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.
Three months ago I had a sadly familiar phone call with my son.
“Mom, I need a ride. Send me money for Uber.”
“Why do you need a ride?”
“It’s dangerous here. This is a f***ing emergency.”
“Dad and I offered to pay for Sober Living last week. You refused.”
“Mom, I’m not playing around. I need this, don’t mess with me,” his voice crescendos, angry and afraid as he yells into the phone. This is where I usually cave-in…
“No.” I say without as much strength as I’d like. Then, after a pause, “You got yourself into this, figure out how to get yourself out.”
“I gave you an answer.”
“Listen, I’m serious.”
“I am too.”
“Mom, don’t screw with me. You have to help me.”
There was another long pause as I worked to keep myself centered and do what I had promised myself a hundred times to do.
“You will have to figure this out,” I finally said. That is a sentence my therapist had been drilling into my head for two years. I’d been working on giving his problems back to him when he tried to give them to me.
He hung up on me and then called my husband to try his luck with him. This phone call, one of hundreds, was finally the one that caused my husband and I to decide to go ‘no contact’ with our son. It’s a move we had been contemplating for a while. The phone call wasn’t particularly abusive, it was just the frequency of the calls and his unwillingness to accept any offers of real help that were wearing on us. We were tired of being forced into daily crisis management of problems that we did not create.
It’s been a long road for us to get here, we had to truly believed that we needed to stop helping him in order for this to happen. Rescuing him from one crisis after another was not correcting the source of his problems – addiction. We had helped him so often that we finally knew in our hearts that he needed much more than a break, a bill paid, his car fixed, a ride, or a meal. We finally knew that his need to be rescued was never going to end. We decided on ‘no contact’ because the constant effort to say ‘no’ and be argued with about it for hours on end was exhausting. To stop helping him, we needed to stop hearing him beg, plead, threaten and harass us for help. Several times he had even stooped to threatening suicide. The days were long and depressing when he called relentlessly.
We realized that we didn’t need to hear his stories. Whether he was lying or telling the truth didn’t matter. Whether he was sober or not didn’t matter. Even his safety didn’t matter, because everytime we rescued him from a horrid situation, he just got into another one. Until he was ready to leave this life it wouldn’t change. Every time we rescued him, we just enabled him to ignore his real problem.
‘No contact’ is our last resort. I don’t know if it will save him, but it just may save us.
Once the calls stopped life changed. My husband and I found new things to talk about, besides our addicted son – new recipes, new movies, places we want to visit after Covid. We instituted a nightly “Happy Hour” – after my husband leaves his home office at 5:00, we spend an hour outside on the patio, throwing a tennis ball for the dogs and talking about “happy” stuff. Wine, cocktails or a favorite snack are often involved. Sometimes a neighbor will join us.
I stopped reading books about addiction. I have hundreds in my library. I finally decided to pick up a novel for the first time in years. Reading it was lovely.
I joined a Facebook group about painting and one for cooking and another to get involved in the upcoming election. I found new things to keep my brain busy.
The last thing to go was my writing. I always thought that ‘at least’ I would be able to help other people by writing about what I have gone through. I wanted the suffering to have meaning and to help others. It was important, I felt, to tell parents not to feel guilty or blame themselves for their child’s addiction. But it pulled me into a sad place and honestly kept me feeling like a victim. I will write the book one day, after I’ve healed emotionally. But right now, I’m trying to reclaim my life.
I now focus on living each day fully. No thoughts about the past, no worries about the future. I get outside in nature, play with my dogs, swim, paddleboard, practice yoga, cook and visit my grandson. I still write, but I’ve been writing fiction, which is really fun.
Happily, my husband and I have discovered that we still truly enjoy each other’s company. Our bond wasn’t just forged in crisis management. We discovered that we still have great fun teasing each other, now that we aren’t walking on eggshells. Before we were always working to protect each other from the latest tragedy, trying to keep from revealing the panic and sadness. We had forgotten how it felt to laugh together and have fun. Our home is no longer a bomb shelter where we huddle to survive the latest attack. It is bright and busy and full of teasing, good food and laughter.
There are moments where I think I should feel guilty for going on with my life, that I must be horrible for not knowing where my son is or how he is caring for himself. I feel guilty for not suffering right along with him. In this judgmental narrative, wanting a life, makes me selfish and an unfit mother. But my relationship with my son cannot be judged by normal parent-child parameters. Our relationship is twisted by a cruel toxicity that turns my love into a instrument of manipulation.
So, I have decided to go ‘no contact’ with guillt as well. When my mind begins to flirt with feelings of shame, I push them away and remind myself that I have analyzed and argued with myself for years. My guilt never improved my son’s situation or my own. After much practice, I can stop those thoughts. Distraction, relaxation, exercises – I’ll use any tool necessary to move my thoughts to a healthier place. And it’s easier without daily contact. Without the onslaught of blame and harassment, once the unrelenting voice of addiction was quieted, we can think rationally.
