A Parenting Nightmare
A few years ago, Laurie McTeague noticed her teenage son, Ian, was uncharacteristically depressed. So she went snooping around on his phone and discovered that he’d been widely experimenting with nearly every drug under the sun. What followed was years of relentless searching for effective adolescent treatment while her son continued to relapse again and again. As a parent, how do you navigate this?
Please note, Last Day contains strong language, mature themes, and may not be appropriate for all listeners.
- Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love and Loss
[00:01] ssss: One of the coolest parts of making this show has been hearing from you. I need you to know that we read every single piece of mail that we receive from you. And we are weaving your stories into part two of this season. We are still currently gathering your feedback through a survey. And I’ve heard from so many of you. Thank you! And if you haven’t had a chance yet to respond. There is still time. Do not stress out. Please go to www.lemonadamedia.com/lastdaysurvey to share your feedback with us. Enjoy the show.
[00:41] lll: To Stephanie, Jess and the entire Last Day team, first of all, a big thank you for this thoughtful, nuanced podcast. For those affected by this disease, it’s difficult to explain our journey. It’s so complicated and counterintuitive and just, well, long. So for what it’s worth, and simply because it’s so helpful to stop feeling alone, I’m writing to tell you our story, or at least executive summary version.
[01:15] ssss: So we got this email from a woman named Laurie on November 20th, right before Thanksgiving. It was lovely and very long — 2,200 words, to be exact. Full of all the thoughts and feelings that you’d expect from an email to a stranger who knows nothing about you, but seems just like you. She told us about her son, Ian, and his addiction. How they’ve addressed it over the years, the highs — pun intended — and the lows and where they are now.
[01:47] ssss: She included a P.S. that read —
[01:51] lll: My three boys and I our massive fans of Parks and Rec, thanks to Ian who introduced it to us. We’ve watched every episode at least three or four times.
[01:59] ssss: She ended with a smiley face and a heart emoji. Her story and the P.S. were compelling. So we set up a time to connect with our voices on microphones, human to human.
[02:13] ssss: Hey, Laurie.
[02:15] lll: Oh, hey.
[02:16] ssss: How are you?
[02:17] lll: I’m good. It’s weird to hear you speaking to me!
[02:18] ssss: Isn’t it crazy? I’m a real person. It’s wild.
[02:23] ssss: Laurie and her family live in Massachusetts. She’s an attorney. She’s got a degree from Harvard. And I mention that for no other reason than just feeling very impressed by anyone who has a degree from Harvard. But that’s not what this story is about. This story starts three years ago when Laurie’s oldest son, Ian, was 15. He’d just finished his freshman year in high school — good grades, good kid — when they realized something was off.
[02:56] lll: And suddenly he starts being really, really depressed. Like can’t get out of bed, lying there all day, just really obviously depressed. And we roll with this for a few days, but this is clearly not normal and it’s not him. And so I start looking on his phone and once I start looking through messages, it’s like walking into a different universe. It’s clear that he has been widely and deeply experimenting with drugs. From just what I can see in a shallow search it lists almost every drug I’ve ever heard of. And he’s asking friends how to get more. And he is concerned about a friend who apparently has just been in the hospital because he OD-ed. And all of this is complete news.
[04:03] ssss: All of this is a parenting nightmare. Going into P.I. mom mode, Laurie checks her 15-year-old son’s phone, hoping to get some insight into why he’s so depressed. Maybe it’s relationship drama or friend drama or something teenager-y. But what she gets instead is hard drugs and a friend’s overdose. So what does a parent do in this situation?
[04:31] lll: Well, no one knows what to do. You have to figure it out. And you figure it out one handhold at a time. You just hand over hand up the rope. When you find that information, you — it’s like being plucked out of a universe that you knew and being just dropped down into another one. There’s a big learning curve. You know, there’s a period of disorientation that you go through. You don’t really know for sure what’s happening to you. I remember texting my husband immediately after I saw this and said, “I need you to call me. We have a problem.” And when I told him, you know, the basics like this is what I found, he said, “well, OK, you know, but kids experiment. I’m sure it’s probably not that bad.”
[05:31] ssss: So naturally, Laurie starts Googling about addiction, and as is the case with Google, she keeps clicking on these horrific stories. The worst of the worst in terms of downward spirals and rock bottoms. And as she’s reading and info gathering, she keeps taking the temperature on her own situation.
