The Best Mother’s Day Gift – A Drug Free Son
It was a long journey to get my 24-year-old son Carlos into Hader Clinic Queensland for residential addiction treatment. He’s been clean ever since he got back. There were many times when I almost lost him though. Not just only to drugs but the powerful cycle of denial.
Hader Clinic Queensland staff helped me understand how I’d been enabling my son. I learned addiction is a disease that needs serious intervention and long-term vigilance. No matter how loving and supportive we are as parents, we can’t deal with our drug-addicted children without the right tools. I no longer blame myself. Hader Clinic Queensland helped me, and my son find a new path in life.
When Carlos was 19 I walked out of an appointment and saw missed calls on my phone from my mother. I’d dropped Carlos at his grandma’s so he could make her lunch because he loves cooking. It was nice to get him out and about. For the past 8 months since Carlos moved out of home, I hadn’t heard much from him.
Mum told me Carlos “slipped over and wouldn’t wake up”. I drove over and found him unresponsive, and he spent the next 4 days in hospital with a serious concussion. The doctors showed me the blood test results – it was positive for cannabis, opioids, and benzodiazepines. I went cold with shock. My son had been harming himself, but I didn’t understand why.
I knew Carlos’s housemate used drugs and my son had previously told me when he was caught smoking weed with friends at a music festival. He had a couple of drug charges for cannabis but took full responsibility and paid me back for the solicitor fees. Carlos struggled with anxiety since he was a teenager. He’d quit his first job and wasn’t studying. As far as I knew he only occasionally drank and smoked weed. I thought he was just going through a phase where he didn’t know what to do with his life.
Carlos never invited me inside his house, he always met me outside. There were signs my son’s situation was worse than what he told me. But I just couldn’t reconcile the good-natured boy we knew so well hiding anything from us. I raised him as a single mum. We’d travelled to other countries together while I was teaching. He was a worldly kid; always popular and well-liked.
Sometimes when I saw my son he looked skinny and unwell and I thought “he looks like a drug addict!”. But at the hospital, seeing the evidence first-hand, I still rationalised that perhaps Carlos had been partying that weekend and didn’t have a chronic problem.
Carlos had to tell doctors his story. He was in active drug withdrawal. He said he’d been taking drugs he couldn’t afford. My son had no income, his savings were dwindling, and his roommate was helping supply him. Carlos wasn’t eating properly and experienced regular bouts of fainting. He got high the morning of visiting his Gran, passed out while cooking and hit his head on the stone counter.
The doctors told Carlos he couldn’t take any drugs or alcohol for six weeks, and it was too dangerous even for him to drive. They regularly tested him and monitored his heart rate. He moved home with me and found a new job in hospitality.
Carlos badgered me to let him see his old housemate. Usually, I would not try to control or embarrass him, but I told his friend that he was not to give my son any drugs or alcohol on doctor’s orders. I waited outside for 3 hours to drive him home.
For the 6 months he was living with me, I knew Carlos must be using. I found a parcel of drug utensils he ordered from China but threw it out without confronting him. I called a hotline for advice on drug abuse and followed their suggestions. I told my son that, while I couldn’t stop him smoking weed, I would not allow it in the house. He was playing video games a lot and not socialising. His anxiety was coming and going.
Carlos seemed to turn things around for a few years. He worked hard at his job and moved in with a very nice girlfriend whom he cared for deeply. Carlos was spending time with our extended family in Townsville. He would come round and cook for us. Mind you, on the day I came to pick him up for a trip to Bali for his 21st birthday, he hid in his bedroom, and I had to knock on the window to get him to come out. Carlos told me he was paralysed with anxiety. On the trip, he didn’t interact much with other tourists.
After rehab, I found out Carlos used drugs and alcohol initially to feel more confident, but they soon had the opposite effect. I thought his bouts of severe anxiety came out of nowhere or were triggered by stress. In reality, Carlos was using drugs to cope with life even as they made his mental health worse. At his job or social events or even on holidays, he was always thinking of going home and using. He would make arrangements to leave places early to use.
I was travelling around Australia with my partner when I received a phone call from my 24-year-old son. He broke down and told me he couldn’t stop doing drugs and was considering suicide. I flew back to Townsville straight away and that’s when the whole story came out. Less than 24 hours later I was on the phone to Hader Clinic Queensland.
Carlos told me he was heavily addicted to drugs and hiding this for a long time. I had told myself – as I had so many times before – that my son only used cannabis socially and his real problem was his anxiety disorder. I knew Carlos was dealing with a breakup with his girlfriend. And he’d moved back to a share house with some friends (the same ones he lived with when he got his head injury years ago).
I thought his drug abuse issues were behind him. Part of it was Carlos deliberately downplaying and hiding his situation and partly my own denial.
For a long time before Carlos called me begging for help, it was nearly impossible to get him on the phone. I noticed a pattern – my son would ring me for a friendly chat, and everything seemed ok. We drew on that good rapport we’d always had with each other. Then the next day he’d call again and casually mention that he’d blown his wages somehow, or couldn’t afford his rent, or a surprise expense had come up. I would always offer to send him money. I saw the signs I was being manipulated, and yet I did not see them. I couldn’t face reality; both of us were playing along.
When I came home, I tried to keep it together while Carlos confessed that he’d been smoking cannabis daily and sometimes putting away 20 standard drinks a night. I don’t know what other drugs he was using. I couldn’t cope emotionally if I knew any more specifics. Carlos said he was barely keeping a job and was losing friends because he didn’t show up for social events. He worked until midnight, stayed up until 6 am playing video games, and got a few hours of sleep before his next shift. Three days after his payday he had no money left for food.
Carlos has a chronic physical health condition that requires injections every few months, which cost $30. He hadn’t even been getting his medicine – that money was going on weed. I took all of this in and Carlos asked for my help getting into rehab.
My son is 6’2 tall, and when I checked him into Hader Clinic Queensland he weighed only 68kg. I lived with him in the 4 weeks before his admission… that was one of the longest and most terrifying months of my life. I kept it together for my son but was on the phone with my sister and partner every night in tears. I felt like I was treading water, just barely keeping my head above the waves.
It was very calming to speak to Alex, who did the intake assessment for Hader Clinic Queensland. He was able to get my son to open up and be honest. When Carlos went to rehab I thought I would drop off my broken boy and after his 60 days he would be “fixed”. But that was only the start of the process.
A few days into Carlos’s stay, JJ did a video call and introduced us to the program and sent us a family handbook. He explained how we can educate ourselves with resources and support groups. We had some work to do, not just Carlos. I still attend Nar-Anon meetings, where loved ones of addicts learn how to manage their own well-being and have healthy boundaries. I had a phone call with Carlos early in his stay, and my partner said it was the first time he’d seen me smile in a long time.
We did workshops and had counselling sessions with Olivia where we could ask any questions we wanted. These people are phenomenal. Without their personal and professional support, my family would not be where we are today.
Since Carlos got back we take long walks in the morning and cook together, talking very openly. He’s maintained his recovery and I can look forward to him having a happier life. My son’s time at Hader Clinic Queensland was a worthy investment. I’m fortunate to be the mother of an addict who has been to rehab and done the work. I feel positive, empowered, and equipped to face reality.
Underneath it, there is still a bit of fear because I now understand that addiction is a life-long condition. There’s always a possibility of relapse. But if that ever happens I will know the signs and exactly what to do. I have my own support system I can lean into.
I’m an avid traveller, and we know everyone has to walk their own path in life. But Hader Clinic Queensland gave each of us a map. My son has what he needs to find a way forward.
Names and photographs of this client have been changed to protect their privacy.
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