letting each other go

Before and After

Posted by Leo G on February 25, 2007

A Perfect Post – February 2007
I’m starting this blog because I am hurting. That may be as self-centered a reason as there is, but I don’t know what else to do. My son is almost sixteen and about six months ago he seemed to wake up angry as hell that the world has rules and determined not to follow them. It was like he’d undergone a transformation from Jekyll to Hyde. People say this is normal, but when it’s your kid, there’s nothing normal about it. It’s just confusing and maddening and painful.

My son has always been such an amazing person. He’s intelligent, loyal, dedicated, and extremely charismatic. He’s never had any trouble making friends. Babies love him. Kids love him. His peers love him. Adults love him. Or they once did. I don’t know if that’s still true, because every day he looks more like a drug user. His eyes are bloodshot. He’s got that glazed look in his eyes. And he’s unpredictable.

That’s the hardest thing so far. When I see my son, I see him through a kind of kaleidescope of time. I see the baby I held just moments after his birth. I see the child that scared the hell out of me by riding his “Big Wheel” down the steps. I see the kindergartener who made friends the very first day of school to whom he is still loyal. I see the child who was so nervous at his first school concert he spun around and around and around in his bright gold kente cloth shirt, looking for all the world like a lighthouse. I see the child who took on fifth graders to protect the tadpoles in the school pond. I see the kid who told amazing stories and the kid who surprised me one day when I picked him up from school and found him wearing a knight’s helmet–that even opened and closed–entirely fashioned out of paper. I see the kid who was so determined to become a professional basketball player that he practiced for hours every night. The kid who never had trouble saying, “I love you.”

Then came the phone call from camp last summer. My son had gotten caught with marijuana at camp. They sent him home. When he got home he explained that yes, they’d smoked some pot, but that he “took the fall” for a bunch of kids who convinced him that they’d be beaten or killed if they got sent home. He knew he’d be in trouble, but safe, so he confessed. He cooperated with every consequence we gave him, including working with a good attitude to pay me back almost $1000 toward the cost of camp. I thought it was a stupid one-time thing and he’d learned his lesson.

Then he got picked up for shoplifting. Again, I thought it was a one-time thing. He’d had no money for a really long time (paying me back) and it was his best friend’s birthday. It made a certain, stupid, adolescent sense. But then we started noticing the red eyes. And he started skipping school–and eventually pretty much stopped going at all. He failed many of his classes. He didn’t make the basketball team because of his grades. Same for the band trip he was so excited about. Then he learned that he might not get to go to his school next year because he’s a transfer student. For a short while he straightened up…

Then, he got some cash. Suddenly, his eyes weren’t only bloodshot, he was a different person. Angry. His constant refrain, “I don’t care.” He started leaving homemade pot pipes in the basement. He started burning candles and spraying cologne all over, but his room still smells of pot. He stuck with school for a little while, then started skipping again. He’s angry and defensive all the time. Things are spiraling out of control.

And all I can really say is…it’s breaking my heart. I have no solutions yet. I have no strategies yet. I have only this sadness.

P.S. and right as I wrote that, I get a text message from him. It says: “I think you’re worrying too much about stuff.”


27 Responses to “Before and After”

  1. Grace said

    Hi, Leo.

    As a mom of two (boy almost 21 and girl 19), my heart so responded to this post. While I haven’t had any drug issues, I have experienced others and let me tell you – there have been times that I thought to myself, “If I had know the level of worry and pain being a parent involves, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to do it!”

    Your son is going through hugh transformations right now. Have you thought about seeking professional counselling? He’s acting out for a reason and maybe he’d be willing to talk to someone about it.

