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He Got Around Section 35

woman worrying on side of bed at night
Illustration © Eleanor Davis

Allies member WitsEnd feels guilty but thinks the time has come to give up on her son.

"I've called it quits. I finally give up. My 37 yo son Brian has struggled with addiction mainly heroin for about 20 years. I filed a 35 last week and yesterday Monday at 430 the 5 days for the 35 was up! Brian knew about this and texted me "Mom, I'm on my way to the court, I'm going to be locked up all day so could you please paypal me cigarette money and enough to grab a sandwich." This was at 315 so I was hopeful and sent him 20 bucks, he answered with "Thanks, I am on my way to the court now". I was suspicious but I texted him again and he said I'm here at the court waiting on the judge and I am not suppose to have my phone so please don't text me, I'll contact you when I get to a place". I was suspicious because of the phone in court, but it does happen so I overlooked it. I had the best nights sleep in a long time last night. I felt like my old self, a huge weight was lifted off my chest. Short lived though. I contacted the court clinic and spoke with the sw who helped me initiate the 35 and he said that Brian had not been apprehended nor had he turned himself in. I blocked his phone number and I feel that I need to move on. His addiction has consumed me and obviously him too for too many years. He has a 14 yo daughter he has never met. A beautiful 6 year old son he hasn't seen in 2 1/2 years. I feel so guilty but I have done all that I can do and the rest is up to him, but he is going to have to do it without me."

Here at Allies it has felt like a small explosion. Two comments came in simultaneously this week from moms who are totally fed up with their sons. Both moms express being ready to firmly shut the door on their sons — their own health and life being so damaged by the bad behavior, nasty disposition, the manipulations and lies.

Unless you have lived this, it is hard to imagine what it’s like to love someone sick with addiction. It’s every day, every hour. When your Loved One is in front of you, you are suspicious or sickened by the bad behaviors, when they are absent you are terrified and obsess about what you ought to be doing, after all you are their parent or partner or child.

Your son has been struggling with addiction for a very long time. It sounds like he has cut a path of destruction through his life and the life of others, including you and his children. It is heartbreaking.

Too often, someone with addiction develops “coping skills” that serve the need to get high and not the maturation process. That your son was able to get the money to get high, while circumventing the section 35 process is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness learned during years at the school of addiction. We can pause for a moment and be in awe of the nerve your son demonstrated.

People in recovery have developed skills to a fine edge during years of substance use that can serve them well. We make good salespeople.

It makes perfect sense that you are totally fed up and have blocked your son from your phone. When you add the pain he is causing his children, it must be extremely difficult for you to take in what has happened.

Like jezabelle (read recent post), go ahead and close the door on your son today. His actions are stinging.

But also like jezabelle, I hope you can pick yourself up tomorrow and work on the next strategy to help get your son into treatment (Follow jezabelle’s thread for suggestions on what you might add to what you already do).

Learning Module 8 talks of the stance a family can take: removed, dispassionate, but still loving, with the detailed list of treatment at the ready for when your Loved One shows signs of openness to consider change.

CRAFT is based on motivation enhancement, on meeting your Loved One where they are. We show you how to become aware of moments when your Loved One is more likely to hear and act on a request to go to treatment.

At 37, your son is definitely wearing down. There are times your son feels fully the pain he is causing himself and his family. I want to ask you to not totally give up.

Set up again, as we suggest in Learning Module 8. Focus on what more you can do for yourself so that you can get a good night’s sleep despite your son’s active addiction. Can you get a good night's sleep AND have a child in active addiction? Sleep is so critical to our mental health. You can’t forgo sleep while your child uses. Read up on sleep techniques, focus just on this for now.

In Learning Module 8 we talk about suggesting treatment when your Loved One is more willing to hear it: the wish or dip as we call it. The problem with Section 35 (the term for a civil commitment in Massachusetts) is that its timing is not your son’s timing; it's not likely to line up with the moment of more willingness. The timing is yours, and the police, and the court date, too. Five days of evading the police to avoid being picked up and taken to court is plenty of time to change one’s mind several times over about wanting treatment.

Once in treatment —whether by mandate or voluntarily—the studies suggest the outcomes are about the same. But being willing to go to treatment is highly influenced by the individual's motivation.

The city of Baltimore has worked hard to develop what we need throughout this country called “treatment on demand.” The door to treatment is always open, when you’re ready you just walk in. The effort by the police chief in Gloucester, MA is similar. Walk into the police station, ask for help and you will get help.

As a former detox director and friend once put it:

The system thinks in terms of appointments and beds, while people with addiction think in terms of minutes.