Calmness and peace feel amazing. I’m shocked that I can fall asleep easily at night and I don’t wake up in a panic in the mornings. I’m astonished that the ding of a text message doesn’t cause an anxiety attack anymore.
And, yes, I can still love my son while not being in contact with him. I still want the best for him, pray he finds his way and will be the first one to step-up the moment he wants treatment, or wants a relationship that is not toxic. If one day we can again coexist peacefully, I’ll be incredibly happy. But until then, “no contact” has allowed me to reclaim my life.
I wake up thinking about my son. As I’m floating up, out of deep sleep into the twilight of wakefulness, I feel a moment of panic, like when you lose a toddler in a store. It’s visceral, I feel it in my chest and my gut – a nebulous awareness that he’s not safe.
Thoughts of him cross my mind at least once every day and with it the stab of anxiety. I’m trying to live an emotionally healthy life, despite his choices, but he and his addiction are slowly trying to kill me.
He’s angry at the world – homeless, jobless, no car, broke – and he believes it’s everyone’s fault but his own. He left the sober house, that we were paying for, and missed his intake date when he could have returned.
After refusing to go back to the sober house, he calls daily wanting food, a hotel room, money and to complain about our neglect. We told him that he must figure his situation out, since he chose it. But that doesn’t stop his calls and texts. We tried blocking his phone number, but at the current count he has seventeen, and just keeps adding new ones – whatever it takes to make sure we are aware of how much pain our neglect has caused. His resentment is malignant.
His greatest scorn is reserved for me. I’m the mother who doesn’t love him enough to take his calls. Somehow his dad gets a pass, I guess men aren’t supposed to be as loving and forgiving as moms. He also has serious issues with women. He’s been twisted in knots by girlfriends, and his ex-wife ‘abandoned’ him. There are also issues with his birth mother because she ‘didn’t want him’.
Although we’ve had him since he was four weeks old, he resents being adopted, but I guess he’s not alone. Studies show that adoptees are overrepresented among those with Substance Abuse disorder.
So, to say he has issues with women is an understatement. Given that, it’s not surprising that when he talks to me his anger rachets up several notches. Today he called and I answered because I’m hoping to convince him to return to the sober house again.
I’ve been listening to him complaints about being homeless for twenty minutes, when I interrupt, “Welcome House gives you food, a bed, wi-fi, meetings, a bus pass, a job – everything you need.”
“You’re obsessed with Welcome House.”
“I’m obsessed with getting you to a safe place where you don’t have to be miserable.”
“Buying me a car, co-signing on an apartment, giving me a loan or letting me move home would do the same thing.”
We’ve done all these things before, too many times. The results have been disastrous. “That’s not an option, but we will pay for Welcome House.”
“I’m NEVER going back to Welcome House because YOU want me to.”
“So, you’ll destroy yourself, just to hurt me?” Can he make it any harder?
“Yes!” He’s adamant and petulant, but quickly switches to the victim. “What kind of mother won’t answer her son’s calls.”
“If you had a friend who called you every day asking for money, or attacking you, you’d stop taking the calls too. “
My thirty-three-year-old son goes silent. After a few moments he begins to sob. “I would never let my child be homeless or hungry. Never!”
Your killing me son. No matter how angry and abusive he gets I can’t stop my mother’s heart from reacting.
“That’s why we want you to go to Welcome House. You’d be safe and fed, have a place to sleep and the support you need. We want you there because we want you to be safe and we love you.” I stress the last three words, trying to get through to him.
I hear a sob, then another, then…Silence…
“Son, are you there?”
He’s hung up.
Buying him meals and hotel rooms, just makes it easier to stay on the streets. I can’t help with that, and I won’t spend hours every day arguing about it. But, he’s hurting, so, I try to call him back, but he won’t answer.
My mind swirls in circles, worry, fear, frustration, anger… My stomach and head join the party and I feel sick. My brain won’t be quiet.
I argue with myself: He creates impossible situations – by his choices, then blames us.
Logic responds: They are his choices. He has free will.
He refuses real help, then tells us we don’t love him when we won’t rescue him.
You can’t enable him. It will only prolong the suffering.
How can I convince him I love him?coping
He may die if he keeps this up…
You can’t control him, so yes, he may die.
How can I live with myself if he dies?
The same way anyone handles death, it will hurt, but you can’t protect him from himself.
It’s so hard and I’m so tired of it.
Detach with love.
But it’s a disease.
Addiction is not a choice, but recovery is.
But I want to help him!
He must learn to manage his disease. Help him when he chooses recovery.
He needs support.
You can’t force him, you’ve tried, so many times. He’s an adult.
It’s killing me.
Take care of yourself. You can only control you.
It is so hard.
Do what you can live with.
I can’t live with this torture every day.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. You can’t keep rescuing.
It hurts to think about it.
Change your thoughts. You are giving him freedom to find his way.
It’s really tough
You’re stronger than you think.
I need to stop thinking about it.
Detach. Stop ruminating, do something constructive.
I’ll walk the dogs, weed the flowers, start dinner.
