Hope Resurrected, What a Difference One Year Can Make

Wood_Anemone "Easter Flowers"_-_Hooke_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1247605 CCA year ago on March 27, 2014, I began this blog in tears. I did not believe my son would survive his heroin addiction. It had been going on for over 15 years and the past six months had been especially hard. One overdose on my bathroom floor. Two more several months later. He was alone and lost on the streets. He’d given up hope and so had I. Almost. This blog was my way to hold onto a slim thread of hope and to work through the rage and despair.

A year later, on March 27, 2015, my son married the love of his life and became the father to her 4-year-old son. The matching dates are coincidental. But how eloquently it underscores the progress he’s made in 12 months and the resurrected hope we share.

The journey toward this day has not been smooth, as recorded in these posts over the past 12 months. And the journey ahead will be just as difficult. Next week he will celebrate 11 months of recovery. The week after he will graduate from the court-appointed program he began a year ago, his probation will end, and he will be a free man. He plans to continue in the Methadone program that has been such a great help to him. Without it, I do not think this would have been possible.

But it wasn’t just the Methadone. It was being–finally, at long last–so sick and tired of being sick and tired that the drug life had no more appeal for him. It was finding a good AA sponsor who got him off to a good start. It was meeting a beautiful woman who fell in love with him, and sticking with each other through the bad days and the good. And it was having a mother who dug in hard and refused to give up on him, even when I thought it was a hopeless effort.

I hope this is a message of hope to all the mothers out there trying to help sons and daughters lost to addiction.

Still, the journey is not over. The way ahead for my son and his new family is almost unbelievably hard. That they have the strength and heart to walk that path together humbles me. Neither have been able to find steady work. He still lives in a shed. She lives in a homeless shelter having been timed-out from a program that helps single moms and kids.. They spend time together in motels and at our home. She’s finally been approved for Section 8 housing and has two months to find a landlord that will accept her. If that falls through there’s a program in the Bay Area that helps struggling families, so they will go there. He’s found out that under a new California law he can get his non-violent, drug-related felonies removed, and that will open up new employment and housing opportunities.

I don’t know how this story will end, but they feel stronger together than they do on their own. She has never had any substance-abuse problems, but her life has been extremely difficult and she has mental health issues that have never been addressed. Still, she is kind and smart and sweet, a wonderful mother and crazy in love with my son. They are determined to build a safe and stable and happy life together.

They married alone at City Hall. But they plan a wedding celebration next year on their first anniversary. We’ll find out then what one year will bring them. If it’s anything like this past year, we will be abounding in blessings.

We have so much to celebrate this Easter–the resurrection of hope, the blooming of love, and the promise of a new life.

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For the Holidays: Love the Ones You’re With

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A Christmas Story by Viggo Johansen – Wikipedia Commons

Holidays can be hard. Sometimes painful. We have so many pictures in our minds of how perfect it can be, should be:

Large, laughing families gathered around the table on Thanksgiving Day.

Starry-eyed children opening Christmas presents at Grandmas house.

Yet too often, it’s not like that at all. Too often, for so many reasons, we can’t be with the ones we love. Divorce, addiction, death, and other demands and obligations keep them from us. When it happens too often, when our happy expectations are thwarted again and again, we begin to dread holidays.

When I begin to feel this way, I try to remember the old maxim: “If you can’t be with the ones you love, love the ones you’re with.”

It doesn’t mean we stop missing our missing loved ones. But we don’t let missing them keep us from loving and enjoying who and what we have right now. Whenever I’m mindful enough to draw upon that wisdom, it works like a charm.

For Thanksgiving this year, I expecting a full house: My daughter and son-in-law, my son and his girlfriend and her little boy. For us, that would be a big family gathering! I bought a 22-pound turkey and all the trimmings so there would be plenty to last a couple of days and still be able to send left-overs home when everyone took off.

But then my daughter called to say they couldn’t get away after all this year. And then my son’s girlfriend got sick and they couldn’t come. At first I was bitterly disappointed. I had been looking forward to this day and preparing for it for so long. The thought of just three of us sitting down to eat a huge meal seemed sad and lonely.

But then I remembered: Love the ones you’re with. And I thought, could anything be more perfect than this? Our son, alive and well, spending Thanksgiving day with us?

There were only three of us that day, sharing a bounty of food. But it was one of the sweetest and most peaceful Thanksgivings we’ve ever had. We all felt that.

Now as Christmas is approaching, the old anxieties are surfacing as well. I have two young, beautiful grandchildren that I rarely get to see, and probably won’t see this year either. It hurts my heart to miss out on watching them grow up, or being a part of their lives. to grandmother them the way I had always imagined doing. It’s equally hard on my son. He’s so full of guilt and remorse. A difficult time for both of us.