[05:51] lll: And I’m going, yeah, but are we there? I mean, it’s bad, he’s definitely abusing drugs, but is he an addict? I mean, is this addiction? I don’t know.
[06:03] ssss: Like trying to figure out on the scale how bad is your situation?
[06:07] lll: Right. Are we all the way there yet? And you know, you’re so there. Honey, y’all are the leaders in this pack. Stop looking for someone else.
[06:23] ssss: So that’s what we’re talking about this week. When you’re “so there.” What that moment does to your family, to your kid, to you. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs, and this is Last Day.
[06:50] lll: You know, my husband and I often say that he was always a serial obsessive. He was an intense and focused kid even when he was little. So he would get interested in something and then know everything about it. He would dive headlong into it. And when that was Thomas the Tank Engine, that was super cool. When that was The Wizard of Oz, that was super cool. And when it was snakes and amphibians, all of it was interesting and immersive and it was fine. And then he got to a point where he started not to have a particular interest. When one of his obsessions died out there came a point where a new one didn’t pick up. And when we found out what was going on, I even said to him, “this can’t be your new thing.” But of course, it was.
[07:58] ssss: Laurie discovered that Ian’s new thing was drugs. And as a serial obsessive, he was trying everything: weed, Xanax, ecstasy, cocaine, crack, and he was eager to try more. Faced with this, Laurie had to figure out the move, essentially how to say to her teenage son, ‘hey, um, I’ve been snooping around on your phone, behind your back, and I see that you are abusing drugs. All of them. And, uh, that can’t happen.’ I mean, where do you even start?
[08:35] lll: I came up with three things. And so when we sat down with him, I led with that, I said, “look, as a parent, I see my job as three things. The first is to love you, and I will do that no matter what. Second is to keep you healthy and safe. And the stuff that we have found on your phone is neither. And we need to talk about it because this is not safe. And third is to try to give you the experiences you need to set up a happy, productive life for yourself. And you get to decide what that is, but my job is to try to guide you and expose you to experiences so you can figure out what that’s going to be. But again, for today, we’re here talking because this is not healthy or safe.”
[09:39] ssss: And how did he respond to that?
[09:45] lll: He was pretty shut down. He was pretty shut down because there is so much I know — I now know there is so much shame wrapped around this. So the first sort of level of response he had was. ‘I know, I know. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.’ But then, you know, he broke down later — and he just — when we sort of finished the conversation, he went up to his room and he just broke down sobbing in his room. And I tried to say, ‘what’s going on? Tell me what you’re feeling. What? What are you upset about?’ Because we’d been pretty supportive. And just said this can’t go on because it’s not healthy or safe. And the kinds of drugs you’re doing, and the early age at which you are starting them, is all really an indication that this is not safe. This isn’t normal teenage experimenting. It’s not OK.
[10:45] ssss: Did he agree with you, though? Did he —
[10:48] lll: He just — he just said nothing. He just said nothing. And then he broke down crying in his room and he couldn’t tell me what was wrong, or what he was feeling about it. Because he knew he knew that he didn’t have an option. And now it was out.
[11:06] ssss: A few weeks later, Ian was scheduled to go away with his brothers to wilderness camp like they did every summer. It seems scary, but also like a potentially perfect opportunity to clear his head and get him away from some of the triggers in the city. Ian was initially on board until it was time to go.
[11:26] lll: He really started to panic and say, ‘I don’t know what to do. I can’t go there. I feel completely overwhelmed.’ And so I said, OK, look, I hear you, but then this means that I need to figure out how to get you help. And I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. And so he agreed to stay for like two days and see if that would lift his spirits. And if it was gonna be viable. And it was not, but that gave me time to go figure out what what we were gonna do. And I now know — again, it’s putting the puzzle pieces together after the fact — I now know that what he was really, really panicked about was being without drugs for that whole time. It wasn’t about the place. It wasn’t about his depression. He was in active addiction. And he was up against the wall.
[12:38] ssss: With his back against the wall, Ian was ready to try treatment.
