As my son’s life spins more out of control, I feel myself spinning too. Falling away from him. Away from having to defend him. Away from justifying anything. It hurts. But it’s a numbing kind of hurt. A tired hurt.
I wonder, Is this how he felt when he was choosing between the choices he had?
A numbing peace?
A tiredness. What stressors that he must have faced, day after day: Running a business, keeping everyone happy. Never being enough. Never quite getting it right. Never feeling quite comfortable in his own skin. Always using humor & distraction to move away from those feelings.
The world tells us we are never enough. It’s hustle, hustle – to win the game. But those with addictive qualities, take that further. They can’t stop at certain points which balance it out. Those with mental illness become hyperfocused on unhealthy behaviors.
Netflix’s new show Words on Bathroom walls shows the demons that mental illness brings and what people have to do to relieve those.
I’ve spent 18 months doing a deep dive into why my son started using. The entire time he was getting worse and worse. As Lorelie Rozzano stated in her post recently:
“Weeks, months, and years passed. I grew progressively sicker, and somewhere along the way, I STOPPED CARING…
Justifications, rationalizations, and blame were ingrained in my thinking. My cognitive reasoning skills were poor—every thought I had allowed me to justify my behavior and rationalize my use.
Because my brain was a toxic chemical soup, my behaviors grew increasingly more unhealthy. I justified using, stealing, cheating, procrastinating, yelling, swearing, over/under-eating, shopping, and the many other poor choices I made.
I built a sticky web of deceit and drug dependency and then became trapped by my thinking. It was the worst kind of hell as I was both the victim and the perpetrator of my demise.
I also have become trapped in my thinking. Thinking I can fix this.
And maybe that’s how he feels. Too much to fix…Without the know-how to do it.
Although WE can see the way out pretty clearly, their hijacked zero-coping skill brain can’t.
And we can’t tell them the way out. This lady formally in addiction, describes the addicted brain response pretty well:
“The lack of coping skills to handle day to day challenges physical emotional psychological spiritual etc, are the core reasoning behind the need to use n abuse. All of which leads to self-destructive behaviors & uncontrollable actions that without the desire for change, leads to a self destructive lifestyle. The individual [must somehow] makee the choice to stop & force themselves to feel & learn to manage feelings & problem solve.
If not, they continue to self destruct & live day by day in the life of an addict. Only when the [recovering] addict begins to make rational decisions will he or she allow themselves to rebuild & recondition the mind- learning to think things through by positive reinforcement- Marta Deleon
Keywords”The addict can begin…..” Not the addict’s mom… Everyone has to do their own work. Even then- there’s a certain point (such as where I’m at now) to turn it over to Grace.
I have to remember Joyce Meyer’s word in “Closer to God Each Day:
“We often get frustrated because we are trying to live by our own works when our lives were brought into being and designed by God to be lived by Grace. The more we try to figure out what to do to solve our dilemmas, the more confused, upset, and frustrated we will become. …..just stop and say “Oh Lord, give me Grace (your power and ability).” -Joyce Meyer
I can only pray that there’s enough Grace (divine love or pardon) to catch us both as we are falling.
I’m not a therapist and I am NOT making excuses for the adverse and defiant behavior that typically manifests in addiction.
What I have noticed is that no matter what kind of dysfunction was present in families before addiction presented itself in one or more members, suddenly the addiction takes center stage of everything that has ever happened or went wrong in the family. By this I mean suddenly all- things- bad are the fault of the person suffering with addiction. All the other family members personality traits or domineering styles of communication are forgotten and no matter what the scenario, they are innocent.
Now, trust me, I adamantly believe that people, especially Mom’s, don’t need or deserve ANY more guilt placed on them. They already question what they did wrong and mull over mistakes made in child rearing or things said wrong during the addiction. But we must realize that everyone has unique personalities that contribute to an argument and to the family dynamic. Of course we can’t drill a mom with questions of “are you a controlling person or do you tend to meddle in others’ business?” That would be rude and besides, usually, people are not self-aware enough to know how they come across or that they have certain faults or behaviors that may be obvious and well-known to others, but how would you ever tell someone those things? And besides, it IS all perception anyway.
It may not even be the Mom who has some trait that is triggering or hard to deal with. It might be a domineering dad, or a judgmental aunt who looks down her nose and can’t ever be pleased.
I could give very personal examples but I won’t here. Just know that many different types of people take the fall for a family dynamic- it’s not just the addict. For instance the youngest child might get blamed for a lot. You can watch any family drama movie and pick out who’s going to be the fall guy whether he deserves it or not.
It’s easy to get on an addiction support site and participate in the addict- bashing and complaining of everything wrong in our lives due to the addiction.
That’s what support is for- to vent & get validation. But for every one of those loved ones with addiction there’s 5, 10, 15 different people in the family that have all different personalities and expectations that contribute in some way to how the addict deals with stress. All these expectations and demands can be daunting in a normal healthy brain, let alone one in addiction or early recovery.
Just keep an open mind when you are presented with opinions and statements of “their addiction ruined the whole family”.
Can you imagine the shame and humiliation that would feel like? To know you are responsible for everyone’s happiness in the family…possibly even extended family!
What a horrible reality to come out of the darkened loneliness that addiction brings only to feel that you can’t be one bit human and screw up what every single person expects from you. Recovery is difficult enough in and of itself.
There is no doubt that addiction is ugly and messy and ends up affecting Everyone. I’m not giving the addict a free pass here at all. I’m just asking for us to remember certain things before addiction. I have kept copious journals over the years or I would not remember a tenth of what I wrote down! It’s very helpful to read how people interacted and treated each other 10, even 20 years previously.
I found this article by Sarah Swenson from Good Therapy interesting and I have received permission to share.
If only they would stop using.
This seems to become the family mantra but I can guarantee that stopping using doesn’t fix all the family dynamics that were there before the addiction even reared its ugly head.
