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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I have spent the last seven months practicing extreme forgiveness, understanding, patience, and kindness with my recovering addict. I’ve written many times about our ups and downs when he came to live with us after a yearlong relapse. He started out really trying to get along and respect our boundaries. But then things begin to change.
I don’t know if he began using Meth again, but I do know he started using other addictions to deal with his sadness and anger. He seemed to think gambling and women were perfectly acceptable ways to deal with his sorrows. But I wanted him to work towards healthy coping mechanisms.
He is triggered by ultimatums, yelling, and demands. So, we patiently and kindly tried to point him to positive activities, to no avail. We finally realized our situation had deteriorated to the point that we were being held hostage in our own home. We had become so compliant, so unwilling to upset him, that instead of being angry because he was living in our house, making no efforts towards independence, we were telling ourselves that we were lucky that he hadn’t stolen from us or become violent. Such a low bar we had set.
We thought with a good job, he could get back on his feet and improve his attitude. He finally got hired and we tried so hard to help him. When he wrecked his car and we feared it would derail his progress, I agreed to drive him to work while he saved to buy another one. I was now hostage to his schedule. But we were excited by the possibilities. A good job, a reliable car… he was on his way.
After eight weeks of driving him to work, we suggested that we all needed to have a talk. This infuriated him (it always does). We asked how much he had saved for a car. His answer “Nothing.” We had feared this answer and had carefully planned our response – hoping to avoid escalating the situation further.
We told him we had allowed him to stay in our home to get a new start and he could not live here while being irresponsible. We offered him three options:
- I would continue to drive him, but he must turn most of his paychecks over to us to hold until he had $2000 saved. (We knew he would claim this was treating him like a child, which is a pet peeve of his.)
- He could pay us rent and find his own rides to work and he could do what he wanted with his remaining paycheck. (This was our rebuttal to being treated like a child.)
- He could come up with an alternative solution that we all could agree on.
He disgustedly turned them all down. He raged about how unfair we were and at some point, swiped a bowl off the table sending it flying across the room and then made vague threats.
I saw my husband’s anger rising. I slipped out of the room and called the police non-emergency line. “The situation is not an emergency, but I’m concerned it may turn violent…” I whispered into the phone.
Fortunately, that day did not end in violence, and the police were kind and helpful. When they arrived, my son was in the basement angrily packing his things. The police said, “If he’s packing, that’s good. We don’t want to exacerbate the situation. You need him to leave willingly, otherwise, you will have to evict him. If he gets violent call 911 and we will be back immediately.”
That day he chose homelessness over responsibility. It’s a sign of mental illness, I know, but I no longer know how to help him. He is back on the streets and has lost his job. Of course, he calls daily begging for money, food, to shower or wash his clothes. He’s working to make sure we see his suffering. He wants us to know what we have “done to him.” Although when he stormed out of the house, he knew he had no place to go.
It’s horrible. We struggle with the pain of it, but this encounter made it clear that we can’t save him. We had spent months thinking he just needed a break, being held hostage by the hope that he could make it if everything went right.
However, the eight weeks I had driven him to work, an offer by his grandparents to match his savings, the excellent job with Amazon offering paid benefits were undeniably great opportunities. The fact that he had thrown it all away was also undeniable. We could no longer fool ourselves into believing that he just needed a break.
Whether it was drugs or alcohol or his mental disorder (BPD) that made him blow this chance, is impossible to tell, because he is seldom truthful. But it’s obvious that he was not going to allow us to help him. Any effort to “tell him what to do” was going to be met with threats and fury. We are not willing to be held hostage by his temper in our own home.
I will always love him, but I can’t control him or save him. It’s is so sad knowing his uncontrollable impulses and anger will continue to destroy his life. I know it is very difficult for him to have self-control. But, he will have to seek out the help he so desperately needs, and so far, he had been unwilling.
So now we are back where we were seven months ago, trying to set and keep boundaries that will keep us healthy. I found a quote that helps:
“Detachment with love is letting someone be themselves while separating yourself from the consequences of their actions.”
I wish this had ended differently. I wish I had a success story to share, but unfortunately, that is out of my control. The only thing in my control is my life and I refuse to live it as a hostage. Instead, I intend to make each day count and find my way to peace and contentment no matter how my son chooses to live.
