Russell Brand Knows

“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”?”

—-Russell Brand


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 codependence. I am never quite sure if what I am doing is mothering with this fierce maternal flame of intense and visceral love that took ahold 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 ‘codependent’. 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 portrailts 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.


Already Gone

“My ma is on my case all the time because of the xanax but I still got high every night since I got home from the hospital.”

So reads one of the texts that I read on my son’s phone 6 days after was discharged from a 5 day in-patient stay in the adolescent unit of the psychiatric hospital.

It’s like a physical punch in the solar plexus; I lose my breath for a moment.

He’s been getting high every night since the hospital?

After 3 years of my teenager abusing drugs, I thought I was pretty saavy about detecting evidence of use.

But he still managed to fool me, trick us. And I feel foolish and defeated for believing he was clean.

“Playing video games would give me something to do during the day if I get bored or start to feel anxious.” This is what Son told me on the eve of his hospital release.

So I call in favors and borrow somebody’s old PS3. We go to the mall twice to get games for it. I buy him an extra controller so he can have friends over.

“I want to put my bed over here (by the window). You know how I like fresh air over air conditioning.” (It’s true, he does. Or he did, back in our Old Life.) So we move the bed. Although of course, it’s clear to me now that he wanted his bed near the window to smoke a bowl somewhere with decent ventilation.

“I really want a little spending money so I can go to movies with my friends and buy PS3 games and stuff.”

So I make calls, arrange several jobs around the neighborhood, the first one occuring on the very afternoon of his release from the hospital.

He ended up there because he was abusing Xanaxa and weed and alcohol and using psychelics. He lived away from home for 16 days. On the day before he was admitted, we went to therapy together. I pleaded with him to come home. Bargained. Offered incentives. He agreed.

The next day, he threatened to slit the throat of another boy who accused him of stealing a pipe. He tore up a kleenex box, shreds of tissue and pieces of cardboard all over the room. Took liquid body wash and sprayed the bathroom with it: floors, sink, mirror, ceiling, toilet. I didn’t recognize my son. This other person is never someone I would have willingly spent time with. After he swore he would slit the other boy’s throat, I called 911. That was how the intake started.

It took a long time. I had no idea how long. Six hours after we walked into the hospital, we left him there with the nurses and a molded plastic bed in his room. There were fish painted all over the walls. It was supposed to look cheerful, I think. Instead, it looked ominous. Subterranean because of the lack of windows and the special ‘safety’ window treatments. When we left, we took his shoelaces and his belt with us (house rules). He was shaking and looked angry and afraid. Later that night we brought him the comforter from his bed and some ‘athorized’ snacks (no cans, no glass, no caffeine). He begged us to take him home. It felt a little like nursery school with the paper-bagged snack and blanket. If he was smaller, he might have clung to my husband’s leg and shrieked with terror. It was a little like nursery school in that a parent KNOWS nursery school is safe and necessary and GOOD for the child. We knew all those things about leaving our son at the psych hospital. Still gut wrenching to leave.

Five days later, he was discharged. Sober. With a dual diagnosis of depression/anxiety and substance abuse. A brand new cocktail of medications to help stabilize him.

While he was gone, we cleaned and readied his room for his return. Hung his pictures and put fresh sheets on the bed and got him a new lamp and some books.

At the exit therapy session, we learned there was no ‘step down’ program that was appropriate for our son: too old for one, not AODA certified at the other, doesn’t qualify for partial hospitalization. “It’s definetly a gap in service,” cheerfully agreed the ‘family therapist’ whose best idea for C was to make himself a daily schedule. We protested and argued; I even burst into tears: “He is not ready to be on his own and just seeing a therapist once a week! He’s barely SOBER. If you release him now without a plan, I can promise you we’ll be right back here in a month. Or worse.”

As Jeff Goldblum wryly observes in Jurassic Park, “I sure do hate being right all the time.”

It didn’t take a month.

He is sick and he’s an addict and he’s a teenager.

He left again yesterday after we became suspicious that he was high. A search of his pockets and wallet revealed a new pipe, a dime bag of weed, a lighter, $20 and some skittles. His phone revealed many conversations like the one listed in the beginning of this post.

I called the therapist and told her their ‘gap in services’ resulted in a relapse. I told her I was furious and that we’d be contacting admistrators. Maybe a step down program wouldn’t have helped. But we’ll never know now.

I have decided that I have to let go. Son will be 18 in 3 days. He is already gone. We’ve been losing him slowly since 2013. Now he has left the building. I used to have three children. Tonight I have two.

“I know you are sad that C left again, Mom,” my 11 year old says gently as we are weeding the garden together this evening, “But it’s also a little good. Because now we don’t have to worry like we do when he IS home. We don’t have to worry about whether he is trying to steal stuff. And there’s a lot less fighting. Those are good things about C being gone. So the next time you feel sad or miss him, think about that part.”

I used to have 3 children. Now I have 2.

Two wise and observant children who used to have a brother they adored.

We are all in mourning. We will take care of each other.