How do you help a homeless and suicidal son?

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by Elsi, Aug 15, 2018.

  1. Elsi

    Elsi Active Member


    I’m new here and hoping to find some perspective and advice. I am trying to figure out how to help my 32 year old son, C. He’s always struggled but is at a crisis point now and I don’t know whether the answer is ‘hold firm on the tough love/non-enabling line’ or ‘throw him a stronger life line.’ I know this is long, so thanks in advance for your patience if you are reading this.

    He is diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression but is not currently in treatment. (Nor do I know how to get him in treatment with no insurance even if he agreed to go - we don’t seem to have any functioning social services, outside of a women’s short-term domestic violence shelter.) He is also an alcoholic and has problems with other substances as well. He is very bright but always had trouble functioning socially in school - he dropped out at 16 to stay home and read Neitzche and Chomsky. He has a GED but that doesn’t get him far with employment. And his employment is extremely spotty - lots of short term jobs, mostly in the restaurant industry.

    His father and I divorced 10 years ago after years of physical and emotional abuse. I stayed as long as I did because my three oldest children (including C, who is the eldest) are not mine biologically or legally. He was 8 when his Dad and I married, and his siblings were 6 and 2. We went on to have one more child together. Their bio mom was an alcoholic and not in the picture. I protected them all as much as I could, but couldn’t legally leave and take them with me so I stayed until my daughter S was of age and then fled with my youngest. I know all of the kids have a lot of scars and I feel terribly guilty that I couldn’t protect them better or get them all out. C, as the eldest, was also the black sheep and got the worst from his dad. Right now, my youngest daughter E and younger son N are doing well - both married and starting families and happy. N went through rough patches earlier in life (addiction, jail) but seems to have come through ok. C and my older daughter S are still foundering. S is diagnosed Borderline (BPD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety, depression and ADHD.

    I’ve tried to walk that razor’s edge between helping and enabling over the years. None of them live with me. I’ve helped with rent on occasion when it seemed warranted, but they know I’m not going to do it continuously if they are just living obove their means. I buy groceries or give them meals when they are hungry instead of just giving cash. They know I don’t do bail, lawyers or legal fees. I’ve let them fall on their own consequences with evictions, loss of cars due to failure to pay fines, etc. they know I expect them to support themselves. S and C have seen their siblings succcesfully make it through college and trade school, find good relationships, and set up stable lives. But they can’t or don’t want to have those lives themselves, it seems. At 28 and 32, they are still partying, quitting jobs because the ‘boss had it in for me’, etc. I try to stay supportive and non-judgmental without jumping into rescue mode.

    Lately, C has expressed a desire to stop this cycle and get his life together. He’s trying to stop drinking and has cut drugs except marijuana, which he says he ‘needs’ to function with his anxiety. But he’s in a hole he can’t seem to get out of. His poor choices in the past have left him with no place left to go - he’s worn out his welcome with too many friends after couch surfing for years. He can’t keep a job without a steady place to stay and access to clean clothes and hygiene. He had a bike to get to work, but it was stolen and now he has no transportation at all. (He doesn’t have a license right now or the means to support a car, and public transportation is spotty here.) He recently decided to move in with his father temporarily to get sober (his dad has ‘found religion’ and remarried, though I don’t think he’s truly changed.) He was successful in his sobriety and held a job for two months, but things predictably fell apart between him and his dad and his dad threw him out earlier than they had agreed upon. He moved in with a friend, but the friend’s girlfriend wasn’t happy about it and it fell apart after a week. Now he’s out of options, extremely depressed, and potentially suicidal.

    He hasn’t asked directly to move in, but I sense that he’s dying for me to ask. I’m in a great place now and in a wonderful relationship with another woman. We bought a house together last year in the country. We’ve built a great and peaceful life - I started a freelance design business that has gone well, she’s a park ranger, we do wildlife rescue and garden together. It’s very peaceful here with our animals and gardens. We have the room, but I dread inviting drama and dysfunction into my life after working so hard to find peace at last. And it doesn’t seem fair to my partner, who didn’t sign up for this. Plus, there’s no exit plan here - no public transportation or easy access to jobs to help him get back on his feet.

