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 dissonance to 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.