I remember choosing the best pediatrician for my children when they were young.
Later, when it was time for high school Justin wanted to explore the opportunity to attend private school. We toured the schools, went on interviews and he was accepted to several, making his final choice at an amazing school in northwest CT. I told him then that there would always be a place at his home school but he should go and give it all he could – it was such an opportunity. We were just regular, middle-class people – well, maybe not so regular. We were a family living with active addiction in our home – very much affected by SUD – yet Justin already had the seeds planted – that somehow he knew he wanted a life of freedom from the disease and as his mom, I wanted the world for him.
In those high school years, I would see the signs of SUD or also known as Substance Use Disorder. I reached out for help. I stood in the truth and hit many a brick wall of resistance. I kept reaching. Kept hitting walls. The college began and it was evident that we were dealing with the disease and I found myself once again seeking the best for my child.
Treatment, sober living, the pleading phone calls back to treatment. The cycle had begun. What was wrong? Why wasn’t this working? He isn’t ready – He has to want it – Let him hit bottom. Oh my, the things people were telling me. But as his mother, I just knew that something had to be different. Ultimately it was me that was different for a long time. I met him where he was at. I worked on my recovery in Family Recovery for a few more years. The disease was progressing in Justin hundreds of miles away from where he had returned to college in Washington DC until the day came that the pleading call came from Justin’s roommates to come now. He knew that the words – I love you –
Will you come home and get well? – meant hope, that he could once again have the chance to live free. Little did we know at that moment just how true it would be.
The last words Justin said to me before walking into detox were “ I am NOT going back to NH”. He had been there 3 ½ years prior – his first time in sober living, lasting 9 days.
Two weeks later I got a call,
“Mom, you are not going to believe this – I am going back to NH! To a place called LIVE FREE STRUCTURED SOBER LIVING – it is a structured sober living program and it is a minimum of 3 months.”
Ryan had taken Justin’s call and accepted him. Their paths had crossed when Justin was in NH before and Ryan heard something different in Justin now- Justin was no longer that boy that had been in NH before – both Ryan and Justin were willing to take the chance on each other. The journey from getting well to Living Free had begun.
Everything about our experience was different from that first phone call on. There was no paid transport to NH to prevent Justin from “manipulating me into not going” because the program only took men who wanted to be there. So we piled into the car an off to NH we went. It was a true family road trip – with Justin’s younger brother in tow. This would be the first of many. As our family became part of the Live Free community I would go back to NH often bringing a friend with me and the men who became like brothers to Justin would join us for whatever our outings were, catching up like family.
When I look back at the time Justin was at Live Free, I think about where I was in my own recovery and a conversation that Ryan had with me that first day. He pointedly asked me – “Lynn, How are you taking care of you and what are you doing for your own recovery?” I knew that there was an understanding on some level that for my son to heal, to really get well we all had to continue to do the work. I had been in recovery from the effects of AUD/SUD for many years at this point – Ryan was the first person in a non-clinical setting to ask me about it. We were a family in recovery and Live Free not only supported that, but it was also a critical element to the work being done. There is continued evidence that when families participate in the recovery of the entire family, the person with Substance Use Disorder and those affected have the best outcomes.
The non-negotiable that had been established when Justin entered into treatment was transparency. The disease of addiction isolates, lies, robs families of trust and connection.
Freedom for these chains and the opportunity to rebuild that was a critical part of the work our family did while Justin was at Live Free. It was no different than when his roommate called me. We were building new relationships, with a new foundation, with new tools and a lot of support.
As we navigated life in early recovery – the fears of living life on life’s terms – going back to DC for trips to see what it would be like, the old relationships, coming home for holidays, music festivals, tough family situations, good times and not so good times and ultimately Justin’s decision to leave NH and go back to Washington DC – to LIVE his Life Freely – which is what he was promised he could do “if he did the work” – we never did any of this alone. Our family did this with the LIve Free community – with Ryan, Mark, the men of Live Free, the families of those men who we met along the way.
In the 3 years since Justin has left Live Free Structured Sober Living in NH, I have continued to be a part of the network that this community has created. I have invited Ryan to speak for me at Family Recovery events in CT. I have never once reached out and not gotten a reply for a family in need or just to say hello. My son, Justin, is in long-term recovery. He graduated from American University and lives in Washington DC. Our family is a Family in Recovery Today. Each member knowing that there is so much more to this journey of recovery than to simply put down the drink or the drug – but to really have a life worth living you need to do so much more. I am forever grateful to the men of Live Free for showing Justin what was possible, for giving more than the tools he needed for recovery but the belief that he could Live life in recovery. It is my privilege to be the mother of a young man in recovery from SUD – he shows me every day what it means to live a life of honesty, integrity, hard work, love and dignity.