A mother’s perspective of her son’s heroin addiction:
It is the author’s desire to share the hope that can exist even in the desolation and despair that exists when one of our children is an addict…
A New Hope
“Why are you so a-frayed?” she keeps asking. I repeatedly tell her I’m not afraid. Frayed. Miriam Webster defines the word as such: “…to wear into shreds”. There is no feeling as fraying and absolutely terrifying as that of a parent experiencing her sick child’s illness. It matters little what the etiology of the illness is. When our children are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, it conjures a myriad of thoughts, images, and feelings that plummet even the most stable parents into a startling abyss of reality that permeates our very being. We, the mothers and fathers, the nurturers, the protectors, run through a gamut of scenarios that involve shock, denial, and a forced need to redefine anything we previously called “normal”. A-frayed, unraveled, unnerved, and undone: that is what happens to us when the reality of our child’s disease first becomes apparent. I know this fear first-hand; my son was stricken with a menacing addiction thirteen years ago. In the beginning, we did not know what was happening to him or what we could do about it.
From an early age, Christian was never comfortable in his own skin. Doctors, nutritionists, educators, and therapists labeled him with a number of ominous afflictions, none of which was adequately treated. Then, over the course of his fourteenth summer, he seemed to morph into a young man possessed by a demon greater and more powerful than anything we had ever encountered. He found drugs – the means he chose to attempt feeling “normal”. As he changed, so did our reality. What was once unfamiliar emotional and behavioral territory – depression, anxiety, irritability, defiance – became part of our everyday realm of existence. The more he used, the worse his symptoms and actions became. Although a variety of interventions were initiated, Christian always sabotaged them. Our family became splintered and a constant river of tension flowed beneath the shallow façade of our lives. Slowly, insidiously, our world became more and more insane, so that the atypical became our norm and all that was ordered, correct, or true ceased to exist. In his book, Hurry Down Sunshine, author Michael Greenberg wrote of his high tolerance for aberrance as a reason he did not initally notice his sick daughter’s distress. Relating to this, I now see clearly that my addicted son’s disease created a chaos so profound that we became paralyzed with the utter distress of it all.
Attempts at helping Christian brought brief respite, then Christian would revert right back to using substances to quell the sheer pain of his existence. He was completely overtaken by opiate drugs and once hooked, there was no “choice” to stop; his cravings were too intense. We, his parents, found ourselves having to accept that our first-born child was a heroin addict. Guilt, shame, remorse, and an abject sadness prevailed for a very long time.
“How I feel anything but despair when faced with my child’s incurable illness?” I thought. A sick symbiosis developed. A relatively “good” day for Christian became a good day for me, a bad day was intolerable. When the consequences of his addiction landed him in prison, I lived vicariously though him, with him, and fought from afar for him to stay alive and unscathed. I was truly “intoxicated” with the madness of Christian’s addiction. As Mr Greenberg put it, “…intoxicated…in both senses of the word: inebriated and poisoned”. I not only identified with Christian’s disease, I became his disease. My prayer during these many tumultuous years was one of deliverance and desperation. I felt abandoned by God and struggled to make any sense of the unfulfilled dreams and lost childhood my child’s illness robbed from him. Then, in a moment of rare clarity, I was moved to change my prayer to one of thanksgiving. I thanked my God for entrusting this broken child to my care; for trusting me enough to believe that my husband and I could endure through whatever was needed to assist him in getting well. The means to this end involved something quite foreign for us. Facing the reality of addiction directly, we learned to parent our sick child differently than. Following principles that are often counterintuitive, we finally understand that through our “loving” attempts to help Christian, we were loving him to death. We got educated, reached out, and held on tightly to other parents who struggled with the same issues. Doing this helped us know we were not alone. Together, parents helping parents, we began to heal ourselves which helped to heal our son.
Rejoicing in small, incremental successes, those who have the couage to change often see the fruits of their efforts unfold. We celebrate our kids’ victories, choosing to focus on the “positives”. This brings unexpected blessings and a profound recognition of the precarious preciousness of our children’s lives. I often wonder if I would so fully appreciate the joys of my son’s last two years in recovery if we had not languished with him through hell.
“I have to figure out who I am again. It’s like starting from scratch.” How appropriately this quote from Mr. Greenberg’s daughter applies to those of us – the addicts and the addicts’ loved ones – who grapple with the task of reinventing ourselves by necessity. In a rare and beautiful moment not too long ago, Christian and I had the opportunity to see a Broadway play together. He and I had not done anything remotely enjoyable for at least ten long years prior. At one point, I looked over and observed my strong, beautiful, intelligent, son laughing. I realized in that moment that I had not heard him express spontaneous joy since he was a little boy. I whispered aloud to anyone who would listen, “It is as if he has just been born”.
There is calm after a storm and real hope for all of us who walk in the throes of addiction. For our children as well as ourselves, recovery exists, and it is sweet. Each healthy day allows us to re-weave the frayed fabric that disease has ravaged to shreds, and build a stronger, more resilient tapestry of life. A new dimension, a new day, a new beginning, a new hope exists with each new sunrise.
Co-founder of the Parent Connection