Category Archives: addiction

Why Me?

When I discovered my sixteen-year-old son was using Cocaine I fell apart. I felt shame, guilt, anger, frustration, and complete incapacitating grief. It was completely unimaginable to me that this could happen because I had done all the “right” things. I read the parenting books, took my sons to church, loved them unconditionally, talked to them about sex and drugs, assured them they could talk to me about anything, showered them with praise and love, taught them right from wrong..… good grief, I was a full-time-stay-at-home-homeschooling mom! I gave parenting every bit of my energy and passion. How could this possibly happen to ME?

I can remember sitting halfway up the steps between the first and second floors of my two-story home. My husband was a work, my youngest son was at play practice and my oldest son was at the rehab I had just delivered him to. I sat on those steps and ugly cried for hours, unable to compose myself, console myself or even move from the steps where I had collapsed once I was alone. I was so shocked at this turn my life had taken.

That day was twenty years ago. In the intervening years, I have paid for three rehabs, an intervention, and sober living – twice. There have been five relapses, three jail stints, eighteen months in prison, two restraining orders, hundreds of blocked phone calls, thousands of answered phone calls, and thousands of dollars in rent, utilities, house payments, car payments, meals, and hotel rooms. It has been a roller coaster ride of dizzying heights and terrifying depths.

Our cycle started with five years of addiction that had a series of one to three-month stretches of sobriety sprinkled among the horrors of an out-of-control teenager. My son’s DOC went from cocaine to meth to alcohol. When a young person, addicted to illegal substances, turns 21 they think they’ve hit the jackpot. A mind-altering substance that’s legal. But for my son alcohol was more damaging than drugs. Cocaine and Meth made him paranoid and careful, alcohol made him sloppy and reckless. He went to prison for crimes committed while drunk.

When he went into prison we refused to visit and only accepted occasional phone calls for a year.  He cleaned up and turned his attitude around in prison and we agreed to a tentative relationship when he got out, although we didn’t let him move home. That round of sobriety lasted seven years. Long enough to fall in love with him all over again, watch him get married, buy a house, a car, a dog… all the trappings of a normal life. He never attended meetings or had a sponsor, but he seemed to be managing on his own. We thought our family was one of the lucky ones.

But when life got really hard and his youthful marriage began to crack, he relapsed. Spectacularly…he dove back into Meth, shocking us all. As the relapse dragged on, he lost everything. We tried so hard to help him keep his house, his car, and his marriage to no avail. We were trying harder than he was. His relapse lasted three and half years and took him and us to depths that still hurt to remember. Laying in my warm bed during a howling midwestern snow storm, knowing he was homeless is a hell I don’t ever want to repeat.

But thankfully, another cycle of sobriety followed his long, depressing relapse. A wonderful sober living facility helped him. He was kicked out the first time for breaking curfew, we didn’t let him come home. But after another round on the streets, he finally went back. He is currently over 18 months sober, working, paying his own rent, dealing with criminal charges in the courts, and getting better every day at a sober life. He’s attending meetings and talks to his sponsor regularly, he has a strong network of sober support. I’m hopeful.

He has changed, but so have I. The difference that strikes me the most between the woman that sat on those steps and cried twenty years ago and the woman I am now is my perspective. Back then, my thoughts were all about ‘how did this happen to ME? How did I fail so miserably? What will people think about ME?’

I had been taught that it was my job was to control my children. So I felt if they failed it must be my fault, and conversely if they were going to succeed, I had to make it happen.

Today, I know better. I cannot control another person. And my children’s success and failures are their own. Even as a child my son had free will and feelings and emotions that had nothing to do with me. He had hurts, insecurities, and anger that I couldn’t understand, and even though I was willing to listen he wasn’t willing to talk.

Today I know my son’s sobriety is his to achieve and maintain. I don’t struggle over every word I say to him, because I no longer think my words will make or break him. I don’t try to tell him how to solve his problems, because we are very different people, and he usually has his own way of doing things. I only offer advice when asked and I set boundaries so his life choices affect him, not me.

