Tough Love Meets Mushy Mom

At heart, I’m a soft, mushy mom. I like buying gifts, spoiling my grown children and being part of their lives. But out of necessity, I have been practicing tough love with my 32-year-old son for years. He’s a meth addict who started using in his teens and turned our lives upside down for ten years. He eventually spent time in jail and then came out clean and sober and stayed clean for seven years. Unfortunately, he relapsed 10 months ago. Since the relapse, he has lost his job, his home, his possessions, and his marriage. My husband and I have worked hard to detach. We were enmeshed in the drama for years before his stretch of sobriety and we did not want to do it again. So, in an effort to live our lives and not be enmeshed in the drama of his relapse, my husband and I went on a trip to Paris in spite of the fact that our son was homeless, in the winter, in Kansas City. He was refusing rehab and drama was at an all-time high. We were tired of it all and wanted to get away. The trip was wonderful, everything we wanted it to be, even though my son called and begged and complained about his situation frequently. But we could say, we are half a world away, we can’t help you. The trip renewed us and made us happy!  We loved it so much we considered moving to Paris permanently. But a grandbaby coming this summer from our other son made us decide it wasn’t an option. It couldn’t last forever.

So, after ten lovely days, we had to come home. The long 20-hour international trip was punctuated by texts and calls from our son. “I’m hungry, my tire is flat, I’m cold…” he had been stranded in a parking lot for 4 days. He wanted us to rescue him as soon as our plane landed. We refused. We were exhausted, and we knew from experience that it would not be quick or easy. He was angry with us, we were feeling the full brunt of being home and back in the drama of being parents to an addict. Welcome home…

Somehow, the next day before we got up and moving, he got his tire fixed. We had planned to try and help him that day, but patience is not a strong suit for an addict. In the afternoon he showed up at our house. We told him he could shower, and we’d feed him a meal (we had done this several times over the last few months). He looked horrible: emaciated, dirty, hair a mess and he sounded psychotic and crazy. It was heartbreaking. He showered and left in the evening only to show up the next morning sleeping in his car in our driveway. The weather had turned excruciatingly cold and we were very worried about him freezing in his car over the next few days. So, we told him to come in and talk to us about what he was going to do while it was so cold. But as we tried to have a discussion with him, he kept nodding off. He couldn’t stay awake. In exasperation and without really thinking about it, I snapped, “Go downstairs and sleep, you should not be driving like this.” He fell on the bed fully clothed and he slept for 20 hours. When he woke up, he seemed barely coherent and hardly awake. I pumped him full of food and Gatorade and told him to go back to sleep. This went on for 5 days. He literally slept 20 hours a day only waking up to go to the bathroom and eat and drink.

This is where mushy mom comes in. It felt good to know he was safe. It felt good to know he was warm and eating. It was good to know he wasn’t using drugs.  It felt good to watch his face plump up and color return. If felt good to have him talk about how much he missed my cooking, it felt good the first time I saw his old smile. My mushy mom side was happy. While he slept my husband and I saw family and friends, told them about our trip and gave everyone souvenirs, all the while without worrying that my son was freezing to death in a parking lot somewhere. It was such a relief.

So, my husband and I talked. We acknowledged that he’d been polite and respectful when he was awake. He wasn’t using – he hadn’t left the house. I think tough love set the stage for his attitude. He knows we will put him out if uses. If he is violent or uncooperative, he knows we will call the police. We’ve done these things before. I also think the last ten months have burned the rage and anger out of him. I think he’s sad and defeated and scared.

I think our vacation set the stage for us too. We were refreshed and relaxed. We had been removed from it all for long enough to recharge. We had the energy to consider taking on the daunting challenge of helping him get sober. We no longer felt overwhelmed, defeated and angry. We had taken the time we needed for ourselves, and we had something to give again.

So, we decided to give him two weeks to detox and then discuss the next step. He’s beginning to sleep less. I know it’s going to get harder as he’s awake and disrupting my quiet routines. I’m weighing how to offer him a chance to start over with my need to maintain boundaries. I’m working to figure out how to make his recovery his own, when I know, from experience, that he won’t do it the way I think he should. But he has been successful before.

We are certain that his drug use stems from self-medicating mental health problems. I know one requirement for staying here will be agreeing to psychiatric help. He will also have to find a job and begin financial counseling to figure out how to repay his debts and manage money. He must be respectful and keep our house clean and orderly. He’s not a child, I won’t clean up after him. He can’t spend nights out or bring strangers home. These will be non-negotiable. But I will also have to acknowledge that he’s an adult and not the teenager who once lived here. I will have to allow him autonomy and the opportunity to make mistakes.

It will be tough. His work ethic is very different from mine. This will be a sticking point. He will think he’s working hard at something and I will think he’s not working hard enough. He doesn’t like to be alone and I’m sure he’ll end up in a dating situation long before I think he should. But, I know I can’t run his life, but I also know he can’t run mine. I’m not sure exactly sure how we will work it all out. But I know right now, he’s trying and he’s sober. So, we will take it one day at a time. My husband and I will decide together how to proceed. I’ll enjoy each sober day. I’ve seen him smile, we’ve binge-watched movies together, we’ve walked the dogs, I’ve heard him whistle while he works and sing to his dog. He asked if we could make chocolate chip cookies together tomorrow…. I’ll take it.

So, I fell into this by accident when my mushy-soft-mom-side collided with my tough-love-side, but I want to be able to say I gave it a chance. Surprisingly, I’ve felt much more joy than stress while having him home, which is unexpected. He seems to want this to work as much we do, which is good because I will not work harder at his sobriety than he does.

So, here’s to second chances and staying strong while acknowledging my mushy soft side.

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