Two weeks ago, we had a lovely weekend in El Paso. Three humans. Three dogs. Exploring the world.
On Monday of this week, our son started a new job.
On Thursday, I came home from work and he said he had the day off. He was up and talking and engaged.
He took the garbage out.
Now he is gone.
He sent a message about an hour after he left saying he would be home.
That was it.
We saw him briefly, across an arroyo with his friend Shrimp who lives in the same arroyo.
Walking the walk with a 19-year-old addict is never easy. It is especially hard in a world that blames you for their choices and for their addiction.
If we let him go, we are bad parents.
If we enable his using, we are bad parents.
We have given him space and support, paying for all his expenses for months. But we cannot save him from the destruction of his own choices, something this world and our hearts who mourn will never let us forget.
Was I a bad parent?
Because parents are people, and people are not all good or all bad.
an adaptation from "A Message to the Mom with An Addicted Child" by Lorelei Rozzano
I know you’re tired.
There are no words for the pain you feel, only tears. Your child’s addiction is destroying you.
You avoid people who ask too many questions because honestly, you don’t have any answers. How does one explain what it’s like to watch their precious child struggle with addiction?
You’ve kissed their face a thousand times. You’ve watched them as they slept and held their hand when they were learning to walk. You taught them to look both ways before crossing the street. You made sure they wore their helmet and buckled their seatbelt. You’ve been their number one cheerleader and no one in the world will ever love your child like you do. Once upon a time, you could fix it all, but now, you can’t. You feel lonely and disconnected from everyone and you are so, so sad. Only you don’t tell people this. You don’t want your friends feeling sorry for you or judging your child. Instead, you suck it up, put on your brave face and carry on. You’ve tried so hard to do everything right. You wonder where you went wrong. You search your mind for any tell-tale signs that you missed. Looking back, you try and make sense of how you got here. Maybe addiction is in your DNA? Maybe grandpa passed it on? He liked to drink.
or maybe it was you?
You did your best to protect them. You kept them safe. You clothed and fed them. You kissed their scraped knee and checked under their bed for monsters, but you never dreamed the scariest monster of all lived inside your child. This monster lies in your child’s voice, moves your child’s body and has taken over your child’s mind.
You call this monster, addiction.
This monster will kill your child. You wonder: how does one go about slaying a monster that dwells inside their precious child? You’ve tried everything in your power to help them. You’ve lied for them and given them money to cover their debts. You’ve been their personal ATM machine, house-keeper, counselor, police officer and undercover cop. But nothing you do works and worse still, your child doesn’t appreciate your efforts.
Your child isn’t the only one with a monster. You’ve changed too. You’re drained and empty. You drag yourself through the days, longing for bedtime when you can finally seek release through sleep. Your mask is starting to slip. You’re mad at everyone. While friends and family move on with their life, you fester. The anger that covers your pain is suffocating all that is good in your life.
Dear Mom, hold on. Stop beating yourself up. You didn’t cause this disease, but there is much you need to learn.
First and foremost, please reach out for help. Do not allow your child’s addiction to destroy you. Instead, learn how to love your child without enabling their illness. You will need safe people in your life who have walked in your shoes and can provide you with emotional support. Feelings that remain stuffed and hidden become a toxic wasteland of resentments and self-pity. You won’t help your child by becoming sick, too.
Dear Mom, your child’s addiction isn’t about you. Addiction has nothing to do with the love between a child and their mother. Addiction is a brain disease that leads to changes in the structure and functioning of the cerebral cortex. The initial use of alcohol or other drugs, for most people is voluntary. However, over time, the changes in the brain caused by repeated drug or alcohol use impairs a person’s impulse control and their ability to make good decisions.
Dear Mom, one of the hardest things you will ever do is let go. Not of your child, but of their illness. Let go of how you thought things should be and accept what is. Let go of the urge to fix, control and rescue them. Let go of over-functioning on their behalf – allowing your child to feel the consequences of their actions will encourage them to seek help.
Dear Mom, it’s natural to feel a little broken. Be kind to yourself. Erase the old negative tapes and insert new positive ones. No matter how many times you hear it’s not your fault, your mother’s heart will not believe it. Guilt is normal, try and believe anyway.
Dear Mom, addiction is a family illness. You can’t cure your child and you can’t control them, but you can influence the outcome. Someone has to make the hard choices. Be open to learning and doing new things.
Dear Mom, never give up hope. 23 million families across North America are living in recovery and leading wonderful, productive lives. Although it may seem like the heartache will never end, it can and does for many!
I have no answers.
Instead, I sit in the morning sun, thinking again of how much addiction has taken from my life.
My father was an addict.
My grandfather was an addict.
My great grandfather was an addict.
My son, my precious child, the one I spent five months in bed to protect before he was born, is an addict.
And all I can do is let him go and hope that someday he finds a path to healing that will allow him to return.
Because the one thing I have learned is that I cannot make his choice to stay clean or to use for him, but I can choose to step out of the cycle he has created.
I cannot save him.
But maybe there is still time to save myself.