Sometimes we don’t get what we pay for

Sometimes we don’t get what we pay for.

I’m the kind of person who is by nature suspicious of bargains. This doesn’t mean that I strive to pay the highest amount for a product or service but neither do I opt for the lowest bid. So you might say I’m a believer in the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for.’ When I have to make a sizable purchase, I begin by identifying what it is I want or need from the product or service. Then I make a list. I prioritize. Sometimes it is quite challenging but usually, it is well worth the effort. I’m someone who prides myself on doing my homework, getting the facts, taking time to consider my options, being sensible in all things. So why, when it became necessary to find a treatment program for my son, did I throw all my common sense out the window?

I did no homework. I didn’t identify what I wanted or what my son wanted. I didn’t know what I needed or what he needed. I didn’t consider the cost, immediate cost or future cost. I focused entirely on a desired outcome and paid no attention to the process. I did not take time. I didn’t confer with anyone; not professional persons, not healthcare providers, not even anyone who might have some personal experience in addressing addiction. Why? What was I thinking?

Looking back, I believe two things were going on in my head; one was panic and the other was shame. We are rarely sensible when we panic. I felt that if I didn’t get him into a treatment program that week, it was over. He would die. He would end up on the streets. I would later learn that addicts and families of addicts spend a lot of time in the panic mode, responding to one crises after the next. Drama is big in addiction. Facing a fast-moving disaster is actually easier than slowly dissecting and repairing underlying problems. Think of it this way: tackling a downpour of rain that suddenly bursts through your living room ceiling isn’t the same as fixing the slow but steady leak that you have been enduring for the past few years. One leads to a major rush, the other doesn’t. One is dramatic, the other is anything but dramatic. One is a great story to tell your friends, the other isn’t. But in the end, drama begets drama and it rarely leads to real solutions. So I did not take the steps I would have taken to purchase a new washing machine. Instead, I opted for hysteria. Grab those buckets! Everyone on board! We have a major flood going on here!

And what about shame? I don’t think I was ready to tell anyone that my son was an addict and needed treatment. I’d been holding on to a secret for a long time. I think I wanted to stay under the radar. And what could be more anonymous than the internet? I googled drug treatment programs and got bombarded with advertisements for every type of program in the nation. They all claimed to really care about their clients. Some offered things like duel-focused treatment. I had no idea what that meant nor did I know what integrated treatment was. Some offered lifeskill therapy. Almost all of them included the 12 steps. While they failed to define what constitutes success and failed to provide their own success rates, they managed to imply that they were successful. There was never any mention of cost but each site provided a magical 800 number you could call 24-7 to find out about costs. As soon as I convinced my husband that this was what we needed to do, we called.

We signed him up and paid through the nose because it was obvious to us that if you pay thousands and thousands of dollars, you should get the outcome you want, right? We foolishly equated ‘highly expensive’ with ‘highly successful.’ Needless to say, we defined success as the outcome we wanted and we wanted our son to not be an addict. It took many years to realize that there is no program, no matter how expensive, that will make our son not be an addict. But there are many good programs that can help us all understand addiction and help our son cope with his addiction.

What would I do differently? I’d get out a piece of paper and make a list. I’d try to identify what I want. I’d ask my son what he wants. I’d speak to a professional. I’d do my homework. I would not panic. I would focus on the slow leak and stay away from drama. Lesson learned: I will never get what I pay for if I have no idea what it is I want and need.

-Julia