I’m angry. I’m ranting and my husband is agreeing with every word. We are both mad at our son. I never wanted to spend as much time being angry and frustrated with him as I do. It wasn’t how I imagined my life. But here we are.
We found out our thirty-three-year-old son, a recovered meth addict with four months of sobriety, went to the boats and gambled away his paycheck. He is living with us (again), trying to get back on his feet after a yearlong relapse cost him everything – marriage, possessions, job, house, and car.
After finally getting a job and beginning to make some money, a night at the boats was stupid, irresponsible, and irritating as hell (but he wasn’t using). So, although I wanted to be furious, give ultimatums, demand that he move out, or give me his paychecks to manage, I know that treating him like a child is a huge trigger. He self-destructs when we start trying to control him. He wants to be treated like an adult, even though he doesn’t seem responsible enough for adulting.
We’ve been dealing with his addiction for years and we’ve learned that when we are angry to pause, discuss, and try to calm down before taking action. We also try to check our boundaries. Are we upset because we are just tired of the struggle? Or is he crossing a boundary?
Boundary Check: He has to be working and sober. Check, check… he’s doing both. I had agreed to drive him to work for 5 weeks while he saves for a car. We were still within the 5 weeks (check). Even though I wanted to refuse to drive him after this, he hadn’t done anything to violate this boundary. The only requirement was that he be up and ready to go to work every day (check). He was doing this.
But still, we were angry! After we talked some more, we realized that we felt trapped. If he doesn’t save the money and we stop driving him, he will lose his job. We were feeling responsible for his job, something that wasn’t our responsibility. We were feeling we had to make sure he succeeded which also wasn’t our responsibility. We needed to detach from this. Not easy, but just talking about it made us realize what we were doing. We can’t take on the responsibility of his life, it must be his to live. Success or failure, it is up to him. “Detach! Give it back to him,” we admonished each other.
We were also angry because we had allowed him to borrow our car on his day off (because he had been doing so well!) and he had gone to the boats! So, we felt taken advantage of and disappointed.
We agreed that a new boundary would be that he couldn’t borrow our car on his days off. Not because we can keep him from going to the boats or to punish him, but because we didn’t like how we felt when he used our car to go waste money. And that’s how we would explain it to him. Boundaries are not about controlling him, they are about protecting our emotional wellbeing.
Next, we reminded ourselves that we had a boundary in place about driving for 5 weeks. I hadn’t agreed to drive indefinitely. So, we needed to enforce that boundary. But, just talking about it stressed us out. We don’t want him to lose his job, he could never move out without a job. So, we agreed that if we wanted (and only if we wanted to), we could set a new boundary at the five-week mark (again, this was about making us feel okay). If he didn’t have transportation by then, we could make additional requirements to continue driving him a few more weeks. We could require he give us part of his paycheck to guarantee the money would be saved in a predefined time. He wouldn’t like it, but we had given him a chance to do it without help. He could refuse and lose his job and then he’d have to move out. All of this was stressful to think about, but we were getting ahead of ourselves (a common problem with parents of addicts, because we’ve seen the worst-case scenario play out too many times). So, to deal with the current situation (not all the possible future scenarios) we decided that we would just remind him that he needed to have transportation figured out in five weeks and let him know we were disappointed that he wasn’t exercising more self-control.
Since boundaries are for us, we would only tell him what was necessary, so we didn’t mention possible new boundaries or consequences. Our boundaries aren’t something we want to argue about or negotiate. They are to protect us and keep us accountable to ourselves.
We continued to talk and discussed the fact that his brain is still healing, and he is still acting immaturely and irresponsibly. We know this is part of the journey, unfortunately, we can’t skip this part or miraculously cure it. Just acknowledging that it’s hard and talking about it helped. We also reminded each other that this was not forever. If he doesn’t continue to work and stay sober, we can evict him. We have to remind ourselves that we always have a choice. Right now, he’s trying, and we are willing to help – one day at a time.
We both felt better after our discussion. We have learned to listen to our anger and examine it before we act. It’s easy to just be angry and let that anger flare and create more hurts and wounds to the already fragile relationship with our son. He is very sensitive to anger and judgment, once he became sober, he felt all the judgment and condemnation that comes his way, and it’s a hard part of being sober. So, we try to listen to our anger and examine what it’s telling us before we act. We do it when he’s not around so we can be completely honest with each other.