    On the other hand, what if he is truly suicidal? What if he’s really on the streets? How can I not do whatever possible to save a life I love?

    What do I do? Bring him here for a night or a week or a month? Then what?

    I just don’t know what to do anymore. He seems more desperate than ever before.
  2. Kalahou

    Kalahou Active Member

    Hello Elsi,
    I do not have much time this evening, but I want to welcome you to the forum. You have come to the right place. You will find a lot of wisdom and support and understanding here.
    I could have written every word of that myself. While my son still exhibits much of that description, what helped to rescue my son was perhaps his stint in jail, after which he had to live in a sober house for the required period. His “room” at the sober house was (still is) just an open 6 ft high 3-sided cubicle with a sheet tacked up at the opening. Once he was off of the required curfew and allowed to live elsewhere, he could not afford another place so ended up staying there, more than 2 years until now. He does want to leave, and keeps talking about leaving, but he still cannot afford anywhere else. Where I live, there are some sober houses in residential neighborhoods, where a resident just has a room (or even a divided space) in the house, sharing all facilities. In some of them, you can voluntarily apply to live there, not just because you are court ordered to do so.

    Since you mentioned C wants to get sober, do they have facilities in your area, such as a sober house that he might move into voluntarily to have a safe place to stay to allow him to get and keep a job and work at keeping sober? Also sometimes the community of others in the house can be a kind of support system and with some minimal rules to follow, there are some benefits in living together with others who are also finding their way, and with a house manager of sorts. Perhaps if you could fund a month or two to get him started in such a place, he could then take over paying the rent, take a bus or get a bicycle, etc.

    I would encourage you not to have him move in with you. Especially since there is no access for jobs and transportation , it doesn’t sound like it would provide the environment and location for him to move forward, etc, - to say nothing of disrupting your peace, and would only serve to increase your anxiety. There were occasional months when my son could not make the rent at his house, and I had to pay it. It was to keep my own peace and sanity.

    If you have not yet read the article on Detachment at the top of this forum, that is a good starting place. Here is the link to it.

    You are not alone. Others will be along soon with insight, guidance, comfort, and understanding. Take care.
  3. Elsi

    Elsi Active Member

    Thank you so much Kalahou. I will check into sober living houses - I’m not sure what is available around here but it’s a great thought! If they are available but he doens’t want to do it because of rules and curfews, at least I know he’s making that decision and can feel less guilty about letting him live with the consequences and not offering him a place here. I could swing a couple months rent somewhere to get him started, though I can’t do that indefinitely.

    It’s just so hard contemplating allowing him to be truly homeless. Not couch surfing homeless, or even living out of a car homeless, but sleeping in doorways or under bridges homeless. In the past when I’ve passed homeless people on the streets I’ve always wondered what’s wrong with their families that they don’t have the compassion to help. But now here I am, watching my son fall down that hole. I feel selfish for prioritizing my own peace over his safety and well-being. I have the space - I’d have to move our kitty in hospice, but it sounds silly to say ‘sorry you can’t sleep in our perfectly comfortable guest room because it’s the cat’s room now.” After he calls in tears and says he has no place to go. I fantasize that a couple months in the wholesome country air with the animals and garden chores could help him find himself and give him time to get sober. But I know the reality is more likely that he’ll be drinking and smoking weed behind my back, smoking in the house and then denying he did it while the smell drives us crazy, staying up at all hours of the night watching tv or playing games on his phone while we’re trying to sleep, and resenting us for any rules we try to impose. And without good employment options, at some point we’d just have to bite the bullet and kick him back out, whether he’s made progress towards being sober or not. I know all this, but I still feel selfish and guilty.
  4. bluebell

    bluebell Active Member

    Elsi, I don't want to move your cat but I sure would like to enjoy your place for a couple of months! That would totally straighten me out! LOL.

