Category Archives: addiction

My Younger Self

My thirty-year-old self would be horrified by my current mental state. She would have wondered about my parenting skills, and she would have totally judged me. Not out loud mind you, but with a look of compassion, pity and a little superiority.  My younger self thought she had the world figured out. She would never have believed she’d find herself in the position I am in today.

I am currently happily cleaning and prepping our vacation rental for a visit from my adult son. He will be bringing a girl, one he’s not married to. I can hear myself from twenty years ago – gasp – they aren’t married? What is wrong with you?

They will stay over the weekend and probably eat every bit of the junk food I am stocking the cabin with. Sugary cereal, cookies, sour candies, oatmeal cream pies. When my son was young his sweets were strictly limited, and I would never had imagined one day submitting to his cravings.

To further shock my younger self, I will be picking his girlfriend up to transport her for this weekend, because, well, of course he doesn’t have a license or a car. Oh, and by the way, I’m picking her up from jail. At this point my thirty-year-old mom-brain would have exploded.

But, you see, my son is ninety days sober, his girlfriend is at sixty days. They were cohorts when they were both abusing drugs, a relationship forged in hardship. They spiraled out of control together. He ended up in sober living. She ended up in jail, where she has been for the last two months. When he asked me to pick her up, I had a long internal dialogue about enabling and codependency. I have those conversations a lot these days.

However, the way he approached me was this. “Mom, I can find someone else to pick her up, but our mutual friends are not sober, and I don’t want to interact with them. Would you go with me to pick her up?” I told him I’d have to think about it and he agreed to wait for my answer. (A good sign. He was not demanding or pushing.)

After some discussion, my husband and I agreed that I should do it. When I told him, my son’s face lit up like a kid’s on Christmas morning, it told me how surprised he was that we said ‘yes’. We’ve been very insistent about boundaries during his sobriety, so I think he had been expecting a ‘no’.

He’s heard ‘no’ a lot from us lately, and he’s taken it well. So, it was nice to say ‘yes’, and it’s because he’s been doing his part. He’s working a program in sober living. He’s leading NA meetings and working a job. He’s also encouraged and supported his girlfriend in her sobriety.

It’s probably what helped their relationship go to a deeper level. During their daily phone calls, they began imagining a future where they were both sober. So, although my son knows I think it’s too soon in his recovery for a relationship, a month ago he informed me that he was in love.

 We have teased each other about our difference of opinion, me reminding him how often relationships have been his downfall. Him hassling me about ‘mothering’ him; a favorite family catch phrase that kindly reminds me to mind my own business. So, I have accepted his new love interest, after all he is an adult, and I will meet her when I pick her up from prison. (I’m working hard to shut-up the voice of my younger, judgmental self who would be mortified.)

Their plans once she is released are to spend the weekend together and then get her into a sober house. When my son told me the location of the prison, I realized that we would be close to our vacation rental when we picked her up. I asked if they would like to stay there instead of using his hard-earned money for a hotel. They both loved the idea, and I was pleased that they would be far from old friends and familiar triggers. (I know its ‘mothering,’ but no one called me on it this time.)

So here I am, smiling as I neaten the towels, stock the fridge, and arrange their favorite snacks on the counter. I could handle this so many other ways. Ways my younger self would have demanded. I could refuse to accept them as a couple, or I could agonize about where this will go, or if they are good for each other. But when has worry ever solved my problems? So, I’m going to put all my worries about the future aside for a weekend.

I will enjoy the simple pleasure of doing something nice for my son. I will give him and his girlfriend a special weekend to remember – a sober weekend. I won’t let worries about next week, or next month, or next year intrude on the joy. Even as I type this, I can feel the fears niggle at the base of my brain, but I cannot control him or his future. If nagging, lecturing, or giving advice would have solved his problems, we wouldn’t be here now. So I will push away those little jabs of worry and take pleasure in the moment.

I will delight in being a mom and getting to spoil my son. I will savor his smiles and laughter. Being able to do something kind for my sober son is an opportunity that I won’t pass up.

I’ve thought about it and I don’t believe I’m enabling. I’m loving. It can be hard to separate the two when you’ve loved an addict for years. But, this wasn’t something he demanded or manipulated me into. He’s not taking something from me. It’s a gift I freely offered.

Getting to prepare a welcoming environment for my son and his friend feels lovely. This weekend I’m celebrating. My son is coming to visit and I’m meeting his girlfriend. How normal it feels. I’ll take it, even though my thirty-year-old self would never understand.