The Blameless Burden: Scapegoating in Dysfunctional Families
In biblical lore, Aaron selected a goat on behalf of the entire tribe, cast upon it the sins of all members, and then banished it alone to the wild. The members of the tribe were then at great ease, having been freed from their cast-off sins—whatever those sins may have been.
Everyone felt better, though they had neither identified their specific sins nor atoned for them. They had simply agreed to hang them on the goat. If this spurious logic was obvious to anyone, it was not discussed. Why question an agreed-upon means of making everyone feel better?
Now about that goat. It was selected from the herd and sent forth into the wilderness for reasons having to do with the sins of others. The goat had done nothing to merit banishment. But once the ashes were cold on the rituals of dispatching it, the goat found itself alone in the wilderness, isolated from its herd, in unknown territory, suddenly forced to fend for itself. It faced dangers from predators; difficulty finding food, sustenance, and shelter; and it lived the constantly woeful insecurity of a herd animal without a herd.
In dysfunctional families, for reasons similar to those Aaron devised, there can also be a designated person selected for the role of scapegoat. In a family system, the selection process is less overt than Aaron’s. It is done more by consensual and habitual shunning that becomes an unspoken code of behavior: one person is chosen to bear the brunt of any psychological discomfort experienced by the family as a whole. It is justified by repeating the stories that create and then reinforce the image of the scapegoat as being a person who is worthy of disdain and disparagement.
Like the strong goat Aaron selected, the target of family scapegoating is also often the strongest and healthiest member of the family. At first blush, this may sound counterintuitive. But think about it a little more. In Aaron’s case, there would be no group pleasure derived from banishing a weak animal who might easily die anyway, because that would not gratify the needs of the tribe to send off their sins on a robust vehicle, a strong goat who was up to the task of bearing the burden. So it is in families: the targeted individual is often the most accomplished. She—and for the purposes of narrative cohesion, our scapegoat is a female here—must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the shunning voices which might easily and quickly topple a weaker person. The scapegoating would fail if the weight of the sins killed the goat before it could even get chased out of town. Catharsis is the goal. The goat needs to be strong enough to suffer in order that the tribe members do not.
Just as the goat was blameless despite being sent to its lonely death, so is the human scapegoat innocent of all charges. She may not be a perfect human being, but she is no different from anyone else in her range of faults. It is not her character or her actions that have directly caused her banishment. It is the way her character and her actions, and often her accomplishments, have been experienced by the dysfunctional family members, who for their own unexamined reasons need to dispel this person from the family realm in order to avoid looking into their own consciences. They need to punish the scapegoat for provoking by her very existence the discomfort family members are feeling that is actually a result of their own unresolved issues.
If you are being scapegoated in your family, please seek professional help. You are not likely to be able to intervene in a dysfunctional system that treats one of its own members in this way. You may continue to experience the futile attempts at explaining yourself. You may fail to understand the way you are being treated. You may begin to doubt your own version of your life story. The price is too high.
Can a human scapegoat die like the goat of yore? Maybe. If not physically, certainly emotionally. It is difficult for the scapegoat to believe that her family would treat her in this unconscionable manner if she were not guilty of some grave sin. She wracks her brain and her heart to understand, but she cannot. The reasons she is given for being mistreated seem shallow, petty, and incomplete. It is difficult for her to believe these small transgressions could warrant such heavy condemnation.
She begins to doubt her own version of reality, since consensus in her own family supports a narrative different from her own about who she is and what she does or has done. She learns that if she tries to sort this out, she will be accused of “playing the victim” or being selfish, or being a “drama queen.” She is able to hold to her knowledge that this assessment and treatment are not right, until one day, utterly discouraged, she gives up. The full weight of the banishment settles upon her. She is alone. She doesn’t try to understand or explain anything anymore. She has moved into accepting a fate that makes no sense to her.
Good mental health at this point suggests she make her peace with leaving behind the family that fails her so completely. And if she is strong and well-supported with friends, she may be able to do this. She will pay a lifelong price for sins she did not commit, however, because it is difficult and painful to extract oneself from one’s family. It is counter to the most basic of human needs for home, shelter, affiliation. It is a cruel and inexcusable undertaking for a family to scapegoat a member.
If you look at the research regarding the fate of individuals who have been relentlessly bullied, you can draw conclusions about what happens to scapegoated family members, for scapegoating is bullying with focused and long-term intensity. Some bullied children go on to become bullies themselves. Some develop social skills to divert and challenge bullying, though the scars of having been bullied may insert themselves into their lives in many ways for many years to come. Others, however, do not survive, driven to suicide.
As I drove through the windy canyon, the familiar rolling hills of my hometown gave way to the rows of turkey coops dotting the fields. The wide open blue country sky was a welcome reprieve from the city. Years ago, raising turkeys was the main livelihood for the country farmers. As a child, I would help my dad drive the trucks between the feeders to fill them up with grain. That shy little blonde girl roaming the countryside, looking for another adventure; seems like a million eons ago.
I had been making this trip more and more recently. To see my boys, all three of them- in the same town together! Finally, after many years of living in different parts of the state, they end up just 2 houses apart. Jobs, families, and that creep- addiction had separated our family and torn it to shreds. But the last 3 months were a true miracle. My eldest son had done a complete 180 and turned his life completely around. It took a brush with death- a new scary heart diagnosis, but it still was his choice.
His new mindset was completely focused on becoming legal again, resolving his court cases, trying to reunite with his kids, and forging a new career where he could meet all his financial obligations. Well, that and surviving heart disease too.
Most of those went smoothly but not effortlessly, although he has a way of making it seem so.
My goal and purpose with this trip and others was to enjoy every second I had with him and my other kids.
I wish I could capture the feeling of opening up Facebook and seeing my son doing life. Eating out, going to the lake, kayaking, riding ATVs. Things they had done together 4 years ago, now seemed like nothing had ever come between them.
