birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Third Time's a Charm

They say everything good (or bad) happens in threes. The last thing I expected on the weekend I moved out of my home where I raised my children, was that my son would come home from college because he was in over his head. I suspected it was drugs but I didn't know the severity until he came home on Sunday night and fell fast asleep on my bed. When I think about it now, it was so surreal, but everything in my life at that moment was so overwhelming, it didn't seem that horrific or weird at the time.

When he woke up and after I came home from work, my son slowly explained what was going on. He had been using a lot of pills, more than he could handle. I thought to myself, well, he can just stop. I was so ignorant then...what I didn't know and should have known. Bit by bit, he told me that he couldn't stay at school. He needed to come home and get better. He told me that it wasn't just pills he was using....there were other drugs he was using...heroin... slowly crept into his conversation. "I didn't use needles, Mom," which gave me some slight sense of relief. Though I still couldn't put all of this together. He said he had to stop, he would do it himself, he hated what he was doing. As I was listening, the little I knew or had heard about heroin invaded my thoughts. When I was a teenager, it was the mother of all drugs. People overdosed. They died. I thought about Al Pacino in "Panic in Needle Park." I had visions of my son, lying in a cold, dirty alley somewhere, living on the streets, overdosing. I knew of several friends who tried it. "Tried it?" I would ask. "Doesn't it make you an addict, the first time you try it?" They shrugged and said "I came out okay."

For the next few weeks, I enabled my son. I knew he continued to use, and I even gave him money for oxycontin, because he said it wasn't heroin, and withdrawal symptoms weren't as bad. It soon became clear that wasn't going to work. He needed detox. A week long stint in a Malibu recovery center which cost me an arm and leg seemed like the perfect place. When I picked him up after a week, he was in good spirits. My son is a complete social animal. He makes friends wherever he goes, and after hugs with everyone at the detox, we drove away. I thought ignorantly of course that everything would be okay. Which of course it wasn't.

Why didn't I figure it out sooner? Why didn't I, once I knew that he was an addict, set up plan for him. Detox, rehab, sober living. That's the way it works. You can't just do detox and expect to bounce back. Which is exactly what he did- he bounced right back into using.

I walked on eggshells around him for weeks. He apologized for how he was acting. Up, down, and around. He tried to stop again, by going to friend's house. He joined AA; he made friends; he got a sponsor. And he continued to use and I felt embarrassed and useless and scared.

We tried a hospital detox which insurance covered. When I picked him up, I was optimistic, and so was he. He told me stories of people he'd met and shared their stories of horror with me. I know he didn't want to end up like them. By the next week, he was using again.

A few weeks later, he was really ready to stop. I kept telling myself third time's a charm. While I waited with him while he checked into the hospital detox, I watched my son look up at the posters in the waiting room. Posters with pictures that showed how drugs, like heroin, crystal, meth affected your brain...that image of him staring at this poster has never left me. I wanted to hold him and tell him everything would be okay, which Idid before I left him. Would he, I wondered? Would it really work? At the end of the week, I picked him up, and drove him straight to a rehab in Lancaster that his counselor at detox had suggested. That was the only way to do it, away from any triggers at home. I dropped him off and didn't return for a few weeks.

There is a happy ending to all of this. Once my son finished rehab, he went into sober living for 3 months. After that, he moved to New York, and finished college. He found out then he wanted to be an artist and last fall, started grad school at Cal Arts. He continues to go to AA 3-4 times a week and speaks at meetings around town about how he overcame his addiction.