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My Son, the Addict

“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.” Bessel A. van der Kolk

In the past year, my life has existed in two frames.

In frame one, I am thrilled with a new job I love, a new home I am thriving in, and a deepening connection to my spouse and two of my children. This year will be the year I am ordained, that I earn my doctoral degree, but even more, it will be a year of healing and hope. I wake up. I walk. I work. I give back to those I encounter.

In frame two, I am back in the moment in January of 2022 when I learned my youngest son was addicted to fentanyl, was muling drugs to support his habit, and that he would be spending his final semester of high school in rehab instead of classes. This frame is where my spouse and son chose to lie to me for weeks about these truths.

One of these frames brings me immense pride. The other is one I have lived through by centering shame and hiding.

I am the parent of an addict and my hiding that truth and feeling ashamed by it is enabling. And for that I am done.

Sometimes, people make bad choices. I am part of a family where addiction has been a legacy. Sometimes even the best people turn into monsters when their addiction takes over their life.

Life as the parent of a teen addict is one devoid of hope. As a person who has struggled against my own addictive tendencies and as someone who has also struggled with depression and depressive episodes since I was a child, I know what it means to face the worst of your own demons in a mirror and radically accept the limitations those demons have placed in your life. I know for me. And it did nothing to prepare me to help my child or to survive the rejection from that child when that offer of help/support was weaponized.

My son is an addict.

He blames me for his addiction. That is not the story he first told. His original story of why he started using involved accusations against other people. There were months of repeated statements that his addiction had nothing to do with me or with his dad. Then, the shift happened. It was a shift that went from us being his support that he wanted/needed in his life, to me being the entire reason he started using.

I am the daughter of an alcoholic father who rejected me before my ninth birthday rather than face his own demons. It took me years to get over that and to stop blaming myself for his inability to love me more than his addiction. I thought that would be the hardest rejection in my life, but it was nothing compared to the accusations and rejections of my own child.

My goal as a parent was not unlike that of all parents. I wanted to give my children the world.

Two years ago, I wrote of how proud I was of my children, how proud I was that despite rarely hearing the word no to their requests and asks, they were people who greeted the world with compassion, generosity, and love. My son may still be that man, and I hope he begins acting in a way that demonstrates it, but he is not headed toward that road right now.

Addiction is a messy and destructive disease. It is shit – literal shit. It is clogged toilets and ruined mattresses as the cycle of use and detox happen.

It is wadded up bits of foil with drug remnants on them littering couches and floors and beds. It is piles of garbage and a willingness to live in disgusting rooms and spaces that you cannot even recognize because you are high.

It is stealing money, your brother’s PS4, and all the tools given to you for graduation to pawn to buy drugs. It is lying and blaming others, for creating false narratives to convince others of how you are the victim, how you are not responsible for your own choices or the consequences of them.

People know the term enabling.

People do not understand that fighting to not enable your child in a world that demands that parents show unconditional love to their children is impossible. We are blamed by some for our child becoming an addict, after all – we must have done something because if we didn’t this means it could possibly happen to others. We are blamed for our child’s behavior when addicted. We are blamed for not enabling and loving our child enough. No matter what, there is not a path where parents of an addicted child are not blamed and shamed for the addiction.

And there are more days than not when the litany of accusations and attacks are so strong and loud that they threaten to erode all self-acceptance. That is the primary goal of the addict blaming others. To wound and make all other people feel just as low and bad as the addict feels. I wish I could say that this would be a post with good news, with hope, with the message that healing has come to our family.

I can’t because it simply is not true. We have offered to help our son through this phase of his life with two asks of him – open and honest communication and following through on the commitments he makes.

He graduated last May. He refuses to work and has lived in the home we pay the mortgage on for a year without any financial responsibility, while literally leaving piles of animal waste and garbage piled in the corners. His choice means we are now seeking to sell the home we had hoped to someday let him, and his older brothers buy into in Minnesota when we moved to New Mexico after he graduated. His decision means his brother and his fiancé, and his grandparents will be dislodged from their home because we cannot keep enabling his behavior and the destruction of our home. We have offered to let him move in with us in New Mexico to get back on his feet.

We have offered to help him move in and pay rent to his grandparents and cut off communication with us. We have offered to help him find a sober living home.

Instead, his choice is to force us to either evict him or to risk the mental and physical health and well-being of every other person in that house by allowing him to continue living there without caring for the space, and in the past by smoking fentanyl in the house with two cancer survivors living and two children – his cousins – visiting often. I do not think my son is currently using. Not because he is opting for sobriety or to be in recovery, but because he has no money to buy drugs. He is not in recovery, committed to maintaining sobriety and making amends. Instead, he has trapped us all in a cycle of addiction. Addiction is loss.

Addiction cost my mother a relationship with her own father. Addiction has cost my siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles marriages.

Addiction has cost us relationships with two of our own children – the one who is an addict and the one who shames and blames us for not being willing to enable his addiction anymore.

Addiction kills, but not just through an actual death. Addiction kills the soul and the spirit of people and of their families and communities.

My son is an addict.

I wish he wasn’t. I wish he would reach out to take the hands we keep extending. But he cannot even see them. I love my son. I loved my son before he was an addict. I loved my son through two cycles of detox in our living room and one trip to rehab. I will love my son every day that I am upon this earth.

My one piece of advice if you find yourself on this same road - Seek help. Go to Al-anon or a similar group. Seek others going through it or you will not survive it. If you cannot find those people, find a good therapist. Seek help and support because addiction is a disease that thrives when it destabilizes. Seek help because the grief of addiction is an ambiguous grief without memorial services or delivered casserole dishes to the grieving.

My son is an addict, and I cannot save him, no matter how much I love him.

I hope he gets help. His family will be here for him when he does, but we cannot keep waiting on him and putting our own lives on hold.

I love my son, the addict.

I grieve for my son.

I grieve for my family.

I grieve for a world where so many people are so wounded, that they seek to escape it through addiction and its power to destroy.

May we continue building toward a world where addiction never takes another beloved child away from the loving embrace of their family, no matter how old the child might be.

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