SUFFERING

I know about suffering. As the mother of an addict, I’ve lain awake on a cold winter night knowing my son was homeless. I’ve seen him skeletal and pockmarked from Meth but unwilling to stop or seek help. I’ve listened to my phone ring and ring, unwilling to answer it because of the abuse and anger I knew I’d receive. I knew suffering before that. My parents were killed in an accident with a drunk driver when I was nineteen years old. I lost years to that grief.After my parent’s death, I desperately wanted to have a baby, because I had lost my family. My brother and sister were minors and sent to live with family members far from me. I was young (19) but married, and that was my plan to handle my grief. When I tried to get pregnant, I found I was infertile. Eventually, we adopted a child and that child grew up to be an addict. It felt like life was completely unfair. How could one person have such a tortured life?When I began counseling to deal with my son’s addiction, I was told to accept that I could not control another person, to accept that I could not save my son. I had to realize that it was something he must do for himself. I was also told to accept the fact that he could die. It was necessary to accept this fact because otherwise, I would spend the rest of my life held hostage by this fear. Every time he needed me to enable him, he could call up my greatest fear and I would give in to his demands.Having already lost my parents, accepting that I might lose my son was brutal. Life just continued to run me over. Why should I have so much suffering?To get on with life and step out of feeling like a victim, I had to accept that life is painful and totally unfair. It never feels fair to have to endure hardship. But nothing ever truly feels like hardship until we endure it ourselves. Maybe that’s why life feels so unfair, we are never as fully aware of another’s suffering as we are our own.Accepting that life is painful for everyone was important to my giving up the feeling that I was unfairly afflicted. Everyone has pain in their lives.Then I found the saying “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” I realized that I chose to deal with the pain I experience would determine how much I suffered.When I fought against the truth and demanded that life should be different, I suffered much more than when I accepted my life – no longer bemoaning my fate but looking hard truths squarely in the eye and figuring out how to deal with them. This was the first step in my recovery from suffering.Once I quit thinking life should be different, I could focus on handling my life exactly as it was. I was unwilling to be a victim of my own life. As long as was fighting reality and demanding that it shouldn’t be this way, I was not dealing with my life.Facing it fully and truthfully was essential. My son was an addict and I was the mother of an addict and we both would be for the rest of our lives. It was imperative that I learn to live with this fact. After I accepted this, I could begin to gather the tools I needed to live this life. 12-step programs, co-dependence education, detachment, support groups, a whole library of books as well as therapy, and antidepressants. These things all became part of my acceptance of my life and my recovery.I have learned to deal with the horrible, drama-filled days when my son is using and not let it destroy me and I have learned to enjoy his cheeky personality when he is sober, without being derailed by the fear that it won’t last.One day at a time is much more than a catchy phrase, it’s essential. Letting go of the hurts from my past, no longer imagining all that might go wrong in the future, and just dealing with the moment. My relationship with my son is directly related to his sobriety and will probably continue to be so, but my happiness with MY life is not tied to his sobriety. We are separate people, and I will not tie my outcomes in my life to his life decisions.So, I’ve experienced pain and suffering, but I am trying to reduce the amount of suffering I must endure. As I’ve emerged from the darkness of my suffering, I’ve begun to realize how much pain and suffering there is in the world, and that it was self-indulgent to think my suffering was worse than anyone else’s.In just the last few months I have a friend whose eight-year-old grandson is dying of cancer. Doctors have given them no hope and he has only months to live. Four weeks ago my sixteen-year-old nephew had a horrific car wreck and is in an unresponsive coma, with his family praying for a miracle. When I thought that was enough to deal with, another friend has just discovered a mass on her ten-year-old daughter’s kidney. She will require surgery, radiation and her prognosis is uncertain. There is so much pain in the world and life is unfair. We can’t escape this truth.I used to believe every problem should have a solution and every hardship could be overcome. I had been taught that positive thinking is the solution to everything. If things weren’t improving, then I wasn’t being positive enough. This created a horrible cognitive dissonance because my brain understood how difficult my life had been, but my heart refuses to acknowledge that I couldn’t control it. But denying the truth didn’t create positive outcomes, it just denied me the chance to face the difficulty head-on. Accepting hard truths was the only way to avoid suffering and deal with my problems realistically.Finding joy in the midst of my pain was the only way to ensure that I found joy in my life because there is always pain and the possibility of pain. But with acceptance of truth and acknowledgment that pain is a part of life, I can reduce my suffering. No longer fighting reality, but accepting it, was the greatest gift I ever gave myself.I am the mother of an addict, and I always will be, but I am also a grandmother, an artist, a writer, a wife, a cook, and a friend and I find joy in those things, even in the midst of difficulty. Living fully in each moment, being honest with myself, I find I have more happy moments than painful ones. The painful ones pass quickly if I don’t ruminate and argue with the universe about whether I deserve it or not. I try to face it head-on, deal with it as best I can, and look for the next moment of joy.Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.

Peace on Earth

Christmas lights wink on the periphery of my vision and stockings hang above the glowing fireplace. At my feet a blonde and a black pit bull snore gently while soaking up the heat from the fire. They are ying and yang, dark and light, gentle and wild. I never wanted them, never asked for them, but here they are keeping me company as I write my grocery list for Christmas dinner. The Pit bulls were rescued from my son when he relapsed on Meth three years ago. They joined my ancient beagle as part of the family and have become my constant, loyal companions. They add joy.

We sit in front of the fireplace as I plan… it’s gluten free and dairy free for my millennial son and his wife, finger foods for the grandson, cherry pie for my AS and mincemeat for my husband. It’s a lovely morning, peaceful and happy. This Christmas I may actually have ‘peace on earth’, unlike last year.

 Then my son was living on the streets, buried deep in addiction. To finance his habit he stole his Aunt’s car a few days before Christmas, throwing the family into disarray. We were already tangled up with the stress of his addiction and his Aunt’s mental illness. The crisis produced when those two things overlapped was mind-blowing…there was little peace to be found.

On Christmas day the family, minus the two feuding members, tried to come together and have a Christmas celebration; oohing and cooing over our newest member, our six-month-old grandson. We cooked a turkey and pies. The house was filled with pungent aromas, an assortment of sweets, presents under twinkling lights and a baby’s babbles. It should have been perfect. But our attempt at a happy family Christmas fell short. The day was interspersed with phone calls from our two angry, irrational  family members, trying to pull the rest of the us into the fray.

