Saving My Son from Addiction Changed the Lives of Others
Looking back, the worst day of my life was also the day that began the journey of getting my son back. My drug addicted son, Daniel, had spiraled out of control and was in trouble, somewhere in California. As I hid in the bushes at the Palm Springs Airport, I looked for the car that would pick up his girlfriend’s mother so I could ambush them and demand they take me to my son. It was a long road getting here and it would be a long road back. . .
My husband, Mark and I were living a wonderful life with our family on a farm in rural New Jersey. Life was good, and the kids were doing well in school. My first discovery of anything being awry, was when Daniel was in 8th grade and I discovered that his friend was sharing Percocet with him. We grounded him, took away his phone and thought the problem was solved. But there was another influence on him, one that was trickier for us to handle. We didn’t know that a family member had introduced him to marijuana. The source of the problem is not always a stranger or an outsider: sometimes it comes from within.
Although I will always remember my own childhood as filled with love and great memories, several close members of my family had suffered from addiction. Knowing there was a predisposition to substance abuse in the family, we decided to take extra care with Daniel and our other children. At the time, I was extremely naïve and believed a private school environment would be safer. I would take him away from the bad influences by removing him from public school. The move to a new school made him unhappy, but he was getting A’s and B’s without studying and was on the swim team. He seemed happy and engaged with life. What we didn’t know was he was living a dual life. I’ve since learned that many kids behave one way with their peers and are completely different with their family.
It was a perfect storm; the genetics, the desire to fit in, and wanting to emulate his big brother, things soon escalated. He was using marijuana, Percocet, mixing pills and experimenting with cocaine. He used drugs at parties, with his friends, and by himself. But at home, he was always a good kid and never gave us a cause to worry.
We were all very proud when Daniel earned a full academic scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University for bio-mechanical engineering. I remember being so excited to be packing his sheets and matching comforter, like moms do. Within the first six months of college, he discovered Oxycontin and developed a $350 a day habit.
Several days before Easter, he came home for the holiday. While I was preparing dinner, I asked him to take his sister to the mall to meet her friend. He hadn’t yet unpacked, so his belongings were still in the car. What Daniel didn’t know was he was being watched by the police and, coming out of the mall, was pulled over. The car was searched, and he was arrested for possessing 1,000 Oxycontin pills, $4,000 in cash and a list of people who owed him money. He had been selling drugs to support his habit. He was released when he cooperated with the police by providing the names of the doctors and pharmacists in his network.
I still didn’t know the extent of his problem. People ask me, how did you not know? When he finally came home that night, he was late for dinner, but he sat at the table calmly and seemed to be fine. The police should have just kept him– at least we would have known. But at 20 he was considered an adult the police did not have to notify the parents.
With his suppliers jailed and his supply cut off, Daniel began stealing to support his habit. The copper pipes were cut out of our barn, parts removed from our farm equipment, my jewelry and even my hairdryer were stolen and sold. He was stealing cash, taking an extra $20 out of my wallet, an extra $50 from the grocery store run.
Finally, the catalyst that led to us to understanding what was happening was when he went to a college party with our daughter’s friend. She was only 17 years old and driving the car. Stopping at the store for an iced tea, she saw him roll up a dollar bill, crush a pill and snort it. It scared the hell out of her. It took her two weeks to come to me, but she finally did. When she told me, I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying because to me, it was coming out of nowhere. I realized we had a big problem and we started the journey of rehabs.
Daniel’s first rehab lasted two weeks. He came home, relapsed and went to several more rehab facilities. He tried it all; In-patient, IOPs (Intensive Out-patient) and OPs, private counselors, psychiatrists, and detox several times. Thank God we had good insurance. Rehab number seven was in California.
Through all of this, I was determined to fix him. I never thought I would lose him. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I couldn’t fix him. For me, there was no other option.
In California, he spent 60 days in a rehab program and did well. From there, he moved to a sober living house. Two weeks later he turned 21 and decided to go out and celebrate. It all went downhill from there. He started with a couple of shots, moved on to pot, then to crystal meth.
He reconnected with Christina, a young woman he met at rehab and she taught him how to shoot meth intravenously. We saw him briefly when he came back to New Jersey for a court date and were shocked by his appearance. We didn’t even recognize him: he weighed 97 pounds. After his court appearance, we tried to keep him in New Jersey. We knew if he went to California, he would die. We tried everything, including asking for police help, to no avail. He went back to California and cut off all communication with our family.
While Daniel was in New Jersey, he told me about his girlfriend Christina and her mother, who had cancer. In a lucid moment, he gave me her Mom’s phone number. I called her mother and explained that our children were addicts, living on the edge and needed help. Daniel had cut us off and I needed to get him home. I needed her to help me find my son. She didn’t believe her daughter was an addict and refused to help. I jumped on a plane to California, without a plan.
Something I said must have moved Christina’s mother because when I landed, I had a message from her that she had changed her mind and was also arriving soon. I hid in the bushes at Palm Springs Airport, waiting for a woman who looked like she was a chemo patient. And there she was, a woman in a headscarf, in a blue car. The car pulled up and I yanked the door open, threw my bag and myself in and prayed I had the right car. It was Christina and her mother. Christina had track marks on both arms, was high as a kite, and trembling. I told her I was Daniel’s mother and she needed to take me to him. It happened so fast they didn’t have time to react. She drove to an abandoned hotel. I jumped out of the car and screamed for the room number. I ran to the room, crashed through the door, and saw my son standing in the dark, with a band around his arm, a spoon in his hand. I said “Danny, I’m taking you home now.” He put the spoon down, put his shoes on and walked out of the room like a little boy.