I wish I could take this feeling of relief and gently hand it to every hurting Mom. I wish I could share my splintered heart whose gaps are being filled up with small mementos of my much-awaited hope.
Hope that I spent years clinging to. Yearning. Aching for moments that I have now. Along with it comes tinges of guilt. For those who are still suffering.
Maybe it's a bit like survivors guilt.
I vividly remember the anguish. The sleepless nights. I see certain pictures and it all comes back. The endless worry and feelings of powerlessness. The minute to minute panic of the perpetual other shoe dropping. I felt like I was running, running against the crooked sky.
Now I finally see the rainbow. The light at the end of the tunnel. The bliss of joy. Of relief.
I know that this good fortune could run out at any time, so it’s all the more reason, why I am covering myself in it. Soaking in his victories and just loving on him any chance I get. I think I’ve hugged him more in the last 3 months than 36 years. If only I could package up those hugs. Package up his essence, his joy. His smile every time I see him.
One of his little nephews asked if he was always so fun and pleasant, and we told him yes, he was. Later he can be told that sometimes drugs mask these qualities and that’s what the last 3 years were like. For now, it’s healing time.
If I could gift this feeling to other hurting Moms, I wouldn’t wrap it in a fluffy tissue bag with a pretty bow and a tag that says live, laugh, and love.
Instead, I would give them a bright glowing golden heart with the message: hold-on, hope-on, and heal-on.
A heart of intention, covered in precious dew drops of the tears of a thousand moms mourning the child they once knew. The dew would glisten and shine brightly to lead the way to give them hope. Hope that everyone's heart can heal. I would pass its energy onto trembling hands that have no idea what's in store.
I would cover those trembling hands with all the love and faith I could carry, gently warming them into a slow breathable calmness. Telling them to trust, to hope, to have faith that there is someone who loves them and their child even more.
Someone who has them gently wrapped in the palm of his hands ever so strongly, knowingly.
When the pain is almost unbearable, and they feel alone, they can hold on to that heart and connect to their loved one, wherever they may be.
When you can't see the light, the Rainbow. You can't see any way out. Come back to your heart. That's where the God of your understanding lies. That's where your peace is.
As my friend Joanne so lovingly states:
That's where your safety lies. That's where your child is safest. In your own heart 💜
For all those who see all the purple banners today representing overdose awareness day and you scroll on by thinking:
“I’m glad that doesn’t affect me, I’m glad I taught my kids better” or “Someone should have got them help”.
I applaud you. I do.
I am sooo glad that you have never had to watch your beautiful child turn into someone you didn’t know, I’m sooo glad you’ve never had to get a call from the inmate phone system asking if you’ll accept the charges as you swallow the lump in your throat.
I’m soooo glad you’ve never had the experience of watching your 28-year-old, Once 220 lb- now 160 lb son, thrash around in the back seat, sweating, then freezing, begging his own mother to please take him to get drugs to stop this sickness, as you’re trying to take him to detox.
I’m sooo glad you’ve never had to see a dad in a restaurant with his kids & have your heart ache so deeply that your son isn’t with his kids.
I’m so glad you don’t have to sit down at a delicious meal & feel a twinge of guilt knowing your child hasn’t eaten for days & wondering where he is at.
I’m so glad you’ve never had to see your precious grandkids celebrate a birthday & not knowing the words to tell them that their dad has a chronic, progressive, fatal illness that teaches him lies & makes him do crazy things but he’s NOT crazy & this IS NOT happening because they are unworthy of love or did something wrong.
I’m glad that you would never tell a dying lung cancer patient that they shouldn’t have started smoking. I’m glad you would never tell a diabetic patient that they only get ONE chance to get their blood sugars under control, and then they’re on their own.
Or they should just get over this pesky illness that’s inconveniencing everyone.
I truly am.
Because I wouldn’t wish this nightmare on anyone. I would never want anyone else to lay awake at night, unable to stop the tears, wondering what they could have done differently.
I wouldn’t want anyone else to wonder if today is the day that THEY get the call.
I’m very glad that you taught your kids to make better choices, & that you’ve never broken the speed limit or took a drink or had something so traumatic in your life that you just needed to get through the pain for a minute- And if you did, luckily you were able to stop or walk away without any devastating effects.
Great genes, or coping skills! I wonder if you could help teach those to others? Obedience to life and all the rules, like you have done your whole life, must feel great. I’m sure you love your wonderful life.
What say you? Oh, your life isn’t perfect? I must have missed that part when you were shaking your head in disgust, or when you were rapidly typing with your two thumbs on the Narcan post that your tax dollars shouldn’t have to pay for others’ dumb choices.
In that case, we should start looking at ALL the programs funded by taxpayer money AND also the local hospital programs for heart disease and diabetes, HIV, many of which are the result of personal choices and they DO affect others in their own way.
I’m sure you’re normally a compassionate person. I used to be you. I was compassionate AND caring! I donated to the local children hospital fund. I ran in the race-for-cancer cure fun run. I donated coats for the homeless drive every winter when my kids were little. I left cans on my front door for the boy scout food drive.
But when driving by the guy on the corner, avoiding eye contact with him; I just KNEW that he was only supporting his habit and I had all I could do to not say out loud, “Just GET A JOB!
I understand, I do.
Never, ever, did it cross my mind that I would be walking into a police station to pick up leftover evidence that they had from a drug bust. Never, ever did I think I would be watching a nurse drain a cyst off my sons arm and watching him scream in pain. Never, ever did I worry every single day that my sons life would end, except maybe when he was a baby and had a high fever and was vomiting all night.
See, I’m not really that much different than you. The difference is, I’ve had the humbleness bug forced upon me for a few years now. I don’t hold it against you that you have missed that bug.
We need to create practical affordable solutions for all- while eliminating the waste & fraud in treatment.
Shame and embarrassment are keeping people from seeking treatment.
Even if that means opening our mind up to alternative treatments such as Harm reduction.
