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.”
“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.