Maybe age and time are required for a parent to realize that they and their child are separate individuals. Maybe I see it more vividly because I was enmeshed in a codependent relationship with an addict. But I wish when my son first began his struggle, I would have realized that it was his struggle not mine. I wish I had been more compassionate and curious about what had sent him into the realm of drugs and mind-altering substances. What pain he was trying to heal? What insecurity did it help him overcome? What adrenaline-fueled need did it satisfy? If he couldn’t talk to me who would he like to talk to?

 It took years for us to have these conversations, because at first all the chaos and drama felt like something he DID TO ME, instead of something that happened TO HIM. It took a long time for me to feel compassion for his homelessness, his broken heart, and lost possessions. I just saw it all as something I had to fix and that made me angry.

Of course, he did act like I should be able to fix everything. But that was because acted like I had all the answers. The mom-mindset was strong. How was he supposed to know his problems were his to fix if I never let him?

Now I’ve learned to say, “you have to figure this out yourself,” without anger and resentment. I feel compassion for his problems without the need to solve them. I can be sad with him, instead of making it my job to cheer him up. I listen to him complain and say “man, I’ll bet you’re really upset!” without giving advice on how to solve the problem.

Our relationship is the best it’s ever been. It feels like that’s what he’s really wanted from me all along. To see him as a person, capable of living his own life, making his own mistakes, and solving his own problems. He still needs help sometimes, and we choose carefully when are willing to give it. He’s learned to accept ‘no’ gracefully and asks for less and less.

When I look back, I wish I would have seen that this was not about me. I was not to blame. I was not the one that would fix it, and I was not the one that was hurt the most by it. My son destroyed many years of his life with drugs. I destroyed many years of mine by taking his problem on as my own. I had to learn to give up my addiction to rescuing him and learn to just love him while he figured it out.

CONTROL?

I was trained to believe that we are in control of our lives. I think it’s a product of the seventies and positive thinking philosophies. I believed that if I worked hard enough, thought positive thoughts, and did my best, that I could make my life turn out perfect.

Then one day I came face to face with the fact that I can’t control my world. No matter how hard we try, some things are out of our control. Listening to my son rage in a meth-fueled delirium over the phone for the hundredth time removed every last shred of ambiguity I had about control.

When I think back to what I wanted for my sons, it was simply for them to be healthy, happy and successful.  I wanted a big cheerful family with ‘good’ kids. I did everything I could imagine to guarantee that. Healthy foods, regular checkups, positive reinforcement, church, boy scouts, theater, swim lessons, sports, loving encouragement, good schooling, help with homework… We visited family often, hosted holidays, and worked to create the family I wanted.

You name it, we did it.

Preparing for the holidays this year, I realize that by those standards I am an abysmal failure. This year is nothing like I imagined my future holidays would be. I have one son who is divorced, on probation, and an addict. My other son, although financially stable and married, suffers from depression. My addicted son has major problems with our extended family and really would prefer not to spend Christmas with them.

My younger self would have been horrified – addiction, depression, crime, family strife. Where is the perfect family? I have the color-coordinated pictures, the family traditions, the scrapbooks. I can bring receipts; I did the work. This is not how it was supposed to turn out…

But it’s okay, I’m not that person anymore. Over the last few years, I have learned a lot, and the most important thing I’ve learned is that I can’t control my life or my kids’ lives. The only thing I can control is my thoughts. I can see all the ways I’ve fallen short of my dreams, or I can see where I and my family actually are, and the truth in each situation.

I’ve learned to accept both my boys exactly as they are. I’ve let go of the dream version of my adult sons and fallen in love with who they actually grew up to be.

My youngest, who struggles with depression, is loving, caustically witty, and hardworking. He and his wife have blessed us with an adorable grandson who laughs and smiles enough for three toddlers. My son and his wife are wonderful people and work together to learn the best ways to deal with my son’s depression and are helping my grandson learn to deal with his emotions in healthy ways (something this grandma didn’t learn till my 50s). They are all amazing, and I trust them to figure it all out.

My son who has substance abuse disorder is currently 13 months sober. He attends four NA meetings a week and is almost ready to begin sponsoring others. He calls me every day. Sometimes he complains furiously about his boss and his job (I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and just let him vent), and other days his words carry sunshine as he tells me how he helped another addict, or shared in a meeting, or kept his cool in a situation where he normally would have used. His girlfriend is a former addict as well and he is helping her in her sobriety. They seem really good for each other. My son sometimes seems more comfortable with former addicts than his own family. But they understand him in ways we never will. So I’ve accepted that.