I, my husband and my youngest son chose to detach from the melee.  We turned off our phones to focus on our day together. However, it is difficult for my mother-in-law to detach, she continued answering her phone, and was pulled inexorably into the dispute. When my youngest son took pity and stepped in to answer her phone to try and extricate her from the argument, he was given a vicious tongue lashing by his fifty-year-old Aunt.  This left him brooding and mumbling curse words under his breath while his grandmother became sullen and quiet. The day was far from peaceful.

We did eventually convince my MIL to turn off her phone and we had the veneer of a normal Christmas. My son, his wife and new baby deserved all the joy and happiness of baby’s first Christmas. I found moments of delight in the day, thanks to a skill necessary to the mother of an addict. I have worked to learn to lock up my worries, put them in a box in my head and separate them from my life. It is a practice my counselor suggested, the stockpiling of my worry. Once a day I allow myself thirty minutes of uninterrupted worry-time. I can focus completely on my troubles. Then I must put them away until the next day. This may sound silly, but it works very well for me. If I start to worry, I tell myself that I can worry at the ‘designated worry time.’ It got me through last Christmas.

After the fiasco of the holidays my son spent another ten months declaring that he’d die before he’d go back into any program.  We responded with our boundary that he could not come home. Every time he begged, we sent him phone numbers for organizations that could help him and asked him to take responsibility for himself.  

Finally, after sleeping in garages and under porches, freezing on the streets, experimenting with heroin, having all of his possessions stolen, developing an infection and losing his phone, he agreed to go to sober living. That was thirty days ago.

That makes this holiday the first in several years that he will be sober (I hope, it’s only nine days away). That makes me happy, but not naive. If he makes it till Christmas, this year will still be far from a picture perfect holiday. My two sons haven’t been speaking, the last relapse really hurt my NAS. My AS and his Aunt haven’t spoken since he stole her car last Christmas. My father-in-law has dementia and has been getting increasingly confrontational as the disease progresses. My side of the family has become very rude about politics this year, and of course there’s Covid. So, yeah, it’s all very complicated.

Yet, still I feel peaceful.

The peace comes from giving up the hope for a ‘Norman Rockwell’ Christmas. You know, the large, cheerful family bantering around the steaming, turkey-ladened table with smiles from ear to ear.  The epitome of what Christmas SHOULD be.  

Don’t fall for it. There is no certain way Christmas SHOULD be. Yes, traditions and memories are wonderful, but not if they cause stress in a family already burdened by addiction and/or mental illness. So, I have made adjustments to my expectations to allow me to feel peaceful in spite of this funky, crazy year.

Fortunately, Covid has made it easy to limit the size of my family Christmas, so that’s a blessing with all the Political drama. For the small group that is coming, I’ve been up-front about who will be here. I’ve given everyone permission to come when they are comfortable. So, they can come and go as they please. If someone would like to come a different day so they don’t have to interact with the whole family, that’s okay. If they can’t afford presents, that’s okay too. If they become uncomfortable and fear they will begin a squabble or create drama I’ve made it clear they can leave, with no judgement. I’ll even pay for Uber if they need a ride. Everyone is permitted to do what they need to keep the day conflict free and avoid their own anxieties.

I’m working with what I have; and that is a family full of individuals who are unique and imperfect – but trying. I will allow Christmas to unfold unscripted and devoid of all “shoulds.” I plan to enjoy every minute of it. Peace came from giving up my need to control other people or even understand their actions. I have my boundaries- No Drama! – and other than that I am just ready to love my family, exactly where they are in spite of, or maybe because of, their flaws and eccentricities (that’s just a kind way to say we are all a little messed up).

Love is blind…  not to stepping over my boundaries, I will definitely call you out on that …but love is blind to the shortcomings and weaknesses of the people I love. Here’s to Christmas, whatever it ends up looking like.

Peace on Earth and Merry Christmas to all.

And So It Continues….

One month ago I wrote about how going “No Contact” with my addict son was helping me regain my sanity. I was finding normalacy again without the daily drama and crisis that were forced upon us by his life style. I foolishly thought that we hadn’t heard from our son because we were doing such a good job of holding our boundaries.

I was wrong.

It turns out, he had just found a way to survive without us. It was something illegal and I don’t know exactly what it was, but he was making a lot of money. It abruptly ended one week after I wrote that piece.

He got beaten up, had all his possessions and money stolen and landed on our doorstep. We cleaned him up, fed him a meal and deposited him on the street corner of his choice. We told him he could not move into our house and he would have to figure out what to do now that his gravey train had ended.

Our period of “No Contact” was over. After that day the phone calls started. Even though I have seventeen of his phone numbers blocked, he found new ones and called and texted multiple times a day with one crisis after another.

We refused to let him come home. He kept calling, kept telling us how we were letting him down and that it was our fault he was homeless and on the streets. He called us names, told us horrible stories of freezing, starving, hiding in garages… He kept saying we had completely screwed him over because we wouldn’t rescue him.

Every time he called we reminded him of the local Sober Living that he could go to. He told us at least 20 times that he would die first. I believe his exact words were, “I’d freeze to death under a bridge before I’ll go there.”

We said, “It’s your choice” and told him we were sorry that was the decision he was making and that we loved him. We only answered about one in three calls and texts. We never just told him no, we always offered him an alternative choice:

You can’t come here, but we can take you to the Sober House.

No, I can’t send you money for food, but I can send you the address of a food bank.

No, I won’t send you money for a room because your cold, but go to the nearest salvation army, pick out a coat and call me, I’ll pay them over the phone.

He turned down every offer. Our offers always required him to make some effort towards the solution. We knew we could not rescue him.