You’ll be okay.
I’ll be okay.
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.
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.
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.
With an addicted son, life never seems to go according to plan. I end up doing things I didn’t plan to do, being responsible for things I didn’t want responsibility for and generally feeling out of control. The challenge, of course, is how to be happy anyway.
I was not happy to end up with three dogs. I never wanted three dogs. I was very content with my old, overweight beagle named Daisy who wandered around the house, nose to the ground, tail waving, completely obsessed with the smells surrounding her. She fit my slow-paced retired, life very well. She was to be our only dog.
But I have a son who is an addict and that fact can throw a wrench into the best-laid plans. He relapsed last year after many years of respectable living. When he relapsed he had beautiful golden Pitbull named Willow with a red nose and liquid amber eyes. When he relapsed her behavior started to show the strain of living with an addict, so he asked us to take her (he has a good heart). My husband, the one who was adamant that Daisy would be our only dog, said: “We have to take her, she’s family.” So, of course, we did.
Then, in the illogical way of an addict, after giving Willow up to us, my son took in a litter of abandoned pups when they were just days old. He took them from a dealer who was going to kill them. He said they gave him a reason to live. It may have been true. He faithfully fed them by bottle every two hours and I enabled him by buying formula, but who can let puppies starve?
Six months later when he lost his house, he still had three of the puppies. I took two to a local shelter and cried all the way there. He claimed he had a home for the third. I soon discovered that the third was living in his car with him. The pup was a rambunctious Lab/Pitbull mix with a dense black coat and a white patch on his chest. He named him Shadow. Shadow adored my son and they slept together in a freezing car, huddled together under blankets throughout the relentless winter.
After three months of homelessness, my son was ready to get sober and we let him move home with Shadow. He moved in and began the arduous road of recovery. He was sober, but not responsible. After a few months, he moved out and left Shadow with us. I didn’t complain, because despite making every effort not to get attached, I fell in love with the exuberant pup. After living in a car for a large part of his life he seemed to find all the world an adventure. So now I have three dogs.
But here’s the wonderful part:
I have been a lake girl my whole life. Last year I retired and wanted to spend a lot of time at our lake house, but sometimes I get bored and lonely since my husband hasn’t retired yet, and most residents at the lake are weekenders. Also, sometimes I felt uncomfortable being alone.
This year it’s been different. I have been at the lake most of the year and I’ve had the three dogs with me. I have found training them is a pastime I really enjoy. I rent out a vacation home next door to mine, and I can’t have poorly behaved animals terrorizing the guest. So, they must behave! I have spent the summer working with them, and they have responded beautifully! They come, sit, respect the boundaries of the yard and require no leashes when they go out. I get many compliments on their behavior. It has been extremely rewarding.
I also no longer get lonely. The dogs follow me around all day and curl up with me to watch TV and all join me in my bedroom at night. I’m never without a furry ear within arm’s reach, or a warm nose resting on my lap. When I write, they curl up at my feet and their gentle snores keep me company. I chuckle when they dream with quiet woofs and feet peddling the air.
With two Pitbulls I’m also never afraid. I’ve had people comment, “I’ll bet no one messes with you with those two around.” They are correct. Though neither one has ever hurt a soul, they have vicious sounding barks and growls, which are on full display whenever someone knocks at the door.
The best part of all- the dogs love the lake too! Shadow, being part lab, leaps off the retaining wall and belly flops into the water chasing sticks, Frisbees or whatever I throw. Willow only wades into the water, no belly flops for her, but then she swims circles with a giant Pitty grin on her face and her tail wagging under the water. They both eagerly jump on my paddleboard with me for a paddle around the cove. If I go out on the Seadoo, they both sit on the end of the dock and watch me, not leaving their posts until I return. When extended family visits I put life jackets on the dogs, and they swim for hours with the kids.
This morning I realized how blessed I am by these two silly beasts. I went for a morning swim and they both begged to join me. So, I sat on the dock and threw sticks for Shadow and swam circles with Willow. Their enthusiasm for play was infectious and I found myself laughing and playing like a child. Willow chased my splashes and Shadow romped with so much energy that I marveled he could keep going. He bounded from land to, to dock, to water, repeatedly. Willow whined, wishing she was brave enough to jump, then eventually would wade in and swim circles again.
It’s not all perfect. It’s been work and I’ve had to adapt. Some mornings I wish they’d let me sleep in, sometimes I wish I could make my coffee without three dogs underfoot and sometimes I wish I didn’t smell like wet dog. But the pluses have outweighed the minuses by a long shot.
These dogs, that I didn’t want, have brought so many unexpected bonuses. Being the parent of an addict has enough sorrow; it’s nice to find unexpected joy.
Whenever I get frustrated because life isn’t going exactly as I planned, I try to remember to “Love What Is” (the title of an excellent book by Katie Byron). I try to find the good in the path I’m on, even if it’s not the path I’ve chosen because sometimes joy can be found in expected places. I know it’s true because these two unwanted dogs have been a delight.