My life was in a downward spiral and suicide seemed like a good idea. I was homeless, penniless and very sick from the effects of addiction: a bleeding ulcer, a bleeding colon and transient neuropathy in my legs. I was twenty-six years old.
Suicide wasn’t just an idle thought. I’d known someone who’d killed himself and I figured I’d do it the same way. It seemed like an easy solution and I saw no other options. I’d been president of the student association at Grosse Pointe South High School and a National Merit Scholar. Now, I was living in a flop house in California, down to my last few dollars. I was too sick to work and too delusional to get help on my own.
In dire situations like mine, the sick person can’t be expected to make the right decisions. I certainly couldn’t be my own doctor, therapist or friend. Yet I would argue stubbornly with anyone who tried to reason with me. Friends and family had tried many times.
Fortunately, my family didn’t give up on me. At the eleventh hour, they tracked me down again, struggled past my stubbornness again and offered me help. This time, their long-distance intervention broke through my defenses and denial. The next day, I checked into a hospital for medical stabilization and was transferred ten days later to a month-long treatment program. Against all odds (and by the grace of God), I followed the directions I was given and joined the local community of recovering people. I’ve never looked back.
It all sounds easy, but there are few things more difficult. Most important were the continuing interventions that ultimately saved my life. Some people have the luxury of “hitting bottom,” coming to their senses and then getting appropriate help. But at that time in my life, I couldn’t find my backside with both hands. If it hadn’t been for the active involvement of my parents and the help of many other people along the way, I never could’ve made it. Recovery isn’t an “I” program, it’s a “we” program.
In many ways, we made it together. My parents had no idea how to help me, and their willingness to seek out and follow professional advice was a model for me to follow. They didn’t pretend to have all the answers, but they showed by example that they were willing to do the work and make changes in their own lives. Their example made it very difficult for me to deviate from the advice I was being given. If they had followed only part of the directions, what would I have done?
Some important points. My parents weren’t intimidated by my stubbornness. I was an adult and they let me go out into the world and find my own way. They stayed in touch, but only to offer support, not to enable. When they finally succeeded in getting me into treatment, they attended the family program, visited on weekends and followed the advice they were given. When I got out of treatment, they got involved in Al-anon.
Over the weeks and months that followed, we all got better. I worked a full-time job and continued my one-day-at-a time directions. My parents watched from a distance, but were quick to challenge my crazy thinking when it reared up every now and again. Together, we made our way to safe ground.
My father died an untimely death at 58, not long after the first anniversary of my sobriety. I’ll be forever grateful that he lived to see that much. He played an instrumental role in getting me back on the right track, not by force, but by love. Over the decades that followed, my mother has seen me go from derelict to something better than that and then something better still. Her constant faith and surprising wit have buoyed me up when nothing else would.
Their intervention paved the way for a life in recovery, a life beyond my imagining. None of us could have predicted how the years would unfold, but everyone could see the tragic path I’d been on. Their actions made all the difference.
If your loved one is suffering from addiction or mental health issues, it means you’re suffering right along with them. You don’t have to struggle alone. Professionals may not have a magic wand that will fix the problems overnight, but they do know the way out of the jungle. We can make it together.
– Jeff Jay