Treatment on demand, I posit, would quickly and dramatically reduce addiction in this country. Without it, there remains the need to read our Loved Ones for motivation, work through a detailed treatment plan and have it at the ready, and pounce with a scripted request when you see that nascent sign of motivation.

It’s tiring and, as you have read on this site, efforts often need to be repeated. Thank you for writing in. We are here to listen to the pain addiction is causing you. We are also here to show you a way out.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. It’s been 16 days since “I called it quits”. I unblocked my son Brian’s phone number after about 2 days! Over the next several days I bought him cigarettes and groceries a couple of times, took him out to lunch and bought a few large containers for him so he could get his room packed up! My son hasn’t paid rent in months and the landlord is being very patient and is trying to work with Brian. The landlord allows Brian and his girlfriend access to the room during the day so they can pack their stuff but locks it at night and they have to find places to sleep at night but Brian says he has been rigging the door and sneaking back in the when the office person goes home at night. Brian wakes up every day sick and in order to function he heads downtown to panhandle or do whatever it takes to get enough money to get a bag of dope to make him feel “normal”. Most days he says the process takes him into the evening and he just can’t seem to get motivated to pack. We went out to lunch over the weekend. He looked awful, he was quiet, and didn’t order any food. The saddest part was that he wouldn’t look at me, he just looked at the menu the entire time and I could feel his shame! The next day I asked him if he wanted to get coffee and try calling a few detoxes, he said “I’m sick of this mom, I’m ready”. He texted me in the morning and aid a detox was holding a bed for him until noon. I hurried and got dressed and headed to his place and when I got there he wasn’t home. He told me he left his wallet down the street and had to run out to get it, blah, blah, blah… When he got back he ran upstairs to pack and shoot up for the ride! Which made me think that I really need to keep narcan in my glove box! We were an hour late, but I breathed a sigh of relief when I watched him walk through the doors of the detox! Day !, HOPE…

    The next morning Brian called from detox to ask me for his girlfriends cell phone number, said he was feeling okay and hadn’t met with the treatment team yet. Fast forward 3 hours! Brian called and asked if I would call him an Uber home! He told me he was kicked out of detox and dropped at a train station with no money to get home. I refused to get an Uber but I offered to pick him up. Moments later he texts and says he has money for the train so don’t pick me up! We exchanged a few angry words and I haven’t heard from him in about 24 hours. Day 2, DISAPPOINTMENT…

    So today I sit looking out the window at the beautiful snowflakes falling and I wonder what’s next. At this point I really don’t know what to do. Day 3, SADNESS…

    1. Thank you for this clear description of what happened. I was with you and with your son the entire way. H0PE, DISAPPOINTMENT, SADNESS … soon to be followed by HOPE again. Your son’s cycle: DESPAIR, SHAME, WILLINGNESS, AMBIGUITY, RESISTANCE.

      Your son is so close. You did what you could to get him to the door of treatment. It didn’t work but the opportunity will come around again, probably very quickly.

      This episode describes so well the cycle of engaging a Loved One into treatment. This is what you can do and you did it. Your son is in a terrible place. I hope you can regain your energy and prepare again. Know that there are a whole lot of people on this site who are with you.

      1. The saga continues! The constable finally came yesterday and Brian is out of his apartment! He texted me to ask if I could pick up his packed bins of belongings and drive him to the hospital. I turfed this to my husband because honestly I’m burnt out and I just don’t have the strength to lug all those bin to the truck! So my husband drove over to his place and said it looked like an episode of extreme hoarders. Nothing was packed and Brian was frantically just tossing things into bins. When the truck was loaded my husband offered to drive him to the hospital but Brian refused.

        Fast forward a few hours later and I get a call from an “unknown”number and my heart races because I’m always waiting for that dreaded call that he has overdosed or worse! It was Brian calling from the police station. Apparently he was “just walking down the street” and was picked up on a possession warrant from last year. He wanted me to come down and post the $40 cash bail. I refused because he is homeless, his life is spiraling out of control and I feel he is safer in jail for the weekend. Before he hung the phone up on me I tried to explain to him that this is an opportunity for him to request treatment from the judge on Monday morning. That didn’t go over well!

        This morning I feel bad and wonder if I’ve made the right decision as I know he is probably detoxing cold turkey and suffering! I think my best course of action despite this is to leave him in jail and go to the court clinic Monday morning to speak with the substance abuse social worker and see if I can get another Section 35 seeing he is already in custody!

        Am I doing the right thing?

        1. Here is an addendum to my last comment. My husband and I went to the court today and were able to get a Section 35. Brian did not agree to this and had his lawyer speak on his behalf but luckily the court clinician was effective and the judge agreed that treatment was needed. Brian glared angrily at me in the court room. I hope he comes to understand that I did this out of my love for him and concern for his future.

