I have a son who has been addicted to drugs for many years. He is now 37 and started huffing gas when he was 10. He has been through several rehab programs, but goes right back to doing drugs when he is released.
He used to be a bright young man, but now he is mentally impaired. Long ago he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and I think he has multiple personalities. He often talks in third person and can name the person talking. He will not take his meds unless he is in a supervised facility.
He has been in jail many times, and prison one time. Presently, he is living on the streets. My heart aches for him.
His disability check is deposited into my account, so he calls me often to send him money. I don’t know if he would make any effort to be in touch with me if it wasn’t to get money.
His father and I have been divorced for 30 years and his father is now deceased. My other children will not have anything to do with my son, and advise me against seeing or helping him for fear of my safety. There isn’t anyone in in my son’s corner. He is so pitiful – I can’t turn my back on him. I still love him. At times I see a brief glance of the sweet young man he used to be.
I have taken him to a counseling agency several times to get help, but he will not keep his follow up appointments. I don’t want to enable him by sending money, but it breaks my heart to see him in such dire circumstances. I don’t know what to do.
I am 70 years old, single, and live by myself. I am still working, but plan to retire the first of the year. It takes a little effort for me to see him. He usually ends up angry and verbally abusive when I suggest ways to improve his situation.
What is the best thing I can do to help him? I see him about once a week, and send a little money ($30) at a time occasionally. What is expected of me? I want to do the right thing. Can you advise me please?
I believe that you are expected to make sure first and foremost that your physical and emotional safety is protected. I realize he’s your son, but if he’s unstable and prone to being abusive, you need to make sure you aren’t putting yourself in situations where he can harm you. I agree with your children that you need to be very careful.
If your son is critical of the way you handle the money, recognize that you don’t have to be his primary financial fiduciary. I recommend you speak with an attorney to explore the possibility of transferring that responsibility to someone else who can oversee your son’s financial needs.
If your son is seriously mentally ill, there are often resources available to him to help with life management through counseling and case management. I recommend you check in with your local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter (www.nami.org) to see what resources they have for you and your son. Sometimes the best way to help him is to let others hold him accountable and support him in his illness.
Family members of those with addictions and serious mental illnesses often burn out because they blame themselves and believe there is more they can do, even when they’ve exhausted all of their resources. You might even consider counseling or support groups to help you develop the healthy responses you’ll need to be in a relationship with him.
I can’t even imagine how this situation must pull on your heartstrings. No parent ever imagines himself or herself in this nightmare situation. That’s why it’s critical for you to get educated and get support from others who have walked this road. Isolation will only cause you to feel more afraid and powerless.
If you are able to connect him with services that provide case management and support for him, you can coordinate with these professionals in behalf of your son. Of course, your son will have to agree to your involvement. If he doesn’t want you involved in his life, then all you can do is respect his choice and grieve the loss of this relationship.
Turn to your other children and let them support you in this difficult situation. You are not alone. They feel many of the same feelings you feel. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself so you aren’t constantly tortured by his choices and abusive behavior. Grieving the loss of a child who is mentally ill or addicted allows you to move toward acceptance of his condition. Acceptance doesn’t mean agreement. It doesn’t mean that you’re indifferent. It means that you surrender your ability to fix his situation and blaming yourself for his behavior.
As you continue to become educated, set healthy boundaries, find support for yourself, and seek spiritual guidance, you will better understand how you can support him in ways that are in the best interest of everyone. I love the counsel Elder Holland gave regarding our responsibility for those who are in need. He says, “I don’t know exactly how each of you should fulfill your obligation to those who do not or cannot always help themselves. But I know that God knows, and He will help you and guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.”[i]
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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