    Joking aside, we sent my son to live with his aunt on a farm once for a few months thinking the same, and although he had too much respect for them to act out, he went right back to doing everything he had been doing when he got back. Sometimes these respites are just that, a break from their usual ways. My son is much younger though (21) but I imagine he will end up like yours. He's going thru couch surfing options at an alarming rate right now. At his age, any living arrangements would need to be temporary with a plan to get out. There is nowhere around there he could work? A neighbor's farm or something?

    And I'm not an expert on suicide, but I don't think taking him in lessens that risk. So many times my son threatened in the safe and warmth of my home, his room, his things, three meals a day. Very sad.
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  5. Elsi

    Elsi Active Member

    Bluebell, ha! We love guests that don't bring drama with them. :) It really IS a lovely refuge, and we've worked hard to make it that way.

    We're more in parkland area than farm area, and I'm not sure he's up for farmwork anyway. (And if he did get a job around here, it would either require me driving him back and forth or trusting him with my car - neither option is very appealing at this point.) And I would hate to invite any of my neighbors into this potential drama. We're still pretty new here, and a same-sex couple in an area where we're pretty...unusual. We've made some good connection with neighbors, had some hostile reactions from others. I think we've gained a lot of respect by the work we've put into fixing up the house and putting in a kick-ass garden. But those relationships still feel pretty new and fragile. I wouldn't want to ask for any favors, especially if it's likely things would go south. :(

    But mostly I just feel sick at the thought of having any drama at all in our little refuge here. It's the first time in my life I've ever had a place that is peaceful and free from violence, shouting and general dysfunction. Having him here feels like inviting that back in, and potentially inviting more contact with his dad, which I don't want at all. (My partner doesn't even want my ex knowing exactly where we live, due to what she knows about our past together--when my younger son and his family come to stay with us a couple times a year, if they want to see his dad we drive them into the city to a neutral meeting place.) I'm just so torn between wanting to help and wanting to preserve what I have here.
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  6. bluebell

    bluebell Active Member

    Oh I understand Elsi. Last year my son got a job with a restaurant owned by my aunt's best friend (not thru that contact, he knew someone else working there). I didn't want them finding out he was my son because I knew it would end badly and reflect on me. They ended up finding out and it did end badly so I was right! So humiliating.

    His aunt won't take him back to work on their farm either and I know they need the help. He must not have been a very hard worker.

    I am too enjoying my peace here with my son gone. He can't come back. There's no way he could ever live within the constraints we would have. He would probably rather be homeless, at any rate he would end up being kicked out again. We put up with so much. It's bad enough with my 18 year old daughter and her boyfriend (not living here but might as well be). It's normal stuff (staying up late, messes, stupid arguments) but I'm ready for that to be over too.
  7. New Leaf

