1978 . . .In the very early hours on Friday of the Labor day weekend, I am approaching twenty-two long hours of labor. I am exhausted and somewhat delirious. The doctor examines me and sighs, “If you don’t have this baby by 2:00, you’re having a Cesarean.” At 2:17 am, without surgery, my son arrives, all 9 pounds and 2 ounces. And just like that . . . I am somebody’s mom. I am not the least bit afraid of what I now know is the world’s most difficult job, motherhood. At 18, I am hardly the picture of wisdom and experience. What first time mother is? I am happy, proud and exploding with love for this not-so-little bundle of joy. He is the first grandchild for my parents, and first grandson for my in-laws. He has made our lives exponentially better in an instant. I immediately begin to dream about his future. I want everything for him, especially happiness.
As I lay in my hospital bed with my new baby, I think about the weeks of anticipation before this moment. The constant question asked by cheery strangers gazing at my pregnant belly, “Boy or girl, do you know?”. . . I didn’t know. Ultrasound was a relatively new and expensive technology, not at all routine, but would become commonplace 15 months later when I had my daughter. So, unlike today, there was no fanfare, no gender reveal. Honestly, I did not have a preference. My mom would probably say otherwise. During my pregnancy, I had refinished a small oak dresser. I remember her watching me as I lined the drawers with printed blue paper. Amused she remarked, “You know you are willing a boy into existence.” Without looking up, I smiled and thought she was probably right . . . my mom had amazing intuition.
The questions and comments didn’t stop there. They were not at all unique, and pretty universal. “I’ll bet your husband wants a boy. Are you hoping for a girl? You’re carrying low, must be a boy. Oh back pain, it’s a girl for sure. Morning sickness . . boy.” Before I had a chance to reply, the questions were answered by the asker, and always the same way . . . “All that matters is that the baby is healthy, right?” No truer words were ever spoken. If and when I had the opportunity to answer, it’s exactly what I would have said. After all, it was all I wanted, and I got it, a happy, healthy baby.
Today, thirty-six years later, my boy is neither. He is an addict. I’m not sure when his addiction began, or which drug or drugs have sucked away his will, stolen his beautiful mind, his sense of logic and reason, and saddest of all his self-worth. I do know that his addiction has been prevalent for years, most of his adult life. I wanted to believe that he was managing recreational drug use. I ignored the facts, denied the truth, and every sign of addiction.
He never had any money, always borrowed. Worked a random schedule, if he worked at all. The emotional highs and lows, and angry outburst were unpredictable. Overtime he lost most of his friends, and possessions. His mail was delivered to my home. IRS and DMV letters, court notices, cell phone bills, and traffic tickets piled up. I’d collect a good stack and pass them along to him at family dinners or holiday gatherings, asking, What’s going on? His standard response, always casual, Oh yeah, I’ve already taken care of those. It’s nothing mom, don’t worry about it. Trying to reach him by phone was near impossible. He had a set of pat excuses when I complained about the difficulty in communicating with him, Oh I didn’t get your text, my phone was turned off, I don’t have any missed calls, I was just about to call you back. Most often I was identified as a blocked caller and couldn’t even leave a message.
There was no end to the excuses and lies. I wanted so badly to believe him, and behaved as though I did. I gave him money, money, and more money. Most of which I never saw again. I even gave him a car, a car that my dad had given to me. And that disappeared too. He talked in circles about its whereabouts. Even when I received the impound notice, my son continued to hang on to some ridiculous story about what happened. Worn out by the lies, I finally stopped asking, I tried tough love, unconditional love, and, sadly, I tried not to love.
I spent many years blaming myself for my son’s addiction and created a mental list of my parental shortcomings. It’s the same list every parent makes when they feel responsible for their children’s unhappiness under any circumstances. The famous list of should haves . . . I should have loved him more, eaten better when I was pregnant, been a better mom, never divorced his dad, worked harder to keep our family together, been more strict, been less strict, moved to a better neighborhood or a better school, spent more time with him, had more family dinners and more family vacations, gone to church more often, been a better role model, taught him more responsibility, made him learn to play an instrument, forced him to go to college . . . and the list goes on and on. I certainly could not go back in time and make the changes. Instead, I was hell-bent on making it up to him, cleaning up his messes, paying his bills and making excuses for his behavior and his choices. I did this even when he didn’t ask me for my help.
Despite my best effort to save my son, his addiction seemed to worsen, and his unhappiness grew. Sullen, sad, and more irritable than ever, he avoided me and we rarely spoke. Our relationship was strained. I felt stuck, not knowing what to do next. And then my therapist said something so simple . . . At some point, you will realize that what you are doing is actually hurting him, and when you realize that, you’ll stop doing it. You are robbing him of opportunities to help himself, to solve his own problems, and to get well. I knew she was right, but I was afraid of giving up control, of what might happen if I stopped. She asked me, “What’s the worse thing that could happen?” I cried, and said, “He could die.”
I wanted her to say he would not die, he would beat his addiction and everything would be okay. But she was silent, waiting for me to discover my own truth. I sat there sobbing, wiping my eyes with my crumbling tissue. Did I actually think I had the power to prevent death? With a huge and heavy sigh, I realized that it was time for me to stop rescuing him, let go of control, and allow my son to succeed or fail on his own. My definition of help had expanded. It was not only about what I did, but also what I allowed others to do for themselves.
All of this is relatively new for me. I’m still not completely comfortable saying “no”, or setting and enforcing boundaries in my relationships. But I do it, and now I do it consistently. I am building a stronger self, facing the challenges in my life with courage, accepting that I cannot control or change others, and of course changing what I can. . . me.
I avoid the paths of regret and worry, a damn hard habit to break. Instead I visualize my son in the best light possible, the beautiful boy I know still exits deep inside his soul. I want to see that boy again, funny, smart, creative, an artist, and the kindest sweetest boy you will ever meet. I want to see him realize his dreams, exercise his talents, and find joy without addiction. In the meantime, I am here, loving him with all my heart . . . because no matter what, he will always be my boy, and I will always be his mom and I will always want for him to be happy.