Tag Archives: my child is an addict

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.

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.

Anger

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.

Even When He’s Sober

My thirty-three-year-old son, who was a meth addict for ten years, sober for seven and then had a yearlong relapse, is sober again. I’m glad he’s sober, but I’m tired and depressed. I have had trouble wanting to do anything for the last few days.

I should be happy. He’s not in meth psychosis or jail or a drug house. So why am I not?

He has been sober for four months and we have made it through a one-day relapse, a major fight, and many ups and downs. We are learning better communication and he is seeing a psychiatrist and trying to find a job. So why am I depressed?

He’s no longer living with us. He is currently living with a girlfriend’s family. She is also a former addict, but she seems to be good for him. She is encouraging him to look for work and keep going to his psychiatric appointments. He seems to be good for her family. He mows the yard, does home repairs, helps with housework and errands. They seem to really like him and need the help he provides, and this seems good for him. He feels needed. So why am I sad?

He calls me regularly. I’m glad he wants to talk to me. I’m glad to support and encourage him. But his calls can be depressing. I hear all his problems and worries and hear his lackadaisical approach to solving them. He still would rather play than work. He still seems to struggle with committing to solving his own problems. He seems to want to be rescued.

When he calls, I hear about how unproductive the job search is. I hear about health and dental problems that are going untreated because no one has health care. I hear about the rebellious teenager of his girlfriend who has problems because her mom was an addict during her formative years. I get requests for gas money constantly. Gas is expensive and job interviews and psychiatric appointments require gas. (I know he’s sober because he passes his drug test for job interviews, it’s his felony conviction that gets him). I hear about his debts that he can’t pay because he can’t find a job.

I also hear about bad choices. His girlfriend quits a job because it’s too hard. He drives places he shouldn’t when he doesn’t have gas money. They go to the boats and gamble away $20 each when they don’t have money to spare. He misses a psychiatric appointment for a job interview for a job he doesn’t get. Then he misses another one because he has an infection in his tooth causing his face to swell. So, he goes to the doctor instead. If he misses one more appointment, he will be dismissed from his psychiatrist care. He’s terribly codependent with his girlfriend. I’ve said I will pay for his dental appointment if he will get his teeth fixed, instead, he spends days finding free dental care for his girlfriend but does nothing for his own dental needs.

So, I think I’m sad because it’s so hard for an addict to start over. The world is unforgiving, and they are not at their best for months or even years after getting sober. The personality and behaviors that drove them to use are still there, and the problems – financial problems, health problems, mental problems are all compounded by their years of addiction.  Our nation does not have a safety net for addicts, just judgment and scorn.

Consequently, I’m constantly torn between detaching and helping. After all, he’s sober, I want to help and I know it’s very hard. But he also is very willing to do nothing if I make him too comfortable. It was easier to detach when he was high and abusive. This is much more ambiguous. I feel like I’m always second guessing myself.

So here I sit – sad and tired. I think I’m tired of constantly guarding myself, trying to keep from being taken advantage of. But also tired of watching his struggle in a world that seems to be working against him. Tired of trying to figure out the “right” thing to do. Tired of watching my son and worrying if he’ll ever be self-sufficient.

But losing myself in sadness and depression won’t help anyone so I need to remember:

Even when he’s sober, my self-care cannot end.

Even when he’s sober, I cannot become enmeshed.

Even when he’s sober, I can’t start taking responsibility for his life.

Even when he’s sober, I can’t quit working my program.

Even when he’s sober, I don’t have to answer every phone call.

Even when he’s sober, my happiness shouldn’t be tied up in his success or failure.

I realize that his sobriety made me so happy that I became enmeshed again. I feel responsible again. I realize now that I must remember everything I have learned about codependency and continue learning how to live MY best life. He will have to figure out how to live HIS best life. It’s hard, but he won’t learn to live in this world if I continue to rescue him. I must figure out how to balance supporting him and encouraging him with my emotional wellbeing.

Maybe I was foolish and happy enough to think it was going to be easy once he got sober. Or maybe I just hoped it would be. Now that I’m realizing the work isn’t done, I will rest and practice self-care and get my energy back. I will reassess my boundaries and see if I need some new ones.  I’m not defeated, just having a brief pity-party before I get back on track. I need to remember that I have to put the oxygen mask on myself first – even when he’s sober.

