Tag Archives: boundaries

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.

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.

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.

PARABLE

Once there was a kind old woman who lived near a beautiful lake. Every day she sat on her porch and enjoyed the view. In the summer she swam in the cool water. In the fall she took long walks along the shore.  In the winter she watched the sparkling water and felt thankful for the wonderful place she lived.

One day a man came and fished from the public dock near her house. He fished often and they became friends.

After a time, he brought a boat and launched it into the water. Soon he decided to stand in the boat, and he fell overboard. He could not swim and called for help. The old woman jumped in to save him. She pulled him ashore and he thanked her profusely.

The next day he came again with his boat. “Don’t stand up,” called the kind, old woman. The man nodded, but soon he stood and fell. Once again, the old woman swam out to save him. “Don’t stand in the boat!” she said as she shook the water from her clothes.

Over the next few weeks, this occurrence was repeated. Some days the man managed not to fall overboard, but often he did. The old woman began to dread looking out her window. She stopped sitting on the porch and taking walks.

She offered to teach him to swim, but he said he couldn’t learn. She bought him a life jacket and he lost it. She bought another, he forgot to wear it. She asked him to stop using the boat, but his promise never lasted long. She hid the boat, but he soon found another.

She told herself she would not save him. One day she tried, but she could not bear to hear his cries for help. She jumped in again.

Every day she worried if he would show up. Even on the days that he didn’t come, she spent the day wondering if he would. Winter was the worst- jumping into the freezing water. Her paradise had become a torture chamber.

In desperation, she called the police, but they said the lake was public and she could not stop him from using it. “But he’s crazy,” she said.

“Fishing is not a crime,” the officer said.

“He should wear a life vest,” the woman said.

“I’ll write him a ticket,” said the officer.

The man paid his ticket and wore his vest for a while, but soon forgot. The old woman called the police again and again, but they could only write tickets and soon tired of her calls and began to act as if she were the problem. She begged them to put him in jail, where at least he would be safe, but they said they could not.

She continued to beg her friend to stop fishing from a boat, to wear a life jacket, or learn to swim, but there was no convincing him.

“But your survival is dependent on me,” she said, “you need to be able to save yourself.”

“But you always save me,” he said.

“I’m tired of saving you, it’s destroying my life,” she said.

“But I cannot save myself,” he said, “would you let me die?”

Next, the old woman talked to her friends at church and they said, “How can you not save him? You must love your fellow man,” and she felt guilty for thinking about letting him drown.

She talked to her friend the psychologist and she said. “He needs help, but we cannot force him to get help unless he says he wants to die. He obviously does not, because he calls for help. You must understand he is sick,” and the old woman felt guilty for not wanting to help a friend who was sick.

She talked to her strong, old friend who was a veteran of many wars and he said, “Only the strong survive. How have you let him ruin your life for this long? Ignore him.” and the old woman felt guilty for not being able to ignore him.

So, feeling like no one really understood her dilemma the kind, old woman felt totally lost. Would she ever be able to return to the life she had before he took it from her?

*****

Parables usually have a moral. What is the moral of this story? Maybe you think the story sounds ridiculous. Who would be so irrational? Who would refuse to stop behavior that could kill them? Who would refuse to find a way to save themselves? And would someone really destroy their own life to save another?

Unfortunately, it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. Repeating self-destructive behavior is exactly what an addict does when they return to drugs and life-threatening situations over and over again and refuse the help that could save them.

And the dilemma the kind old woman faced? It is exactly what the person that loves an addict faces. Every. Single. Day.

HOSTAGE

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.