    One of the hardest things for me was the day I found out my son was drinking. Up until he was about 18, he was a ‘straight edge’, and wanted to be a Pastor. While I had the challenges of raging hormones and attitude and such, I never worried about drugs, alcohol or sex. (My daughter was a different story). When his friends brought him home wasted and in tears, my guts shattered…

    All I really can offer you is this: Remember that the things that worked while they were children don’t work now (re: discipline,etc.) Try to keep the lines of communication as open as you can. Keep good boundaries and consequences, and stick with them. And remember that he really needs a Dad, not a friend, at this point. He’s in the process of identifying himself apart from you (one of the hardest times we parents go through). He may be trying to break out of the ‘good boy’ mold because at some point it became too much of a burden to bear as he works out his own personal values, beliefs, etc. Rebellion is actually a good thing sometimes, when we understand that they’re just trying to figure out their place in the world.

    Anger comes from guilt and the drugs. I would suggest professional counselling for yourself.

    Tough love is required, Dad. But have courage – I know from personal experience that it works.

  2. Leo G said

    Thanks, Grace.
    My son has considered the ministry too. Sometimes I think he’s self-medicating because he is such a sensitive soul. The line you wrote, “my guts shattered”–now that is an accurate description of these feelings. My guts have shattered. There are lots of sharp edges, and a good deal of pain. The temptation of denial is so strong, but I know I have to face it.

    I have a good counselor. We’re trying to get my son to see someone as well. We’re supporting his little sister and each other. And we are trying to let him know that everything we are doing and saying is because we love him.


  3. I’m terribly sorry you have to go through this. I know writing can help get it out. Be a way to think through things. I hope other people with wisdom read and post. I’m afraid I don’t have much wisdom, but know that my heart goes out to you and, as a child who comes from a family where she was always unconditionally loved, I know how important it is that you are willing to go through this with your son – to love him no matter what he does. But especially having had gone through this with your brother, it is just unjust that you have to go through a similar thing with your son. Life is so damn unfair sometimes.
    Prayers are with you.
    with much peace, elizabeth

  4. margalit said

    I’m so sorry to hear of your son’s pain. There are things you can do, which I’d be happy to discuss with you offline. I’ve been in a similar situation with both of my teens, not with illegal drugs, per se, but with serious mood changes and for the most part, we’ve come out the other end. It was two years of pure hell, but the improvement is tangible. I’ve never felt so helpless and wracked with pain watching my kids suffer so much. But they learned (the hard way) to get beyond it, and if you find the right help for your son, he will too.

  5. […] Turmoil awarded Letting Each Other Go RiversGrace awarded Jumping Into Nothing Never That Easy awarded Heather Anne Ladybug Crossing […]

  6. Amy H said

    Leo, I’m 24. I’m raising a boy who is almost 10. So I’m on the verge of having a teenager when I’m barely over my own teenage years. Your post (which was very well-written, I’d like to add) reminded me of both who I once was and what I’m fearing in my near future.
    I can tell that you that I grew out of my bad phase and I hope and pray your son does as well. Teenagers DO make bad choices…I look back on the things I’d done and I’m ashamed, embarrassed, hurt. I see the way I treated my mother and it breaks my heart.
    I hope you are able to find the balance of both loving and caring for your son…and letting him love and care for himself.

  7. RLGelber said

    I can’t imagine what you are going through. My kids are very young. However, I know what I did as a teen and it sounds very similar. All I can say is love him and don’t give up on him.

  8. Cathy said

    Hello, followed Suburban Turmoil over here. I am sorry for your pain and troubles. I can hear your love in your post. While it may be a test of boundaries, another consideration might be that he is self-medicating for depression. Depression can hit a person for a variety of reasons, and can have a genetic pre-disposition. It can be triggered by any number of things, for example the fear and stress of growing up. Males in particular, since they’re not supposed to discuss feelings in our culture, are prone to self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, risky behaviors, etc. Before letting go, and while he does need to learn from his mistakes, you might consider that he could have a medical condition that could be treated. A good counselor or psychologist could help.

  9. charlene said


    I’m so sorry to hear that you son has taken this path. I hope he realizes to change his ways before it is to late. Please pass on the story I’m going to tell to your son.