This could have been a major fight with our son, with threats and tears and rash actions. Instead of acting on our anger, we spent some time listening to it and instead of a crisis, it ended up being just a bump in the road with a chance to vent, acknowledge how hard this is and plan our next steps.
Every day that we can support each other and work through our emotions instead of letting them control us is a step in the right direction. And every day that he stays sober is a very good day.
My thirty-three-year-old son, who was a meth addict for ten years, sober for seven and then had a yearlong relapse, is sober again. I’m glad he’s sober, but I’m tired and depressed. I have had trouble wanting to do anything for the last few days.
I should be happy. He’s not in meth psychosis or jail or a drug house. So why am I not?
He has been sober for four months and we have made it through a one-day relapse, a major fight, and many ups and downs. We are learning better communication and he is seeing a psychiatrist and trying to find a job. So why am I depressed?
He’s no longer living with us. He is currently living with a girlfriend’s family. She is also a former addict, but she seems to be good for him. She is encouraging him to look for work and keep going to his psychiatric appointments. He seems to be good for her family. He mows the yard, does home repairs, helps with housework and errands. They seem to really like him and need the help he provides, and this seems good for him. He feels needed. So why am I sad?
He calls me regularly. I’m glad he wants to talk to me. I’m glad to support and encourage him. But his calls can be depressing. I hear all his problems and worries and hear his lackadaisical approach to solving them. He still would rather play than work. He still seems to struggle with committing to solving his own problems. He seems to want to be rescued.
When he calls, I hear about how unproductive the job search is. I hear about health and dental problems that are going untreated because no one has health care. I hear about the rebellious teenager of his girlfriend who has problems because her mom was an addict during her formative years. I get requests for gas money constantly. Gas is expensive and job interviews and psychiatric appointments require gas. (I know he’s sober because he passes his drug test for job interviews, it’s his felony conviction that gets him). I hear about his debts that he can’t pay because he can’t find a job.
I also hear about bad choices. His girlfriend quits a job because it’s too hard. He drives places he shouldn’t when he doesn’t have gas money. They go to the boats and gamble away $20 each when they don’t have money to spare. He misses a psychiatric appointment for a job interview for a job he doesn’t get. Then he misses another one because he has an infection in his tooth causing his face to swell. So, he goes to the doctor instead. If he misses one more appointment, he will be dismissed from his psychiatrist care. He’s terribly codependent with his girlfriend. I’ve said I will pay for his dental appointment if he will get his teeth fixed, instead, he spends days finding free dental care for his girlfriend but does nothing for his own dental needs.
So, I think I’m sad because it’s so hard for an addict to start over. The world is unforgiving, and they are not at their best for months or even years after getting sober. The personality and behaviors that drove them to use are still there, and the problems – financial problems, health problems, mental problems are all compounded by their years of addiction. Our nation does not have a safety net for addicts, just judgment and scorn.
Consequently, I’m constantly torn between detaching and helping. After all, he’s sober, I want to help and I know it’s very hard. But he also is very willing to do nothing if I make him too comfortable. It was easier to detach when he was high and abusive. This is much more ambiguous. I feel like I’m always second guessing myself.
So here I sit – sad and tired. I think I’m tired of constantly guarding myself, trying to keep from being taken advantage of. But also tired of watching his struggle in a world that seems to be working against him. Tired of trying to figure out the “right” thing to do. Tired of watching my son and worrying if he’ll ever be self-sufficient.
But losing myself in sadness and depression won’t help anyone so I need to remember:
Even when he’s sober, my self-care cannot end.
Even when he’s sober, I cannot become enmeshed.
Even when he’s sober, I can’t start taking responsibility for his life.
Even when he’s sober, I can’t quit working my program.
Even when he’s sober, I don’t have to answer every phone call.
Even when he’s sober, my happiness shouldn’t be tied up in his success or failure.
I realize that his sobriety made me so happy that I became enmeshed again. I feel responsible again. I realize now that I must remember everything I have learned about codependency and continue learning how to live MY best life. He will have to figure out how to live HIS best life. It’s hard, but he won’t learn to live in this world if I continue to rescue him. I must figure out how to balance supporting him and encouraging him with my emotional wellbeing.