Our family Christmas will be fractured. But I’ll listen to my son, and respect his wishes. I’ll split the group and have more time to spend with everyone. My husband realizes that multiple get-togethers mean more work and has kindly offered to order food for our holidays. (I’ll have to think about that, cooking for my family is one of my love languages, but I might take him up on it.)

My mother-in-law isn’t happy about splitting up the holiday celebrations, but I’m hoping to help her see that trying to force others to do something that is emotionally unhealthy for them, is not how my family works anymore.

So, I can’t make my kids happy, or sober, or make my family get along, or make my in-laws happy. But I can look at my situation clearly and honestly. It is not what I would have ever planned. But it is what it is. It is a bunch of imperfect people, each doing their best, and that is good.

Others may judge it or think I’ve failed, but I know better. Those who are lucky enough to have perfect families and children can enjoy them in blissful ignorance. I know that perfection is a fragile, fleeting thing. They can appreciate their blessings, but the credit goes to chance and luck, not their control.

While others celebrate their perfection, I’m celebrating honesty and effort. I’ve given up control and expectations. I’m just over here coasting along on the current of life, seeing where it will take me, finding happiness in unexpected places, and appreciating it all the more, because I know how precarious it really is.

The Good Stuff

This morning I woke up depressed. I pulled the covers over my head and considered staying there all day. But my mind just flew from one problem to the next, and the cat’s insistent meow was annoying me. So, I pushed back the covers, pulled on some pants, fed the cat and made coffee. I plopped in a chair with a giant steaming mug and gave myself permission to forgo my morning exercise, and muck around in my brain to see what the heck my problem was. I thought back over the worries that had kept the covers over my head until they drove me out of bed.

Over the weekend I had cared for my nephew. He is in a vegetative state after a wreck last year. Spending a weekend with my once vibrant, daredevil sixteen-year-old nephew was heartbreaking. It was also mentally and physically exhausting – cleaning bodily fluids, washing loads of laundry, pulling and pushing an unresponsive teenage body, schedules and medicines to remember, the fear of making a mistake. I came home feeling every bit of my sixty-one-years and moving gingerly to protect my sore back. It’s the first time I’ve felt truly old. It also made me worry about my sister who is headed towards burnout with the stress of being a caregiver. I was exhausted after only three days.

To top off my emotional baggage, my RAS planned to come visit his cousin over the weekend and didn’t show up. So, of course, that added worry about him (and his sobriety) to my already overloaded psyche.

When I got home, we received a call from my NAS, who lives in a lovely one hundred-seventy-year-old home that he and his wife are slowly renovating. A portion of the plaster ceiling had fallen unexpectedly, making him stressed and angry. The crash happened just seconds before his wife and toddler returned from a trip. What if it had fallen on the baby? We went over to help with clean-up and absorbed a big dose of his tension and frustration.

Then, last night I got an irate call from my RAS. He complained angrily about his boss, and his job. He wanted to quit, even though he is responsible for rent, car insurance and bills. Then, after I listened to that tirade, he transitioned into a rant about his girlfriend’s ex showing up and getting into a fight with him. Fear and frustration came surging through me as I listened. It didn’t sound like sober behavior.  

He called me back after his AA meeting and apologized for dumping on me and I told him he scared me. He assured me he was sober and told me the meeting really helped him feel better. But the knot in my stomach was still there at bedtime.

So, I woke up this morning worried about all of it. My nephew, my sister, my RAS, my NAS, my age and sore back, the old house, tempers, burnout, sobriety…

Why do I feel everyone’s problems so acutely? How do I keep from accumulating their worry, stress, burnout, sadness, anger, fear? I love them all so much, I want them to be happy, healthy, and  sober. But I can’t cure them of every discomfort. If I had a million dollars and solved everyone’s financial problems, there would still be issues. You only need to look at rich or famous people and see the drama, affairs, divorces, depression, suicide… So, I know, logically, I can’t “fix” anyone’s life for them.