Full House . . . again

It’s not easy having my 32-year-old son home. At 59 I was very comfortable in my empty-nest. I enjoyed the quiet, steaming-coffee-mug-mornings; the wide-open days filled with writing, gardening, and freedom; the evening dinners with my husband paired with our favorite wines. But last month we allowed our son to come home to kick his meth habit. We weren’t sure if it was the right thing to do or how it would turn out, but we decided to give it a chance.

Now, here it is 30 days later, and he’s still sober and he has his first counseling appointment tomorrow and his first psychiatric appointment in 2 weeks.  This all creates a jumble of emotions. I am relieved that he’s sober, but we have been fighting since he was in the terrible twos. He’s clashed with authority his entire life. So, we have lots of triggers and bad communication patterns working against us. But I can tell he’s putting a lot of effort into staying sober, cooperating and being civil.

We are making progress. We are learning to take a break when the conversation gets heated. We are learning that tone of voice is REALLY important. I’m realizing that although he’s MY child, he is no longer A child and I can’t talk to him like one. Having an adult child move home is difficult under good circumstances, but after a relapse there are issues. Every time emotions get high or voices are raised, I wonder if this will cause a relapse. But at the same time, I want to feel comfortable and in control of my own home.  I don’t want to feel like I’m walking on eggshells. It’s a daily tight-rope walk.

I’ve realized that I have some control issues, so I’m working on me while I’m asking him to work on himself. We’ve both done a lot of explaining our words and actions and apologizing to each other. Our communication skills are improving. I’ve also cut myself a lot of slack and let myself spend time just hanging out with him and watching movies or playing board games. I’ve decided my need to accomplish things and have a spotless house and feeling productive can take a back burner for a month or two.

I’m motivated to balance my needs with his. I do not want to be codependent, but I also don’t want to be heartless. What if a few months of support could help him change his life? We are both exercising extreme restraint and measuring our words and actions very carefully. I am realizing that I (and my husband) tend to be driven, hard-working perfectionists. My son, on the other hand, is laid back, the family clown and works at a more relaxed pace. I am determined not to judge him. I’m realizing that slowing down sometimes and viewing the world the way he does isn’t lazy. He’s fun and wanders a bit through life as opposed to being laser focused. Some would say he’s more inclined to stop and smell the roses.

This is not to say that I’m accepting bad behavior. He’s not stealing from us, destroying our house, lying to us or abusing our kindness. He’s just not as neat, focused or driven as we are, and he’s recovering from a year of drug use. His brain and his body aren’t 100% yet. So, I’m trying not to let my frustration at what we’ve been through this last year make me impatient or unsympathetic.

One thing I that I’ve had to accept is that the work I did to detach when he was in active addiction has created a hardness in me that’s hard to let go of now that he is home. The attitude that saved my sanity while he was using is not that helpful now. There needs to be a cooperative attitude while we all strive together to make this work. I’m trying to figure out how to be compassionate and understanding without losing my hard-won liberation from feeling responsible for him. I want to be loving but not enmeshed.

I’ve discovered that asking myself what I would do if this was not my son helps. If I had decided, as a loving human to help another human, how would I treat that person? How much help would I feel obligated to give? How much would I allow them to alter my daily routines and for how long?  We have made it clear that his time in our home is to be spent working towards independence. He can’t plan to live at home forever. He’s very aware of this and says sometimes it stresses him because he feels the clock ticking.

So, we are all a little stressed, but also occupied with improving ourselves and our attitudes and our emotional health. I hope in six months or a year we can say we’ve made progress and it was all worth it. But I have decided that for the moment I will weigh each decision I make against his future and my need to take care of myself in the present. I won’t make every decision correctly, but I have a plan and hope for our future.

WORRY

There is no reprieve from worry when my son is actively using. Last week he was psychotic. He called and texted nonstop asking for money and rides and food and cigs. When my husband and I said “no” he made threats against us and threatened self-harm. When we offered rehab or detox, he said he’d rather die and explained in graphic terms how he would kill himself. Then, as though realizing what he had said, he would send angry texts telling us not to call the police that he wasn’t going to hurt himself. It was a long chaotic week, until Thursday when he went silent. That was the day he received a check from the sale of his house. With no job and a divorce after his relapse nine months ago, he had no choice but to allow his wife to sell it. So now the constant harassment has stopped, but the worry hasn’t. With over a thousand dollars in his pocket, I wonder exactly what damage he will do to himself and what new crisis he will have created by the time the money runs out. There is no trajectory except a downward spiral when he is actively using meth.

