Making the Grade – From Addiction to Academic Achievement

Whoo-hoo! Midwestern Mama’s son has successfully completed a semester of college – sober and with good grades.

Until this week, my son had taken college classes here and there. A few he took as part of our school district’s PSEO (post secondary education option) program – mostly because he’s gifted in math and had taken all the courses available at high school. A few he took after high school graduation, but these he either didn’t complete or didn’t meet minimum grade requirements to continue.

When he graduated (just barely) from high school in 2010, his addiction was full on and he had no interest in going to college in spite of a wonderful scholarship and opportunity to play on the men’s tennis team. Instead, he enrolled in community college and then proceeded to skip classes and within a month or so dropped out without paying the balance of his tuition.

In 2011, he decided the college opportunity was better than what he was doing at the time, so he gratefully thought he’d get his act together and start up for spring semester. That didn’t go so well. Readers of this blog know that the first weekend on campus landed him in the ER and detox, and soon after in getting kicked off the tennis team and out of campus housing.

A year later, one of the treatment programs he attended encouraged us, and him, to go back to community college. Same old, same old. He was using drugs, didn’t do assignments, didn’t go to class. While he technically completed two classes, his grades reflected his lack of commitment and the college placed him on academic probation.

Fast forward, at age 22, as his childhood friends were graduating and getting “big-boy” jobs, he embraced sobriety and recovery. He decided to go back to college for spring semester 2015.

With hopeful trepidation, he addressed academic probation with a heartfelt letter of appeal and asked for admission. It was granted and he signed up for the maximum number of credits allowed as part of academic probation – 8 credits, two classes.

He took the placement exam and scored well but it indicated that he should go back a course or two in math. Stubborn as always, he decided proceed with the next course anyway – differential equations and linear algebra. Tough classes regardless of having completed the prerequisites … even tougher when that was five years ago.

The first week, he realized he was in over his head. It’s like taking a language but not speaking it for five years and then thinking you can pick up right where you left off. Instead of dropping the class, he put in long hours and took out a highlighter as he used “Calculus for Dummies” to reacquaint himself with the topic. Night after night, he struggled.

Social anxiety precluded him from connecting with the teacher or other students, and he failed the first test miserably. At this point it was too late to drop the class, and being on academic probation from his addiction days meant that he might not get off it if he didn’t get a B or better in the class.

Of course, I went into problem-solving mode. (Old habits, right?) My son said he was well aware of his options, including getting tutor. (Old communications style, right?) Being aware of options and taking action are two different things, so he continued to struggle.

Shortly thereafter, another mom on Twitter turned me on to tutoring source, so I signed up and found local options for my son. My husband and I said, this is our gift to you – here are names, contact info and we’ll pay the fee. To our surprise and delight, he took us up on the offer.

The first tutor he met with was a dud. I encouraged him to try another. He did, and this one turned out to be, “awesome.” They have worked together several times now and my son’s grade and confidence have soared.

He continued to put forth significant effort – hours and hours each day to mastering the material. The final exam is today, and while we don’t know what grade he will receive, we do know that he’s learned something of infinite value and we are confident that he will be off academic probation.

Never in 22 years have I seen my son put forth such effort and discipline. I am proud. More importantly, I know he is proud, too!

Past, Present, Future

Midwestern Mama recognizes that she and her family have come a long way!

Our past, our present and our future all deserve contemplation. Today, I am taking pause to think about how far we — yes, we – my son, our family, and me — have come through addiction, and more recently, recovery.

We’ve been a team through all of it. At times, as individual players. At other times, as collaborators. At times, a dysfunctional team and at other times a functional one.

When your kid is actively using and abusing substances, whether alcohol or drugs, things get rather tense. Our kid’s addiction wraps us up in the present – the immediate crisis, chaos and turmoil. It also gets us thinking about the past – either the good old days or trying to figure out whatever it was that happened to cause this problem … until we figure out and accept that we may never know the cause, and that we most certainly were not the cause.

During active addiction, it may feel impossible to think about the future – at least not in positive terms because we’re so worried about consequences like them not graduating or getting in trouble with the law and about horrible, scary outcomes like overdose and death.

Past, present and future, over and over again. It’s a relentless cycle until we decide to stop it. But that’s not easy and it’s something we have to learn how to do. It takes practice. It takes commitment. And it takes support – support from the whole team.

That brings us to today. Where are we today? Where have we been? Where might we be headed? These questions are not nagging or guilt laden at present. Today, these questions are cause for celebration, so I decided to capture some of the past, present, future. The common denominator is honesty and truth, and I expect that the future will also encompass enhanced self esteem, confidence, independence and richer relationships. All in all, no matter whether we are talking past, present or future tense, these days it’s a whole lot less tense for our family!

