with Karyn Zweifel
From Recovery Campus Magazine, Summer, 2015
I am no stranger to the disease of alcoholism. I have two aunts with many years in recovery and a brother still struggling. So when my husband and I visited our oldest son, Andrew, during his first semester of college out of state, I was very concerned about his behavior.
“…now I understand how the stigma of addiction and mental illness causes so much pain. Parents need to be more open, be willing to say ‘I’m really struggling,’ and get help for themselves and their children.”
He’d joined a fraternity, and during our visit, my mother’s intuition kicked in. I could tell it wasn’t just the normal college drinking experience. Andrew was secretive, and what we saw at the fraternity house was alarming. Andrew did not do well academically that first semester but convinced his dad to give him a second chance.
During the next several months, Andrew got deeper and deeper into his addiction. I received an anonymous letter sharing what Andrew was doing, and this started a chain of events. Finally, Andrew agreed to come home and see a counselor. We were considering two treatment centers when Andrew said his friends had sent him a plane ticket, and he was going back to visit for a week.
I was attending meetings of Al-Anon, a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share experience, strength, and hope. Al-Anon was a godsend. At the first meeting, someone said this is an insidious disease that can kill people who don’t even have the disease. It was an extremely stressful time, but Al-Anon, my relatives, and my faith were good support systems.
Andrew did not return home as planned and was vague with his excuses. Then he texted that a friend had died. Two days later he called me and told me the whole story. His friend had died tragically at a frat house from mixing pills and alcohol. Andrew was devastated, and I could hear in his voice a cry for help.
During Parents Weekend, Andrew invited us to go to his AA meeting. We drove out to this little shed right in the woods near the center of Tuscaloosa. Andrew took the podium and shared his story. Over his head was a neon sign that read, “by the Grace of God.”
Within 48 hours, my husband and I were in town with Andrew, an interventionist, my brother, and niece. The intervention was rough, but Andrew agreed to go for help.
Andrew spent 30 days at Hazelden, and our whole family went to the family program. Then he agreed to go to a five-month aftercare program in upstate Washington, Gray Wolf Ranch. The program and his counselor were life-saving to both Andrew and the family and stressed the importance of being honest, open, and willing. When Andrew returned to his home state, he lived in a sober house for a few months while attending classes at a community college and working. Clean and sober and reconnected to his family, he trans- ferred to a local four-year college and continued to do well in his recovery.
About a year and a half ago, Andrew decided he wanted to go out of state to attend college at the University of Alabama. He had considered this college after high school and was still interested in going to college in the South. At that point, Andrew did not know about the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC), but, after attending a few AA meetings, he met the director of the program and was asked to join.
That was certainly God’s grace at work. He enrolled in the CRC, and, when we came to visit this time, it couldn’t have been more different. It’s great to see how that community of students and CRC staff really support each other. During Parents Weekend, Andrew invited us to go to his AA meeting. We drove out to this little shed right in the woods near the center of Tuscaloosa. Andrew took the podium and shared his story. Over his head was a neon sign that read, “by the Grace of God.”
It’s only by the grace of God our son is alive and thriving in recovery. He stood up there and not only told his story, but told it with a healthy perspective that I’d always prayed I would hear. Currently Andrew is a senior and plans to attend law school after completing his degree next spring. I know God has plans for him. He’s just an incredible man, solid, kind, hard-working, and compassionate. I couldn’t be any prouder of him.
The family disease of alcoholism touches each of us in a different way. We were so fortunate to be able to seek excellent treatment for our son. Not every family is so blessed. Now I’m involved in several aspects of advocacy work in my home state. I never thought I’d do this, but now I understand more how the stigma of addiction and mental illness causes so much pain.
Asking for help is a sign of strength. I have become driven and passionate about making recovery a possibility for everyone.
Would I have ever wanted this to have happened to our family? No, but Andrew is the man he is because of his life experiences, and we are becoming a stronger and healthier family by the grace of God, one day at a time.