The death rate is frightening and it IS AN EPIDEMIC as it affects the core of the family structure, jobs, crime, the jail system, and little kids who grow up with the stigma of a parent in jail or who has died from overdose or poisoning.
Addiction affects every aspect of society whether directly or indirectly. If you don’t have anything to offer to help stop this nightmare, then please please offer your compassion and time. Even if you don’t understand how it gets to this point, you can still give HOPE to a suffering addict or a kind word to the family of a person with a substance use disorder.
Or what about not arguing about insulin needing to be free. Maintenance meds are not usually free to anyone, but AED paddles and Narcan to revive-not treat, are free to EMTS.
See, I don't want one more parent to have to bury a child due to drugs or alcohol, but the only way that's going to happen is if we ALL take on a little part of this ongoing and progressive epidemic to get rid of judgements and stigmas so we can forge practical, affordable solutions for all.
This IS everyone's problem...
It’s ok to NOT understand the complexities of this disease and to not have a solution!
You can still give that person holding a sign on the corner, a $5 McDonald’s card to let him know that yes, someone does give a damn today- no matter what their motives.
Just over 2 months ago, I declared my son healed. He wasn’t physically….yet, but I spoke healing over him. I had to. I was tired of spinning in circles of everything that was “wrong” with him. I was done making deals and pleas with God. I knew I had to accept him as he is, yet declare the greatness in him that seemed hidden.
He was in jail for the second time this year and the sixth overall from the last few years. I realized I was begging for the wrong things. As stated in my previous whiningposts, it’s been a roller coaster ride. And not the new flashy, sexy roller coaster, but the old wooden, creaky, break-down-at-any moment roller coaster (where they would casually say: “You knew the risk” if something were to go wrong.
I was finished making deals and decided to get off the roller coaster, so I sent my first born incarcerated son this message of not only HOPE but of FAITH.
"Your potential is not measured by your surroundings at the moment, but by the quiet moments of your heart. Where you ache deeply for your family and kids. Where your shame has pushed you into places and spaces that smothered you into numbness.
Whatever it is that pushed you into those conditions you're in; whether it was a society who said you weren’t worthy of getting well; or your own spiral into self-defeat; you can come back.
Anytime, come back.
You’re needed. You’re wanted.
It might not seem like it. We might be scared and worried at first, but it’s only because we care. We have been conditioned to fear the worst. So have you. That’s why it horrifies you to think of being that person you were before. After all – those were the days you needed to escape from. The stress and pressure of expectations and disappointment were off the charts some days.
What if you fail again? Oh but my son, what if you don’t? What if the last half or more of your life is filled with unbelievable joy? What if your kids and grandkids are gathered around you to hear your war stories? Not real war, but your days of the drug war. You won’t glamorize it like alcohol is. You will tell the cold hard truth. You will tell those precious souls that evil starts small. With a thought. A nudge. A risk. A desire for something more. You will tell them not to be afraid or embarrassed to admit their concerns. If they are in over their head, it’s the right thing to do to seek help, but mostly that ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD.
Come back. So much love awaits you.
I knew the law had him by the nuggets, but I wanted HIM to WANT to come back to life. I wanted Him to make the decisions to recover, not just going through the motions. I wanted him to lead his own recovery so the success rate would be greater.
During his court hearing, his lawyer presented the name of the rehab he had been accepted to. The Judge started to approve his release from jail to the rehab when he slowly looked down at his notes. What followed was at least a 2 minute dead- silence tense moment in the courtroom, with all eyes on the judge as he looked from his notes to the computer. I knew my son was squirming inside but as usual, on the outside, he was cool as a cucumber. I was holding my breath wondering what the problem was.
Just 3 days before, my son almost got written up in jail for a problem with a jail razor not being turned in correctly. My son told me that it wasn’t him but he’s not a snitch so unless the other guy confesses, my son would probably be going to the hole for 24 hrs. I was thinking the judge was reviewing that and would punish him. At last, he spoke. It was a discrepancy in the number of cases. There was one missing. It was soon cleared up by the prosecution and the judge cleared my son’s release at 5 am the next morning.
My husband and I picked him up from that jail in the dark of the night, for the second time in 2 years. This time it was with hope, with the promise that this nightmare might be over. My son came out of the triple-locked electric doors with an old white shirt on and a garbage bag full of moldy clothes.
He was free. Would he run? My husband was prepared for that.
He didn’t. We proceeded on the 4-hour drive to rehab. The judge said we could only stop for an hour for a meal. Although I was concerned the judge would “find out”; we laughed about it as we stopped in to see his sister, went shopping for pants for rehab, and made the 9 am appointment for his CDL that was expiring quickly. We kept getting lost finding the rehab but finally made it by the 1 pm deadline. My son took his things, hugged me, and said. Thank you, Mom.
My husband and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Almost as big as we did 2 years ago at the Las Vegas airport when we sent him off with a total stranger.
He was free, in a way. But we were too. Free from worrying about the stark realities of jail. A place where they are just babysitting them through their time there. Addiction might as well be a wart on their toe as far as getting “treated”. Although they did take me seriously when I called medical and said he was going to hang himself. They listened to the tapes and put him in solitary.
He recovered from that mindset, Thank God.
So here we are 5 weeks into rehab. There still are no promises. I’m trying to give my son space to heal. I’m letting him learn to take care of himself. When he figures out he needs something and asks me, I make sure I get it to him, no matter what the barriers. I want him to feel how it feels to have food, a nice bed, and take vitamins again. I do this because I know that to take care of others (his kids, a job, responsibilities); he has to relearn how to take care of himself.
It takes so much patience. From the addicted one AND from all involved. I feel a bit sorry for those who aren’t involved. Oh, I know it’s easier to wash your hands of something. It’s easier to push all the work onto someone else to fix what actually takes both parties to fix. It’s so much easier to say, “call me when you’re sober”. Or even disown someone. If there’s a threat of violence or abuse, I can totally understand. But to fellow humans, family, even; it still saddens my heart that they miss out on the process of change:
#1 The service given to a struggling human.