My husband and I cried, cussed and worked to support each other through this abrupt reversal of fortune. It threw us right back into the drama that we had been so thankful to leave behind. But we never gave in. We lovingly held on to our boundaries of no money, no rides, and no coming home – over and over and over again. He was incredibly persistent and manipulative and rude.

But, finally on Saturday he texted me:

“Mom, if you’ll let me come home and take a shower, wash my clothes and feed me a meal you can take me to the Sober House.”

I was shocked, after all the refusals. My husband and I talked and we agreed to this. I know my son is very concerned about appearing dirty and unkempt. I knew he would probably freeze before he’d show up in public dirty and dishelved. I knew why he needed to come home before he went to the Sober House. So we agreed. But told each other that we couldn’t let him manipulate us into anything else, if we allowed him to come home for this.  We promised to hold each other accountable.

While he was waiting for my husband to pick him up, he began to text me about not trusting us, because once we had tried to get him committed. I assured him that we weren’t going to try to do anything to trick him, that we were happy he was going to the Sober House. But I also told him that he couldn’t trick us either. I told him:

“No arguing in this house. No passive aggressive bending the rules. You must wear a mask the whole time you are home. You must wear it correctly, covering your nose and mouth, since you have not been social distancing. There will be no arguing in this house or you will leave. You also cannot begin to negotiate for a new plan once you get here. The deal is you clean up, get fed and then we take you to the Sober House.”

He agreed to everything and to our complete surprise he did exactly as we asked.

No matter how awful he had been, it felt good to get him cleaned up, well fed, dressed warmly and rested up. It did my mother’s heart good.

We found out that he couldn’t check in till the next day, so he got a good night’s sleep too and then the next day, we deposited him at the Sober House without a fight – no whining, arguing or begging. It was such a huge relief.

When I happily told a family member what had happened, she said, “Well, I hope he finally figures things out. He needs to get his life together.”

I was sad that was her response. Because I was very happy -you see, we’ve learned not to think that far ahead. One day at a time. It was the best possible outcome for our weekend. He took a positive step and he is safe and warm. That’s enough for me to be ecstatic.

So to any moms struggling out there, I say, “Stay strong. Hold your boundaries with love and celebrate every small step in the right direction.”

NO CONTACT

Three months ago I had a sadly familiar phone call with my son.

“Mom, I need a ride. Send me money for Uber.”

“Why do you need a ride?”

“It’s dangerous here. This is a f***ing emergency.”

“Dad and I offered to pay for Sober Living last week. You refused.”

“Mom, I’m not playing around. I need this, don’t mess with me,” his voice crescendos, angry and afraid as he yells into the phone. This is where I usually cave-in…

“No.” I say without as much strength as I’d like. Then, after a pause, “You got yourself into this, figure out how to get yourself out.”

“Mom…”

“I gave you an answer.”

“Listen, I’m serious.”

“I am too.”

“Mom, don’t screw with me. You have to help me.”

There was another long pause as I worked to keep myself centered and do what I had promised myself a hundred times to do.

 “You will have to figure this out,” I finally said.  That is a sentence my therapist had been drilling into my head for two years. I’d been working on giving his problems back to him when he tried to give them to me.

He hung up on me and then called my husband to try his luck with him. This phone call, one of hundreds, was finally the one that caused my husband and I to decide to go ‘no contact’ with our son. It’s a move we had been contemplating for a while. The phone call wasn’t particularly abusive, it was just the frequency of the calls and his unwillingness to accept any offers of real help that were wearing on us. We were tired of being forced into daily crisis management of problems that we did not create.

It’s been a long road for us to get here, we had to truly believed that we needed to stop helping him in order for this to happen. Rescuing him from one crisis after another was not correcting the source of his problems – addiction. We had helped him so often that we finally knew in our hearts that he needed much more than a break, a bill paid, his car fixed, a ride, or a meal. We finally knew that his need to be rescued was never going to end.  We decided on ‘no contact’ because the constant effort to say ‘no’ and be argued with about it for hours on end was exhausting. To stop helping him, we needed to stop hearing him beg, plead, threaten and harass us for help. Several times he had even stooped to threatening suicide. The days were long and depressing when he called relentlessly.

We realized that we didn’t need to hear his stories. Whether he was lying or telling the truth didn’t matter. Whether he was sober or not didn’t matter. Even his safety didn’t matter, because everytime we rescued him from a horrid situation, he just got into another one. Until he was ready to leave this life it wouldn’t change. Every time we rescued him, we just enabled him to ignore his real problem.

               ‘No contact’ is our last resort. I don’t know if it will save him, but it just may save us.

Once the calls stopped life changed. My husband and I found new things to talk about, besides our addicted son – new recipes, new movies, places we want to visit after Covid. We instituted a nightly “Happy Hour” – after my husband leaves his home office at 5:00, we spend an hour outside on the patio, throwing a tennis ball for the dogs and talking about “happy” stuff. Wine, cocktails or a favorite snack are often involved. Sometimes a neighbor will join us.

I stopped reading books about addiction. I have hundreds in my library. I finally decided to pick up a novel for the first time in years. Reading it was lovely.

I joined a Facebook group about painting and one for cooking and another to get involved in the upcoming election. I found new things to keep my brain busy.

The last thing to go was my writing. I always thought that ‘at least’ I would be able to help other people by writing about what I have gone through. I wanted the suffering to have meaning and to help others. It was important, I felt, to tell parents not to feel guilty or blame themselves for their child’s addiction. But it pulled me into a sad place and honestly kept me feeling like a victim. I will write the book one day, after I’ve healed emotionally. But right now, I’m trying to reclaim my life.

