The Devastating Reality Of Raising A Teenage Addict

Photo: Motortion Films / Shutterstock
moody photo of teenager in hoody

After more than 24 hours of labor, I was exhausted and barely awake; yet, I recognized the baby screaming from the nursery as my own. I became a mom.

The nurses brought him to me to soothe him. He continued to scream as I tried to latch him to my breast.

"You've got a fighter there," the nurses told me. And at barely a day old, the fight began.

RELATED: Got A Bratty, Defiant Kid? 4 Ways To Teach Them Respect Without Crushing Their Spirit

He was 14 years old, leaving for school in the morning. I asked, "Why do you have to fight with me all the time?"

"Because I hate you," he responded.

I had enough composure for the seconds it took me to respond, "But I will always love you."

RELATED: How To Help An Addict — Using Communication Strategies To Encourage Someone Suffering From Addiction To Find Help

It was not until I closed the door that I sat on the floor and cried giant anguished tears.

He was 16 and a teenage addict.

In an escalating shouting match with his alcoholic father. I physically put my body between them. I stared down at his dad's angry fist, all but daring him to hit me.

"You will not hurt my child without getting through me first."

They knew I would not be the one to back down, and the two soon went their separate ways.

As I watched my son walk away, I realized he had been burdened with the sins of his father. They are attached to his soul as much as to his DNA.

My son walked like his father. He talked like his father. His angry outbursts scared me in the same way as the angry outbursts of his father.

In moments of my own anger, I accusingly yelled at him: "You're just like your dad! Why would you want to be like that?" 

It was a late summer night with a thunderstorm raging outside. This time, I was the one fighting — fighting to keep breathing as I listened in horror to his confession of addiction.

A call from his work supervisor asking me to meet him and my son after his shift was the first sign something was wrong.

"You need to tell your momma what's going on," he said.

I remember very little of what was said after that. I remember wondering: How? How did I not know? What was so wrong with me as a mother that I didn't see the signs that this was a problem beyond teenage pot experimentation? 

How did we get there? Where was my baby? Where was my little boy who liked baseball and comic books? Where was my high schooler that failed algebra because he was too busy reading Homer's The Iliad?

I saw in his eyes the uncertainty that was going on inside him. Wondering if he should fight me when I said that he goes to the hospital or he doesn't come home? Or was he ready to surrender?

He was 19 — almost a man but still very much a child.

The nurse led me into the family visiting area where my son was waiting for me. He was at least 5 inches taller than me, but as soon as he saw me, he clung to me as if he were a scared and hurting toddler.

He buried his face in my shoulder and cried. He didn't let go as the sobs escaped him. I vowed right then to never let go of him.

RELATED: 7 Strange Habits That May Actually Be Secret Addictions

As we sat in the waiting area, more confessions came. He was angry. And hurt. And scared.

He asked if I'd like to see his journal, a peace offering of sorts. As I flipped through the pages of manic writings and drawings I began to see a picture emerge of a hurting soul.

His journal entries were sometimes funny and too-often times heartbreaking. I was taken aback by the detail in his drawings. When did he learn to do this I wondered?

As I sat fascinated by what I was reading, he sat next to me with his arms wrapped around himself, as if protecting him from the demons he had released onto the page.

I was undecided whether what I was seeing in this notebook was madness or a creative genius.

I felt as if I had been holding my breath for years and only then I could allow myself a huge exhale. Perhaps then we would have been able to stop fighting.

His journal entries painted the portrait of a hurt and angry little boy. I was then able to see how deep his anger was towards his father, a man who, once we got divorced, failed to even utilize the limited visitation schedule he was given.

I understood that anger. I felt it, too. There was also some anger toward me, for what he saw as me not protecting him.

That guilt I will take to my grave.

Counselors reminded us the past was over and we needed to find a healthier way to move forward. In reality, he was beginning a new fight. A fight against brain synapses that were used to outside chemical stimulation had resulted in massive mood swings and heavy depression.

His brain needed time to heal and learn to regulate emotions, desires, and motivations on its own. A fight to find a new way of living, of coping, of facing his past.

He continued to fight with me once he moved back into my home and adjusted to rules, schedules, and counseling appointments.

"I'm getting a job and moving out!"

"So do it!" I yelled back on more than one night.

RELATED: 6 Key Marriage Tips That Help Couples Stay Together For Life

As much as I wanted him to grow up and become independent, I still wanted to protect him. I wanted to keep him far away from the boogeyman, the drug dealers, and the mean people of the world.

But I couldn't. I could never protect him from the real threat — the threat of an addictive brain. This never was my battle to fight; it was his.

Through family counseling, I've learned that accusing my son of being just like his father was akin to me saying to my son, "I don't like your father. And I don't like you, either."

Those words only reinforced to my son that he was becoming someone he hated, too. We had to learn a new way of communicating.

At 20 years old, he was no longer a child. I couldn't parent him like a child any longer. We were two adults finding our way together in a new world.

Thanks to wonderful counselors and regular 12-step meetings, we both realized that what lies ahead is a long and difficult road. And the lion's share of that work fell to my son. 

I will always do anything I can to help him, but I will not be a part of anything that will harm him. 

My son is healthier now. We are a healthier family. Yet, I'm well aware that with just one phone call, my world can again be changed.

The only thing I can do is continue to love him as only a mother can love a child.

RELATED: Getting Sober: Why Overcoming Addiction On Your Own Is Totally Possible

Jennifer Williams-Fields, E-RYT, is the author of "Creating A Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned From Yoga And My Mom." Her work has been featured on Yahoo, Dr. Oz, and The Good Life, and she is a regular contributing writer for Elephant Journal Magazine, Rebelle Society, and YogaUOnline.