Several years ago, I received a phone call from the emergency room around 3:00 am. A nurse politely introduced herself and told me she had a 17-year-old male patient who had overdosed on heroin, been placed on life support, and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. My business card was folded up and found in this patient’s wallet along with his driver’s license. The nurse explained they had not reached any of the family members. His name was Chase. The hospital staff assumed he had been taken to the emergency room entrance and left outside on the concrete, unresponsive, because he was alone.
Yes, I knew Chase, had not seen him for a few years, but still happened to have his mother’s contact information. I immediately called his mom and told her to meet me at the hospital without giving her any details, except her son was in the emergency room. Upon arriving, I met Cindy, Chase’s mom, as we both walked from the parking lot to the entrance of the hospital. Understandably, she was frantic, confused, and had no details of what had happened to her son. I shared with her what I knew, and she responded, “Chase left home a month ago and hasn’t come back. We are worried sick about him. He won’t answer his phone, nor will his friends respond to me”.
We were escorted to the ICU floor of the hospital where Chase’s physician greeted us. He immediately told us Chase’s prognosis was grim. Chase had been injecting heroin for “quite some time” as evidenced by the “abscesses and track marks on his legs, arms, and feet”. The emergency staff had given him an opioid antagonist injection to reverse the effects of the heroin, placed him on a ventilator, as well as a life support machine to bypass his lungs and heart, taking over his core functions. Chase was not breathing on his own.
Cindy now found herself living in “hell on earth”. Waiting to see if Chase would “wake up”. After three long days, Chase opened his eyes, and the machines were taken away. Cindy described her son as, “defiant, rebellious, disrespectful, hateful, sensitive, mean, and belittling”. She loved her son which accompanied her feelings of terror – not being able to control his behaviors or actions. Being a single mom, Cindy struggled with having to support her and her son and being at home to supervise his actions.
Cindy worked diligently, trying to raise a son and work at the same time. She had an upper management job that she acquired by hard work. Her parents were deceased, and she had no siblings. Chase’s dad was long gone and in prison. Cindy had raised Chase by herself since he was an infant. She found herself in a place many single moms do: having to be an absent parent due to her career and the need to support her child.
I met Chase when he was 14-years-old. Chase was an angry kid. He was lost. I could see sadness in his eyes along with a gentle spirit somewhere deep down in his soul. Chase was “pissed”, and “pissed” is where Chase felt comfortable. With his dad in prison, he knew the chance of having a relationship with him was remote. He loved his mom, yet blamed her for anything leading to negativity in his life.
Around age 13 he had begun “hanging” with the kids who were in his same predicament: little adult supervision, very few rules enforced, and absent parents who could not instill healthy boundaries. He began smoking “weed” and took great pride in seeing himself as an expert in the different types. Chase did not see the need for counseling at age of 14.
By the age of 17, Chase was “eating pills”, snorting or smoking “Black Tar”, smoking weed, “eating acid” and injecting heroin. He became enraged and left the house after his mother confronted him about a needle and “rig” she had found in the bathroom a couple of months before his overdose.
Many times, our society blames the parents and are quick to respond, “Where was the parent?” or “Why didn’t the parent stop it?” We are quick to judge and feel “nothing like this could happen in my family”. Well, it can.
This mom loved her child. She had zero support from family or friends and had to work her butt off to support her and her child. She was involved in the battle against drugs and the son they had taken over.
Chase idolized his dad; loved him. This is typical when kids don’t see or are not involved with one parent. They make up grandiose stories in their heads about the absent parent and take their frustration out on the parent who is present. Sounds crazy but it is just how it goes. Kids are the meanest, most hateful, or defiant to the parent who is the safest. The parent who is not going to go anywhere. They lash out at that parent, knowing they don’t have a safe relationship with the absent parent, and that parent has already checked out of their live or is gone all together.
Chase miraculously made it through his overdose. His “friends” who he was “shooting up with” got scared when Chase was non-responsive, dumped him at the hospital and took off so they would not “get in trouble”. The overdose did not prove to be Chase’s “rock bottom”. He continued to use and found himself in jail for possession of drugs a couple of times. Chase is now 30. He is “clean from dope”. He learned his dad had died in prison from an overdose of drugs. He reports this as part of his “rock bottom”. Chase says, “after being in jail the last time, not one person wrote me, came to see me, or would get me out of jail. When I did get out, I had nobody”. He had “lost everything” and “had no friends”. His mom “sold the house and moved to a smaller house and I knew she was done with my behavior”. He realized “my friends were not friends, they just wanted to get high”. The sense of loss hit home when he realized the pain he had caused his mother and recognized “my mom didn’t deserve what I put her through”. Chase was homeless and jobless.
“My anger was so intense about my dad”, Chase remembers. “I hated him, I loved him, and I wanted him to be in my life”. He remembers telling himself repeatedly, “you are just like your dad” and lived up to what he believed. “I blamed my mom for everything and wanted to punish her”. He recalls, “she loved me unconditionally and I felt like that meant I could do anything I wanted to her”. Chase loved drugs, and he also felt “my drug use was a ‘F you’ to my mom”. Cindy changed her focus to her own therapy. She spent a lot of time with me learning about herself. She realized she could not go on allowing Chase to destroy her as well as what she had worked for. She set boundaries and reclaimed her life. She sold her house and moved to a much smaller home. Her selling her home and downsizing meant there was not room for Chase to continue to live with her and bring his lifestyle into her home.
Chase and Cindy have a functional relationship now. It has been a bumpy road. Cindy’s boundaries are clear and Chase visits her once a week. Chase is fully aware of his mom’s expectations, boundaries, and consequences when he visits. He respects this. Chase has a job, a girlfriend, and his own apartment.
Many times, parents don’t feel they have the right to set boundaries, expectations, and consequences with adult children. What parents expect in their own home, life, and relationships is a well-deserved right that many parents tend to forget. Guilt can be culprit for poor boundaries, and kids can feed off parents’ guilt, manipulating them in many ways. Clear boundaries do not mean we don’t love our children. It means we value ourselves enough to set these boundaries for everyone’s well-being.