I now focus on living each day fully. No thoughts about the past, no worries about the future. I get outside in nature, play with my dogs, swim, paddleboard, practice yoga, cook and visit my grandson. I still write, but I’ve been writing fiction, which is really fun.

Happily, my husband and I have discovered that we still truly enjoy each other’s company. Our bond wasn’t just forged in crisis management. We discovered that we still have great fun teasing each other, now that we aren’t walking on eggshells. Before we were always working to protect each other from the latest tragedy, trying to keep from revealing the panic and sadness. We had forgotten how it felt to laugh together and have fun. Our home is no longer a bomb shelter where we huddle to survive the latest attack. It is bright and busy and full of teasing, good food and laughter.

There are moments where I think I should feel guilty for going on with my life, that I must be horrible for not knowing where my son is or how he is caring for himself. I feel guilty for not suffering right along with him. In this judgmental narrative, wanting a life, makes me selfish and an unfit mother. But my relationship with my son cannot be judged by normal parent-child parameters. Our relationship is twisted by a cruel toxicity that turns my love into a instrument of manipulation.

So, I have decided to go ‘no contact’ with guillt as well. When my mind begins to flirt with feelings of shame, I push them away and remind myself that I have analyzed and argued with myself for years. My guilt never improved my son’s situation or my own. After much practice, I can stop those thoughts. Distraction, relaxation, exercises – I’ll use any tool necessary to move my thoughts to a healthier place.  And it’s easier without daily contact. Without the onslaught of blame and harassment, once the unrelenting voice of addiction was quieted, we can think rationally.

Calmness and peace feel amazing.  I’m shocked that I can fall asleep easily at night and I don’t wake up in a panic in the mornings. I’m astonished that the ding of a text message doesn’t cause an anxiety attack anymore.

And, yes, I can still love my son while not being in contact with him. I still want the best for him, pray he finds his way and will be the first one to step-up the moment he wants treatment, or wants a relationship that is not toxic. If one day we can again coexist peacefully, I’ll be incredibly happy. But until then, “no contact” has allowed me to reclaim my life.

You’re Killing Me.

I wake up thinking about my son. As I’m floating up, out of deep sleep into the twilight of wakefulness, I feel a moment of panic, like when you lose a toddler in a store. It’s visceral, I feel it in my chest and my gut – a nebulous awareness that he’s not safe.

Thoughts of him cross my mind at least once every day and with it the stab of anxiety. I’m trying to live an emotionally healthy life, despite his choices, but he and his addiction are slowly trying to kill me.

He’s angry at the world – homeless, jobless, no car, broke – and he believes it’s everyone’s fault but his own. He left the sober house, that we were paying for, and missed his intake date when he could have returned.

After refusing to go back to the sober house, he calls daily wanting food, a hotel room, money and to complain about our neglect.  We told him that he must figure his situation out, since he chose it. But that doesn’t stop his calls and texts. We tried blocking his phone number, but at the current count he has seventeen, and just keeps adding new ones – whatever it takes to make sure we are aware of how much pain our neglect has caused. His resentment is malignant.

His greatest scorn is reserved for me. I’m the mother who doesn’t love him enough to take his calls. Somehow his dad gets a pass, I guess men aren’t supposed to be as loving and forgiving as moms. He also has serious issues with women. He’s been twisted in knots by girlfriends, and his ex-wife ‘abandoned’ him. There are also issues with his birth mother because she ‘didn’t want him’.

Although we’ve had him since he was four weeks old, he resents being adopted, but I guess he’s not alone. Studies show that adoptees are overrepresented among those with Substance Abuse disorder.

So, to say he has issues with women is an understatement.  Given that, it’s not surprising that when he talks to me his anger rachets up several notches.  Today he called and I answered because I’m hoping to convince him to return to the sober house again.

I’ve been listening to him complaints about being homeless for twenty minutes, when I interrupt, “Welcome House gives you food, a bed, wi-fi, meetings, a bus pass, a job – everything you need.”

“You’re obsessed with Welcome House.”

“I’m obsessed with getting you to a safe place where you don’t have to be miserable.”  

“Buying me a car, co-signing on an apartment, giving me a loan or letting me move home would do the same thing.”

We’ve done all these things before, too many times. The results have been disastrous. “That’s not an option, but we will pay for Welcome House.”

“I’m NEVER going back to Welcome House because YOU want me to.”

“So, you’ll destroy yourself, just to hurt me?” Can he make it any harder?

“Yes!” He’s adamant and petulant, but quickly switches to the victim. “What kind of mother won’t answer her son’s calls.”

“If you had a friend who called you every day asking for money, or attacking you, you’d stop taking the calls too. “

My thirty-three-year-old son goes silent. After a few moments he begins to sob. “I would never let my child be homeless or hungry. Never!”

Your killing me son. No matter how angry and abusive he gets I can’t stop my mother’s heart from reacting.

“That’s why we want you to go to Welcome House. You’d be safe and fed, have a place to sleep and the support you need. We want you there because we want you to be safe and we love you.” I stress the last three words, trying to get through to him.

I hear a sob, then another, then…Silence…

“Son, are you there?”

 He’s hung up. 

Buying him meals and hotel rooms, just makes it easier to stay on the streets. I can’t help with that, and I won’t spend hours every day arguing about it. But, he’s hurting, so, I try to call him back, but he won’t answer.