But we will be spending Christmas with a little boy. My son’s girlfriend and her three-year-old son will be spending the holidays with us. He’s a sweet child who calls out “Grandma!” with wide open arms when he sees me. I was so surprised when he first did that. Flattered, actually. And worried.  I didn’t want to correct him and hurt his feelings or his mother’s. He has no grandma of his own.

I think: What can it hurt?  He so wants a grandma. I so want to be one.

But it can hurt. It can hurt a lot. I know how much.

You need to protect your heart, I tell myself. And his as well. We don’t know how long we will be in each others’ lives. We don’t want to fall in love with each other only to lose each other in the end, as I’ve already lost my real grandchildren.

If I let myself fall in love with this little boy, and he’s snatched away from me like they were, can I bear that? Can I go through that again?

I can, I’ve decided.

If I can’t be with the grandchildren I love, I’ll love the child I’m with. Even if we have only this one Christmas together, I’ll love him as only a grandma can, for as long as I’m able.

May we all spend this holiday season loving the ones we’re with.

It Wasn’t All Bad – Sweet Times Among the Sad

IMG_3983Sometimes when we write blogs like this one, where we feel like we’re battling demons, flailing against the dark, we forget those shafts of light that make everything, if just for a moment, golden.

When we’re focused on trying to save someone’s life, and there’s so much tension and trauma going on, we forget to write about the good times. The times that make the fighting worth our while.

We forget to savor what we’re trying to save.

So when I go back and look at my last several posts and see the storm clouds gathering, the dark skies thundering, and cold rain pouring down, I must remember those dark days were pierced with light. Sweet moments of sunshine, golden spots of time. Warm laughter and tender embraces.

I owe it to my son and to myself, and to those of you who have been following our story, to write about the light times as well as the dark.

The times we popped corn and stayed up all night, bingeing on The Borgias streaming from Netflix

The long conversations about spirituality, and books, and politics.

The meals we ate together, all three of us sitting at the table, laughing about old times, enjoying each others company.

The way my son, without asking, would clear the dishes from the table and clean up the kitchen afterwards.

The days he and his dad worked together, side by side in the hot sun, digging and hauling away dirt, finishing a landscaping project in two days that would have taken my husband a week to do on his own.

The light banter and nods of approval as the work progressed.

The times we spent sitting by the pool and swimming together. Him showing us his intense workout routine, the one he learned to do in small spaces without equipment. Us being genuinely impressed.

Then there was the morning the two of us hiked together through the oak groves behind our home to the top of the ridge.  The hillside is steep and there are no paths, only deer trails. Although I’ve hiked to the ridge alone many times, he worried about me, insisting on staying below me as we climbed in case I slipped or fell, and then leading the way over the rough spots and giving me a hand up.

I’ve hiked these hills with my husband and never once has he done that. He tramps off ahead and I follow as best I can.  He doesn’t look back to see if I need help. He knows I’ll call out if I do.

My son, however, is attentive, anticipating my needs. Perhaps he simply sees me as someone getting older who needs a helping hand. But I think it’s more than that. I see his desire to guard and protect me as a testament of his love. As mine is for him.

It’s important in the midst of our fight against addiction to remember the sweet times among the sad.

To savor what we’re trying to save.

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.

Suffering is Relative, But Love is Absolute

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Rodin – The Prodigal Son

Two blog posts I read recently remind me how all suffering is relative, but love is absolute.

The first blog post was by writer Christian Mihai. He starts with this quote:

“You cannot save people. You can only love them.” ― Anaïs Nin

Then he goes on to say:

“[N]ot every battle can be fought with someone holding our hand. Some battles, we are meant to fight alone, to try to conquer our fears and insecurities. . . . . You can only love people, and that is more than enough, more than anyone should ever ask for.”

The other post I reblogged here yesterday, which includes this quote by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. He writes about a revelation that comes to him during a death camp march, with fellow victims dropping by the roadside. He is remembering his beloved wife as he marches, and this is what saves him:

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’”

The take-aways for me from these post while I try to help my son in his battle with heroin addiction is this: I may not be able to save him. This may be a battle he has to fight alone. But the love I bear him can help bear me up when I feel like falling by the wayside. And perhaps knowing I love him helps bear him up when he’s falling under the weight of addiction.

If Frankl could bear his suffering during his internment at the Nazi death camp with only love to bear him up, surely I can survive my far lessor suffering. And so can my son.

My new truth: While suffering is relative, love is absolute.