    My sister who is 26 is sitting in the county jail in Missouri. Want to know why. Drugs is what did it. It was pot first then after my mom passed she had moved onto herione. she also has tried every other drug out there. We saw the records from the methodone clinic. Her dreams of being a teacher are gone because she a total of 8 felonies againist her. yes, I said eight. They are all for stealing and forgery. My father has to testify againist her Monday on one of the forgery charges. She also has munciplities looking for her to take of issues she created. At this time my sister is looking at 7 years in jail for being on parole vialoation. Seven years is a lifetime of not being outside and enjoying life. So, please ask for help do not go down this path. it will tear you up and your family. The effects it does to you body is awful. So, really think about it.

  10. Chris said

    I have nothing to add to the wonderful advice that has already be given here, but I wanted to say I’m sorry for what you are having to deal with.

    I have a 19 year old girl, a 16 year old girl, and 12 year old boy. I have delt with some of the same issues, and have felt that helpless maddening heart breaking feeling.

    Although you have to endure this seemingly alone, you have many standing right here next to you. We can’t do much more than listen, offer support, give advice, and allow you a safe place to express your feelings. But, were are here, and you are not alone on this path that is before you.

  11. Staci said

    As the mother of two boys who are still scaring me by riding their big wheels down the stairs, your post made me cry. I hope that you will be able to reach him.

  12. Sandy said

    Followed the link from Petroville to your “perfect post.” I feel for you. Although with a sense of guilt, I felt a huge sense of relief when my daughter turned 18. I was no longer responsible, no longer liable. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love her and I still worry, but it is different now. We too, went through years of psychiatric facilities, mental health counselors, tough love groups, religious interventions, private schools, legal involvement, etc. etc. It was a never-ending battle, but our love for her refused to let us give up hope. It was a tiring, draining and plain ole exhausting few years. She’s now 19, with no high school education, no skills and a baby on the way. Yet, I *think* she is clean. And that’s worth a lot.

    Just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone in your struggles.


  13. mic said

    pot does not make u angry it makes u mellow mabe u should check out how drugs affect people think u should checkout speedy drugs just a thot anyroad im sory ur goin thru it do not give in but do not let it disrupt the rest of tha familys lifes

  14. Kristin said

    I linked here via Suburban Turmoil and wow, my heart aches for you and my head fears for my future… as the mother of 3 children, I worry about this all the time… I know that sometimes, no matter how much you say or do or try, they can get away from you.

    You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers and I will check back often.


  15. Lucy said

    I came over here from Suburban Turmoil. What a beautiful, heartbreaking post. My own children are young, but my brother, who just turned 30, is still struggling with alcohol and drug addictions. My parents have tried everything. I wish I knew what to tell you. I wish I knew what to tell my parents. My brother also was a sweet, happy kid. He’s very creative and used to be smart. He’s helpful and loyal. But he’s broken my parents’ hearts and betrayed his wife. I sure wish you the best as you try to reach your son. Please don’t ever give up on him.

  16. FENICLE said

    I linked here through Petroville. Wow, almost of what you write in this post reminds me of the struggles my parents had with younger brother a few years ago. It was an emotional roller-coaster through his involvement with drugs & alcohol. Thankfully, when she learned to “let go” and put the responsibility on him rather than always giving him an excuse out, he took control of his life. It was so difficult for her to get to the point of realizing you do at some point lose control over a child – no matter how much they need parental supervision/advice.

    I’ll keep you in my prayers! Best of luck as you continue to sort your way through this situation.

  17. This post was seriously well-written and the essence is captured. I could really feel the pain you’re suffering as i read through the post word-by-word. I guess, your son is going through some major changes in life and what he did was a channel to vent his anger/frustration out.

    As a Dad, conform to your beliefs and bring him back on the track. Be determined and patient while doing it. It’s all up to you to change him for the better. And i believe you can do it.