#2 The joy of watching them change day by day, week by week.
#3 To hear their thoughts and dreams of better days ahead.
It’s disheartening to hear:
“He’s still the same, and until he’s back to the person I want him to be, then he’s not deserving of my time.”
Maybe not in those words but it’s implied. As for me, I choose to take the good with the bad. I choose to aid in any way recovery-minded. Yup, I choose to bring him a basketball at night, when he wants to play basketball.
Because recovery is an entire mind-body and soul transformation. It's using muscles they haven't used in a while. It's feeling feelings they haven't felt. It's them leaving behind all the coping skills that they've honed in on for months and years (however illegal they were), and convincing them there's a better way- But mostly giving them the space to find it.
He went into rehab with a bullet hole in his leg, I’m hoping he will come out with lead-strong strength and conviction in his healing. And I’m forever grateful that I get to witness it.
93, 92, 90, 88, 85. The red flashing numbers on the monitor were screaming to be noticed, as they dived downward.
My son pulled his head up off the bed in the intensive care unit and gasped for air.
“Please get me out of here!”
“I can’t breathe!” He yelled.
His face was a shade of non- agreeable gray as his reddened eyes rolled back. He started grabbing the many tubes that were sustaining his life for 2 days now. Just an hour before, he had told me he thought he was going to die the night before. But now…..
This seemed pretty close too.
“Please help me G-d dammit!” His teeth clenched together to bite the tube that was in his mouth.
I was embarrassed, worried, scared, sad, angry, powerless and confused.
I held my trembling insides together as I watched this first born son of mine fight the ravages of the disease of addiction’s monstrous withdrawal symptoms coupled with new diagnoses of pneumonia, flu and the surprise one: congestive heart failure.
He was only 35.
This boy of mine who was always moving (no sedentary lifestyle for him); didn’t cave to the smoking fad for years; Loved salads along with his hamburgers; now had the heart of an 80 year old.
Over the last few years, I had conjured up all sorts of scenarios of addiction and lived in fear of overdoses; but this? Heart failure? Never, in a million years.
With the withdrawals out of control and his oxygen dropping quickly, I had to make the decision to let them intubate him. This means a tube would be inserted into his lungs to breathe for him.
My husband and I were whisked out of the room while they inserted another lifeline into my little 9 pound 5 oz baby who had metamorphosed into a 6 ft 220 man now. Or more like 190 after the last 6 month “run”.
A flailing struggling human.
He was finally beaten down by the deprivation and the twisted, sharp fangs of the lifestyle of addiction. This larger than life man, who was the life of the party, now reduced to the mercy of these medical professionals who were strangers in a strange and dark town.
Driving into this town lately, made my insides sick mostly because of my sons infatuation with it. 6 hours from my home; we had made many trips here to try to console, consort, bribe, and pray for my son out of it. I had begged, literally begged; stars, famous entertainers, politicians, influencers and famous recovery “helpers” and rap stars that my son loved; to take an interest, take him under his wing and help us with an intervention to save him.
No one answered me.
One slightly famous, very influential- although a bit controversial -“star”. He told me:
“Your son is not who he thinks he is, and until he can find a way back to his true self, the true destiny he was meant to fulfil; he will continue to suffer.”
Well, here we are.
I’m not sure who was suffering worse. Him or me. Probably him.
I was told once that pain is a huge motivator. Would this be enough pain? How much suffering must one human endure? Either the recipient or the recipient’s loved ones- how much can one withstand?
I try to distract myself and log onto Facebook.
“My son is a monster!””
“I’m kicking him out!”
“How can he do this to me?!!”
My feed is filled with the mom’s support group posts of their person with SUD.
I can’t. I close my Facebook and stare at my sons’ now calm face. His long eyelashes closed over his sweaty face. This boy. This boy who has stolen my heart and encapsulated the last 3 years fully into focused kinetic energy of one goal- recovery.
Would this be IT? Would this be the final straw for him? Almost dying? His future completely dependant on his choices and decisions.
Would my boy love himself enough to care enough? Would he care enough to love himself?
That answer remains hidden. Under the sterile cold hospital room. Amidst the beeping red lights. Under the stark, white, starched bedding that lay over my once vibrant happy son.
All I know is that my son is alive. Here and now, my son is alive. How many times I have prayed for this moment. For him to just be alive.
For now, I will not wonder, or stress, or ruminate. I will not make bets, or promises or excuses. I will not project my fears, insecurities and expectations.
Yesterday, I came within feet of my boy yet couldn’t hug him.
Yesterday I missed a call from my boy where I could have heard his voice for the first time in months.
How many moms would give anything to be able to do that?
When you are the mom of a substance user, these things are important because of the risk of premature or unwarranted death.
Yesterday, I still thought my boy could be gone, until I saw him alive and breathing in an almost interactive picture.
But I had to leave him again in the hands of faith and God.
Because of the wayaddiction weaves its tentacles into the crevices of people's minds, some things just can't be done the way you would if your loved one had cancer
With Cancer, you would enjoy every last minute and second with your loved one because hope is pretty much gone.
Addiction is more like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s together but with a cure out there leading you around like a dangling carrot.
The mind is under some sort of control, with moments of clarity. The body seems to be unable to stop certain behavior and actions. The mind then over- justifies the behaviors and downplays them. It might even lie about them.
Pride and shame work hand in hand when it comes to feeling like a failure. Pride says: “I can handle it, I don’t need any help, NO MATTER what evidence is presented.”
Shame says: “I’ve lost my hero/dad/husband/son/ uncle/entrepreneur status and the pain cuts so deep that I want to isolate and hurt myself worse.
People/society verify that feeling by treating me as a second class citizen, which then propels me to act worse and take riskier behavior just to survive”.