[12:44] lll: That began our year of going through, oh, we had five residential treatments that year. And I think two outpatient treatments. Several independent therapists. Over the course of a year, and that became the new normal. Trying to find a place that could help him, having it not work, having them release him, or inject him in a couple instances, scrambling to figure out what else was available and what he needed and who could actually see him, hear him and help him.
[13:26] ssss: We’ve talked a lot on this show about the clusterfuck that is treatment in America, but when you’re a minor, it’s even worse because your options are so limited. And in Laurie’s experience, the programs that do offer treatment for minors often lack the comprehensive mental health care that many of these kids need.
[13:45] lll: Almost everyone in the field realizes that most people who are struggling with addiction, they have a dual diagnosis and they need dual-track treatment. So if you don’t have a dual-track program, then you’re ending up just essentially putting a Band-Aid on the problem. We’ll take you out of circulation for 10 to 14 days, maybe 30, maybe 60. But we’re just interrupting it briefly. And addiction — addiction is a wily disease and it can wait. And the person who’s in active addiction knows. And it might be hard for them to wait, but they can wait. And so they wait out the time and then they go back. So if you don’t have something that’s really going to be getting at the root issues, then you’re not doing anything effective.
[14:43] ssss: At the time when Laurie was looking, there were only two adolescent treatment options available. Two! And FYI, one of them is now closed. And in Ian’s case, there was this whole other layer in the mix. In middle school, Ian was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Laurie said the family tried to take this news in stride and show him that this would be a manageable disease. But Ian processed it very differently.
[15:11] lll: We showed him that his life could keep going on and it didn’t have to change everything. What we didn’t appreciate, and I think we realize now, is that that was a deep trauma for a child to be faced with a life threatening illness. And he’s always been a person who’s really keenly aware of things at deeper levels. And so when they tell you that there can be long-term consequences if you don’t take care of yourself with this disease — they can try to soft-pedal them, but he hears them. He hears, you know, death, dismemberment, blindness. And those still come up every once in a while. Every once in a while when he gets stressed, he says, ‘I’m worried I’m gonna go blind and lose my feet.’ And you just realize, wow, that’s been cooking in there this whole time.
[16:12] ssss: But of all the anxieties that emerged, no one ever considered how diabetes would impact something like access to treatment.
[16:23] lll: So of the very few dual-track diagnosis programs that exist, many of them categorically will not take a Type 1 diabetic, and I presume that’s true of some other medical conditions as well.
[16:39] ssss: It is. Most treatment centers have a blanketed disclaimer about exclusionary criteria for admissions, which is just a fancy way of saying that there are certain things they won’t deal with. That can include a medical condition like diabetes, or an active eating disorder. This usually isn’t a malintended sort of thing, it just depends on what medical staff is available at the treatment center. But at the end of the day, each program has the right of refusal.
[17:07] lll: So. Oh, sorry, we don’t take them. So what then? We’re writing this kid off? This one we can’t help? We can’t save?
[17:19] ssss: They need a perfect patient in perfect health.
[17:22] lll: Perfect patient. They need a perfect patient. And Ian is not a perfect patient. He’s a pain in your ass.
[17:32] ssss: So here’s the thing. Laurie is dealing with treatment centers who don’t really want to admit her kid because he’s a Type 1 diabetic, and when she finally does find a place that’s willing to take him, he stops eating because he’s depressed, because you took his drugs away. And then the center freaks out because from a medical perspective, if you’re a diabetic taking insulin and you don’t eat, you could die. And they don’t want him to die, especially on their watch. And so they kick him out and the whole process starts all over again. It sucks.
[18:05] lll: We came to a point where we realized he needed some kind of residential treatment again. And so we started shopping around and interviewing various places and we got ready one day and went up and did a visit to a place. And at the same time we were starting to contemplate, for his younger brother, college visits. And so it was not lost on me at all that this was weirdly analogous. And it was sort of helpful to say to him, as well. Because he’d said — this is — I’m such a fuckup. And I said, you know, we’re just finding you what you need. This actually isn’t that different from what we’re doing for your brother. We’re going and looking at schools and trying to find a place that has a program he needs, and kind of has the right fit, feels like an environment where he can see himself. And we’re doing the same with you. But it was strange.
[19:12] ssss: How did you feel when he’s when he said that to you?