My mind swirls in circles, worry, fear, frustration, anger… My stomach and head join the party and I feel sick. My brain won’t be quiet.

I argue with myself: He creates impossible situations – by his choices, then blames us.

Logic responds: They are his choices. He has free will.

He refuses real help, then tells us we don’t love him when we won’t rescue him.

 You can’t enable him. It will only prolong the suffering.

How can I convince him I love him?coping

He may die if he keeps this up…

You can’t control him, so yes, he may die.

How can I live with myself if he dies?

The same way anyone handles death, it will hurt, but you can’t protect him from himself.

It’s so hard and I’m so tired of it.

Detach with love.

But it’s a disease.

Addiction is not a choice, but recovery is.

But I want to help him!

He must learn to manage his disease. Help him when he chooses recovery.

He needs support.

You can’t force him, you’ve tried, so many times. He’s an adult.

It’s killing me.

Take care of yourself. You can only control you.

It is so hard.

Do what you can live with.

I can’t live with this torture every day.

If nothing changes, nothing changes. You can’t keep rescuing.

It hurts to think about it.

Change your thoughts. You are giving him freedom to find his way.

It’s really tough

You’re stronger than you think.

I need to stop thinking about it.

Detach. Stop ruminating, do something constructive.

I’ll walk the dogs, weed the flowers, start dinner.

You’ll be okay.

I’ll be okay.

OXYGEN MASK

“Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.”

This is excellent self care advice, but for parents of addicts it’s an oversimplification. If your child has SUD and especially if it’s combined or other mental illness this advice can feel impossible. I believe in self-care, but it can be very hard to accomplish.

I think of it like this. The airplane is flying along when suddenly there is turbulence and the flight gets rough. The masks drop down and you reach to put yours on before you try to help your child. Normally, you would place your mask on yourself and then reach over and place your child’s mask on them. Everyone is safe and you both get the oxygen you need. Care for yourself first, then care for the other person.

However, if you child suffers from SUD it’s never that easy. Imagine this instead.

The flight gets bumpy and your addicted child immediately begins to act out, yelling and panicking as the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. You reach for your mask as you simultaneously try to calm them down. They flail and scream knocking the masks around and your mask is swinging wildly, making it difficult to grab. As you work to get your mask with one hand and push your child’s flapping arms out of the way the other, they begin to cuss at you.

“Don’t touch me, why aren’t you helping me? Give me my mask!”

You try to explain that you are attempting to get your mask on, then you will help them with theirs, to no avail. The thrashing and panic continues as you work desperately to reach your mask. You finally seize it and try to place it on your face only to have your child knock it from your hands in their erratic grasping.

You reach for it again, but you are getting short of breath and it’s getting harder to fight for that mask. Your child seems unaffected by the lack of air, drama and chaos they are causing, but you are overwhelmed and afraid you both may die if you don’t get the damn mask.

You tell your child they must calm down, and let you get masks on you both and they argue with you about your ‘demands.’

“How dare you tell me what to do, you don’t understand me”. They draw more of your energy and further exhaust you as they argue about how you are handling the crisis.

With a single minded determination, you ignore the tirade and push them away so you can reach your mask.

“How can you be so heartless?” they yell, “You know I need your help! How can you push me away?”

 It hurts to have them attack you when you’re only trying to help you both, but you don’t have time to deal with the hurt or even acknowledge it. As they rant you make one last grab for the mask. Your fingers wrap around it and quickly you pull the elastic over your head. You feel the fresh air filling your lungs and for just a moment your body relaxes as oxygen renews you.

Then to your surprise your child, suddenly aware of the life saving mask, tries to pull the mask off of you instead of reaching for their own. You work to protect yourself, and reach for their mask, hoping to get them the air they need, but they push your hands away. In their irrational state they think your are trying to take something that is theirs. They lunge for it and in their anxiety and frustration, they rip the mask from the ceiling and pull the tube loose. Their mask is no longer functional.

Their eyes go wide with realization and they start pulling and fighting for your mask again.

You realize that someone is going to suffer, maybe die. Will it be you or them? You want them to calm down, you want help, you want it to stop, you want this to be easier, you wish you had never gotten on this flight.

You wish it was a movie, where something magical happens and at the last minute someone comes along and saves you both. This isn’t a movie and the flight may last years.

Yeah…

Put the oxygen mask on yourself first.

I try not to beat myself up because it feels so hard to care for myself, because loving an addict is incredibly complicated and simple answers have a way of becoming very convoluted when addiction is involved.

It’s not simple and it’s not easy. I need help and support. I will go to a meeting, see a therapist, take an antidepressant, detach, block phone numbers, go no contact for a while.  I will do what I need to. Self-care isn’t just scented candles and long walks. Sometimes it’s protecting myself and preserving my very survival and my mental health.

It’s gonna be a long flight.

CHASING HAPPINESS

I’ve been chasing happiness for the last few years. It’s been an elusive creature. I sneak up on it and think I have a good hold on it, and then it slips through my fingers. It’s not that I’ve been in the depths of depression for two years, but I’ve worked hard for every shred of happiness I’ve found. I lost my grip on happiness when my son relapsed two years ago. I tried hard to hold onto it, in spite of his drug use, homelessness, angry violent outbursts, and meth-induced psychosis.

I crept up on moments of happiness by focusing on the positive things in my life, instead of his addiction. I did a twelve-step program and saw a therapist. I read scores of books on codependence and drug addiction and detachment. I worked on detachment a lot. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary for my sanity.