  18. Trish said

    As a mother of young girls, I really only read the blogs of other parents of youngsters, but I came here from Suburban Turmoil like so many others. All of us parents scratch our heads at what our children do, and we tear our hair out and joke about the years of therapy our kids are going to need some day. So your post, your beautifully written call for help, has left me reeling. That this can happen so easily, despite an obviously close and loving family, fills me with fear and has me questioning, even more, my abilities as a parent. So I have no advice to you, except to say that if my kids end up in this kind of trouble, I hope that I have the strength to help pull them through it, and to survive it myself. Good luck to you, Leo. I’ll be reading and hoping and almost certainly learning something valuable from your experience.

  19. susangpyp said

    I think that some suggestions here are good and that counseling/intervention might be the way to go as part of a bigger plan. If he’s depressed (or could be), he needs an evaluation. However, I would try to make it part of a “health” plan and not something that is “wrong” with him. Teenagers rebel more when we try to stick labels on them. You might want to frame it as “We’re going to see that everything’s okay with you.” and it also sends a message of caring.

    However, I do believe that parents can and should draw firm boundaries with kids, especially teenagers no matter what. What are his consequences for all of this? My middle son is now 25 and was visiting this week and said he knows he was somewhat out of control as a teenager. Similar stuff (smoking pot, skipping school) but he says he would have been so much worse if I hadn’t enforced boundaries almost constantly, given consequences for not following the rules (he said to me just recently, “The consequences were so SEVERE but after a while I figured I needed to stop breaking the rules.”

    At the same time my constant refrain was “I love you and I would do anything for you, but you cannot live in my house and act like this. Since you can’t live anywhere else because I won’t permit it, these are the rules and these are the consequences for breaking those rules.” and so it went. He straightened up and flew right after a time.

    It was a constant battle when he was a teenager but I always demanded (and got) respect and eventual adherence to the rules. I was also involved with the school. I met with the vice principal, the counselor and his teachers. Sometimes they were blaming him for things that he didn’t do and I needed to defend him. Other times they had every right to come down on him. I would tell him, “When you are right I will defend you. When you are wrong, I will take their side and work with them.” He actually liked the fact that I would not allow the school to just brand him and blame him, BUT when he was wrong, he was wrong and I let him know that. It takes consistency, boundaries and consequences for crossing those boundaries. Even if they are angry or say they don’t care, don’t listen to that. It doesn’t matter whether they care or not, these are the rules. It doesn’t matter if he says you’re worrying too much about stuff. It’s none of his business how much you worry. You are the parent. You don’t need to answer to him.

    My son and I had a lot of arguments but everything is good now. He is a hardworking responsible young man and we have a great relationship. It is possible to come out on the other side of this. You have to be the parent and while that is hard sometimes (and very frustrating), it’s do-able. You can do this. Best of luck.

  20. Perhaps take him to a regular doctor and have him directed to a Shrink who specializes in ADHD/ADD. Maybe he’s been misdiagnosed as depressed and is self-medicating to numb the chaos… ADHD/ADD drugs if not abused can be useful for treating apathy without depression (see pubmed.gov) in addition to ADD/ADHD. However, if you mention any substance abuse to the doctor, or the shrink you will likely only get bupropion, which is a really weak stimulant with a long half life (also known as Zyban/Wellbutrin, keeps your dopamine levels high which keeps some people happy, smokers dopamine levels up while they go through nicotine withdrawl, and gives others insomnia.). Bupropion is also hard on the liver due to three metabolites… The test only takes an hour and might change his life.

    If he can get off everything, nice, but if he has a real dopamine receptor problem, he might need some help.

    p.s. Nobody completely understands the brain and the interaction of psychotropics, so be careful. Pharmaceuticals are dangerous in general when mixed with booze, especially downers… and sometimes stimulants cause seizures…

  21. It sounds like your son has core personality traits that will eventually see him right. My son too, slipped into the same sort of behaviours at 15 despite showing kindness and empathy to others throughout his life among others similar traits.

