Almost two years ago, my son Ryan got into a fight at a party. He was 16 at the time, and had never been in any type of trouble before. However, he had recently been prescribed medication to deal with anxiety issues. After the fight, Ryan quickly realized he had done something wrong, and while he wasn’t arrested, he was placed on probation. The ramifications were severe and affected the entire family. Ryan felt distraught about what had happened and his usual anxieties worsened. He really took to his anti-anxiety meds at that point and started trying different kinds—pretty soon he was self-medicating in an attempt to get rid of his pain.
I work at Ryan’s school, and eventually an administrator pulled me aside and told me that Ryan was going downhill. Of course I’d seen the signs, but I didn’t want to believe it; Ryan was very good at convincing me I was overreacting. In a matter of weeks Ryan’s grades had gone from a 3.5 GPA to failing. He wasn’t walking right or talking right; it was scarier than anything I’ve ever seen. We sought outpatient treatment immediately, but unfortunately it just prolonged my son’s addiction. As a parent, you never really know what’s going on in your kid’s head, so you think, “It’s just puberty, he’s changing, he’s an angry teen, its normal, it’s a phase, people would tell me…” But I knew this wasn’t right. At the time I didn’t understand the root of the problem, because I knew Ryan never used “real” drugs—only prescriptions. I thought that whatever we got from the doctor was safe.
By then, Ryan had discovered Xanax and was scoring potentially lethal doses from outside sources—within a year and a half of that fight at the party, Ryan’s addiction was so bad that he easily could have died. He would keep taking these prescriptions and then he would try to all quit by himself; he suffered debilitating withdrawals as a result. I had to call the police to save him. Again, outpatient therapy was not a success. We knew that Ryan needed inpatient treatment, and we were told that Phoenix House was a great place—so we got him into the Phoenix House Academy of San Diego.
For the first few weeks at Phoenix House, Ryan was still struggling, but pretty soon he started doing really well. He was a great fit for the Academy model, and he enjoyed meeting the other kids and learning their stories. He loved the animals at the Academy, the dogs and the pig. Most importantly, he loved the Academy staff and they really cared about him too. I was impressed—Phoenix House was such a positive experience that came into our lives at the exact moment we started to lose hope.
When he completed inpatient treatment, Ryan came home, re-started outpatient sessions, and went back to his old school. Today, our home is much more peaceful than before Ryan went to treatment. He communicates with us again and has a much happier and healthier life—which I had thought would never be the same again. I know Ryan is on a better track now. Recently, when he had a particularly hard day, instead of reaching for drugs to help him cope, he used the tools Phoenix House taught him.
It’s been an amazing turnaround—Ryan went back to his wrestling team the very first week he came home, and he did so well that he was featured in the local newspaper. Everybody – Ryan’s friends, coaches, teachers and parents – knew about his battle with addiction, so when he won that first wrestling match it was such a pivotal moment. I will never forget seeing my son so proud, with the crowd and his coaches surrounding him and cheering him on—not only cheering his win in the match, but also cheering his hard work fighting addiction. Ryan is stronger and healthier in recovery, and everybody sees it. He’s been working out, making the right choices every day, and hanging out with friends who don’t have any history of drug abuse—friends who want to see him succeed.
This was our search to find our son again, after helplessly watching him go from a happy, healthy person towards complete self-destruction. I even went as far as to mentally prepare myself to walk into his room in the morning and find him dead, or to get that agonizing phone call no parent should have to get. It’s impossible to explain the fear and desperation that the parents and family members of addicted teens experience. But there is a way out.
Today, Ryan is looking forward to community college and hoping to transfer to a university—he’s planning for his future, whereas before he didn’t care what happened to him. He tells people about his treatment experience and it’s cathartic for him to share in that way; he’s not proud of his past, but not ashamed, and talking about it helps him cope. Ryan feels a purpose now, and I thank God every day that he’s here and doing well. I know that if he didn’t get the treatment he did, we could have lost him.