9: That Long Ride Home

9: That Long Ride Home

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

That Long Ride Home

[A] mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled.

~Emily Dickinson

An icy silence chilled the crisp autumn air even more as my mom drove me home. I had only been away at college for two months and already I’d been written up several times by the dormitory resident advisors for partying. I’d also been experimenting with multiple types of dangerous drugs. And then I passed out, high, after a residence hall judicial board meeting, only to wake up the next day in the hospital having a spinal tap. My mom was praying hard on that drive home while we decided on my future.

I had never been a hard-core partyer or drug user, but all of the freedoms of university life had sent me over the edge. It was my own fault, but despite that, as I look back I can clearly see one amazing thing: The ever-present, caring image of my mom.

After I had passed out, an even worse thing had happened. I had fallen backward onto an unforgiving marble floor. Not only was I knocked unconscious, but I had two grand mal seizures that night.

When I woke up in the hospital after a spinal tap, I looked across the room and saw my mom, with her arms folded, her brow furrowed, and her foot tapping. I felt bad for the mess I had made of things. She asked me about the pot pipe that she found when the staff gave her my clothes, and I said it was someone else’s.

The spinal tap showed no risk of paralysis, but weeks later I would learn that I lost my sense of smell forever from the accident. Also, when I did get the green light to leave the hospital, I was in no condition to return to university life. I was still in a daze when I began that long car ride home with my mom.

My mother was a drug and alcohol counselor and was probably in shock that her own son might be a substance abuser or even an addict. I didn’t say anything on the drive. I just stared out the window as the miles of highway went by. Then my mom asked one simple question that changed everything.

“Jonathan, were you using drugs?” she asked, while knowing full well the ugly truth.

“No,” I replied. But lying to her broke my heart. It was the first time I lied to an adult who was so important to me, who was a leader for me.

I remembered that lie, and later I dedicated my life to being honest and living the right way. That day, sitting in the front seat of the car next to my mother, was when my life began to change. I had been so close to disaster — to a lifestyle of dishonesty, addiction, disgrace, and ruin.

My mom nurtured me and I went back to college. The amazing residence director at my dorm gave me a second chance. She allowed me to stay in housing as long as I regularly saw a university counselor.

That counselor helped me quit using drugs and alcohol, and in fact, I became a model student. In my second year I even led a Bible study after a spiritual conversion topped off my first year of college. Then, in my last two years, I persevered and made the Dean’s list twice.

One day while walking across campus, my own process of recovery became crystal clear. I saw two students who were clearly using drugs. My heart went out to them because I remembered my own past. Looking into their eyes, I said seven words that would chart the direction of my future forever. And I only hoped it could help them in their future too.

“There’s no greater high than being straight,” I told them. And as those words came out I realized full well their truth for my own life.

Since then, I have finished college and added a few degrees, even a Ph.D. and a fellowship in education. I’ve given back wherever I could and counseled addicts and other troubled young people.

The message of life and hope that I learned from my mom on that long ride home has never left me. As she gave me the room to learn life’s most important lesson, and supported me along the way, I realized the heights to which I could soar.

Thus, I learned I could overcome anything that came my way. My mom’s love during my college years has always stuck with me. It was what opened the door toward my destiny.

~Jonathan Doll

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