    The true extent of what he had been up to was not revealed to me until recently. I only heard at school meetings with the board about making and bringing gunpowder to school, having live ammunition and showing it to his friends, receiving a pack of cigarettes that had previously been stolen from a teacher, and of buying and smoking marijuana on the school grounds. I blamed it on me being a single parent, of not being able to discipline him because of my own parental shortcomings. Needless to say, despite having potential, he didn’t apply himself to school work and his grades reflected that.

    He and I both felt I nagged too much about him not being able to go out at night, not being able to drink alcohol or take drugs, not being allowed to smoke cigarettes in his room because it was my house and also to keep his room tidy. My response to his complaints of nagging was that I loved him so much, I wanted him to learn monitor himself now so that he can become a successful and happy adult – and not have to keep having others monitor him if he continued like this. But throughout, I almost bored him with telling him how much I loved him and supported him as a person, and that once he had left home I still would, but only he would have to live with himself and behaviors that hurt him.

    AS a child he had been artistically focused on drawing meticulous battle scenes of bloody figures. This graphic demonstration of violence caused me to harbor this sense of dread in the pit of my stomach for several years. I finally asked him what it was about these repetitious images he kept drawing and also playing out in War hammer scenes. (He loved to make these figurines as a hobby) He told me he loved the strategy and the planning, the whole mental thought process that went into planning a battle. He also loved to play computer games that involved this same war strategy.

    To cut a long story short – I encouraged him to channel this energy into him joining army cadets at 13. He set a goal for himself that he would like to join the army and when he later went through his tough times, this remained the steadfast thing that got him through. It stopped him being expelled from school for the drugs because he needed the minimum of schooling to joining the army. (I’d just like to add, that I am personally against war and am a pacifist at heart!)

    I’m proud to say that he is a couple of weeks away from 18 and has been in the army for a year in June. He continues to be challenged by want over need (as we all do) but is fast finding out the consequences of his actions.

    I’m not saying that the army is the best choice for all boys, but that drawing out the personal strengths and nurturing them seemed to work in our case. I really love and respect the person that he is becoming.

    I wish you the all the best …

  22. You wrote: P.S. and right as I wrote that, I get a text message from him. It says: “I think you’re worrying too much about stuff.”

    Actually – it was this comment that really got to me .. it was almost his mantra, it came along with the lying and my reply was that because I couldn’t trust him, it made me worry more. I told him once, ‘I can only trust you for the day that you show it to me.’ .. sounds manipulative and like it is teaching him to people please … but it became a personal challenge for him to practice that on a daily basis that started off small, and now seems to be a consistent and happily given basis of all our conversations. It feels really respectful and open now … but it was a long time coming.

  23. As mother of a ten month old boy, your post was very sobering. I fear for his future and it’s paralyzing if I let it be.

    I wish you and your son much peace. I appreciate you starting this blog so we can not only offer you support but learn right along with you.

  24. Sarah said

    Reading your post made me think about what I put my parents through. I’m 28 and am lucky to be alive, I started drinking when I was 12 and by the time I was 16 I was a mess, by the time I was 20 I had lost countless jobs, dropped out of college and was homeless. When I lost my home I called my parents and told them the truth about what had been happening and what I’d been doing and I broke their hearts. Life got worse over the next couple of years, I was up and down all the time and finally managed to pull myself together enough to get a job in another country. Around the same time my parents started going to al-anon and setting boundries – they refused to talk to me and to give me any money, at the time I thought they were the worse parents on the planet but now I’m glad they did that – I had to hit bottom before I could stop. Four years later I hit rock bottom and started going to AA, my parents were there for me every step of the way supporting me. I’ve been clean and sober now for 4 years and my relationship with parents is amazing, I put them through so much and there’s no way I can make up for that but now they are happy to see their daughter happy. I guess what I’m trying to say is that instead of concentrating your son you need to concentrate on you – if your son is an addict there is nothing you can do to change that, I know that the more my parents tried to help and to tell me that I had a problem the more I pushed them away and the more determined I was to show them that I was in control of my drug and alcohol use, all you can do is to be there. If your son is interested and is willing to admit that he might have a problem then maybe you can Narcotics Anonymous or Alateen and ask for someone to come and talk to him (12 step him). For me I know that Narcotics Anonymous and AA are the only things that stop me from going back to old ways…

