My son is now twenty-three years old. He’s been in video gaming addiction recovery now for two years. He hasn’t played a video game in twenty-five months. As his parent, I should feel complete relief. But I don’t. There is always an element of terror in the far recesses of my brain that he could relapse and we could begin the nightmarish journey of addiction all over again. I’m not sure if this thought ever leaves the family members of an addict.
But for the most part, I see day-to-day evidence that he is doing exceptionally well in his recovery plan. He has a full time job that he loves. He lives in a city that gives him access to many other healthy outlets and activities with friends who are close by. He has changed his eating habits to be much cleaner and he gets regular exercise. His older brother, his best friend lives in the same city. He has survived a year of living away from home, with three other roommates, and he did not game during this time. He is a healthy weight, his grooming is good, he seems happy and emotionally sound.
What I see as most comforting is that my son checks in with his family and he likes that we continue to check in with him regularly. He’s not trying to hide himself or his addiction from us as he did during the difficult period of addiction crisis. He has stopped lying and manipulating to cover things up. He’s honest and straightforward, maybe a little obstinate at times, but he knows the direction he wants to take now and he is moving through it with integrity. He also speaks about his addiction with me at mental health forums to inspire and give back for all of the support he was given. He’s even flying solo and speaking to a group of youths, without me, this month. These are all great signs that his recovery plan is being implemented with success.
And now, he has left his roommates and moved into an apartment on his own. This is a really big step. A year ago he was not ready for living alone. He relied on his wonderfully supportive roommates for the past twelve months as part of the journey to eventual, full independence. And he is embracing this next phase with great enthusiasm.
As his parent, I felt a great deal of responsibility in helping him create this transition with as much potential for success as would be possible. Just as we did with our older son, we helped to set up the apartment as he moved in. We had to look at the kinds of things that would create the most happiness in the space. For our youngest that meant making the set-up efficient and easy to navigate. He doesn’t enjoy cooking, he’s busy and on the run, he loves technology, and he wanted an industrial style to his apartment. He wanted some grays and black, metallics, and clean lines to be included.
He earns a decent income and wanted to use some of this to purchase new, but not overly expensive furnishings. So, we visited stores and took time to consider all options before he his move-in date. He chose furniture that would require assembly and the entire family gathered together to help build these pieces. He wanted the place painted with modern colours so we had a family painting weekend and freshened up the walls. And we found kitchen items that would make the most sense for a guy who isn’t crazy about preparing food. He got an instant pot, an air fryer, a blender for protein shakes, and a microwave oven.
Now, all of these cost money, but someone starting out on a smaller budget can still have these sorts of items. Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill stores, and Kiji have quality second hand everything. Ask friends and family if there are items they are planning to get rid of that you may be able to use. Not every apartment will start out with brand new furnishings and that’s okay. You can still make any space a home.
The more important aspect is the continuation of a support plan, most especially in terms of communication. Sure, he’s got an apartment in a safe neighbourhood, it’s a close walk to work, and he has the basic tools for survival. But he also still needs to know that his family has his back, that we are an important resource, and he can always count on us for whatever he needs to feel secure in his recovery plan, as well as his new place.
Yesterday, we had a conversation that went like this,
My Son: “Thank you so much for all of your help in setting up my apartment.”
Me: “You’re welcome. For me, it’s so important that we create a space that will provide you the most success.”
My son: “I appreciate that. If I lived in a place that didn’t make me feel good, I would start creating bad habits again.”
Me: “You’d play video games again.”
My Son: “Oh no, that doesn’t even worry me as being likely. I’d probably stay home and start watching a lot of movies and YouTube videos.”
Good to know that gaming is not on his radar, but equally as important is knowing that compulsive binge watching and screen addiction of another type could be at risk. This is a good reminder as to why it’s still important that I check-in often and watch for signs that he may not be feeling his optimal, emotional best.
I realize that he’s an adult, so I can’t be too invasive with his lifestyle when I am gauging how he’s managing. This just means a short text a couple times a week to say hi, ask if he needs anything, and/or let him know I’m thinking of him. It means arranging regular times to visit him either in his new apartment, here in our family home, or at a restaurant. It means following my gut and following through, perhaps asking a few more questions if I sense that something doesn’t feel right. And it means letting go and trusting my son in his recovery journey, knowing that if he does need any reinforcement, he understands that his family is a great place to turn to.
This is not always easy to do, but it is vital to this transition in the early adult years. It’s critical for anyone in addiction recovery.