Detachment was really hard. When he was using my son would call incessantly. When I stopped answering he would call from a new number. When I quit answering that he would show up at my house. When I said “no” to him in person he would get aggressive and angry. I called the police on my own son and I finally got a restraining order.

I continued to paint, cook, do yoga, swim and write while all this was happening, but no matter how hard I tried, the drama was always in the back of my mind. I found happiness at times, but it was contingent happiness. It required a guardedness a determination to not feel sorry for myself or my situation. It was happiness derived from effort.

My first grandson was born and I was able to completely enjoy that time because of the restraining order, although I knew my son was homeless and probably on a crime spree, I pushed it aside and immersed myself in being a grandmother.

I had taken in his two dogs when he relapsed and I found great joy in training and working with them. I started painting with watercolor and found I enjoyed the challenge. I discovered writing competitions. I really enjoy those, and I’ve done well in them.

I’ve been feeling pretty pleased with myself for not letting his addiction destroy me. Glad I was getting on with my life. I was convinced I would be just fine if he never got sober. And just like so many other moms have discovered, it seems when you finally let go and realize that their sobriety is up to them, the impossible happened.

My son got arrested, which forced him into sobriety. When he was released, to my surprise he agreed to go to a sober living facility. He has currently been sober for 30 days and is working on 90 meetings in 90 days. He has a job and just picked up a second job.

When he first went to Sober Living I was very skeptical and guarded. He has always complained about 12 step programs. So I thought he was just taking advantage of a warm bed and three squares a day. But he surprised me. He has followed every rule and has completely embraced working the program.

After 30 days of sobriety, I agreed to see him again. I am amazed at his attitude and the effort he is putting into working the program. He’s no longer angry and aggressive or rude and entitled. He’s a wonderful person to be around again.

After spending time with him last week an amazing thing happened. Happiness snuck up on me. I wasn’t working at it, or trying, I just realized one day that was happy in a deeply significant way. At first, I had a really strange reaction to it. I got angry. I don’t want my happiness to be tied up in his sobriety. I don’t want to dependent on him to feel deep fulfilling joy. But then I realized that really, as long we love people our happiness will be tied up in their health and well being. That can just be extra hard when the person we love is an addict.

For now, I will enjoy not having to chase happiness. I will relish the fact that it comes right up to me out in the open, no longer a skittish creature I pursue. I will enjoy every moment and try not to worry that it might become elusive again. I will live in the moment. One day at a time.

 

A GOOD DAY

The air in the car was heavy with emotion. My son, in the passenger seat, sat and looked out the window towards the gray naked branches of the two lonely trees at the edge of the parking lot. His deep voice was uneven and agitated.  I listened with my heart in my throat. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what he was saying.

“I almost killed a man, mom. I had a knife in my hand, and I wanted to. The anger and the drugs had built up in me and I didn’t care who I hurt or if I spent the rest of my life in jail. . .  At least I’d be warm.” He was remembering an incident during a drug-fueled crime spree he had been on just a few weeks ago when he was homeless, cold, desperate and high on meth. He had been freezing for days and something as simple as being warm was completely out of his reach.

“Some sort of feminine magic stopped me,” he said. I assumed he meant the girl who had been with him on these forays into lawlessness. Thankfully he had not killed anyone, but he had been picked up by the police. He spent three weeks in county lock up. The only thing they could convict him of was evading arrest when he ran from the police on a routine traffic stop.

“Mom I started sobering up in jail, but I couldn’t get rid of the horrible thoughts. I just wanted to hurt someone. I didn’t care who.” He looked shattered, “I haven’t prayed in years.” He whispered, “But I started praying. I needed my higher power to help me. Sometimes I would pray all day. The evil thoughts wouldn’t stop. I prayed so hard.”

I reached over and rubbed his shoulder, small gentle caresses, trying to pass my love and support through my fingertips. “I’m so relieved you found a way through it son- that you chose to fight it.”

I’m stunned, I had no idea how deep his despair had been. Although I’m glad he shared this with me, I’m also very sad. It is crushing to know these things- that he has such capabilities and so much rage. I hurt for him and I fear for him. His whole life will be spent fighting addiction and the rage it unleashes. I’ve never had to fight against urges inside me that could tempt me to break the law or hurt others. I’ve never dealt with addiction to something that could destroy me. I feel profound sadness.

“I’m glad you’re praying and so glad to have you back,” I said. “I’ve missed you.”

He smiled sadly. Then he spotted a friend in the parking lot and pushed all the emotion away, “Look there’s Joe,” he said as he waved at his roommate. We were sitting in the parking lot of the sober house where he is now living. He had left jail sober and willing to work a program.

“Joe’s doing good now,” he said. He knew Joe from years ago. They got in a lot of trouble together in their teens – drugs, alcohol crime. But my son and he had lost touch when he was sober for seven-year. Now they were both in the same boat again. I could be resentful of Joe, but he had convinced my son that this sober house was “cool”. So, maybe they could find long term sobriety together in their thirties.

“I should go,” my son said.

“Can I have a hug?” I asked.

He leans over and hugs me, “I love you mom.”

I hold on too long and whisper against his hair, “I love you too, son.”

I drove home with a heavy heart. It’s hard to hear my son’s anguish. I had gone through hell watching him careen out of control during his relapse but had been so happy when he went to sober living. Now, hearing firsthand about his emotional pain made me suffer all over again. It’s a strange place to be- happy for his sobriety, joyful at having him back in my life, but also very sad to be learning firsthand of the emotional toll it’s taken. I knew it was bad, but sitting with him as he recounted it was devastating. It hurts to become reacquainted with my sober son and fully realize the pain he’s endured, and the battle he fights every day. It’s painful to see how each relapse changes him and brings new horrors for him to process. These were heavy thoughts to carry home in an empty car on a Saturday night.