[19:20] lll: Well, that kills you. That kills you, especially when you know, at that point we’ve been in it for two years, you know it’s a disease. He’s not a fuck-up, he’s sick. That really came up last year in his relapse when his use became very open and he couldn’t hide it anymore. He didn’t have the impulse to hide it when it got really bad because the impulse to use was just too strong. And that was terrifying. That was exhausting.
[19:58] ssss: At one point, Laurie found herself in the waiting room of an ER for two days. Two full days of just sitting there with Ian waiting for the insurance to process all of the paperwork.
[20:17] lll: He had been using heroin because that’s what he could get his hands on at that point. And so I had to sit there in the room with him, just watching him nodding out and then going through active detox, which was really hard. It didn’t almost seem real. It was like watching someone else go through a movie or something. And then at one point he did — he said he needs to go to the bathroom, and they had asked me to keep an eye on him at all times. And so I walk down the hall with him, and propped my foot in the door. And at one point I said Ian, what’s going on in there? He had taken too long. And I looked in and he’s scrambling around, scraping up something to snort. He told me it was heroin. In the hospital. Those were the moments when I got frustrated. Most of the time, I did understand that this is a disease and I knew these weren’t choices. But there were times where he would lie to my face. Or in that case, he was using right in front of me in the hospital. And lying because he told me he didn’t have anymore. And he’d already been searched — strip-searched. When you’re trying to maintain compassion, and this person is lying straight to your face, and undermining your efforts to be compassionate and understanding and supportive, that’s hard to take.
[21:58] lll: The best way I can describe it to people is that it’s like having an alien take over your brain. And if that’s too far-fetched for you, then it’s like a virus. But a virus is a living organism and it will do whatever it needs to do to survive and replicate and keep going. Even if it kills the host.
[22:27] ssss: So Laurie was stuck in this purgatory, helpless, watching her son battle this asshole-alien-virus again and again. He’d get sober, stop using drugs for a while, and then relapse. The last time the virus took hold was February 2018. She emailed us about it as a follow up to her first email, and this one came with an attachment. She said —
[22:55] lll: “I’m attaching the story here. It’s actually about his last five days of using, because it was a whirlwind descent into hell.”
[23:04] ssss: More on Laurie’s descent in her own words when we come back.
[24:31] ssss: We’re back. In 2015, I wrote a book. The strangest part about it is that I really have no recollection of writing a book. I’d lost my brother in February and felt like the grief was going to kill me, too. It took nine months to write it, but I didn’t return to edit it until over a year later. And by that point I was in a different place. I went back and read what I’d apparently written, and just kept wincing and cringing because it was so fucked-up and ugly, particularly the amount of unfiltered rage that I felt towards my brother that had dulled over time. Luckily, I had this great editor and she encouraged me to let things be as they really were in that moment. This was an active, living document. Not my memory of grief or some polished version of how it all felt, but what it actually felt like, what it actually was — messy and so horrible. And this is the sort of living thing that Laurie sent us. A raw, unfiltered account of the last five days of her son’s use. The last five days of being the person she used to be. It wasn’t something she planned to share initially. In fact, it was originally written for an audience of one — her therapist. But once she had it, it turned out to be this thing she could share with family and friends who were in the dark. It reads like something between a diary, a novel and a witness statement. And frankly, it was just too compelling to not include as part of her story. So we asked Laurie to do essentially what I do — to share her innermost thoughts and feelings into a microphone. It starts on February 21st, when Ian has finally acknowledged that he needs residential care.
[26:38] lll: He’s honest, saying he really isn’t sure he’s ready to quit. It hasn’t really gotten that bad. I don’t have a reason to stop. Ian! I barked. That’s a delusion. It is that bad. In an effort to break through, I lay out the case. Two weeks ago, a dealer held a gun to your head and because they were sick of you taking drugs on credit. They stole the coat off your back and said they would kill you if you did it again. You looked over your shoulder the whole way home for fear they were following us, and we had to go away because it wasn’t clear you were safe in the city. Last week you stole $800 from dad to buy drugs. When he confronted you, you felt terrible and you worried he wouldn’t love you anymore. A few days ago you were distraught because you only saw two available choices — steal or sell yourself for drugs. Dealers have been fronting you in hopes you’ll go all the way back in. But they’re done.
