Christian Living


The Wilderness of Recovery

CBN.com - I am grateful for my son’s recovery. I am grateful for my recovery. He was the substance abuser; I was the enabler.

Seven years ago we embarked on a journey I never planned, expected, or intended to go on: the journey of substance abuse. Our son Matt’s seduction by marijuana started just before his sixteenth birthday.

Now as I look forward to spending his 23rd birthday with him this coming week, I celebrate that his birthday falls during National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month.

He is finishing his senior year in college with a major in Outdoor Adventure Leadership and channeling the risk taking behavior that is part of his make-up into his career choice. The next certification he plans to pursue is as an avalanche blaster.

Although Matt’s drug of choice was “only” marijuana, he was court ordered out of our home. He had been arrested on paraphernalia charges and was a recalcitrant probation flunky, unable to produce a clean urine sample, blatantly defying his probation officers. He was wrong when he thought it wouldn’t catch up with him; he was court ordered out of our home.

But we were among the fortunate families as he was sentenced to a therapeutic wilderness program. It was during his stay at this program in Utah that he really fell in love with the outdoors; he had always been a passionate snowboarder, but now he added camping and wilderness survival to his passions. What he first was introduced to during treatment has become a career choice.

I remember when it was time for Matt to leave for wilderness therapy. I didn’t want to say good-bye to my son, but I wanted him to leave. I wanted him to heal. I wanted him to learn healthy ways of communicating and accepting responsibility.

I recall the night he left for Utah and the bittersweet emotions I experienced-- hope that he would recover, fear that he would relapse, and dread that our relationship would forever be broken.

The dark silence of the night sky was punctuated only by the moon perched on high, illuminating the midsummer sky with a soft glow. I sat in the car and waited, in the lonely silence of that in-between time—too late to be night and too early to be morning, when even the nocturnal creatures take rest. Matt stumbled into the passenger seat of the car beside me carrying his travel bag. Then we left.

He slept while I drove to the airport, leaving me alone with my thoughts. The day for Matt to leave for the wilderness had arrived. I was filled with both thanksgiving and sorrow. I wondered how we had gotten to this place. How had things gone so wrong that the court had chosen to order our son out of our home? How could he be the same child who had been so excited and proud to read to his grandfather as a kindergartener? The same child who coaxed me to chaperone field trips in second and third grade? Or the same child who was a respected peer mediator in middle school? I wanted to ask him why, but his body was sprawled across the passenger seat in a world of sleep, far away from my questioning.

There wasn’t much traffic and the trip passed quickly. It seemed strange watching him take only one small carry-on bag from the car--like we were forgetting something. But they had told us that the program would supply everything he needed for the wilderness when he arrived.

Yet he was leaving for an unknown length of time. Weeks. Months. Perhaps longer. I wanted to believe he would be home by fall to start his senior year in high school with his class, but who was I kidding? Yet it was less painful to believe that would happen.

Saying good-bye was awkward. It was hard for me to let go. There was so much I wanted to tell him, yet there were no words. Sometimes a hug can say more than words. I think it was one of those times. I watched him ride the escalator slowly up to the security checkpoint. He turned one last time and shot me a smile and a wave before he disappeared.

He was gone, and I didn’t know when I would see him again. It was a lonely ride home, but hope still filtered through. Hope for the opportunity he had and hope that the months ahead would yield peace-- peace which had become unfamiliar for our family.

We received letters from Matt during each of the nine weeks he spent in Utah. One of the most difficult I read is excerpted:

“One last thing. This is hard for me to tell you and it will probably be hard for you to hear, but I know I have to tell you at some point, so it might as well be now. At the beginning of summer I traded my snowboard for pot. My board is gone. There really isn’t a chance of getting it back…I’m truly sorry about this and feel horrible having to tell you something like this.

I thought maybe getting arrested would be enough of a bottom to make me want to stop smoking pot. But when it happened, it wasn’t.”

Yet I knew we were on the road to recovery. He had communicated with us honestly, and slowly trust was re-established. It took a long time.

We have overcome the havoc that substance abuse wreaks. That also took a long time. But now we talk frequently and share openly. I am so proud of Matt and how far we have come. Recovery is a “we” term; substance abuse is a family disease.

Today his snowboards are propped up against our garage wall, waiting for him to finish his final academic semester in college. His plan is to take his last final, be home for Christmas, and head west; west to the majestic mountains with fresh powder where he can put his passion for snowboarding and love for the wilderness together. He wants to work, earn that Avalanche blasting certification, and continue to embrace the life ahead of fulfilling his dreams.

I can’t wait to celebrate with him; it will be the best possible birthday gift.

Copyright © 2007 Kathy Pride. Used by permission.

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