I used to think Cancer was the worst thing that could happen to a body and mind.
But I now know that cancer is usually temporary- sad & painful- but has a verifiable ending.
Addiction has brought me things that I may never have discovered.
I have crept into places and feelings that may not have existed. Because, you see, as long as my kids were doing well, and what society respected and expected; I could be proud.
But the minute the stigma of addiction hit my family, I had to hide my pain and shame. After all, how do you post the small success of improvement next to the graduations and promotions of others kids?
But addiction also has made me grateful.
Grateful for Hope. For Faith. For the possibilities of recovery and connection.
Grateful for my other kids, that despite all that’s happened, they have proven they can rise above the pain and thrive, possibly in the example and footsteps and honor of their brother, to make a life of joy for their families. After all, what speaks hope and healing better than by example.
I may not have been able hug my boy yesterday but he lies in my heart constantly, whether a few feet away or 400 miles away.
Looking for a surefire way to ruin your day, month, year, even all your golden years?
Try this… let’s judge yesterday’s actions with today’s information.
Take what you know today, with all your experience and knowledge; then look back over your life, make sure to focus directly on your parenting and sort through each detail. The next step is taking what you know now, with today’s information, and judge all your past decisions. Notice all your mistakes and say things to yourself like, I should have, I could have, and I would have.
See how that works?
Now that you are good and depressed, let’s talk about judging yesterday’s actions with today’s information.
As absurd as it may seem laid out in the above way, it is one of the primary ways that parents stay stuck, sick, and unhappy.
Many parents of substance users do this to themselves for years, always with negative results. This mentality of judging past decisions with new information fosters low self-esteem, depression, guilt, poor relationships, and even poor health.
The regret and guilt created by doing this can keep a parent engaged in a dynamic with their adult children that allows the child to avoid the natural consequences of their addiction.
Sometimes parents might judge others’ (spouse, schools, law enforcement, friends, etc.) past actions in relation to their child and blame them for their child’s problems and addiction.
This mindset succeeds in keeping the addict in the victim role rather than allowing the addict to take ownership over what he/she must change in order to recover.
This mindset is also often used by parents to avoid that persistent and scary (FALSE) belief that it is their fault that their child was given the curse of addiction.
If you can see the insanity in judging yesterday’s actions with today’s information, what can you do to change this mentality?
First and foremost, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This is where parent meetings are critical. Discussion with others who have walked this path will help tremendously; a burden shared is halved. There is a difference between knowing there are other parents out there who have dealt with addicted kids and actually spending time talking with them. There is enormous relief from shared experience and identification with others.
Educate yourself about addiction; anyone who understands addiction, knows it is almost never the parent’s fault and that the only way for addicts to recover is for them to take responsibility for their own lives. It is really challenging for them to do this and nearly impossible if the parents won’t let go, stop fixing everything, and begin to recover themselves.
Focus on today’s actions, dwelling on the past is never useful. Take todays new information you are learning from other parents and only apply it to today. When we apply a solution to the here and now it can really help effect change instead of keeping us stuck in the past. So, let’s try this again…. Looking for a great way to help you enjoy your day, month, year, or even the rest of your golden years? Try the above positive suggestions and remember that you are powerless over the choices of others but have the power to feel good about yourself as a parent right now!
As a Mom, going through this tumultuous journey of loving someone with substance use disorder; I often find myself in a quandary of confusion.
It’s as if I’m in some suspended cloud of anger and sadness, relieved when a ray of hope trickles through the misty light only to be followed by dark thunderstorms of disappointment again.
The steps seemed pretty straight forward at first. After the initial gut-wrenching shock of discovering the drug use of my son; the comfort (and naivety) that he’s an adult and can handle it, left me with a slightly aloof neutrality that it wasn’t my deal.
I mean how serious could a few extra pills be? He worked hard! He was always having back pain. He needed relief, in order to work.
Wow! Was I ever naive.
When the facts of how serious it was becoming- despite continued denial on his part- I found the strange foreboding “routineness” of being the Mom of a struggling substance user, set in.
And THAT was scary!
I couldn’t ignore the signs of impending doom, swirling around like a storm just waiting to hit.
As the perpetual shoes kept dropping -a job contract lost; another of his businesses failed; then the marriage crumbles; I watched in sometimes shell-shocked horror at the devastation such a thing could cause.
The rehab failures, mixed with moments of clarity and hope, leave me exhausted.
“Walk away and you’ll feel better”.
“Go to a meeting, do self-care, live your life “.
It doesn’t seem to matter what mode of recovery my personal journey is at; I seem to be suspended in this cloud of perpetual uncertainty. It takes me back to elementary school when we played tug-of-war.
Will I be the cheering group with scuffed hands but happy smiles? Or dragging myself out of the mud in the middle trying to wash the heartache away?
Will I be professing the “cure” as my son happily recovers? Or will I be in the mourning Mothers club of pain & heartache?
Which team was I on anyway? Am I with the tough love crowd? Especially on those days when I’m being pressured for money from my son?
Or am I in the loving well- connection- above- all- group? In the middle, are the harm reduction lobbyists who are adamant about users’ rights & safety.
I’m running back and forth, I want to be on the winning team! And by winning, I mean I want my child to survive!
Above all, isn’t that goal?
My heart sinks every time I read ‘that post”. A mom who got “the call”.
I want to scream! No! I don’t want to be in this club! I want to show the gut-wrenching pain to all those people on Narcan posts who despise giving addicts more than one chance or ANY chance. I want to advocate for more help, for understanding. I want to break the stigma. I want to gracefully educate and come out feeling proud that we are making progress. One life might be saved.
I want to be that ONE. The one who finally found "the key" & pulled everyone together. I want results or at least palpable progress.