He had been at our house to celebrate my birthday. It was only the third time I had seen him since lifting the restraining order I had taken out when he was using. The day had been wonderful. It was the first birthday he had been sober for in two years. His dad had picked him up early and he had spent the whole day with us. He was open about his meetings and his work on the twelve-step program. His sister-in-law had asked thoughtful questions and encouraged him to talk. He and his brother had gotten along well, and we had all enjoyed our newest family member, my six-month-old grandson. It had been a very good day. But driving him home, just the two of us, he had opened up even more. Listening to him unburdened himself of some of his deepest pain was a sad ending to a happy day.

I struggled with how I felt about it. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to hear about these things. I don’t feel like “normal” moms end their birthdays with stories of their child almost committing murder. But I know that there is no such thing as a “normal”. We all have our secret burdens. This is mine.

After some mental gymnastics, rolling these thoughts around in my head, I realize I can approach these talks like the ones I have with my other son when he shares that he’s frustrated with work, or the baby isn’t sleeping. I offer support and understanding and remind him I love him, and he can talk to me any time.  That’s also the solution to these difficult situations.

Although the stories are much harder for me to relate to and I may not want to hear them, I can listen. All he needs is my ear and my love. I can’t change who he is or what he’s been through. He just needs to know I love him exactly as he is. I am not required to be comfortable with these difficult stories, or the addiction or the anger. I just need to love him and that’s the easy part. I do love him. He’s my son, the child whose smile I adored, the toddler whose first steps I applauded. The man whose emotions I can read from a distance. The man whose quirky sense of humor I totally get and whose face I’ve memorized. Loving him, the true core of his being is easy.

I just have to remember to leave his sobriety alone. Only he can find it. I must leave the twelve-steps and the hard work of facing his demons to him. It’s something only he can do.

So, for the thousandth time in this journey I will remember that I am powerless over the addict. I can only do this one day, one hour, one minute at a time. I will treasure each sober day and soak it in, because I know that there are no guarantees. And finally, I will not let fear rob me of the joy of a good day, because today was a very good day.

SOBER AGAIN

YEAH!!!! My son has chosen to go to a sober living facility. I’m very happy. The two years leading up to this point have been really awful. My son, an addict since his teen years, relapsed in 2018 after being sober since 2011. Experiencing those seven years of sobriety, made the relapse extremely painful. We thought we were out of danger.

Obviously, we were not. Now that he’s sober again, I’ve been thinking a lot about 2011 when he came out of prison sober for the first time in ten years. My husband and I approached his sobriety with strong boundaries and a certain degree of skepticism. We were veterans of the struggle, so we were very realistic. We didn’t let him move home, we didn’t give money, we limited our time with him. But as his sobriety progressed, we let our joy at having him back, erode the boundaries.

After a year on his own and some unexpected complications with his living arrangements, we let him move home. Then I employed him at the family business. Then we started paying for car repairs and medical bills (even though he was working). He leaned heavily on us.

We were so happy that he was sober, that we didn’t worry about his dependence. We became so vested in his sobriety, that we were afraid to let him struggle. We were always stepping in to help him out. In retrospect, this probably set him up for failure. When he ran into problems that we couldn’t fix – marriage problems, anxiety, poor financial choices, temptations – he relapsed.

It also became very taxing for us. We began to get tired and maybe a little resentful that he wasn’t becoming independent and growing in his sobriety. Just being sober, it turns out, isn’t enough. He needed a bigger circle of support and he needed to grow and become independent.

We want to do things differently this time.  We are going to try very hard to keep him from leaning too heavily on us for his recovery. We want him to develop a strong network of support, particularly people who have been in his shoes and understand the struggle for sobriety.

We are telling him how very proud we are that he made this choice. We are expressing our love and desire to have him back, whole and healthy, in our lives. However, we are determined to allow this recovery to be his.

We will give him room to struggle, fail and then find his own support. A sober living facility gives him a safety net while he does this. They offer groups, counseling and job assistance. It’s huge that he’s chosen to go there and be in a place that can give him the support he needs.

It only happened after we refused to help him any longer. We made him leave our house in the dead of winter, refused to bail him out of jail and all the really hard things we parents hate to do.  But he finally made a good choice.

I hope he will take full advantage of all the assistance the sober house has to offer. He must choose to turn to them and use the tools they give him, instead of coming to us for help. My husband and I are determined to help him by letting his recovery belong to him.

We are discussing boundaries and ways to continue to say ‘no’ as lovingly as possible. Our son needs to find his independence. My husband and I want our son back so badly that it will be hard to hold ourselves back from coddling and being too helpful. My son is a wonderful man when he’s sober and we’ve missed him since his relapse. But we cannot feel like his sobriety is dependent on our responses to him or our actions. This needs to be something he can look back on and say “I did it!” with pride and confidence.

It’s not going to be easy, because he sounds wonderful sober. Every fiber of our being wants him to stay that way and we tend to be fixers. We want to jump in and fix problems. But we have to stop.

When he was using, we told ourselves, “We didn’t cause it, we can’t control it, and we can’t cure it.” This is still true. This is not our problem to solve. We have to let him do this on his own. He will get our unending love and support, but he is an adult and we will give him the respect of treating him like one.