After the Storm, Sun, Kinda

Birds flying by Angelo DeSantis Nine_birds_flying_over_the_waves_(7681834848)_(2)Slowly, since my last post, my son and I have been working through the hurt and pain of our last encounter. I still feel a little soreness, a little trepidation, around my heart. I’m still half-holding my breath. But things are working themselves out.

He and his girlfriend have made up and are back together, stronger than ever, so they say. They are planning to move in together and looking for transitional housing that takes families.

He and his ex (his daughter’s mother) have renewed their relationship too, as friends, and co-parents. For the first time since she was ten months old I’ve been able to visit with my sweet granddaughter again. She’s two now.

I had both my “grand-babies” visiting this weekend, my granddaughter and my adopted “grandson,” the one who was supposed to have spent Christmas with us. He was able to open all the presents I had saved for him. Child laughter in my home, the two chasing each other around, all gathered in my son’s lap as he reads them “Cat in the Hat.” Kisses and hugs from the little ones. Heaven on earth.

So things are looking up. I should be so happy. But I feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall. I feel like the storm clouds are still waiting over the horizon. Waiting for me to turn to full-blown joy before crashing down again, like they like to do.

My son will be 9 months clean, heroin-free, next week. But his work situation is dire, housing unstable, and he’s drinking beer now openly. For all the joy in his life again–the woman he loves recommitted to him, the daughter he loves back in his life, the mother he loves having forgiven him–he still seems tense, on edge, anxious. We both are.

Maybe that’s good. Maybe that will keep us on our toes. Maybe full-blown joy is too much to ask for at this stage of recovery.

Joy without doubt? Without fear? Without reservation? Is such a thing possible for the mother of an addict? Maybe joy in small doses is enough. A child’s kiss. A son’s smile. A mother’s forgiveness.

Baby steps–why do I always forget that?

Yet when I remember where he was last year at this time, having OD’d three times in 4 months, strung out on heroin, lost on the street. When I see how far he’s come. When I read of other mothers whose son’s and daughters are where my son was then–I have to drop my head in gratitude, and pray that all our children come home safely to their rightful place. That all of us, some day, will experience that full-blown joy we yearn for.

A Step Up, A Step Down – The Wobbly Road to Recovery by Kate Jewell

Step-ladder stile by Kate Jewell WikiCommons

My son is five and a half months clean, still going strong in recovery, but still struggling to acquire the basics in life, what so many of us take for granted: stable housing, stable income, stable relationships.

He lives in a metal shed, what his friend calls “his guest house.” It has a bed, a chair, a table, a refrigerator, and even a TV that plays two channels. Pretty comfy for a metal shed. But there’s no plumbing. No kitchen. No insulation. No heat or air conditioning.

He showers at a local gym. He cooks on a hot plate and microwave oven. He has a portable heater and fan.

It’s a step up, or a step down, depending on how you look at it. Before he moved here he was living in a motel room for $1350 a month. His shed is free, so he’s able to start saving money again, and get caught up in child support payments. So that’s a step up.

It’s a step down because—well—it’s a shed. And his girlfriend and son are no longer living with him. They’ve moved back to the shelter.

But he’s still working, still going to AA meetings with his sponsor, still going to the counseling required by his Prop 36 program, still taking Methadone, and still dating his new girlfriend. He even has been able to see his daughter a couple of times since I last posted here. He’s talked to a lawyer about getting visiting rights.

Life is good, considering he was at death’s door only seven months ago when I started this blog: having been kicked out of rehab, living on the street, two overdoses within a week of each other, and another on my bathroom floor around this time last year.

So I’m happy and hopeful, and more importantly, so is he.

Life is good on the wobbly road to recovery.

The Art of War – 30 Days Clean and Counting

Samurai 1024px-Kusunoki_masashige“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” Sun Tzu

I found this quote on another blog about addiction (thank you, Blue) and shared it with my son.

He’s doing well–over 30 days clean and counting–but he’s nervous. And so am I.

He’s had these good stretches before. We know they can dissolve in a minute. They usually don’t last much past 2 or 3 months at most. He’s had longer stretches of doing well, but those have been few and far between during his fifteen years of addiction.

So far he’s doing all the right things, everything he can at this stage to put his life back together.

The methadone he gets daily from a clinic has helped him a lot. Its helped keep him from having the intense, uncontrollable cravings that come not only from his addiction to heroin, but from the depression and despair he feels on his worse days. That make him want to give up.

