“It is difficult to suffer the selfishness of a drug addict who will lie to you and steal from you and forgive them and offer them help. Can there be any other disease that renders its victims so unappealing? Would Great Ormond Street be so attractive a cause if its beds were riddled with obnoxious little criminals that had “brought it on themselves”?”
I didn’t know Russell Brand was a wise man.
The above quote sums up how our family—immediate and extended—-has come to feel about C. We love him. We have (and continue to) go to great lengths in order to help him. (A question for another day: How does one know the difference between enabling….and taking care of a sick person? Or co-dependence. I am never quite sure if what I am doing is mothering with this fierce maternal flame of intense and visceral love that took hold the moment I looked into my baby’s eyes moments after he was born….or if I am being co-dependent. But whatever the answer is —-and maybe it varies from day to day—-I hate the feeling of shame and defensiveness that I feel when I am told I am ‘co-dependent’. By an acquaintance in Al-Anon. Or by my sister. By the doctor I went to because my damn eyelid wouldn’t stop twitching.
Most of the time, I just feel like I am trying to keep him alive. Because I am his mom. And that is what moms do: they keep their babies alive. If they are the luckiest kind of mama, the babies thrive. They have their senior portraits taken and think about college or apprenticeships or the Peace Corps or jobs or gap years. They have friends and hobbies and they are starting to spread their wings. I used to think that was just What. Happened.
It is not. There are so many people whose experience is so much different. But nobody’s talking about it. And that just makes us all feel alone. Why? If it’s an illness and no one should feel ashamed, why can’t we talk about it? But I digress.)
The love and care and hope of the past 18 years is why we brought Son with us on vacation at the end of July. He called up, 2 days before we left, “I really want to come. Please let me come. I won’t use—you can search all my stuff.”
We let him come. And then, it dawned on us (but not until we were firmly ensconced in our vacation rental on the beaches of South Carolina), that an addict is an addict wherever he goes. He did not want to be there: it was just the best option he had at the time. He asked for things. We gave them to him. We payed for everything, included him in restaurant meals and sightseeing. He was not grateful. He was barely communicative. He stayed up all night and slept all day. He ate by himself whenever possible. And then one afternoon, he wanted more cigarettes. I said, “No.” And he called me a bitch. In front of my elderly mother and my childless, cerebral and introverted sister who both travel with us every year.
Blah blah blah. I could go into the scene that just seemed to organically burst from this brief interchange. But I won’t. Suffice it to say that nearly everyone ended up crying. My sister contemplated leaving the vacation early, because she could not handle the emotional whiplash. Once again, the addict was running the show.
Eventually, we put him on a greyhound bus back home. This helped other members of our party feel more comfortable with the rest of our trip. But for me, and for his Dad, he was still running the show. He just wasn’t doing it from the living room anymore.
And we felt apologetic for allowing him to come.
We felt embarrassed that he fooled us again.
We felt regret that our younger children had once again witnessed a family melt-down.
We felt distracted.
We felt worried.
We felt hopeless.
We are torn up inside with sympathy (because he IS sick, we know) and impotent rage at how carelessly cruel the addiction makes him.
We wonder what will come next. And next. And next.
Update: Next, he overdosed on Xanax and alcohol at a friend’s house several days after arriving back home in Milwaukee. Woke up wearing someone else’s clothes. Had been robbed. No shoes. Had no memory of the previous 24 hours. It scared him. He called me from a friend’s phone. I met him at McDonald’s and we went to the hospital to make sure he was medically stable before he went into back to the psychiatric ward to detox safely before boarding a plane to an inpatient rehabilitation program in another state.