In my naivete, I thought I would be putting him on a plane back to New Jersey. Instead, he was in a psychotic episode, having been high and awake for 14 days. I had to call the police.
The police officer ended up saving his life by declaring a “5150”, in which he became a ward of the state, incapable of making decisions on his own. For the first five days, he was brutal to me and everyone else trying to help him. On day six, he finally walked into the room, sat on my lap, held on to me and just cried. That’s when I knew we had Daniel back – there was hope.
Once he was released from the hospital, we were able to find a non-12 step program called Passages. He said he knew if this treatment didn’t work, he would die. He was there for a month and did very well. His entire disposition changed, and it made a huge difference in his recovery.
While Daniel was in treatment, I was preparing for his homecoming by calling after-care specialists. I was looking for an effective program, determined he was not going to fail this time. All that was available on the East Coast was the AA model; 90 meetings in 90 days. While this model has saved millions of lives, it had never worked for Daniel and I knew it wouldn’t work this time either. We were on our own to devise a plan.
When he came home, I asked what worked for him at Passages. He described a holistic approach, including spiritual advisory, psychotherapy, acupuncture and chiropractic care. We sat at our dining room table and began to craft a weekly plan. It became a plan of purpose, a path to find passion, and an accountability and self-achievement plan. He had the ability to check off things as he accomplished them. People lost in addiction lack self-esteem: they don’t think they’re useful. Once they accomplish a goal, like painting the basement ceiling, they begin to feel a sense of purpose.
Day by day, Daniel accomplished a year of sobriety. He started feeling strong enough to begin socializing with his peers again, so we created a sober group. His friends came over wanting to learn more about how he was staying sober. He started making plans for his friends to follow and they also began to socialize as a group. They were adrenaline junkies; they’d go white water rafting, or tubing, and jet skiing.
Soon, the parents wanted to know why their kids were doing so well, so we created a parent’s group. This all happened at our home, still around the dining room table and in the basement when it grew too big.
The kids and their parents kept coming and we knew we had to do something more. We live on a farm, with a river in the back, which was great. The kids could ride ATVs, ride the horses, play volleyball, go swimming, and kayaking. Daniel had the opportunity to speak at schools throughout the state. He told his story and encouraged kids not to make the same mistakes he’d made. His story had power and it led many people to our make-shift program.
Our little dining room table planning session for Daniel grew like an organic explosion and eventually became a model for drug recovery after-care. We’re now 10,000 families deep and the organization we started is called CFC Loud and Clear (Coming Full Circle). We’re still based out of our farm in Howell, New Jersey. We have three paid staff members and 48 volunteers, many of whom are CFC alumni.
CFC Loud and Clear has an amazing five-year success rate of 90%. One of the questions I’m frequently asked is why this program isn’t being replicated. The reality is that it’s a difficult program to replicate; it takes a strong commitment of effort and money. Many organizations attempt to replicate this program but fail to do so because of the challenges of sustainability, personnel and, ultimately, passion. In the beginning, I truly believed the treatment centers would understand how necessary our program is to clients seeking long-term sobriety. I even went as far as to create a flyer with a tag line, “we go together like peanut butter and jelly.” I visited the centers to share our plan, to articulate the importance of aftercare and of recovery support systems. I was accused of being the “crazy mom”. They wanted nothing to do with us.
The treatment center personnel told me I couldn’t solve addiction with love and hope, and then they slammed the door. That quickly made me very angry, but it also taught me something important. The relapse rate coming out of a $40,000 treatment center is 85%. I suddenly understood, they were getting a huge return on their business plan. It was infuriating and I set out determined to change that.
For the first three years, we self-funded at a cost of $30,000 – $40,000 a year. It was expensive but our son was alive and sober, so we did it. Eventually we became a 501c3 nonprofit in order to accept donations. The intent is not to make money, but to change the treatment system.
For the past six years, the Rock the Farm event has been our biggest fundraiser. It’s an end of summer music festival, last year it was September 28th, in Seaside Heights, NJ. We had 10,000 attendees. All the money raised through ticket sales goes directly to offset the costs of sponsoring one hundred families through the program for one year.
Last year we won a substantial grant from Impact 100 Jersey Coast. The grant enabled us to launch the Family Preservation Program, allowing us to bring in more families and services. Daniel’s story now is so small compared to all the other stories from the thousands of families we have helped.
Today, Daniel is doing great! He graduated from college with a degree in Psychology and Social Work and is currently working on his master’s degree. He’s married to his wonderful wife Alyssa and they are the parents of a beautiful baby girl named Talulah.
CFC Loud and Clear continues to evolve. As we continue to research, share and partner with other states, we have created a “cornucopia of recovery.” We’ve combined elements of N.A. and A.A., Smart Recovery, CFC Accountability, Life Reign, Refuge Recovery, and groups for women, men, grandparents, parents and the LGBTQ community. CFC provides housing, work programs, family structure, peer support and hope. My dream is to see CFC Loud and Clear become a national model for drug rehab aftercare.
I’d like to share my thoughts for those parents and families who believe that the devastation of drug addiction can’t happen to their family. Do not tell yourself that “it won’t happen to me”, but ask yourself instead, “why do I think it won’t happen to me”? This will encourage self-awareness. What is the stigma in my mind? Is it only a certain race of people I believe it will happen to? Only poor people or in a certain neighborhood? Why do I think I’m better than that? This kind of self-questioning brings it back to yourself. There is no one on this earth who is exempt. But people do recover and there is hope.
Listen to Lynn and Daniel share their story in a radio interview – https://nj1015.com/watch-daniel-and-lynn-regan-talk-about-their-fight-against-heroin-addiction/
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