When he is fighting me and harassing me, I worry but I’m strong. I fight for sanity and calm during the chaos, I’m in defensive mode. But this silence makes me worry too. There is nothing to do, nothing to fight against, so my thoughts run rampant. I wonder if there is a way to save him from the complete disaster his life has become. I wonder what he will want from us when the money runs out. I wonder if he will survive this week.

I believe I should help the suffering and give to those who have less than I do. But I must remind myself that this is a situation where my giving and my help won’t save him and will ultimately destroy my son and me. The line I walk, as an addict’s mom, is tenuous and difficult to navigate. I know that sobriety is best accomplished when supported by family and loved ones, but I also know help might allow him to continue his addiction. The money I might be tempted to give could buy the drugs that kill him. So, I worry about how to let him know I’m here when he is ready to really fight for his life, but at the same time not provide help that will enable him to continue his addiction. I also want to protect myself from the emotional abuse I receive when he’s not working on his sobriety. Being available, but not being sucked into the drama is hard.

So, I worry about walking that fine line, to be involved enough to help save his life if he will let me and but not enough to let it destroy me if he chooses not to get sober. To combat the worry, I read Naranon literature and books on detachment. I write and I exercise and plan activities I will enjoy. I fight the sadness and the worry with activity. Some days I win and some days the sadness and worry consume me. On those days I forgive myself and try again the next day. I try, every day, to live my life fully even while my son destroys his.

WHO AM I?

I want to be a strong, determined and active woman. Too often I am sad, tired, and consumed with worry about my addict son. Strong determined me plans trips and gets her nails done and paints and writes. Sad, worried me sleeps and drags herself through her days. Somedays I can’t seem to beat the melancholy. I try to fight it, but I don’t win. My mind is slow and distracted and my body is tired and listless.  Occasionally, I surrender, I don’t even fight it, I let myself wallow in sadness and self-pity. Fortunately, this seems to get it out of my system, for a while. and makes me realize I don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling this way, so I fight harder the next day. My son’s addiction gives me lots of opportunities to be worried and sad, but I don’t want to let his addiction destroy us both. I wish he could be healthy and sober, but he must want it and currently, he doesn’t – at least not enough to fight for it. So, I wake up every day and fight the sadness and worry and try to live the life I would live if he had not relapsed. I would be pursuing writing and painting and exercising and visiting friends. I would be living a full, active life. So, I make myself stay busy. I don’t always feel like it, but I’ve found that, more often than not, if I plan activities and follow through, a certain amount of happiness follows. I have decided to work on my life as hard as I wish my son would work on his. So, I’m trying to become that strong, determined, active woman. I try to make sure she wins more often that not when she’s confronting the sad, tired, worried lady who fights her every day.

TALKING IT OUT

Bobbi, my therapist, is looking at me, with concern creasing her face. I’ve come to my appointment more depressed than ever. I sought her out when my 30-year-old son relapsed, after five years free from Methamphetamine use. When I called her 4 months ago, I was grasping for a hold on my sanity. I was descending quickly into the chaotic vortex life becomes when you love an addict.

Recently, my sadness fills me. I imagine it floating in my blood and as a mist hanging in the synapsis of my brain. I feel heavy from the weigh of it and everything requires more effort than I can manage. I haven’t been able to talk myself out of this sadness and it scares me. As I sit, hunched into my sorrow she asks, “Do you ever blame yourself?”  I look at her startled. And think, what!? Are kidding me? I wanted a pep talk, an easy solution; but instead, I get, “Do you blame yourself?” Now I’m more depressed. Does she know how many times I’ve asked myself this question and how unsure I am of the answer?

I begin to talk, even though I don’t want to, because, that is what I’m here for. I explain how hard I tried to be a good parent, not just a good parent, but the perfect parent. I realize that’s probably a red flag, but she just listens, as I explain my journey.  I tell her how my whole life was spent wanting to be a mom. I told her how ecstatic I was when my husband and I started trying to get pregnant in our second year of marriage.