[27:44] lll: So the next step is one of those doors you don’t want to open. And you’re assuming you can keep living at home while you use. But that is not true. Our deal was you could come home to work on recovery, but if you turn away from recovery now, you’re going to force us to say you can’t live there. That’s a bridge none of us wants to cross.
[28:11] lll: Back home that evening, Peter dropped ian at his AA meeting as usual. Ten minutes before pickup, Ian texts to say, “I’m at a party, back in a few.” What the fuck? He hasn’t been out of our sight for two months. And now suddenly he’s a party? In that moment, Peter and I realize we’ve reached a new place. We’re living our nightmare. We know he is using somewhere in the city and we have no idea where or with whom. We know he’s unsafe at this very moment and there’s nothing we can do to help. We don’t know if he has any intention of coming home or if something irreversible will happen to him before he does. We’re completely powerless and there’s nothing we can do but wonder and wait. After an hour or so, Ian texts to say he’s coming home. We are insanely relieved. When he arrives, he fills us in.
[29:15] lll: A guy he knows called while he was at the meeting and asked him to party. Thinking he could still be back in time to meet Peter and leave us none the wiser, he met the guy in a hotel room. They had sex, injected huge amounts of cocaine and meth. Smoked K2 and took GHB. A guy gave him money and he set off to scour downtown for crack. He chooses not to view this as selling himself because he knew the guy. And he’s proud of himself for turning down someone who propositioned him on the street. He’s keeping a very tenuous hold on the idea this isn’t prostitution. Given the vast amount of drugs within three hours and several swollen injection sites, we take him to the ER for evaluation. They’re braced by the intensity of his binge. But they take it in stride. They give him I.V. fluids to slow is racing heart and stabilize his blood sugar. They have nothing more to offer. At 4 a.m., we head home.
[30:26] lll: Saturday, February 23rd. We go to Ian’s psychiatrist to discuss recent events and plans for moving forward. On the way, we realize that one foot has become very swollen and painful. On his binge, you see, he shot everything into his hands and feet. Being high, he missed a lot. Being a diabetic, he was supposed to protect his feet from injury. It’s not good. The doc sends us back to the E.R. for antibiotics. It’s like some kind of twisted board game. Go to the E.R. Do not pass go. Sunday, February 24th, I wake up thinking about a rehab in North Carolina I interviewed yesterday and discuss it with Peter. And this program seems promising so I start the application. Ian starts to perk up and wants to go to a meeting. I say fine, but I’ll be accompanying him. He can’t be left alone anymore. At all. On the way there, he starts to undercut my plan, insisting on his need for privacy, his need to share, to tell others what’s been happening. I sympathize, but insist on staying. But I’m willing to sit outside in the lobby. After 15 minutes, he emerges from the meeting agitated, saying he’s going to smoke a cigarette.
[31:49] lll: “You can come if you want.” Indeed, I do. We stand outside with other smokers who talk at us. Ian usually loves this, but he’s sullen and withdrawn. An ash from his cigarette lights his sweatshirt on fire. We beat it out. He hardly seems to notice. He breaks from the group and goes to stand apart. I follow. “What’s going on?” I say. “I want crack.” I get that. He sulks, silent. Finally, “fuck it. I’m going to get high.” Ian, no. “Yes. I’m going. You can come with me if you want. I’m going to get crack.” He takes off, and I’m with him. I try to get in front and physically stop him, but he pushes past. So I walk and talk. Trying to break through the fog. Ian, don’t. Don’t do this, please. You have to stop. What do I have to do? Call the police?
[32:57] lll: He keeps stalking down the street, with me running pathetically alongside. I’m panicked. Helpless. Finally, I break down, at the corner of Newbury and Arlington I’m sobbing and pleading with him not to do this, not to do this to me. He’s never seen me like this, and somehow it brings him back. He sobs, too, and clings to me and then says, “Fine, let’s just go home.” We walk back in silence and he goes immediately to bed. I suddenly feel like I’m racing the clock. I text the rehab admissions counselor to say we need to accelerate the process. I spend the next hour or so finishing the application. I email it off and within hours they agree to admit him. The only trick is he has to be 18 and that’s not going to happen for two more weeks. They assure me they’re working on a temporary detox placement and should know more tomorrow.