But the methadone makes him itchy and seem high sometimes. So that’s been a problem when he was looking for work.

Fortunately, he has a great sponsor, a local business man, who’s taken him under his wing, and he’s working for him now. They attend a lot of meeting together, the “hardcore” AA meetings, he tells me, attended old-timers who are serious about their recovery. Not like the NA meetings he’s attended in the past, where so many junkies straight from jail, who aren’t committed end up. (Like himself once.)

He’s living at a small shelter now that doesn’t just house the homeless, but has a program and caseworkers and helps residents transition into traditional housing. If he stays there for three months and remains clean (they test residents), they will help him find an apartment even pay for his first and last months of rent. In the meantime, his case worker supplies him with bus passes and clothes vouchers at local thrift stores, and pays for his monthly phone bill.

He’s created a small community of support at the shelter too. It houses families with young kids he plays with, and older people who grandma him. I met one of the grandmas’ he hangs out with. They meet at a park each afternoon and he walks her back to the shelter to protect her from the young punks who like to give her a hard time.

He’s also signed up for a trial membership in a local gym where he goes daily, working out, lifting weights, swimming and taking yoga classes. Physical exercise has always helped him to stay focused and feel healthy and strong and motivated. And now with his new job he’ll be able to keep it going.

We try to meet once a week to do something fun and “normal,” nothing related to his recovery, but just to enjoy each other’s company. So far we’ve gone to farmers markets and art shows, and shopping for underwear and bathing suits. We top it off with yummy bowls of Cold Stone ice cream.

But he’s nervous. When things are going well he starts to worry. He’s warned his sponsor that he’s due for a relapse soon. It usually cycles in after two or three months of doing well.

That’s why I shared the Sun Tzu quote with him. The enemy is not only the heroin and the addiction it causes, but the fear and depression and despair as well. Its attack can come at any time. He needs to stay alert, to know it’s coming, and to prepare for it.

How does he do this?

By analyzing the why and how and where and when of its attacks. Knowing how it sneaks up, what disguises it wears, what weapons it uses. And being ready for it.

By making himself unassailable on all fronts, no matter how fast, and unexpected, and deadly its attack may be.

That’s what I tell him. And I tell myself that too.

Because we’re in this together. It’s his fight. I can’t do that for him. But if he falls, then it becomes my fight too. My fight against the disappointment, the depression and despair and fear.

I have to prepare myself too.

Not With a Bang, But a Whimper

coffee lumbar11That’s how our son’s short stay with us ended. With a whimper, or something equally weak and mundane. A falling out over a laptop. And breakfast at Denny’s

He seemed to be going through the old predictable stages of his addiction while staying with us, as I wrote about in Am I Crazy? Or Is He? How Addiction Warps Us. First he was Hyper-Happy, then went to Mad Maniac, demanding I take him to buy Methadone on the street until his doctor’s appointment for a prescription to Suboxane came through.

But after that horrible experience, Dangerously Depressed seemed to be emerging, and I wanted to head it off.

I know how depression makes you want to hibernate, but if forced to move around, get outdoors, talk to people, sometimes it lifts. That’s what I was hoping.

After two days of hiding out in his room, in bed, blinds drawn, his eyes glued to the laptop monitor, I decided this was not healthy for him. I urged him to come out and spend time with his dad and me.

When he refused, I said OK, but I’m taking my laptop back. And I did.

He flipped out. Harsh words were exchanged. And he stormed off.

I didn’t think he’d go far. I didn’t think he’d act on the threat he’d made earlier that week, to hitch-hike into town to score heroin. Not over a laptop!

But I was wrong. He didn’t come back. Not that day, or the next day when he had his long-awaited doctor’s appointment and the promise of a Suboxane prescription. Not the day after that, or the next.

He’s not coming back.

I might have gone after him that first day, or given him back the damn laptop if it hadn’t been for that last “hug” and parting remark.

He grabbed me in the hall in a big bear hug, my arms pinned to my side. It felt more like a stranglehold than a hug, like what boxers do when they’re exhausted, before going to the next round. Alarm bells were ding-ding-dinging in my head.

“I love you,” he said sweetly, as he held me tight.

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to leave,” he crooned.

“Now give me back the damn laptop!” he growled and hugged me tighter.

Then he laughed.