Then how heartbroken I was when we went months without getting pregnant, then years. Finally, after too many doctors’ visits, tests and miscarriages – we decided to adopt.  We were overjoyed when we brought home our beautiful baby boy at four weeks old. We wanted to give him everything: love, security, happiness…. Our child would have it all. I read books on parenting and worked to follow all the expert’s advice. We offered stable routines, unconditional love, consistency, mental stimulation, creative play…

As he entered middle school, I homeschooled because he was struggling in school. We also encourage his nonacademic interests. We coached little league and drove him to piano lessons, swim lessons and tennis lessons. We were also vigilant about video games, movies, and TV.  We didn’t want him to spend too much time on things that would have a negative impact.  There was always a parenting book on my nightstand and I tried to do it all just right.

We had one big concern. Our adopted baby boy came from three generations of alcoholics, but we felt certain we could counteract heredity. We didn’t drink or smoke, so he would have no one to learn addiction from and there would be no alcohol in the house. We thought we could give him such a stable, loving environment that it wouldn’t matter that he came from a long line of addicts.  But it turns out life can be a cruel teacher and we were devastated by his addiction to a variety of drugs in his teens. I paused as I came to this point in my story. I finally said, “I gave my whole life to raising him. So, I don’t think I blame myself.”

But then I paused. as my mind came full circle. There was another thing I often ruminated about, “Unless,” I said, “I tried too hard, or was too involved. Is that what went wrong? Maybe… I am to blame! Maybe, I was too protective. I wanted to make his world perfect. Did I try to hard? That happens in sports. A player wants a home run or a touch down so badly, that they choke. Maybe, I blew it. Maybe, I choked.”

Bobbi wants to know how that makes me feel. With more than I little irritation, I tell her that I’m angry and that I’m no longer a confident parent. I constantly second guess my choices. Since there are no guarantees I know that there is no right way to handle an addict. What works one week, blows up in my face the next week. Even experts give conflicting advice and the advice varies based on your child’s age, drug of choice, personality, history, spiritual beliefs, and mental stability. And I am angry because I worry constantly about enabling or abandoning. I live in a constant state of turmoil and anxiety trying to figure out the right thing to do.

Why does it make you so anxious she asks? I think about it and I realize that all those books I read about child rearing are part of my problem.  All that reading made me believe that my child’s future was within my control. The books and experts said I could determine the outcome. This made me feel confident, if I did what they suggested in their book, then my child would be well-adjusted. But this was a double-edged sword, if this was true, then it also made me responsible for my child’s success or failure. By this logic, my child’s adult life wasn’t up to him but was dependent on me. And if I did what the experts said I expected it to pay off with a successful, happy well-adjusted adult. BUT, It was a lie! I know now that there is no guarantee. But I still feel guilty, I was given a handbook and still couldn’t produce a well-adjusted adult. And I’m still trying.

With mounting frustration, I say to Bobbi, “I wish someone had said, ‘do your best, BUT there are no guarantees! A child’s free will does not disappear because you love them and devote your life to them or read a hundred books about how to raise them. Your child still gets to choose whether to use drugs, follow rules, break laws or break your heart. I wish someone had told me not to wrap my whole life up in his success! I wish someone had said no matter how hard you try, you cannot control other people, not even your own child!’”

Bobbi smiles, which at first irritates me. Doesn’t she realize how mad I am? Then I realize, this is her mantra, “you cannot control other people.”  She has said to me many times, but today I worked my way to this important truth all by myself. Secretly, I feel kind of proud, because I realize that I need to be able to return to this truth on my own. It is my first step to finding peace. I say it again, with confidence “I cannot control my son.”  As I say it, I realize that my misery has come from trying to do the impossible.

Our times is coming to an end and Bobbi repeats her question, “Do you blame yourself?”

I answer with more peace than I’ve felt in days, “No, I was the best parent I knew how to be, and even if I had been perfect there is no guarantee. I’m sure I made mistakes, but they were not made from lack of effort or lack of love.”

“Anything else?” she says.

I surprised myself with how easy my answer came, “I don’t I need to fix him. It’s not my job.”

“And what is your job?” she asks.

“To take the all the effort I put into being the perfect mom and put it into learning to be a healthy, happy person whose happiness and peace are not tied to what my child does.” I say.

Bobbi smiles at me and I smile back. Okay, so I guess this is what I came for after all, not easy answers or pep talks, but therapy, with a compassionate listener, that leads me back to the truth.

Today, I choose to remember that I cannot control another person and I will not blame myself for my child’s addiction. I will work on me so that I can learn to find peace and happiness in the storm because it’s the only thing I can truly control.