Just when I think I’ve gained some sort of empathy for my son’s and all substance users’ struggles, I’m hit with the accusations. Sometimes a stranger on Instagram, sometimes family and friends. That I’m the reason he still uses. That every time I use “defensive language” regarding him then I’m enabling. Every time I arrange rehab instead of jail, I’m enabling. (Which happened twice in 4 years).
It’s inferred that I’m wasting my time because he will never change & that I should spend my energy elsewhere. More than once I was cut off from family for how I handled the addiction.
This hits hard.
Rejected-not due to effort but to the failure of my efforts?
As if addiction wasn’t painful or complicated enough, it gets to perpetuate its lies and havoc not only onto the addict but onto loved ones and how they “should” react or fulfill their roles.
I felt like my role was to give him one support person like everyone needs. I needed to be able to give him hope in the midst of all the darkness.
As my friend Johanna Richards states so eloquently:
“I enable my love and truth. I enable my love. I enable a safe place for him to have a better chance of feeling loved and being treated like a human being with worth and dignity.”
This is my goal.
Everyone gets to choose their response and I choose to love without regrets.
Even “tough love” when done with anger and spite stalls any progress. I read it all the time in the Mom’s groups. Unhealed pain manifests as bitterness and sometimes when they share screenshots of texts with their person, I can’t tell who the addict is!
Addiction loves to do that. Get its slimy hands between families, friends, bosses, even organizations. Divide and conquer is how it survives.
The underlying theme in all these interactions is:
If only he would quit using.
But I have come to realize that quitting is actually a tiny step in achieving actual recovery.
It’s a necessary step, but only part of the process.
Treatment is the ultimate goal , We have an idea that if we can just get them there-then the magic will happen.
All is well right?
Recovery is not linear and usually takes several tries. I would soon learn that it takes personal responsibility from everyone past that point also.
The day after his 2nd rehab stay, he moved into an old clapboard & brick sober-living house in the worst area of downtown.
We were standing in line at the grocery store. He was so thrilled at all the new cereal flavors that had come out in the year or two of him being basically homeless or in jail.
He quietly said, with that far away, introspective look he gets in his eyes, “I wish ‘certain people’ would fight for me. They act like I shouldn’t have a job”.
My mother- heart sank.
As I watched this 36-year-old man trying to make sense of this un-make-sensible disease; I was sad. How could I explain to this newly detoxed brain, with raw emotion scourging back to life into places that he wasn't ready to handle - that no one trusted him? That people hate putting their reputation on the line when statistically, responsible behavior in recovery, is a non-linear maze of disappointment.
In his mind, he had done so much for others, for many years and now felt abandoned, in a sense.
I felt for him. To have so much hope and the momentum of getting back to center but then constantly be told you might fail, like a certain recovery model preaches; must be daunting.
Rehab is a huge deal to him. He’s NOT a revolving rehab-ber, so this was a giant accomplishment to his independent, resourceful lifestyle.
So now he had done the thing…
Get off the drugs, ✔go to jail,✔ go to rehab. ✔
“You’re still not good enough” basically, as one text inferred
I sigh. This was his journey.
I can’t hold his pain or drive his recovery.
I can’t dwell in the negative, I just can’t. We’ve come so far.
I have to take care of me.
I need relief. I need feedback.
I go back to the support groups for comfort. When I hear the echoes of those same attitudes from hurt wives and mothers who can’t contain their pain and disdain for what they’ve been through; I quickly exit out of that group.
I need a more moderate group who understands the Mom side with compassion and hope.
Now, All is well until someone mentions: “All drug dealers should get life without parole or death”.
I freeze. I wonder…..
If my son is only worthy of help when he’s ‘clean’ or not crossing a certain line in the jagged destructive course of addiction; then the other 50% of the time, it’s a toss-up as to his worth?
Is he surviving the best he can, day by day- or asking family for money? It seems, either way, he’s the villain.
According to some, if I’m not doing ANY thing for him then he has a chance -(to hit rock bottom) – even though – unrecovered, he has zero chance of keeping a regular job or getting money legally.
What happens in that gap?
If he can’t support himself, he certainly can’t support his kids. But that must be my fault too. I must have given him too many hamburgers when he was starving.
Ughh. The uncertainty and mixed messages that Mommas feel!
My goal was ALWAYS to get him back to his kids. In whatever way he could get healed and treated in order for that to happen. I never ever justified or supported him staying in his lifestyle. To do that I had to maintain a connection.
If I even so much as hint that connection works better than shame and punishment, then I’m supporting his lifestyle, like his lawyer told me.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how to help my son anymore. But at times I want to scream.
What is a life worth?
Every single life in this convoluted mess of evil entanglement is of value. Each person is caught in their own version of the hell that it causes.
OTHER people in PAIN are not the enemy!
I want to have that blasted on every Billboard right next to:
NARCAN to overdoses is like AED paddles to a heart attack!"
It’s not a “get out of jail free card!”.
What I do know is that my son never ever wanted it to be like this. The man who used to send his little girl flowers every time he worked out of town is now considered a dead-beat dad and it tears my heart out. Years of substance use and conflict has isolated him further. In the short window when he is detoxed and willing, he can’t seem to conform fast enough to recovery expectations with a complete rebuilding of his life.
He has nothing-unhoused, unemployed and yet expected to manage and fix ALL his relationships AND fulfil the court obligations.
When I hear of some other thing he needs to do in his recovery, I sigh. I have to step back and accept the limits of my role. I also have to review my own expectations of his recovery.
If the determining factor for a relationship of an unhealed, skewed-thinking brain versus a healthy brain is for the unhealed brain to lead the way to healthy interactions with everyone, there’s going to be problems.
There’s a dynamic at work in ALL relationships that was there before the drugs, and now those issues need more attention than even before.
But the pressure seems to be placed on them, to fulfil all our hopes and dreams for their lives as it relates to ours.
That’s a lot for one person.
The progressive nature of unhealed addiction mixed with the correctional system almost always leads to more crime.