Maybe I was foolish and happy enough to think it was going to be easy once he got sober. Or maybe I just hoped it would be. Now that I’m realizing the work isn’t done, I will rest and practice self-care and get my energy back. I will reassess my boundaries and see if I need some new ones. I’m not defeated, just having a brief pity-party before I get back on track. I need to remember that I have to put the oxygen mask on myself first – even when he’s sober.
It’s not easy having my 32-year-old son home. At 59 I was very comfortable in my empty-nest. I enjoyed the quiet, steaming-coffee-mug-mornings; the wide-open days filled with writing, gardening, and freedom; the evening dinners with my husband paired with our favorite wines. But last month we allowed our son to come home to kick his meth habit. We weren’t sure if it was the right thing to do or how it would turn out, but we decided to give it a chance.
Now, here it is 30 days later, and he’s still sober and he has his first counseling appointment tomorrow and his first psychiatric appointment in 2 weeks. This all creates a jumble of emotions. I am relieved that he’s sober, but we have been fighting since he was in the terrible twos. He’s clashed with authority his entire life. So, we have lots of triggers and bad communication patterns working against us. But I can tell he’s putting a lot of effort into staying sober, cooperating and being civil.
We are making progress. We are learning to take a break when the conversation gets heated. We are learning that tone of voice is REALLY important. I’m realizing that although he’s MY child, he is no longer A child and I can’t talk to him like one. Having an adult child move home is difficult under good circumstances, but after a relapse there are issues. Every time emotions get high or voices are raised, I wonder if this will cause a relapse. But at the same time, I want to feel comfortable and in control of my own home. I don’t want to feel like I’m walking on eggshells. It’s a daily tight-rope walk.
I’ve realized that I have some control issues, so I’m working on me while I’m asking him to work on himself. We’ve both done a lot of explaining our words and actions and apologizing to each other. Our communication skills are improving. I’ve also cut myself a lot of slack and let myself spend time just hanging out with him and watching movies or playing board games. I’ve decided my need to accomplish things and have a spotless house and feeling productive can take a back burner for a month or two.
I’m motivated to balance my needs with his. I do not want to be codependent, but I also don’t want to be heartless. What if a few months of support could help him change his life? We are both exercising extreme restraint and measuring our words and actions very carefully. I am realizing that I (and my husband) tend to be driven, hard-working perfectionists. My son, on the other hand, is laid back, the family clown and works at a more relaxed pace. I am determined not to judge him. I’m realizing that slowing down sometimes and viewing the world the way he does isn’t lazy. He’s fun and wanders a bit through life as opposed to being laser focused. Some would say he’s more inclined to stop and smell the roses.
This is not to say that I’m accepting bad behavior. He’s not stealing from us, destroying our house, lying to us or abusing our kindness. He’s just not as neat, focused or driven as we are, and he’s recovering from a year of drug use. His brain and his body aren’t 100% yet. So, I’m trying not to let my frustration at what we’ve been through this last year make me impatient or unsympathetic.
One thing I that I’ve had to accept is that the work I did to detach when he was in active addiction has created a hardness in me that’s hard to let go of now that he is home. The attitude that saved my sanity while he was using is not that helpful now. There needs to be a cooperative attitude while we all strive together to make this work. I’m trying to figure out how to be compassionate and understanding without losing my hard-won liberation from feeling responsible for him. I want to be loving but not enmeshed.
I’ve discovered that asking myself what I would do if this was not my son helps. If I had decided, as a loving human to help another human, how would I treat that person? How much help would I feel obligated to give? How much would I allow them to alter my daily routines and for how long? We have made it clear that his time in our home is to be spent working towards independence. He can’t plan to live at home forever. He’s very aware of this and says sometimes it stresses him because he feels the clock ticking.
So, we are all a little stressed, but also occupied with improving ourselves and our attitudes and our emotional health. I hope in six months or a year we can say we’ve made progress and it was all worth it. But I have decided that for the moment I will weigh each decision I make against his future and my need to take care of myself in the present. I won’t make every decision correctly, but I have a plan and hope for our future.
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.