Tag Archives: joy


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.

Loving What Is

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.