Relapse: A draw towards people and places who fill that empty hole that substances, or any addictive behavior fill.
For me, the justification for spending more money on a much-needed intervention at this point, is a hard sell. He’s facing charges that could be years in prison. Prison is expensive too, but so are funerals.
I think he feels like he’s stuck in a system that never lets them breathe freely without looking over their shoulder.
I see what that system has done to him. He’s hardened. Day by day, little by little which that saddens my aching Mama heart.
Pain & trauma damage a soul. It causes cognitive dissonanceto maintain a core belief such as “I can’t function without drugs”.
Sometimes, I understand why people stay in deep dark places. Although to us, it looks and feels scary, to them, it’s safety. It’s home. It’s acceptance.
No, I’m not justifying drug use. I’m justifying human beings in severe turmoil and trauma. If they didn’t have trauma before the addiction, they certainly do after it.
So, this journey of a thousand miles is truly just one step at a time.
There are days I have to literally force myself to breathe and count each step to get through the day. Some days each step is filled with angst, trepidation, & fear. But other days, I project hope into every deliberate movement and breath.
I envision the day when my hopes and dreams mesh perfectly with my sons.
When all things good and right come together in some kind of radical entanglement with the universe and God’s plan for him. To see little kids happy smiles beaming joy into faces of love is my ultimate wish. To have the love and understanding of family with everyone’s pain in the journey acknowledged, seen & heard with hope, moving forward in love.
If you haven’t had the distinct opportunity to call the coroner’s office to look for your child you may not resonate with this post.
If you haven’t called the ER of 11 different hospitals at 3 am asking for a John or Jane doe, then you may think I’m a bit crazy.
Then calling again in the morning to get the main hospital to see if they were admitted without ID. Then realizing that they might have his name and ID but he’s still comatose so you call them all back and give his name.
10 of them say he’s not there. 1 says they can’t confirm or deny that he’s there, which makes me think he is there.
This is all because of a little green dot on messenger.
As I watched the countdown of his ‘last time online’ tick further and further away, my panic grew. My son was on messenger almost all the time. When he wasn’t, it was only for 6-8 hrs. When it hits 15, I panic. I text his friend to get hold of him. Usually this works within an hour or two. But not this time.
You would think my son is 16, 17 or 18 years old. No, he’s 36. When addiction is involved age doesn’t matter because the drugs affect the same area of the brain including the basal ganglia, extended amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
Whatever the age, they are going to bypass rational thinking, time management & empathy for others.
The prefrontal cortex is located at the very front of the brain, over the eyes, and is responsible for complex cognitive processes described as “executive function.” Executive function is the ability to organize thoughts and activities, prioritize tasks, manage time, make decisions, and regulate one's actions, emotions, and impulses.- Source
I have to laugh when I see this meme:
The term “Grow up” feels like shaming, or “throwing shade” on an already convoluted and insidious situation. It’s either a brain disease that affects the areas of reasoning, managing problem-solving, planning, and decision-making abilities- Or they’re just being immature and need to grow up?
Not one scholarly or medical article ever says they need to just grow up.
They need healing, yes so they can make more responsible choices but I don’t see how telling them to grow up is helpful at all.😥
It’s very frustrating loving an addict. In fact, I would dare say it’s a love-hate relationship. During the moments of thinking they are actually gone from this earth, wave after wave of emotions hit: guilt, sorrow, sadness, bargaining. You will do anything to be able to rephrase your last words to them. You beg God for another chance. Then, the minute they are suddenly “alive”, after the relief, of course, the anger hits.
Why is this happening again? Why does he just disappear for 2 days then offer a “sorry, I’m ok…..my phone” or some random excuse.
In this case, my son is running from warrants again. But these warrants are for charges they pulled up from a year ago – AFTER he spent 90 days in jail and 57 in rehab. He had only been out 2 weeks when I received a junk offer from lawyers who scout new charges. Otherwise we would have never known he’s been charged.
It was 2 days before Christmas and with that one letter my son lost all progress from the last year including any hope of recovery this time. He said:
“Mom they are never going to let me have a normal life. They want me to stay in the system forever”.
All the momentum he had built and the plans he made were swiped away with the threats of indictment. For having a disease that he couldn’t control.
He ran to Vegas because they were running his license plate every other day when they spotted him. First he wanted to fight it. He wanted me to help him get a lawyer. But then, the evil claws of addiction and that horrible town sucked him into the black hole again. He is hustling who knows what, with who knows who and no longer communicating like we were.
I am devastated, scared beyond belief. He’s facing years in prison with these old charges. But beyond that, I fully expect to have to do a funeral with these Vegas odds bearing down on him.
Today someone asked me “How is your son?” This NEVER happens. No one speaks his name in my family or otherwise. But then they went on: “I was thinking about him in church yesterday as they were discussing tough love, co- dependency, versus desperation to help a child we love so much.”
My heart sank. Here we go again. The “let him go” crowd. People who have lots of ideas about how to handle a situation that they’ve probably never been in.
I just can’t today.
How to say, “he’s dying! He truly is dying! He’s sinking into a black hole of isolation, crime and addiction into the under belly of an evil town!”, without sounding like the “co-dependent, desperate mom” that so many love to label.
This is a human soul. This a man who was loved by so many. This man helped many many people when he had the means to, and now he is "worthless" because he has nothing to offer. No I will not jump on the bandwagon of "let him fall, let him fail, let him "figure it out". I won't be tossing him aside until he can perform to my expectations. I will stand in the gap between good and evil and I will fight for my son. His life matters. Whether he's struggling or " doing well", his life matters & Yes, I will go to the ends of the earth for him.
Today I will continue to pray for a miracle. I will speak life into this situation. I will pray for the funds to appear to hire Las Vegas extreme interventions, because my son is in extreme danger. It is a fight for his life at this point. He is out of control and obviously unable to pull himself out again.
I respond to the question: “He’s still struggling” and let it go at that.