[34:04] lll: Monday, February 25th. I’m strangely aware that Ian has probably spent his last night in this house. When Ian wakes, he tells us he needs to go to rehab and he needs to go today. He says he has no idea how I stopped him last night because he was high on K2, completely hallucinating and irrational. We tell him we have a plan and he’s relieved. He’s on-board, even a bit excited. He heads upstairs to pack and in the process, the rehab runs into a snag. They can’t find a detox bed until Sunday. They’re working on alternatives. By midday, we have no word and I have the sudden inspiration to go to my mom’s. It’s out of the city in the middle of nowhere, a lake in front and miles of cows and corn behind.
[35:00] lll: Ian likes the idea. While I grab a last few things, Ian asks if he can smoke a cigarette out on the porch. I say yes. On the porch. It’s a second-floor deck, so this feels OK, as opposed to out on the street unsupervised. I hear the door open. In a minute, I come down and look outside. He’s gone. My stomach drops. I open the door and yell for him, but I know what has happened. He’s told me about it many times. He’s climbed down the fire escape and jumped down on his swollen, injured foot. He has run away. I grab my phone and run out the door to see if I can still catch him. There’s a message. “Going to get crack. Back in 30 minutes.” What? As if he’s gone to get milk. He’s not in the alley. Maybe 7-Eleven, where he picks up? Maybe I can still catch him. Stop him. I run the few short blocks, but he’s not there. He’s nowhere. I know he’s probably downtown, but I can’t stop looking. Gradually facing the reality that he’s gone again. He’ll either come back or he won’t.
[36:14] lll: I head home shell-shocked. Then Peter texts to say he’s found him, walking back home on his own. He sold his phone for one last hit. I throw our bags in the car and by the time they arrive, we’re ready to go. Straight into the car and out of the city. I’m pretty sure he can never come back here.
[36:43] ssss: This was Ian’s last day in his home with his family. And this is where we pick back up with Laurie telling me the story of trying to escape to grandmother’s house in the middle of a blizzard.
[36:57] lll: And so I kept driving in this blizzard. There were signs all over the road demanding that tractor trailers get off the road. You couldn’t even see. I was like, nope, we had to keep going. We one stop.
[37:11] ssss: And they made it.
[37:13] lll: And so we got there, and once we got there, things got really quiet and really, really boring.
[37:23] ssss: They laid low. Read bad magazines. Watched a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race. And waited for Ian to turn 18.
[37:33] lll: He was also sort of calm and kind of happy. He was kind of like relieved. And we were together. We’re very close. And we were with my mom, and he really appreciated that and was close to her. And so it just sort of felt comfortable and sweet.
[37:52] ssss: After his birthday, Ian went to a treatment program in North Carolina that checked a lot of their important boxes. It specialized in young adult treatment, which in the recovery world means people ranging from 18 to 30 years old. The program treated co-occurring disorders with a combo of clinical and holistic therapies designed to address trauma. This place sounds great, but more importantly, Ian was ready. This time was different. When we come back, we’ll hear where he is today.
[38:32] ssss: If you are a regular listener to Last Day, we know that you may very well have your own person, the person who drives you to listen every week. We make Last Day for you and we have you collectively on our minds each week as we produce the latest episode. We also have a new way to connect to the Last Day concept and community, and that is through Last Day t-shirts and tote bags. Our CEO, Jess, often said as we were starting up, I really want nothing more than to be able to wear a pen or some kind of label that announces to the world ‘I lost my person, so be kind’ on the assumption that doing so could make it easier for people to talk to her about it and get past the shame and fear and silence. And it would also help her to remember that she’s not alone. Others have been and are currently going through this, too. If that resonates with you at all, check out www.lemonadamedia.com/shop. T-shirts and totes available for purchase now.
[39:35] ssss: We’re back. So while we were putting this story together, it became increasingly obvious that someone’s voice was missing.
[39:46] Laurie and Ian McTeague: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. OK.
[39:54] iii: How interesting is that? How thrilling.
[39:59] lll: OK, so this is Laurie McTeague and —
[40:03] iii: Her lovely son, Ian.
[40:07] lll: And we are answering some questions for Last Day.
