My 23-year-old son recently came back from a year in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael. Since his arrival home, I have noticed some changes in him, little “red flags,” and have been unsettled about it. Last week, he finally confided in me that he had gotten involved with the wrong crowd at the yeshivah dorm.Apparently, the downslide was rapid, and he has started using drugs. He refuses to tell me how he had the money to support this (very expensive) habit.
We are an ehrlich “yeshivishe” family. My husband was zocheh to be a full-time kollel yungerman for the first 18 years of our marriage. A few years ago, he found the chinuch position of his dreams. My son’s relationship with my chashuva husband is distant but respectful. I have tried to impress upon my son the seriousness of his problem and the urgent need for professional help. He finally agreed to see an addictions counselor.
However, the crisis is far from resolved, as I am faced with two additional issues that compound it: firstly, I have no idea how on earth I will pay for expensive counseling, and secondly, my son has sworn me to secrecy and asked that I not reveal any of this to my husband. I feel that I am in a double-bind. The responsibility to address this problem rests on me, and I don’t know where to begin.
Indeed, your son has managed to put you in a double-bind! Being stuck in a no-win situation certainly makes one feel frustrated and helpless.
Let’s begin by discussing your son’s refusal to allow you to share with your husband what he has told you. You are both your son’s parents, regardless of the relationship between father and son. In healthy family systems, we do not encourage secret meetings,coalitions, and alliances of any sort between family members. Your son cannot determine for you what you wish to share with your husband. This is for your whole family’s benefit as much as for the benefit of your marriage — children who observe a spousal relationship based on mutual trust will usually feel the trust and security in their parents. You are probably not the only family member who has observed these changes in your son’s behavior and who may be wondering what is going on.
Your son may be engaging in a fantasy that nobody sees or notices what he does, and, that only the family members whom he has taken into his confidence are aware that there is something amiss with him. Family life does not operate that way in reality. Your son needs to learn that the way he is interacting with his family is not healthy. Problems do not disappear from the scene through feigning and pretending that nobody sees, hears, or notices problematic behavior. In addition, “shoving secrets under the rug” causes confusion to the rest of the family and sends an unhealthy message about how to respond to difficult situations.
Your son may be experiencing an identity crisis or some other form of emotional upheaval right now. He may feel stymied by his conflicts over his identity, or by the demands of having reached adulthood. He may be feeling worried about how he will achieve success as a masmid, and he may be fearful of being judged by a society that has high expectations of its bochurim. (Not that having high expectations is not a good thing, but at his current level of emotional functioning, it may be overwhelming.)
We do not know the reasons why your son has veered “off the path,” so to speak, and is experimenting with drugs. We do not know the extant of pain and desperation which have driven him to engage in this problematic conduct. Possibly his reaching out to you, as opposed to his father or a Rav, reflects his struggle. Since he has chosen to unburden himself to you, I recommend that you utilize this opportunity to build trust in him,which will help you effectively problem-solve with him.
To begin with, set a date and time to talk to him, where you do not feel rushed for time or pressured about confidentiality. When having this conversation, make him feel as comfortable as possible to talk to you without fear of retribution, judgment, or recrimination. Praise him for his tremendous courage in opening up to you and recognizing his need for professional help. His cooperation is vital, and he needs to know that he has received your endorsement for taking this step. Do not prod him for information, excuses, or apologies. Just listen to him very well and hear him out. You do not want to jeopardize his confidence in you.You also do not know how fragile he might be feeling inside. I cannot overstate the benefits gained from active listening. By this I mean sitting with a forward-facing and focused posture, maintaining excellent eye contact, and making a lot of “uh-huh,” “I hear,” and “I see” comments.Your body language should convey your deep, non-judgmental interest in everything that he has to say.
Refrain from offering explanations or openly agreeing with his reasoning until you have a chance to think this through thoroughly. It is possible that in the course of your discussion with your son, you will discover new information that will make his refusal to involve your husband understandable. If this turns out to be the case, discuss this matter with an expert, as this makes the situation more complex. You don’t state that you have given him a confidentiality agreement. In the case that you have (and even if you have not), I suggest you firmly but gently explain to him that although you admire the strength it must have taken for him to break the silence and confide in you, he has two loving parents, and both have to be involved in helping him. Tell him that you have given this a lot of thought and have come to the conclusion that this is a parental issue and both of you must deal with it.
Your first step in handling your son's addiction is to get informed, as knowledge is power. Read, research, and acquire as much information as possible on this topic. Next, network. You are not alone! There are amazing resources and support groups that are offered free of charge and can be of tremendous help. For example, JACS (Jewish Alcoholics and Chemically Dependent Persons) and MASK (Mothers and Fathers Aligned to Saving Kids) are very useful resources. Money cannot be a deterrent in receiving treatment.
Your son is obviously very adept at concealing his behavior and is most likely receiving money from an unknown source to fund this habit. However, we don’t understand his motives and are not sure whether he is trying to manipulate you.There is no telling how far an open discussion with him will get you in terms of understanding and dealing with the problem of unexplained financial resources. Again,you will need to consult with an experienced CASAC (Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse) counselor.
I would like to end by reminding you that despite the fact that the above-mentioned steps must betaken as hishtadlus, the power of tefillah is tremendous. I wish you much hatzlachah in turning this difficult situation around.
This article appeared in the Binah Magazine.