 But I keep wishing I could, and then when I realize I can’t, I find myself feeling guilty for having an orderly, slow-paced, stress-free life. I’m retired, have few health or financial problems and am in a happy marriage. I think I almost feel like worrying about them is my penance. Their emotions suck away at my calm. A state I’ve worked very hard to create. If I’m not careful I get absorbed in their lives instead of living my own.

Who would I be helping by allowing myself to drown in the emotional distress of others? If I can stay strong and cheerful, at the very least, they do not have to worry about me. If I get despondent, because of THEIR problems, I just compound their troubles, because now they have a miserable, nonfunctioning mom, sister, or wife to deal with too.

It’s counterproductive to give up on my peace because others are hurting. But sometimes I do have survivor’s guilt.  When I’m suffering it’s, “why me?” and then when the suffering stops, it’s “why not me?”

After my own years of stress, anxiety, and depression, I’m very empathetic to other people’s pain, and I’d love to cure it, but I can’t. No one could dig me out of the dark place I was in but me. I had to figure it out myself. It hurts to watch the ones I love be stressed, angry, and tired.  But I can not take on the responsibility of fixing them. It is hard, demanding work to control my own emotions and impulses. How smug would I be to think I could control others?

As I was ruminating and trying to talk myself out of my gloomy mood, my phone rang. Caller ID said it was my daughter-in-law. Only it wasn’t. My two-year-old grandson had accidentally dialed me. He was ecstatic to hear my voice and his mama agreed he could keep the phone and ‘talk’ to me. He walked through the house showing me his toys and pets. I mostly saw his nose and forehead the whole time, but it was adorable.

It cheered me up – a lot, those minutes of focused joy. It’s so important to make time for the good stuff – like random calls from a barely verbal toddler. I had been suffering from tunnel vision, focusing so relentlessly on the problems that I was forgetting there are some very wonderful things in my life.

I’ve come through a lot, but I have arrived at a comfortable, happy place. I need to remember that my family will come through their difficult times too. Not because I will fix them, but because they are all talented, hard-working people who are just as capable of figuring out their lives as I was.

I just need to give them time and support. I also want to be as emotionally healthy as possible, so when they need a shoulder to cry on, or a compassionate person to vent to, or a helping hand for the weekend, or to hear Grandma’s voice, I can be there.

Today, I’m taking a ‘me’ break. I’m writing this because writing always helps smooth out my jumbled thoughts. I’m also resting and thinking happy thoughts. As trite as that may sound, ruminating on my family’s problems doesn’t do one thing to help them. It just adds to my stress, which in turn will add to theirs. So, I’m changing the channel and moving on to think about good stuff today.

The sun is shining, my grandson is adorable, I have two adult sons whom I love, TAM is great place to get support, the cat is purring at my feet, and I am a strong woman who can handle whatever life throws at me.   

Growing

One year ago my son was homeless, sick, suicidal and had a warrant out for his arrest. He called and texted nonstop demanding money, begging to come home and sharing the horrors of homelessness – sleeping in garages, sneaking around houses to sleep on the back porch, nodding off under a bridge. He was furious with us because we kept saying “no” to all his requests to come home and demands for money.

However, one day after numerous calls, I did agree to bring him a coat he had left at our home. I met him on a street corner in a very unsavory part of town. I brought his coat and some granola bars and a pair of gloves. He took them disdainfully, obviously annoyed that this is all I was willing to do.  

I was shocked by the sight of him – skeletal, dirty, disheveled. His face was pockmarked and pale, his eyes hollow, cheeks sunken. His clothes had burn marks where he had nodded off with a cigarette still burning. His movements were rapid, his feet unsteady, his eyes wild, his hair a brittle halo of tangles, his language course and angry. His attitude radiated rage at what “we” had allowed him to become. It was obvious he felt we had the capacity to save him if only we weren’t so uncaring.

But we had tried saving him too many times to count. How many times had we let him come home? Paid for a hotel room? Sent money for food? Paid for Uber to the emergency room?  Drove in the middle of the night to pick him up from some place dangerous? It wasn’t working.

We had concluded that he must save himself. We knew our best efforts would always fall short. For his own sake we had to wait for him to realize that we would not and could not do the work for him.