[40:13] ssss: It’s been about 10 months since the night of the blizzard. Ian has been maintaining his sobriety, going to meetings, working the program. After treatment, instead of coming home, he moved into sober living. But Laurie and Ian were together for the holidays. So we asked them to pull out their phones, open the voice memo app and record a conversation.
[40:38] lll: So, Ian, do you want to describe where we are and what we’re doing right now?
[40:42] iii: We are sitting on a bed, in a room. I am downloading movies from the Internet. I’m sitting with my lovely mother.
[40:58] lll: It’s Christmas.
[40:59] iii: It’s Christmas, there’s that.
[41:03] lll: And we’ve traveled here to Colorado together to celebrate and to spend some time together over the holiday.
[41:10] iii: Yeah.
[41:11] ssss: We gave Laurie some questions to work with. And she started by telling ian a little bit about our show and some of the stuff we’ve covered. And they talked about how anyone can find themselves in this situation.
[41:25] lll: You have two parents who love you who are there for you, trying —
[41:29] iii: And still. I was raised very well, and still
[41:31] lll: I wasn’t fishing.
[41:32] iii: No. I know you weren’t, but it’s true. Because there’s a lot of people who, you know, grow up in families with, you know, they don’t have people who care about them. And then I am — or I was raised in a family where people do love me. And I still — there was always that feeling of something’s missing. Something’s missing. I feel uncomfortable. I don’t know why, but I have to change it.
[41:58] lll: Have you gotten any clues as to why you feel uncomfortable?
[42:00] iii: No. And that’s, I mean, that’s what all, or most, addicts and alcoholics in recovery say. It’s like there’s always been a missing thing. They often say like I felt like everyone else was given the instructions manual to life and I wasn’t. And that’s what it is. It’s like — I can’t — I have people who love me. You know, I have a roof over my head. You know, I go to school, I do this, I do that. And I still feel off.
[42:30] lll: Do you know when you started to feel that way?
[42:35] iii: As young as I can remember.
[42:40] lll: When do you think you would be able — started to be able to name it?
[42:46] iii: Only after I started using drugs. It was like, oh, this immediately fixes everything. You know.
[42:53] lll: This is how other people must feel.
[42:54] iii: This is how other — yeah. It’s not — I mean — I stopped getting high off the drugs very quickly because it’s like this is just what I need to feel normal. And if I don’t have it, I’m a wreck. So, but then you’re also a wreck with it.
[43:12] lll: I don’t know if you remember this, but you once told me, last February when we were going to view — yeah, you might not remember. We drove up to Portland to look at that program. And on the way up, something came up about how, you know, I was taking Graham to look at colleges and I was taking you to look at these programs. You made that comment. And you made the comment that you shouldn’t have to be doing this, I’m such a fuck-up. And it broke my heart to know that you felt that way about yourself. Do you still feel that way?
[43:55] iii: No, it’s — I mean, it definitely sucks that, like, again, you are born that way, so it’s not like — I don’t know how to say it. It feels like you’re a fuck-up and there’s nothing you can do about it, but that’s that’s where, you know, that’s just your mind telling you that. And that’s where that’s untrue, because there are things you can do, and people do get long-term sobriety. People get clean and stay clean. And that’s about what you’re doing day to day. Like no treatment is going to cure you. You know, every day is different. So if I said I was a fuck-up, then it’s because I didn’t want — I mean, you — no one should have to go through that, you know, knowing how bad it is and still choosing that day after day and refusing — I mean, because you have to choose life. And if you don’t, then —
[44:51] lll: So is there anything I could have done differently that would have changed what you were doing?
[44:57] iii: No. Because it’s powerlessness. If an addict wants to get high or needs to get high, they’re gonna get high like. And no matter what, you know, family or loved ones want to do, how they want to help, however much they try, at the end of the day it comes down to the addict wanting something better for themselves and being tired of it. And that’s awful because it’s just a very slow process of — hopefully that willingness comes, but it’s not a guarantee either.
[45:40] lll: Which you’ve experience with your own friends.
[45:42] iii: Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely. A lot of people. At the end of the day, I can’t do anything, you know, if they’re not willing. So. And I definitely wasn’t willing. So there’s not much anyone can do, unfortunately. I mean, really, the only thing that I can do is love them. Be there for them when they need help or when they need someone to talk to or whatever. But the end of the day, it’s their decision. You know, getting forced into treatment, who are getting sectioned, or going to jail or whatever isn’t going to keep someone clean, ‘cause they got to do it for themselves. That’s another part of it. You can’t stay clean for people you love. Unfortunately, it never works.