I almost laughed with him. It was so absurd, what we were doing to each other. Me trying to control him with the laptop, him trying to control me with his hug.

He was laughing at himself, at me, at the fake hug that was holding us up and clenching us together. Laughing bitterly at the knowledge that I wasn’t going to give the laptop back, that this wasn’t going to end well, for either of us.

“Let me go,” I said finally, and he did.

But just before he let go, he whispered in my ear. “You know those Methadone pills I gave you to hold onto for me? You can flush them down the toilet. They’re just aspirin. It was heroin I was buying, heroin all along.”

Then he let me go and walked out of the house.

His parting words felt like a knife twisting in my stomach. But I know now it was the very thing he needed to say to let go of me, and to force me to let go of him. To enable him to walk away, and to keep me from going after him.

He was burning a bridge between us with that confession, and he knew it. There was no turning back.

He’s living at a homeless shelter now.

He missed his doctor’s appointment and never got the suboxane he wanted. Instead he signed up for a Methadone Detox at a clinic. They needed a co-pay to get him started, so I met him there that first day.

Before we parted again, for who knows how long, we had lunch together at a nearby Denny’s. The noisy restaurant was filled with normal people going about their normal lives. It felt surreal.

Normal is such a quaint thing. You grab it when you can. Even when it isn’t real.

We ordered huge breakfasts, and traded items off each others’ plates. I had a slice of his sticky-bun french toast, and he had some of my sausage skillet. We packed what was left of our meals into one box for him to take.

When the waitress put the bill down on the table between us, I grabbed it.

“I’ll get that, Son,” I told him, loudly, as the waitress was walking away.

“Are you sure, Mom?” he asked. “Thank you. I’ll get it next time.”

Then we laughed. Together this time.

It reminded me of that last laugh, when we were caught in that death-grip hug. Another surreal moment. Another recognition of the absurdity of life, our lives at least.

But this time, all the tension and remorse and guilt melted away in that shared laughter, and all that was left was love.

When we were done eating, I dropped him off in time for his appointment with his Drug and Alcohol counselor.

Then I drove away.

I don’t know when I’ll hear from him again. Not for a long while, I hope.

Am I Crazy? Or Is He? – How Addiction Warps Us


From the film “Silver Lining Playbook” about mental illness

He was already high when I picked him up from the bus station to bring him home.

I’d hoped after a month in jail he’d be clean and sober and ready to make a fresh start on the road to recovery. That’s why we were letting him stay with us. He had nowhere else to go, and we wanted him to be safe until we could get him into rehab.

But it was already too late for safe, for clean, for a fresh start.

I could have refused to bring him home, of course. I could have left him at the bus stop. But I didn’t. I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t absolutely certain he was high.

I was sure a couple of days later though when, after I refused to give him a ride into town, he disappeared in the middle of the night for a couple of hours. Then the next morning he came bouncing out of his room full of sunshine, slathering me with kisses, enveloping me in big bear hugs, feeling good, feeling motivated, feeling like he could move mountains.

And seeing him that way, I wanted to drop to my knees in tears.

When I shared my disappointment, when I explained how his hyper-happiness was like a punch in the gut, he asked, incredulous: “Would you rather see me depressed?”

Would I? I had to think about that. Would I rather see him depressed?

I can’t explain to him why seeing him high is so traumatic for me. It would be too hurtful. It’s already hurtful to him, that I’m crying while he’s feeling so good, so hopeful, so motivated. He’s working out, getting in shape. He’s sorting through all his old bags of clothes stored in the closet, organizing them, doing laundry. He’s reading his spiritual books, The Four Agreements and The Tao of Sobriety, listening to Ram Dass and other gurus on YouTube. He’s calling the Medi-Cal office trying to get a doctor’s appointment so he can get a prescription for Suboxane.

He’s doing all the things I want him to do and should be praising him for doing. But I look at him and just want to bawl. Or scream.

He doesn’t get it. How could he?

In a way, it’s like I have my old son back, my real son. That tender, sweet, intelligent, humorous, fun-loving, energetic guy. I see the son I love so much, but it’s like I’m viewing him through a veil of flickering flames, and he’s a twisted, distorted, fun-house version of himself.

For the drugs make him twitchy. All of his movements are jerky, disjointed. He’s bouncing off the wall, knocking over furniture, breaking things he touches. His facial expressions and body movements are exaggerated, wild, out-of-control. He looks, seems, weird, bizarre, even while he’s hugging, helping, talking about important things we need to talk about.