    New Leaf Well-Known Member

    Hi Elsi and welcome, I am sorry for your troubles in the past with your ex, the sacrifices you made to stay and care for the children show what a loving and compassionate person you are. It is hard to have a dysfunctional relationship, raise and love children as your own, then see them struggle as adults. You did the best you could under extremely stressful and difficult circumstances. The part about feeling guilty, my goodness, what else could you have done?
    28 and 32. Old enough to be on ones own two feet, no matter what the issues, it is really all about choices. Even with diagnosis and mental challenges our wayward adult kids still have to learn to make better choices.
    Partying, that is my twos focus. Along with that, comes all kinds of drama and troubles and homelessness. It is not so dire that they give up partying and try to live a conventional life. I have seen both of my daughters down and out, worried about depression and suicide, but ultimately, they must learn to choose better. I will not be around forever to rescue them, or cushion the consequences of their lifestyles.
    I have come to the realization like many folks here, that they don’t get better living with me, they just cycle in and out, take for granted my home, feel entitled, help themselves to food and the comforts that I work hard for, and bring their drama and chaos to boot.
    It is a recipe for misery.
    The questions you ask about trying to save your son, many of us have faced that. If our love could save them, none of us would need to be here. Many parents here, including myself, have pulled out all the stops, rearranged our lives, brought our floundering adult children back into our homes in hopes that they would change. What I found, was that my two didn’t want to change. I wanted them to wake up and smell the coffee, more than they did.
    Your son has to really want change, and if he does, will find a way. That sounds harsh, but it is true. I think Kalahou’s suggestion is an excellent one and hope there are places available in your sons area.
    I think you are on the right track thinking it is unfair to your partner to bring your son home. Most of all though, it is unfair to you. You have a life to live, you matter. The sanctity of your home matters. Your peace matters.
    In standing your ground for this, you are modeling the importance of good choices and self care for all of your adult children. Taking care of ourselves and setting boundaries is not selfish, it is what we wish our struggling kids would learn to do. As their first and closest mentors, I think that is the best thing we can do for them, set the example, walk the walk.
    Keep posting and let us know how you are doing. There are parents here who have been in similar situations, including me. I gave my two over to God, and pray for them to find their true potential.
    If that is not your way, there is also meditation and websites and books to help us. It is definitely a work in progress, learning to cope with the reality that we have no control over what our beloveds choose. They are adults, it is their path to walk.
    There is help out there, if they choose it. For mine, they don’t want to follow rules, adhere to curfews, stop drugging. I cannot allow that in my home. Been there, done that.
    Welcome to our little corner. You are not alone.
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  8. Triedntrue

    Triedntrue Active Member

    I agree do not disrupt your peaceful place your sanctuary. His father taking him in did not make him realize he needed to change. Helping with rent for a month or two but don't put your name on the lease or you will be liable. It is not your responsibility to find a job for him. If you hear of opening tell him after that it is up to him.
  9. toughlovin

    toughlovin Well-Known Member

    Hi Elsi - Welcome. These are hard decisions to make and a hard position to be in. On that I understand well. My son is only 26 but we have faced all of these choices multiple times due to his substance abuse addiction. He has been homeless and really having a son homeless is an awful think for a mother to face so I understand totally why you dont want to go through that either. Ireally dont want to go through it again. My son has also been in jail, which is also awful but much better than hjim being on the streets. Yet having a son living wiith you struggling with substaqnce use is also awful and will definitely interfer with your peac of mind and refuge. We have done that also. So my suggestion is to not have him come and live with you. I would not give him that as an option. Its not an option he probalby wants really given his age. So I would talk with him, find out what he wants, what he is willing to do, what solutions he comes up with if you are willing to help. Sober livings are an option. sometimes there are cheap rooming houses available if you are willing to help with rent. If he is serious about getting sober is he doing anything to help him get into recovery? I think part of it is having him be part of the solution. You cant save him if he is not willing to help save himself. You can help him save himself but you. Cant do all the work. You have the right for your home to be your sanctuary and a place where you have peace of is not selfish to want that. We had my son live with us for a year and I dont think we will ever let him live with us again..... but we are still helping him out.
  10. Copabanana

    Copabanana Well-Known Member

    I think if you are honest with yourself, you do not want him to come.

    There is nothing to feel guilty about. You live in paradise. Your home is a refuge. You are happy.

    What person in their right mind would want to risk that?

    Especially when there are all kinds of options for your son. And especially, because he is the one who is responsible to make his own life. While it might be appealing to solve his life by hijacking yours, this is only a fantasy. You would lose your life, and he would be in the same, perhaps worse, situation.

    There are ways you can support him, without putting all that you have on the line.

    We have brought my son home many times. NOT. ONE. TIME. Did it work. I will not do it again. (I hope.)

    Welcome. I hope you stay for a while. Posting helps.


    To answer more directly your question: You do not help a suicidal person directly except to call 911. We are not equipped to deal with the mental challenges of loved ones. Your son is suicidal either because he has mental illness, a spiritual crisis, or extreme stressors in his life. Or all of these together. In each of these circumstances there are resources available to him, should he choose to avail himself. As far as housing, there are community resources to help him. A few have been mentioned in this thread. But our kids prefer to seek ready made solutions, in the form of our help, our house, our money. We only hinder them, if we provide this. They have to seek their lives...and we have to tolerate their doing so.