So we were refusing to give him money or a place to live. Every time he asked for help, we sent him a list of phone numbers for rehabs, sober living, homeless shelters and food banks. At 34 years old we were finally insisting he grow up and take care of himself. Drugs were killing him, but his dependence on us was killing him too.

That day, after our meeting, I went home and cried, worried that my detachment might be a death sentence. I knew it was a possibility, but life with constant crisis, suicide threats, jail, meltdowns, risky behaviors, and being held hostage by drugs, was not a life for him or us. I told myself, he had to want to live as much as I wanted him to; badly enough to do the hard work of getting sober.

So, my husband and I sat with our grief and pain. We worried, cried, complained and felt hopeless… but we continued to say ‘no’ and send him “the list.” Every time we sent “the list”, he’d text back “I’ll die before I go to any of these places.” We’d text back “We love you and hope you choose to live.” It was becoming a sadly repetitive dance.

But knowing he had choices – a place he could sleep, or get food, or get help made it easier for us to say no. He was choosing to stay homeless, high, or hungry. It felt like he wanted to force us to be the ones to save him. It was brutal, but we stuck to our decision to wait for him to choose a better life.

Three weeks after our visit on the street corner, and buckets of tears later, he called and said, “I give up. I’ll go to jail or sober living, your choice. But I can’t do this anymore. Just let me come home and shower and look presentable before you take me either place.”

I knew the next day was an intake day at sober living, so we agreed to the shower and offered a good meal and a soft bed with the agreement that the next day he would go to sober living. He was surly and angry the 24 hours he was at our house, but he slumped into the car the next day, clean and well fed, and my husband drove him to sober living. Miraculously, he stayed and cooperated and eventually, thrived.

Today he is ten months sober. He is attending meetings multiple times a week. He has a sponsor who he takes his trouble to (instead of me… wow!!). He graduated successfully from sober living after eight months which gives him access to their meetings and counseling when he is struggling. He is working a job with people who really like him, are aware of his journey and help and encourage him. He has an apartment he shares with his girlfriend who is a recovering addict that he encouraged to get clean. He has held strong through the relapse of multiple friends and the death by overdose of several others. He turned himself in with the help of an attorney (an AA buddy) and is working on dealing with his charges.

I am so very, very proud of him. He has done it himself. He has worked through all the struggles with the support of his AA friends and sponsor and the sober living counseling. We mostly hear about financial issues and have floated him a few small loans as he gets back on his feet. Watching him finally learn to take care of himself is amazing.

His sponsor reminds him that he has to stand up for himself when his boss demands he work seven days a week. He reminds him that every person needs rest, and he is working on sobriety, so he can’t let himself get physically and emotionally overwhelmed.  He tells him he must care for himself. He encouraged him to ask for a raise. He insisted he attend extra meetings when he was struggling. And my son has complied. The rebellious, immature, demanding child has finally grown into a man with the help of a mature, 30-year-sober sponsor.

This sponsor took my son to an AA meeting full of men who had all been sober 20 years or longer. It gave my son hope. He sees successful men who lived their younger years much like he has. At 35 my son finally feels like a man and is acting like one. He finally has a sober community to turn to. He never wanted to follow our advice, because we “didn’t know what it was like.” Now he’s surrounded by men who know exactly what it’s like and he can relate to them and will listen to them. They support and help him in so many ways. His whole apartment has been outfitted by donations from the AA community or people he works with. He has a sober network of friends for the first time in his life.

My husband and I no longer feel like his very survival is dependent on us. We have seen him learn to depend on his own efforts and the efforts of a community of sober friends and mentors who love and support him.

Having a safety net of other people surrounding my son takes such a weight off my husband and me. We will be forever thankful to the men who have stepped up to mentor him. We have never even met them, but that’s okay. Our son is an adult and he is creating HIS sober life. He is building a life apart from his parents and becoming independent. Our relationship has blossomed without the weight of being responsible for him weighing it down.

I have never been prouder.

But he would never have grown up, if we hadn’t quit treating him like a child and rescuing him from his choices. Detachment was the hardest and best thing we’ve ever done for him. I can say that now, but at the time it was terrifying. Looking back, I’m so glad we stuck with it.