesn’t fit our needs at this time,” I forwarded them to him. I wanted him to see there’s a long road to publishing, and it takes patience and perseverance.

It was that string of emails that finally prompted him to make this profound and prophetic remark: “Mom, if this book is meant to be published, it will be.”

Meanwhile, his sobriety continued. In January 2015, my husband and I attended the AA meeting in Ft. Lauderdale to watch as Jacob was awarded his two-year chip. Back home in Annapolis on a chilly March morning, I opened my laptop to read this message from Apprentice House Press: “We are pleased to tell you that we would like to publish your book…”

That email, too, I forwarded to him.

Now it was time to get serious. I either went forward with publishing or the project got tucked away for our grandson to read as a very old man. The likelihood that the book would label me as the mother of an addict didn’t matter. But I was keenly aware what it might mean for Jacob’s future. A friend who wrote mysteries and knew the publishing world cautioned me.

“Lisa, if you go forward, just know that from that time on whenever anyone Googles Jacob’s name – or yours – this will come up.”

Jake didn’t seem to care.

“Mom, if someone reads my name in the future and sees that, so what? That’s who I am. And if that changes how they see me, then it probably won’t matter with them anyway.”

A few weeks later – the cellphone line between Ft. Lauderdale and Annapolis crackling with uncertainty, love and possibilities – Jacob gave quiet assent.

“Sure. Go ahead. It’s your story. Not mine.”

In May this year, Jacob wanted to attend the book launch hosted by the Anne Arundel County Public Library Foundation at our central Annapolis branch. I wasn’t sure he should, fearing too much attention or pressure on him, but he insisted.

“Mom, isn’t the whole family going to be there? Then I should be there, too.”

Some 150 people filled the room. Jacob sat quietly at the back through the hour-long recitation of how his addiction had affected his mother, father and sister. I can’t imagine what that felt like for him, but I couldn’t be prouder to have had him there, knowing what that said about his maturity and understanding of his disease. His presence that evening told that audience far more than a memoir or any answers to questions they asked.

When he left for Florida the next day, he asked if he could take a few copies. Active in AA, he has recently started a company in South Florida that provides housing to addicts. Every day, he meets with men and women fighting his same disease. They, too, have families.

“I dunno, Ma,” said this son who compelled me to write the book, “I might want to give it to some of the parents. Who knows? Maybe it just might help.”

14 Replies to ““I’m just curious…””

  1. It’s a stunning account. As a member of Lisa’s foundation team at Anne Arundel Medical Center from 2009 – 2013, I had absolutely no idea that this remarkable story was unfolding in the life of the Hillman family. Amazing.

    1. Bob, I didn’t let anyone know. A secret I kept for so long, Thank you for writing and for reading the book, and for remaining a friend.

  2. And the story goes on, Lisa. Jake and you have given a wonderful gift of hope to many addicts and their families.

  3. Lisa, I think this input from Jacob is priceless and central to what you are trying to accomplish with your book. I love it!

  4. Lisa Hillman has written a powerful book about how a son’s addiction impacts his whole family — not just himself. She bravely shares her heart aches in order to let others know they are not alone. Thank you, Lisa!

  5. How proud you must be of Jacob! It’s so touching that he wanted copies of your book, and so inspiring that he is giving back by helping others with appropriate housing while in recovery – something he struggled to find. You two are quite a pair!

  6. Congratulations to Jake, you and the rest of your family on the hard work that you all have done and continue to do every day. The book is a testament to your strength and love.

  7. I love this story. Not only is it full of hope if you know someone battling addiction, but it’s a great story about not giving up on your dream and pursuing your mission (a book) with integrity until you hold in your hand the finished product. Congrats on a treasure of a book and a wonderful website!

    1. Therese, as author of Beyond Blue, your endorsement means a lot. I’ve given your book to friends and family. Keep writing!

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