    It is very hard for us, when the lives they seek are so problematic, insecure and self-defeating. And this is why we are here, most of us, on this forum. To learn to live with this.
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    Last edited: Aug 16, 2018
  11. Elsi

    Elsi Active Member

    Thank you all so much for your kind words, understanding, and advice. I haven’t heard from him today, and I don’t know whether to be worried or relieved. I want him to be ok so badly, but at the same time I always get a knot in my stomach when he calls because it’s almost always bad news. I don’t know if I should text him or just wait for him to reach out to me.

    Toughlovin, I’ve been through the jail and prison cycle too and I know what you mean - sometimes it’s a relief because at least you know where they are. N served 6 months for a drunk and disorderly with resisting arrest and assault on an officer. (It was spitting, but they counted that as assault and gave him a felony charge for it.) then he had another 3 months in a court ordered rehab/halfway house. But it ultimately changed him for the better. He moved across the country when he finished probation to get away from old habits and bad influences and started a new life. He is now married to a wonderful woman and has a son and a stepson. He’s finishing an electrician program and will have his journeyman license next year. It hasn’t been without a few bumps in the road, but I am so proud of him and so happy to have my daughter-in-law and grandsons. C has also served time for a DV charge from his ex girlfriend. He completed a court ordered anger management program, and he says that did help him with his anger issues. But he hasn’t addressed his substance abuse issues. I’ve never had a problem saying no to bail or lawyers - they are on their own when they get in trouble with the law, and they know that.

    Copabanana, you’re right - if I’m honest I don’t want him here. But it’s still hard not to feel guilty saying that. I feel like a terrible mother not wanting my son here. But the thought of reentering the chaos zone makes me feel physically ill. I spent so many years in chaos.

    Thank you all for sharing your experiences and helping me feel strong in saying no. I’m snuggled up in the guest room with my dying kitty tonight. She’s 20 and the last creature here who lived with me in the midst of all that chaos. We’ve been through a lot together. I’m glad she’s ending her years someplace peaceful, too.
  12. Copabanana

    Copabanana Well-Known Member

    The world that you have conveyed to us in your posts is so beautifully wrought. The peace you have found exudes from you. This is the greatest of gifts, I think. Not just having it and having had the capacity to create it. But to have the wisdom and the gratitude and the patience to savor it, and as much, to protect it.

    I have some of this. But as yet I lack what it would take to fully own it, instead focusing on what eludes me, or not working through the transient and unimportant thoughts, feelings, and events that disrupt it.

    The ability to live in this space, to cultivate it, and to protect it are the closest I believe we come to the Divine. If I look at your posts in this way, there is a clear position to take. Based upon what you write, you would be obligated to protect and to cultivate your blessings, what you have built and what you share.

    It is a question of boundaries, but more than this, something deeper. Having nothing to do with anything self-serving or selfish.

    It really has to do with generosity. A different kind of generosity and belief in the potential of your son. That the giving of yourself should not be a "pound of your flesh" but the belief that he has it in him to create his life in the way you have done so. For you, this was not written. You discerned this life, with thousands of critical choices.

    Who can say our children will not do the same, if we stay out of their way?
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
  13. bluebell

    bluebell Active Member

    I'm so sorry about your cat. I lost a cat last month. We got the cat for my son when he was in the 4th grade. I actually think that the cat's death had something to do with his falling off the rails. I saw on his online college account where he'd written a paper about her. I haven't mentioned it because it kinda sounds ridiculous. But it's not. They are family members and the grief is real. It is still real. I have never been with one of our animals as they passed, it affected me deeply. My heart goes out to you and your sweet furbaby.
  14. Copabanana

    Copabanana Well-Known Member

    Most of us here are learning to live from and own a more nuanced, powerful way to be mothers, beyond the default, self-sacrifice. We are already there if we acknowledge ourselves: mother courage; mother nature; mother earth. Not one of these mothers requires falling on your sword.
  15. Elsi