        2. You can’t know which treatment episode will help a Loved One get traction into recovery. I have seen people sectioned be moved through the system into long-term residential life and good sobriety. I have seen others walk out after a couple days without any way to stop them.

          Brian is sick. Let him glare at you. Because you refused to bail him out he was in custody when you requested the section 35. The police didn’t have to hunt for him. You orchestrated getting him into treatment. I suspect the court put aside the charges with the expectation that he would complete some treatment. If he walks out, he will probably be arrested again.

          For today, he is safe. What a terrible whirlwind you describe. It is hard to imagine what you have been through. I hope you can now put down the worry and appreciate the calm.

        3. It’s been a while since I posted last. Brian’s court committed stay lasted 21 days. He refused aftercare treatment and immediately relapsed. After 2 days of using he went on his own to a detox and then to the css on the grounds of the detox.

          Brian did very well there and many referrals were made by the social worker to programs all over Massachusetts. The feeling by the professionals is that he needs a therapeutic community and long term treatment related to his long history of drug and alcohol use. I felt hopeful for the first time in many years.

          One day in a group Brian shared that the night before he felt like leaving, shooting up, and eating a bullet. He said that he was able to talk through this with his roommate. This did not fly in the css, they further questioned him on his access to a gun and he told them he knew where my husband keeps his guns, etc… Well I got an emergency phone call from the css and they transported Brian to an er and discharged him from the css.

          The crisis worker at the er told me she felt that the css had overblown the situation r/t the pc culture surrounding guns and that she felt that Brian was not a danger to himself and was going to discharge him. I was out of the state and although I agreed with what the crisis worker said I was afraid Brian would go out and use again. I was able to provide enough history from Brian’s teen years to get him a section 12 to a pysch ward. I did this out of fear of him accidentally overdosing not purposefully killing himself.

          Brian was upset. He said that he thought he was in a safe place to be able to express the struggle he was having with not using heroin. I do get that in this climate surrounding guns, that the last thing you want to say is gun! The thing is Brian does not live with us and has no access to our house at all.

          So, He went to a psych unit and signed a 3 day note and was discharged when the 3 day was up. He had court the following day for a prior possession charge, we had lunch and he looked good. I was able to find a sober house that has a good reputation. I offered to pay the security and the first month. Brian said he had plans with his girlfriend and he would call me in the morning. The next day I texted him all day and he said he needed more structure. The environment he is living in is unhealthy and all the occupants use drugs. The next day I tried calling him to see what the next step was going to be and when he answered the phone his speech was thick and he said he was giving a urine at the hospital. He had overdosed and his “friend” used narcan and was able to wake him enough to get him outside where he collapsed again and 911 was called and was narcanned again. He left the er and refused to go to any further treatment. I tried to get him to get in the car with me so I could talk to him but he refused. He was still very high and said I am going home to take a nap. I contacted the detox he was previously in and they said to bring him back to the er for an eval required by his insurance. He still opted to take the nap and refused to go.

          I thought he would be thrilled because he really was thriving there but he said he felt betrayed when he opened up and then was discharged to an er. Two days later he was ready to go to the er for the eval and the bed was gone.

          Brian has always resisted being told what to do. I think that because he has been using drugs since a teen he still reacts like a teen. I am again at my WitsEnd.

        4. Brian called me tonight and asked if I could drop him off at the er so he could try and get back into detox and ultimately long term treatment. I bought him a sandwich, a few packs of cigarettes and dropped him at the er. My heart aches for him, I pray he finds his way.

        5. The situation with a Loved One changes on a dime. It is hard to imagine the emotions you must be going through as your son swings from treatment to ER to psych ward, out in the street, overdose, and resistance to seeking more help. You stayed connected to him and helped steer him towards more treatment, including a mental health civil commitment. He is now, hopefully, as I write, back in detox. Thank goodness.

          The limits of the treatment system are apparent in this story. CSS doesn’t have the capacity to hold someone who may be suicidal. The psych ward is limited to short term stays and to addressing acute situations. They discharge quickly, often to the street. Once back on the street, the urge to use is overwhelming. Your son’s treatment stays probably reduced his tolerance to opiates, which likely led to the overdose. Fed up and reeling from an overdose, Brian was now resistant to more treatment.

          I am relieved he asked to be returned to the ER for help to get into detox. Is he now marked as someone inappropriate for a CSS? Does anyone reading this have an alternative idea of where Brian could go once discharged from the detox?

        6. He’s not marked as inappropriate. The CSS he was in that sent him to the ER did say they would take him back. It’s now a matter of a bed opening up. I haven’t heard from him this morning so I will cross my fingers, hope he stayed in the ER last night and wait for him to call me.

