When addiction crept into my household 11 years ago, I retreated to a journal. The clean, white pages offered me refuge to pour out my anguish, fear, confusion, and shame. It was a safe place to unveil my secret.
My story unfolds in the capital city of Maryland where my family is well-known. My husband is a former mayor and I was president of a large medical center foundation. We have two children, a girl and a boy, and – or so I thought at the time – we lived an idyllic life.
That all began to change one evening when a respected teacher at my son’s high school phoned at the beginning of Jacob’s senior year. The teacher asked, did I know Jacob was “smoking” and hanging out with a “different” crowd? MY first thought was he had the wrong kid. While the call upended my world, I tried to soothe my worry by believing, or hoping, that this was just a rite of passage, a normal stage in an adolescent’s maturation. Surely, Jacob soon would grow out of it.
Meanwhile, Jacob’s disease worsened. I began shielding his drug use from colleagues, friends, even close family. Unknown at the time, I was suffering the same feelings of fear, shame, isolation, anxiety and depression as my son. The stigma of addiction barred me from the consoling arms of colleagues at the medical center where I worked every day alongside premier physicians, addiction specialists and other healthcare professionals. Help was right in front of me, but I was loathing to reach out.
Until finally, I did. An astute counselor suggested I set boundaries with Jacob. It was a terrifying moment when I gave my son this ultimatum: continue to use, and you can’t live in our house; agree to inpatient treatment, Dad and I will pay for it.
Fortunately, he accepted treatment. While he wasn’t ready to give up drug use, he eventually entered a treatment center in South Florida and stayed for 100 days. When Jacob left Maryland for Florida, the counselor asked me: “Okay, your son will have his program. Now what are you going to do for yourself?”
Never a groupie, I soon found a 12-step program meant for families of addicts. Sharing my feelings of shame and isolation with others experiencing the same anguish as I was, gave me the courage to face addiction and how it was ravaging my life. Writing my memoir forced me to relive and understand the years of my son’s addiction, and my reaction to it, and to continue recovery. It was a painful process of letting go of control and expectations, sharing my “secret” with colleagues and friends, finding strength in support groups, and giving back to the addiction community. It is my hope that “Secret No More” will comfort families facing addiction in a loved one. This is the book I wish someone had given me when I needed it.
It’s humbling to visit South Florida, where the substance abuse and opioid addiction epidemic is painfully prevalent. If sharing my story with the South Florida Jewish community can help even one mom or dad, I will be truly glad. Jacob will, too.
About Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (JFS)
For over 35 years JFS has provided help, hope and humanity
through a comprehensive range of programs and services for
people of all ages and beliefs. With locations in Boca Raton and
Delray Beach, JFS programs include food and financial assistance,
counseling and mental health services, senior services, services for
families and children, career and employment services, and many
volunteer opportunities. To learn more visit our website
www.ralesjfs.org or call (561) 852-3333.