Lisa Hillman never meant to become a poster child for parents coping with a child’s drug problem. She was an accomplished health care administrator, a fundraising executive married to former Annapolis Mayor Richard Hillman, and the mother of two.
Few people knew about the nightmare that was unfolding at home starting with a phone call from her son’s high school teacher the start of his senior year, alerting her to his possible marijuana use. Jacob’s addiction unraveled from there, resulting in a dependence on opiates that threw his life into reverse: preventing him from returning to the University of Maryland; presenting troubles with the law; and deteriorating most of his relationships, including his once-tight bond with his mom.
Jacob’s story has a happy ending. He eventually got sober and stayed sober after visiting a few inpatient treatment centers.
Hillman chronicles the journey to hell and back in a riveting, poignant book called Secret No More: A True Story of Hope for Parents With an Addicted Child. I practically underlined the whole book because, as a recovering addict myself, her narrative spoke directly to me. However, you don’t need to be an alcoholic or mother of an addict to benefit from the wisdom on her pages. Her story is full of life lessons for anyone who has a pulse – powerful anecdotes on how to lower expectations, walk through fear, ask for support, let go of control, hang on to hope. Her insights are universal to everyone because the book is primarily about her journey of shedding shame and guilt to make room for a bolder kind of love.
As a person often enmeshed in other people’s problems – trying to fix everything at any opportunity I have – I was inspired by the passages in the book where she reminds herself and the reader that the more you try to control the situation, the more suffering you bring on. She writes:
I made all the classic mistakes that parents with addicted sons and daughters make. I searched for the “cause” of the problem. Out of love and desperation, I kept trying to control a situation that was totally out of my control. I ached to find both a cause and a cure I was incapable of finding. I just didn’t know it yet.
Later she writes:
In all our counseling, no therapist had ever used the word “codependent.” But in those early days of separation, there was a “codependence” in how we both grappled with this new way of living. Jacob and I were finally and fully leading separate lives. I had to accept that my son was no longer a child…. I also had to acknowledge that he was starting his recovery, and I was starting mine. We were two travelers, each toting a bag packed with fears and anxieties about the future. All we had to do was place one foot in front of the other, take one step at a time. How strange, I thought much later, to be on the same path as my son, and at the same time. Lisa and Jacob, learning a new way to live, together, separately.
The strength and brilliance of this book lies in her heartrending descriptions of the conflict and the questions that live inside her heart – the authenticity with which she grapples with the mess of it all, and the brutal honesty in articulating the struggles she faces. She affords the reader a peek inside the anguish and confusion, but also of the opportunities, of a mother or father facing a child’s addiction.
Secret No More offers an inspiring message for parents, addicts, or anyone experiencing a difficult situation of any kind – that even in those moments when life seems like an ugly jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, there is beauty and there is hope.
She ends the book with this moving passage:
There is a saying, “Addicts are angels in the making.” If that’s true, Jacob has become an angel in my life, keeping me honest, helping me to stay focused on the day, knowing what I can control, and feeling gratitude for all I have….No one knows that tomorrow will bring; today is all we have. I still work hard to let go of expectations, but never of hope. After all, if one angel can make it, others can, too.
This book has the potential to do so much good that I would count Lisa among the angels of which she speaks.
For more information, visit Lisa’s website.