In fact, he can’t stop talking. He talks to me from behind the bathroom door, from down the hall, from across the house. And when he isn’t talking he’s making weird noises, moans, laughs, grunts, excited exclamations, and incoherent muttering. He’s giving me or himself a running commentary about everything he’s doing, every thought that pops into his head.

I want to hide in the closet with a pillow over my ears and a fist in my mouth to keep from screaming.

But I don’t. He’s happy. My son is happy.

He’s feeling good about himself, hopeful about the future, trying to do what he thinks will please me. He’s practically begging for approval, for affirmation. He’s constantly looking for me to agree with him, to nod my approval, to say “that’s good, that’s right, what a great idea, aren’t you wonderful.” And if I don’t make the right noises at the right time, he’s hurt, wounded.

“What’s wrong? Don’t you love me? Aren’t you happy I’m happy?” I can almost hear him saying.

“Do you want me to be depressed?”

It’s not a matter of “wanting” though. It’s coming. Whether I want it or not. Dangerously Depressed lives right around the corner from Hyper-Happy, and it’s coming.

Within the next few days, rather than bouncing out of his room full of sunshine in the morning, he’ll be curled like a fetus in his bed with the covers pulled over his head. One bare foot will be sticking out jerking like a jack-hammer. He’ll pull the covers down far enough so I see his hot, hard, furious eyes peering out like an angry rooster, as he shouts at me to get out! out! out!

But even this is better than what comes next–Mad Maniac. This is when he roars up and storms around the house, and slams doors and curses, and gets into my face and tries to get me to take him into town so he can get another fix.

Or not. Maybe all that won’t happen this time. Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe.

But I’m worried. It’s the old pattern re-emerging, the way it’s played out too many times before. The crazy times, I think of them. That’s why this Hyper-Happy son makes me want to cry, because it reminds me of those times. Episodes of my life that are so bizarre and unbelievable, remembering them is like re-living a nightmare, or being in some alternate universe where crazed people do crazy things to survive and to save the ones they love.

I’ve never told anyone about those crazy times in my life. The things I’ve seen and done and endured, trying to help him.

During those days it was as if I lived in a secretive, shadowy world where I became someone no one would recognize. On the surface I was the same old person everyone knew–quiet, responsible, reasonable. But when I walked on the wild side of addiction with my son, I was anything but that.

I think that’s why I started this blog. Why I named it what I did. Not, as I had thought, had hoped, so I could sort things out and figure out a way to save my son. I want that too. I want that badly. But I think the real reason I created this blog was so I finally could let it all out. All the craziness I experienced. Bring it to the surface, look at it in the light of day.

Maybe then I could come to understand it, this addiction, what it does to us, how it warps everyone around it.  Not just him.  Me too. Me as much as him.

Maybe then I could find the healing I’m looking for. Heal this terrible guilt and grief and dread. Heal the craziness. And make myself immune to it.

I don’t want to be crazy anymore. I don’t want to be drawn into that world. But I don’t want my son to have to walk through that nightmare landscape by himself either. Alone and crazed.

I want all that craziness to be behind us. But I fear it isn’t. I see its face, lurking in the shadows. Waiting for me around the next corner. Curled beneath the covers in the next room. Peering out at me, tomorrow morning, when I open the door.

[For the rest of the story, read the posts below]

Thank God My Son’s in Jail

He’s Home. Now What?


Thank God My Son’s in Jail

800px-Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell_in_Birmingham_Jail_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USA  wiki commons Adam Jones PHdI’d been waiting for a call from the Coroner’s office when I found out that, instead of lying in a morgue somewhere, my son was “safe” in jail. For now. Thank God.

I’d like to say I was overjoyed with relief, but that lasted only a few moments. Then the anger and frustration and weariness descended, and I felt heavier than stone. Because the hope that had once kept the grief and fear from crushing me is slipping away. And I’m not sure I’ll ever get it back.

I remember the first time he’d gone to jail for a DUI charge 20 years ago (before he became a heroin addict) and how freaked out I was. I talked to a substance abuse counselor on the phone, and he told me to calm down. Jail isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a young man. He’ll be okay, he said.

And I learned through the years he was right. Jail isn’t the worst thing that can happen to my son. Prison isn’t the worst thing, either. Sometimes they can be the best thing that can happen to him. Sometimes they can be a life saver, like now.

