My oldest son, Aaron, died of a heroin overdose in May 2007 at age 33. He was intelligent, creative, intuitive and had an unrelenting love and curiosity about life. He was a loyal son, brother, and friend. He loved animals and his constant companion was his Rottweiler, Napalm. When he wasn’t fishing, he loved to skateboard, snowboard and compete in aerial skiing. That risk-taking nature is what probably attracted him to the world of drugs. It might have been a dare from a friend that encouraged him to sneak liquor from our personal liquor cabinet when he was 12 years old. He then began to experiment with marijuana and LSD along with other hallucinogenic substances and amphetamines during his middle teen years. By his early 20’s he was using heroin.
It was so difficult to watch my bright, handsome 14 year old son suffer from mental illness along with substance misuse. His diagnosis included Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) along with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD).
By the time he was 15 years old he lost interest in school and was often absent from home for days on end. As his drug habit increased, it became necessary for him to deal drugs in order to support himself and his habit. He made many attempts at recovery ranging from traditional 12-step treatment programs and recovery groups to treatment programs that followed the Health Realization model. Through all of this he stayed in touch with his family.
Aaron’s last attempt at sobriety began with $10,000.00 unsuccessful rapid detoxification procedure for opioids. This was followed by a 10-day hospitalization stay. Following his release from the hospital Aaron entered his final treatment program. One of his treatment goals was to be free of his anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications as well as any opioid antagonists. But as these medications were reduced Aaron became more emotionally unstable. At his request he was released from inpatient to an outpatient program a week early. Two days following his release we had a very positive conversation about re-arranging his apartment to reflect his newly sober life. Two days later my husband and I found him dead in his apartment from a heroin overdose.
Although it is too late for my son, I have dedicated the rest of my life to supporting those who seek recovery, their families and loved ones, no matter where they are on the continuum. Here are a few thoughts about boundaries I wish I would have implemented earlier in my journey with my son. Drawing healthy personal boundaries around requests from your loved one when they are actively using is integral to your family’s recovery as well as your loved one.
- Is the request going to encourage his drug use, or his recovery?
- Will my response endanger his health and wellbeing if I didn’t follow through with the request?
- How will my response impact the rest of the family?
- Will I resent helping if it meant requiring a change in my work or family schedule, or can I do it from a place of joy and love because it feels as right for all of us as it does for your loved one?
“Saving the lives of those who are affected by this disease [addiction] will only happen when the general public gets angry enough to demand that the people who suffer from these disorders deserve the same medical treatment and compassion as anyone suffering from a chronic illness.”
~ “Living in the Wake of Addiction: Lessons for Courageous Caregiving”