I always tried to keep my family’s problems within the family. I grew up with five brothers and sisters, and whenever any one of us had a problem, we were there to help each other. We never called the cops for anything and handled our business by ourselves. When I grew up and had kids of my own, I wasn’t really ready for the problems that couldn’t be solved so simply, like when my son needed residential drug treatment.
I live in North Jersey with my wife and my three kids. It’s pretty easy for kids to get their hands on drugs in this state, and even easier in my particular town. I always thought my wife and I could shield our kids from all that with love — and discipline when needed. The first time I caught my son with drugs was when he was just barely fourteen. He left his book-bag on the dining room table, and it reeked of pot. I opened it up to see what was going on, and not only did I find six joints in there, but also a bottle full of Oxycontin. For the first time in my life, I felt like smacking him, like my father would’ve done, but I didn’t really believe in that. Instead, I yelled, screamed, and took away everything he enjoyed for a month: his cell phone, his Internet…EVERYTHING. He started crying, and I had to ask myself how this young kid, who was shaking and sobbing from something as simple as his father yelling at him, could possibly need residential drug treatment.
I sent him to his room, and stupidly thought that would be the end of it. When my wife got home from work later that night, I told her what happened. She started shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t believe it was true. I calmed her down and told her I handled it and to trust me. She wanted to talk to him like an adult, find out how bad the problem was, and then put him in some kind of counseling or residential drug treatment. I didn’t think it was necessary, and eventually managed to convince her, and myself, that it was a one-time thing. I still get sick when I look back and think that some kind of pride or shame blinded me to the reality of the situation. I didn’t want the world to know my family’s business, but it didn’t matter because three months later, the problem would become more public than I ever thought.
I kept a closer eye on my son since the incident and was starting to really believe from his behavior that I was right and that it was just a one-time thing. Part of me also thought that, if I pushed too hard and kept grilling him over where he’d been and what he’d been doing, he’d go running back to drugs or something else. So I let him be, but watched him from afar. Aside from the usual back-talk and moodiness typical of kids his age, there were no real red flags. Just after I finished patting myself on the back for and giving myself the Father-of-the-Year Award, I get a call at work from the Nurse’s office that every father dreads-my son had a seizure in algebra, and was having trouble breathing. Luckily she recognized the signs, and had him go straight to the hospital. He regained consciousness ,and his breathing got better, but a drug-test revealed heavy amounts of OxyContin in his system. There was little doubt in my mind now that it was time for residential drug treatment.
I said at the hospital that, if he died, I’d want to die right there with him – and I meant it. Thank God it didn’t have to come to that, and after a stint in residential drug treatment, I got my son back. My wife and I enrolled him in a private school, and I personally took a much closer interest in his life and his friends. I don’t know if the experience of almost dying woke him up or what, but he’s stayed away from drugs ever since. We made him take drug-tests for the next two years, and he was really mature about it. He graduated high school with no problems and goes to college for Criminal Justice. I think about how close I came to losing him and never want to relive those days. But I learned that if I’m more involved as a parent, and willing to ask for help with a problem that I can’t solve on my own, I wouldn’t have to.