        7. So Brian has now been in the er going on 22 hours and there are no beds available anywhere. This is so frustrating. He has Mass Health and it’s sad that people who are poor just don’t have a lot of treatment options available to them.

        8. Things seem to be looking up again. Brian has been in a detox in Boston for almost a week and the CSS that he did so well in has agreed to take him back on Tuesday. He has an appointment with a psychologist tomorrow to help determine eligibility for SSDI. There is light at the end of his tunnel and that makes me hopeful and happy for him.

        9. I have been through everything you have experienced except for the sectioning but we were on the verge of doing it recently but then our son went into detox and is now in a sober house.
          The ups and downs, the moments of clarity they get, followed by horrible downward spirals and then hopeful moments. My son is a 40 year old teenager after years of addiction.
          It’s been so helpful and hopeful to know that others truly understand just what this disease does to all who come near it, and to our Loved Ones. My prayers and thoughts are with you. You are doing all that you can, you’re a loving Mom. God bless you.

        10. Thanks for your kind words. After about 35 hours in the er he was admitted to CAB in Boston. He is not thrilled with this choice, but that’s what was available. He’ll be 38 in 11 days and I pray this time he gets it. God bless you.

        11. This is when I try to remember to tell myself “he’s safe -right now he’s safe. Thank you, Lord.” Do something good for yourself tomorrow. You deserve it.

  2. I feel so much for the 2 people that just want to give up. I have been there many times and each time I tell myself there is always hope. Right now things are calm because the son that was actively using is in jail. He has been moved to Pre-Release where hopefully he will take advantage of what they offer for programs to get better. I find it very frustrating though talking to him because he doesn’t seem to have changed his attitude at all. I am wondering if there is anything that I can say to him to encourage him to take advantage of the programs so that he will learn to stay off the drugs. Before he went in this time he had overdosed and I found him blue in the middle of the night. Luckily I had narcan. Because of this he violated probation and went on the run continuing to use. He had no where to go, but always managed to find drugs. He was using his foot to shoot up and managed to get an infection in his foot. He snuck into my house one day and I realized he was there in the middle of the night. It was very hard for me to do, but I called the police and turned him in. At this point he could hardly walk. He ended up in the hospital for almost a week and was told if he had waited any longer he could have lost his leg or died of sepsis. He never accepts responsibility for anything and blames everyone else for what he does. He is in until October, so for right now life is calm. But, I panic every time I think of him getting out and just going back to using again.

    Is there anyway that I can work the program with him while he is incarcerated?

    On a good note, my oldest son is doing so well that it is a pleasure to be with him. Staying off of drugs can be accomplished, he is a great example. Any suggestions on how to deal with my younger son would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Dear Mlb2t: Both your sons are safe. This is very good to hear. For your son in jail who will be moved to pre-release, here are a couple suggestions. The first is that you try hard not to predict his state of mind as time goes on. October is a long time away. Your son could see the patterns in his life and be willing to absorb the treatment he will get in pre-release. Pre-release used to have a family day. It was well run and would provide you the opportunity to ask practical questions about how you can help your son. The jail is also offering medication assisted treatment prior to release. Your son would be a candidate for this. It would provide him a measure of safety as he leaves jail. Finally, consider working with the jail to help find your son a residential program upon release. Again, he would need to become willing… but you can—consistently and as lovingly as possible—repeat to him that he cannot come home, that this is not good for either of you, and this might help sway his decisions to consider structured housing.

      1. There have been some changes since I left that last message. He had a parole hearing on March 14th and was granted parole with many stipulations. One of these being that he must go to a long term rehab facility and that he can’t come to my house. The only problem is that there are very few openings. It is his responsibility to work with his counselor at Pre-Release to find a place. After 10 years of trying to get him to go to rehab he is finally mandated. I am so grateful for this. I do go to see him on Sundays to have a food visit with him. I can say that I actually have enjoyed these with him. He is clear, he has not done drugs or drank since November now so he actually carries on a nice conversation. He now goes out to work every day from Pre-Release. I still have so much anxiety and worry about what will happen when he gets out. He told me that he does not want to start taking any Naltrexone or Suboxone when he gets out. He said why should he go back on any drugs when he has been off of everything for so long. I kind of agree with him in that respect. I think what is more important at this point is good counseling and therapy.
        I am happy to say that my oldest son continues to do well. He is almost finished with school and has his old job back. My husband, who does not live with me, has gone back to some intermittent drinking, so when he does this I don’t give him the pleasure of spending time with me. I still have so much guilt from believing that I have caused a lot of the problems, but I am working on this.
        Thank you for the help.