The last time I heard from he told me he didn’t think he had long to live. He’d had two overdoses the week before. One where he woke up in the hospital. The other where he woke up in a motel room. His companions had left him for dead after stealing the little he had (a bike and a backpack stuffed with dirty clothes) and even the shoes off his feet. He was barefoot when he called, using someone else’s phone. He’d lost his own weeks ago (again).

I begged him to get help, to go an NA meeting, go to a church, go to a detox facility, go to a shelter. But he was too embarrassed. He was covered in staff infections, he said, and he looked like a zombie.

I’d seen him that way before. I knew what he meant.

I begged him to go to an ER and get medication for the staff infection. Then I gave him the address and phone number of detox, and told him to get there. He said he would. But it didn’t sound like he meant it.

“Say it,” I told him. “Say it like you mean it.”

“Promise me,” I demanded. “If you don’t want to die, promise me.”

“I feel like I’m dead already,” he said. “Like I’m in Limbo, you know? Or purgatory. Everything seems so surreal, like I’m walking around in a nightmare.”

I thought about driving the 200 miles to get him and pack him in my car and bring him home. But I’d already just done that, only a few months earlier. And it hadn’t helped. He wasn’t safe, even at home anymore.  I’d picked him up off the streets so we could get him into a drug treatment program and brought him home, so he could make the daily calls you need to make while waiting for a bed. He sounded ready, optimistic.

“A few more days,” they told us. “A few more days and we’ll have a bed ready for you.”

The next morning I found him on the floor of the bathroom with a needle in his arm. He looked gray and lifeless. I called an ambulance and the medics revived him and took him to a hospital.

Two days later a bed finally opened up, and he got into the program. Then he got a job, and he got back in touch with his girlfriend and his baby girl. He sounded so happy. They applied for low-cost housing as a couple (she was also in recovery). They were going to make a life for their baby together. He came back home to pick up the rest of his clothes and books and surfboard. He looked healthy and happy.

“Okay, now’s the time. Now he’s going to make it,” I told myself.

Then a few weeks later I found out he’d relapsed. He was kicked out of the program. He lost his job. His girlfriend turned her back on him. He became homeless, strung out on the street (again).

And I was urging him to get into detox before the next overdose killed him.

“Call me,” I told him.  “As soon as you get into the hospital, or get to detox, call me so I know you’re safe.  You have to do one or the other,” I urged. “Today. Do it!  If you don’t want to die, do it.”

“I will,” he said, but he wouldn’t promise me. And it was just as well. He’d made and broken those kinds of promises before.

I hung up the phone and the tears came and wouldn’t stop falling. I’d given up hope, you see. I didn’t think he’d do any of the things I told him to do. And I didn’t think I would ever hear from him again.

How many OD’s can you have before you have your last? Has his luck run out?

Apparently not. I didn’t hear from him until a week later, from jail. He said he was stopped by the police the day after our conversation and arrested for outstanding warrants. Thank God.

But the relief, as welcome as it was, was short-lived. Because jail is a kind of limbo too. For him and me.

As soon as he gets out, the insanity will start up again. All the nearly overwhelming logistics of starting over again from scratch will begin (again). We’ve been through this a dozen times already: The mad scramble to find some place to live, to get a job, to buy a phone and a bike and clothes and all the other things he needs to live a normal life, after having just lost all those things, again and again and again.

Then will begin the anxious, nail-biting wait to see if this time, this time at last, he’ll stay clean long enough to turn his life around. Or if the struggle to regain all he had lost will take its toll (again).

Everything is twice as hard as it should be. And it’s so heartbreaking–trying to pump up the hope and optimism again and again, so we both don’t sink down under the weight of the knowing that his chance of making it this time is slim to none.

But he’s safe now, I remind myself. That’s good! I don’t have to jump when the phone or doorbell rings, fearful for the worst. I can relax. When he’s in jail have been the most peaceful times of my life during these last fifteen years. And the most hopeful: “Maybe now he’s hit rock-bottom,” I tell myself. “Maybe now he’ll turn his life around.”

But those days of optimism are past. I know better now.

So. Jail is as good as it gets these days. Not knowing where he is and waiting for the Coroner’s call, that’s bad. And worse than that, as I’ve imagined a hundred times, is getting the call. At least I’ve been spared that. For now.

Count yourself lucky, I tell myself. And I am.