[46:27] lll: What do you think are the things you can do for someone?
[46:30] iii: That’s all. Love them. Be there for them. To help them get into treatment, if, you know, a little bit of them — even like a one percent of them wants it. I had someone to ask me once, well, do you want to be clean? I said, no. Obviously. And they said, well, is there even a one percent that wants to? And I said, yeah, maybe one percent. And he was like, well, then that’s enough. You know, we can run with that.
[47:07] lll: Can you let us know where you are in your recovery now?
[47:12] iii: Again, it’s day to day. You know, some days are shitty, as life is shitty, or can be shitty. It’s directly correlated with what I do for my recovery today. You know, whether that’s going to a meeting, or doing step work, or being of service to someone else, or whatever. It’s every day. So I’m doing well, but it’s really one day at a time, you know. If I stop doing what I’m supposed to do it’s a very, very quick slippery slope.
[47:46] lll: So are there times where you can see it creeping back into your mind. Are you aware when that happens?
[47:55] iii: Yes. Yeah. There’s a noticeable difference in the way I think, the way I act, how I treat other people. And I think that all comes from like an uncomfortability that I have myself. And I mean, that’s what’s hard about early recovery is as like you’ve been putting off just emotions or feeling or whatever for so long, that you don’t know how to do it. And then the drugs go away when you get clean, or the alcohol or whatever it is, and it’s like, well, here, deal with all this shit that you don’t know how to deal with. And that’s what makes it so hard. And that’s what makes it so hard for people to stay clean in early sobriety or early recovery especially.
[48:40] lll: Does it get better?
[48:41] iii: Yes. Over time. It’s still not easy, but it’s definitely a dramatic difference from when I first stopped.
[48:55] lll: So what’s next for you now, in recovery or moving forward.
[48:57] iii: Getting through today without smoking crack. It sounds easy, but it’s not, unfortunately.
[49:13] lll: And there you have it.
[49:14] iii: And there you have it.
[49:17] ssss: So there you have it. What Ian can control is one day at a time. And Laurie, she also has some thoughts about control.
[49:29] lll: That list that I said to Ian — I have three jobs as a parent. Last winter I realized there’s only one that I’m in control of. I thought my job was to keep him healthy and safe. And last winter was devastating to learn that I cannot keep him healthy or safe. So the only piece of that that’s in my control is to love him. That’s the only thing. I can love him. Love him. I can let that show up in support for him in however I can do it. And I can keep learning, and trying to be there with him and for him. And that’s all I can do.
[50:22] ssss: I love that.
[50:23] lll: I don’t control the outcome. I only control what I do each step of the way.
[50:28] ssss: Yeah. I think that’s a perfect place to end.
[50:38] ssss: But here’s the thing. For Laurie and for so many of us, love isn’t something that you feel. It’s something that you do. And this is helpful to remember when it is literally the only thing you can do. Love is a verb. It’s gluing a phone to your head until you’ve exhausted every possible option. It’s bingeing RuPaul’s Drag Race as you wait out the clock. It’s driving through a blizzard in the middle of the night.
[51:23] ssss: Next week, we continue to talk about recovery, this time with Dave from Dobie.
[51:30] Dave: I like to say I’m an addict because I am an addict. And I mean, I go to 12-step meetings and identify as an addict. And I was a terrible using drug addict. And I feel like to erase that piece, it doesn’t make sense to me. All of the words, though, like, are kind of over my head. Like disease, addict, former drug users, whatever, because I don’t think it helps. It doesn’t help me. What helps me is to know that I’m an addict. I’m in recovery. And my life is so much better than it was when I was using.
[52:08] Last Day is a production of Lemonada Media. This episode was produced by Jackie Danziger. Our series producer is Danielle Roth. Kegan Zuma is our technical director. Jessica Cordova Kramer is our executive producer. And our music is by Hannis Brown. Special thanks to Westwood One, our ad sales and distribution partner. You can find us online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard today, tell your family and friends to listen and subscribe. Rate and review us on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. See you next week.