A mother’s story — When addiction rears its ugly head

SECRET NO MORE author Lisa Hillman speaks at the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library in Lovell about her personal experience of finding out that her son was a drug addict and the shame, denial and troubling path to recovery she covers in her book. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

LOVELL — A phone call forever changed Lisa Hillman’s life.

She appeared to be living the American dream.

Lisa was a highly-successful healthcare administrator and fundraising executive for the local hospital in Annapolis, Md. As president of the hospital’s foundation, she spearheaded a drive to raise millions of dollars for a major facility expansion.

Her husband, Dick, was the former mayor and served in state government.

Her daughter, Heidi, was an A-student and married a Naval Academy officer.

And, there was Jacob. A late arrival to the Hillman family, Jacob showed great promise early in his life. He had an interest in “anything that flew.” Despite his shyness, Jacob was recognized for his natural leadership skills. Teachers selected Jacob to attend a prestigious weeklong leadership camp.

He was right on track to carve out a successful career and life.

Or, so it appeared.

The “call” brought to light that Jacob’s life was spiraling out of control because of drug use. While with other senior friends at a beach house, Jacob was arrested. He had drugs in his possession and was headed to court. A dark secret was now exposed for Lisa and Dick to see.

There had been a warning 10 months earlier, at the start of Jacob’s senior year in high school. One August night, a “beloved” teacher called to let Lisa know that a few of Jacob’s friends had expressed concerns to him regarding Jacob’s drinking and possible use of marijuana. He was spending time with a different group of kids.

WARM WELCOME was given to author Lisa Hillman, who was introduced by library intern Anna Tupaj (left).

“Eleven years ago, addiction reared its ugly head in my household,” she told an audience gathered in the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library lower level room last month. “I was totally shocked. We had no family history of addiction. We were a ‘normal’ family…we didn’t keep secrets. It wasn’t in my family’s DNA.”

“A secret began to worm its way into our home.”

The secret was Jacob’s drug addiction.

Lisa gave an hour-long talk about her son’s battle with addiction, the fear of others finding out and the long road to recovery, which she chronicled in a book entitled, Secret No More. She was the guest of Rondi Stearns and Stan Tupaj of Lovell — friends from their days in Maryland.

When she first learned about Jacob’s drug use, Lisa started jotting down notes and events in a journal, which covered a six-year span.

“The journal was my outlet. It was a safe place where I felt comfortable,” she said.

As she sought out as much information she could find regarding addiction in hopes of understanding her son’s plight and seek ways to help him find his way back to normalcy, Lisa discovered few “personal” works that answered a wide range of questions she wrestled with.

Fortunately, Jacob did find his way back. He hit rock bottom — ultimately stealing money from his parents as his drug use escalated, which proved to be the last straw that triggered an ultimatum from Lisa to her son — but reversed direction thanks to therapy, rehab center stays and a family that never stopped caring and never gave up hope that their son could someday reach his true potential.

When the time was right, Lisa decided to write a book. She retired from her hospital position to put her full attention on “a true story of hope for parents with an addicted child.”

“This is a book I had to write,” she said.

Yet, Lisa would not release the 258-page story without Jacob’s permission.

“Without his permission, this story would remain forever locked inside my journals,” she wrote in the book’s Acknowledgments. “He reminds me every day that only through openness and honesty can we hope to conquer addiction. I could not be prouder of the man he has become.”

Lisa emphasized that Secret No More, was her story, not Jacob’s story. It’s about a how she reacted to Jacob’s addiction — the shame, denial and finally acceptance.

“The secret eats at you. It made me ill,” she said.

I was helpless to prevent it, just as I was helpless to prevent Jacob’s growing drug use…what I didn’t know then was what wiser people would teach me much later, ‘You didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t cure it.’ It’s ironic, I would later reflect: the family feels the same wrenching emotions as does the abuser.

After reading a few excerpts from Secret No More, Lisa held a Q & A period with the audience.

  1. Looking back now, did you see any telltale signs?

Lisa: “When I got the phone call from the teacher, I was floored. Jacob had good grades. He had good friends, who were college-bound athletes. Maybe the signs were there. I wasn’t looking for them. I denied it.”

There was no script for this new life I’d entered. The drama unfolded without rehearsal. I couldn’t read ahead. I simply had to respond when Jacob tossed me the lines…nothing prepares you for this. This is just hard. It hurts badly.

  1. It’s normal for kids to experiment. When did it become something scary?

Lisa: “All kids experiment, but when a teacher calls because friends are concerned, that’s scary. Why do some kids that drink and use drugs never become addicted, but some like Jacob do? Maybe, it’s genetic. A biochemical makeup. I just don’t know…drugs are everywhere, and addicts are very smart and resourceful to get drugs.”

  1. Do you think that Jacob might have had a different outcome if you didn’t have the financial means to get him the help he needed?

Lisa: “You are willing to do anything to get him well. It takes money, genes and luck. Parents who don’t have money, it’s hard because rehab is expensive. Jacob relapsed three times, and spent 90 days in rehab in Florida.”

  1. Why did Jacob start using?

Lisa: “There was a hole inside him, and he found that Oxy and heroin filled that hole. He later found something spiritual to fill that hole instead.”

  1. How did you get through this?

Lisa: “If parents are not together in dealing with their child that is addicted, it can destroy a marriage. We were determined to stay strong. We kept communication with Jacob open. We were close, and I just didn’t want to lose him. It did come to a point that I gave Jacob a choice. If he continued to use, it would not be under our roof. You use, you leave. Or, we will pay for rehab. I was afraid he would leave, and I could imagine my son being out on the street, dressed in baggy pants and homeless. Thank God he took rehab…Today, my son his healthy…Today.”

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