A Car, Driving & Transportation
Past Present Future
Finding drugs and paraphernalia in my son’s car. Speeding.   Going places he wasn’t supposed to go. Random, unexplained dents. Frequent flat tires. Taking away his car. Sharing the family car so he could go to work. Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Taking away his driving privileges altogether. Possession charge. Accident in friend’s car. Court dates. Driver’s license suspension. Past-due fines and late-fees. Warrant for arrest. License reinstated. He’s insured. He drives the speed limit and doesn’t tailgate. He’s nearly 8 months sober. He keeps a mileage log of driving the family car to work, school and appointments. He’s pleasant about sharing the car and accepts a ride or willingly takes the bus when I need the car. He willingly drops his little brother at school and picks him up from sports practice as well as runs family errands … with a smile. His driving record will clear itself and he’ll have more insurance options along with lower premiums. He may have his own car. He’ll take on responsibility of gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs. He’ll be able to come and go as he wants.
School
Past Present Future
Cutting classes. Not doing homework. Not studying. Relying on skimming text books before a test. Being high in class. Dropping out. Trying again. Repeat. Academic probation. Successfully appealed academic probation. Registered for college classes (8 credits maximum allowed on probation). Doing homework. Studying. Attending each class. Taking notes. Met with his academic advisor. Achieves GPA to get off academic probation. Registers for summer and fall classes. Finds an academic interest and declares a major. Connects with other students and teachers. Gets involved on campus. Completes an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
Living at Home
Past Present Future
Knew the rules about no drugs in the house and keeping family hours, but repeatedly broke these and left to sofa surf. Left his house key at home. When he did visit to shower and eat, often stole money. We changed the garage code so he couldn’t get in the house if we were not home. Was unable to pay rent to friends. Ended up homeless on multiple occasions. Lived at a shelter for several months, but broke their rules and after three warnings had to leave. Went to treatment, ran away. Went to treatment and lived at home – continued to use and ran away. Went to treatment and stuck it out. Went to halfway house and quit. Homeless again. Came home, went to treatment.   Could not leave him home alone. Living at home and sober since July 2014. Keeps bedroom and bathroom tidy. Does his laundry. Keeps family hours. Keeps us apprised of his plans including work schedule and occasional social outings. Interacts pleasantly with the family and loves taking care of the dog. Has a closet with clean, newer better-fitting clothes. No money has gone missing. He has a key to get in if we are not home. Will continue to live at home while saving money, working part time and going to school part time. Eventually will be able to move out, but will be welcome at home.
Money & Finances
Past Present Future
Always spent every dime he earned or was given. Stole merchandise and food from stores. Stole money from wallets and purses. Ran up debt – ambulance ride to ER, unpaid tuition, un-returned text books, unpaid fines and tickets. Participated in scams. Lost several banking accounts due to writing bad checks. Overall broke and bad credit. Did odd jobs over the summer to pay off tickets and get back his driver’s license. Got a part-time job and is earning and saving money. Told Mom and Dad the truth about some of his financial consequences. Made payment arrangements with debt collectors. Still spends “too much” on things he doesn’t “need” and buys gifts for others. Eats out instead of taking a lunch to school. Shares a weekly update with Mom. Will continue to work from a budget and to save. Will be debt free and build a better credit rating. Will have and use credit responsibly. Will have savings for emergency needs. Will be able to do “fun” things and get things he “wants.”

Rehab in Progress: Relief for the Parents

It’s only Day 3 but I’m feeling encouraged by our son’s treatment.  I called the front desk the first night and got a curt response — they couldn’t tell me anything, but said I could leave a message. 

However, last night, my son called from the dorms.  In the scheme of things he sounded OK although he reported that it was all very boring and pointless, a pretty typical response from him.  However, he said, “I guess I’ll stick it out.” 

One item he didn’t think to bring were shower slippers, so I said we would figure out how to get some to him.  And we did.  He has a cousin and great aunt and uncle who live near the treatment center. They kindly ran to Target and got a pair to drop off later that evening.  While he’s not yet permitted visitors, I feel good knowing that he received the shower slippers so quickly and perhaps will draw the conclusion that we truly care.

This afternoon, I got a call from the Center.  My heart stopped, but it was a good call.  Our son had signed information release forms for us and added us to the list for visitation in the upcoming weeks.  His counselor will let us know if and when we should visit.  There is also some sort of family participation program that we can attend.  More info to come.

These may seem like small things, but given that a few years ago our son ran away from a wilderness treatment program in Montana after just nine days we know we can expect him to bolt from a program he doesn’t feel is good for him (even if it really is).

It’s hard to stick with something that challenges your habits and beliefs, but that’s a big part of treatment and the much needed element for our son to begin recovery. 

I am grateful for each day that he sticks with it.  It’s a relief even if just for today!

Midwestern Mama