    Elsi Active Member

    Definitely not rediculous. The bond is very real. I think for our difficult children maybe it’s easier to feel and acknowledge that bond than the one with us sometimes. When N was 19, he was in a serious accident (DUI) that put him in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury for 10 months. He had to relearn everything, from potty training on up. He had no idea what happened or where he was. But he never forgot his cat. Even in the first days when he was in a coma, he would make a sound and hand gesture he used to call the cat over and over. It was heartbreaking. When he started therapy he could name the cat from pictures but not his sisters. He used to walk the hospital halls with that picture and show it to everyone he encountered. (‘Here is my cat T...have you seen him? He is the best cat in the world.’) We actually snuck the cat in a couple times after he moved from intensive care to long term therapy, with the off-the-record blessing of his speech therapist.

    Thanks for your kind words. I know it will be time to say goodbye soon, but I don’t think we’re ready yet. She seems to have rallied a bit with a round of steroids, antibiotics and fluids. We’ll see how she does here.
  16. Elsi

    Elsi Active Member

    Wow. You have given me some powerful words. Thank you. It’s hard to get out of the role of continual self-sacrifice with our kids. It’s hard to say ‘I deserve this peace.’ I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear this.
  17. Elsi

    Elsi Active Member

    Bluebell I wanted to add - I am so sorry for your recent loss. Our furbabies are definitely family, too.
  18. bluebell

    bluebell Active Member

    That is a touching story about N and his cat, Elsi. The bond must have been very powerful. I hope that N is recovered from his Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with no lasting effects.

    We had a little 'funeral' for our cat and my son said that the cat T was the only 'person' who'd ever given him unconditional love. That kind of pissed me off because I thought it was a slight to us, his parents, who have not given him 'unconditional love' in his eyes, but I digress. So I think you are right. The bond there is stronger than with us.
  19. Elsi

    Elsi Active Member

    We give unconditional LOVE, but we also have expectations and boundaries. We say "If you want X from us, you have to do Y" and "If you want A from life, you have to do it on your own." Animals have not only unconditional love but also zero expectations. They don't care if you're stoned or don't have a job or haven't paid your taxes in ten years or just got out of prison. As long as you don't abuse them, they just accept you as you are, with no expectations for what you will do in the future. They don't have concepts like responsibility or accountability. They make no moral judgments about whether holding a job and paying rent on time is a better way of living than couch surfing and getting high. So it's comforting. When we place expectations on our kids, they see that as making our love conditional. They don't have the maturity to realize that the LOVE is always there, no matter what they do or don't do, even when we have to place boundaries on what we expect as acceptable behavior. The see the setting of a boundary ("I can't be around you when you're doing X") as a withdrawal of love. Animals never judge or set expectations, but as parents we have to. Eventually, our kids may realize that those boundaries are an expression of love, not it's withdrawal.

    N is doing so much better now. Full recovery took about 2 years. But he's married now with kids and finishing up an electrician program. There are differences there that those of us who knew him "before" and "after" can recognize, and a few skills that will never come back (a lot of his athletic instincts), but he's one of my two self-sufficient kids now. Long road, but worth it. (As a side note, his father only came to the hospital twice while he was in IC...because it was "too hard to see him like that" and "he won't remember I was here anyway." I will never for the life of me understand that--or forgive it. I pretty much lived at the hospital for weeks, because N panicked and had to be strapped down every time he lost sight of me. )
  20. ChickPea

    ChickPea Active Member

    Please forgive the typos and funny pieces of this, But I'm dictating to my computer and juggling a grandbaby.I'm in a similar boat, My daughter is living with A man old enough to be her grandfather, And driving his vehicle around. Sometimes she sleeps in that. I don't know what she would do if he kicked her out... she has no job And she does not have a vehicle.I However there's no way I could have her here Without risking my marriage and my own sanity.

    She has recently become More Volatile And talks more about suicide. I worried that things have gotten bad Between her and her "roommate" If that's what you want to call him, ,And she knows she has nowhere to go.

    I'm so sorry about your dear cat