A loved one's take on treatment graduations

Photo of Kristen Goettsch, Face It TOGETHER senior evaluation scientist


Published March 12, 2015

There are many milestones in our child’s life that we look forward to celebrating: first step, first day of school, graduation. Each brings about certain expectations, including how we will feel in these moments and when they should happen. Our child’s graduation from an addiction treatment program is probably not on our radar.  It wasn’t for me.  

I am the mom of a son who is suffering from addiction. I am not here to tell you about my son’s journey – that's his story to tell. I do want to share with you my experience as a mom whose son “graduated” from an addiction treatment program when he was 17.

I haven’t thought about this time in my life for a while. After I read a blog post by Anne Fletcher on graduation ceremonies in treatment programs the memories came quickly flooding back. Fletcher references an article by Izaak Williams (2014) titled, Drug Treatment Graduation Ceremonies: It’s Time to Put This Long-Cherished Tradition to Rest. “Long-cherished tradition” – not exactly that cherished tradition I envisioned for my son’s graduation day.

My journey within the addiction community began when my son was just shy of 16. This was soon followed by many desperate and disparaging months of me begging for help for him and trying to manage his health, emotions, education and ever-burgeoning file with the county juvenile justice system. I had two goals – to get him “cured” and graduated from high school.

Court-ordered treatment for him was welcomed with open arms by me. Finally, the help I had been crying out for. I knew in my heart that this was exactly what he needed – what I needed as his mom. I had hopes for that treatment program – possibly expectations just as high as those I had been carrying for his eventual graduation from high school.

My son’s graduation day from high school never was celebrated. That dream had to be put back in its box so I could focus on his recovery. I transferred all of those feelings of hope and excitement to the day I knew he would graduate from treatment. Unfortunately, because of all the legal things going on at the same time, I never got to witness that ceremony either. But, I still took that opportunity to celebrate his accomplishment in being “cured.” You see, that commemorative coin and signed certificate my son received from the treatment program were physical symbols to me that our terrifying journey on this addiction train was done.

I learned very quickly after my son came home – back to the same friends, temptations, lifestyle – that this graduation day did not truly signal an end. My son was suffering from addiction, a chronic disease, and his journey to recovery was just starting. I, not my son, kept that framed graduation certificate up for several months. And, I referred back to it often to remind him of all that hard work he had done. Eventually, that certificate was put away and we moved on to the next step to getting him help.

I look back on that graduation from treatment as a detriment in my life because it led me to attach a lot of unhealthy and unrealistic expectations on my son. I would have benefited more from an intense planning session on the future goals and activities to take him further in his process of getting well. My journey continues and there are other milestones in my son’s life that as a parent I have learned to celebrate.  A signed certificate of completion from treatment was not a sign of the end.


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