  25. Chris said

    My heart goes out to you. I’ll just pray, it’s what I do best anymore. My kids are 36, 28 (boy) and 23 as you can see I have one son. I have to say, I had the normal teenaged crap but nothing horrific. Good Luck to you. Hang in there and keep posting, it helps to vent. Sometimes one can then think more clearly.

  26. Emily said

    I am a teenage girl who was just scanning the internet when I came across your site. Don’t worry, I am on your side. I just thought maybe a little inside look on the situation could give you some help.

    I can relate to your son, I have at times felt pressure to smoke pot. (Granted, I have never done it, but that’s beside the point). The thing is that if your son says no, his friends will leave him and he will be alone. High school in horrible if your don’t have your clique to ‘protect’ you. If he manages to from friendships with some ‘good’ kids, then it may not be such a tradgedy when he starts turning his life back around, because he will have peers who support him.

    I an tell that you care a lot about your son. I know you’ll stay by his side and help him through this tough stage.

  27. Can Relate said

    I never thought I’d be leaving this comment. Suburban Turmoil caught me off-guard, by linking here and using the term “total, complete, drug addicted loser.”

    I am a 21 year old girl. I started drinking and smoking pot around sophomore year of high school. At the end of my senior year, I tried cocaine for the first time. Throughout this time, I managed to get by in school. I know I could have done so much better (having always been an honors student, etc.), but just ‘getting by’ was fine for me. After high school, I got into the state university in my city. Freshman year of college, I continued to drink heavily several nights a week, along with use pot and cocaine regularly. The university I attend is a well-known ‘party school’, so this isn’t too out of the ordinary. However, I completely blew my first year of university and had to withdraw and sign up at my local community college. While attending community college, I began using perscription pills recreationally. The summer after my sophomore year of college, my friend from high school was home visiting and mentioned that he had some heroin. I told him I would never, ever try it. After hanging out with him a few more times and watching other friends try it, I agreed to smoke a little. A year later, I still am doing all of this.

    I am ‘getting by’ in school, I’ve even been re-admitted back into the university and am well on my way to a bachelor’s degree.

    But life is SO much easier without all of this. I wish I could go back and change it all. I had every opportunity growing up. I grew up in one of the nicest gated communities in town. Both of my parents are successful business people and have no idea about any of this. I feel like I’ve gotten myself into such a huge mess. But it doesn’t all happen in one day. It has happened over a course of years, each time doing something that by itself seemed ‘harmless’.

    And I’m not someone that you could look at and ‘tell’, you know? I was in honors classes all throughout high school. I’m well put together. Only a few close friends and my boyfriend know the extent of my abuse.

    Marijuana is a gateway drug. I used to laugh when being told this in high school, but I now believe it to be very, very true. I still can’t even believe myself.. I can’t even bring myself to say outloud that ‘I have used heroin’.

    While I don’t consider myself a ‘total, complete drug addicted loser’.. I am sure there are those who would. On the outside, nobody would ever be able to tell. But presenting myself one way while sneaking around being another way is a lot of work. I settled for an average GPA in high school, gave up on getting a scholarship, got by my first semester of university before completely failing out of my second. I got my stuff together and got back in, but still. I’ve never really considered how much I’ve given up on or been apathetic to because of all the substance abuse/partying.. just writing this all down and looking back at it is a huge slap in the face.

    I don’t know why I’m leaving this here.. maybe this will be helpful to you.

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