To My Son, Age Six: Storm Rider

Pago Pago6I wrote this poem long ago, and never shared it with anyone until today.

Patterned Dark and Light: To My Son, Age Six

You’re such a lovely boy, so structured like
a flower: skin so white and bones so light–
one breath and you might be forever blown.
Yet in this face of innocence you hide,
lashes unfurled like canopies to shade
your eyes—strange pools where secrets swim and dive.
For you are patterned dark and light. Storms brew
in you and lie along your shadowed face
where I can’t see. I wonder where they rise?
And where, in what far sea, they’ll rage and die.

I was trying to capture this strange phenomenon who happened to be my son. He mystified me, all that beauty and innocence, the sweet hugs and kisses, the dark furrowed brow and swirling emotions, all clashing together, in a stormy rage.

I was never satisfied with the poem though, and especially with how it ended–the word “die” disturbed me, even though it referred the storm’s end, not him.

So later I added this second part:

Sometimes I gather you to lap to find
That I can never hold the length of you:
Your fullness spills with ambiguity
And races toward dimensions past my grasp.
I must confine content to legacies
In lap. How is it I still hold what you
Outgrow? So well I know that spiraled shell.
I turn it feeling fine and subtle threads
of you, while at its core, all that’s true.
I lift that hallowed lip and wait to hear
Intuitions of you, forever near.

While I could never fully know the extent of him, I felt I knew his core. I could not hold onto him, but I could hold onto that, even if that was only the faint whisperings of what I knew him to be. What I cherished in him.

I’m holding onto that still.

But an insightful reader of my last post said something that made we realize that I cannot separate out his darker and lighter sides. He wrote:

“Looking at people with duality can help cope in crisis but it’s ultimately our single all-encompassing selves that we have to see to heal.”

“Remember HE is just another man trying to cope with this life. The problem is probably that he was too sensitive at too young of an age to learn healthy ways to cope.”

I think he’s right. I used to quip to other mothers how my son entered his “terrible twos” when he was only one and never outgrew them. At one point I felt I should never have a second child because I would never be able to handle two of him, nor could I love another child as much as I loved him.

It turned out not to be true, of course, when my daughter was born. But it shows not only how deeply I loved him, but how helpless I felt, even then, in my mothering of him, in helping him find healthy ways to cope with those swirling emotions.

Looking back, those difficult times with him were nothing compared to what we nave been going through coping with his addiction.

Perhaps it’s not surprising he has tattooed across his chest the words: “Rider on the storm.”

On his back below the nape of his neck rests a compass rose with true north pointed upward.

He’s still riding his storms, and I’m still there by his side, riding them out with him. We’re both waiting for them to end.

Or perhaps, more realistically, learning to find more healthy ways to weather the forever wind-tossed seas we sail.

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.

Pimping My Son

750px-Flag_of_Edward_England_svgFor those of you new to this blog, it’s not what you think. You’ll have to read my last post, and maybe a couple more before that, to truly understand.

For those of you who have been following this sad saga, I’ve totally screwed up. And if after reading this you’ve lost faith in me, I understand. I’ve lost faith in myself as well.

I held strong for three days.

Three days of him begging me to drive him to town so he could buy some Methadone on the street to hold him over until he could get a prescription for Suboxane. We’d been trying to get a referral to a specialist to help him with his heroin addiction. But he didn’t think he could hold out that long. He needed something. Now.

Three days I held out, each day listening to him plead: “Please, please, please, Mom! You don’t know how I’m hurting here. If you don’t help me I’m going to call one of my buddies to pick me up and drive me into town. If I do that, who knows if I’ll ever make it back here, where it’s safe.”

“If you don’t help me, if you make me hitch-hike into town, I’ll be shooting heroin again. You know I will. But I don’t want that. I don’t want to OD again! Just help me get some Methadone. Please, please. Help me!”

When I still refuse, he looks at me like I’m crazy:

“I don’t understand! You want me to take Suboxane, right? You say I need it to get off heroin. But you won’t take me to get some Methadone to hold me over until I can get it? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not my fault the referral is taking so long. It’s not my fault that the system is screwed up. That I can’t get the meds I need legally. Please, please! I’m begging you! I don’t want to die.”

Three days I hold out. Each day worried sick that he would leave. That he would shoot up. That he would die. He’d already OD’ed three times in the past six months. Once on my bathroom floor. It could easily happen again.

And if it did, if he died, and I remembered how he’d begged me, how could I live with that? How could I?

All the arguments he made replayed in my mind. He had a point. If he needs medication to keep from shooting heroin, and if he can’t get it legally because the system truly is screwed up, then what’s the harm with doing what he asks? Was I being too morally pure by refusing to help him get what he needs just because it doesn’t come from a doctor, just because he doesn’t have a prescription for it?

So it came down to this: Do I stick to my principles and stay morally pure? Or do I cave to his pleas and possibly save his life?

I caved. Twice. When his referral to the doctor got delayed, and we found out we’d have to wait another week for his appointment, I caved again.

Hating myself both times for doing it, hating him for talking me into it, hating our broken healthcare system for putting us in this position

I drove my son all over the county, taking him into seedy neighborhoods while he tried to find someone to sell him Methadone so he could keep from shooting heroin.

Or so I told myself.

The crazy fact is, I had no idea if what he was actually buying was Methadone. Or even if it was, if shooting that or snorting it, or whatever it was he was doing with Methadone, was any safer or saner than heroin.

Each time I watched him disappear into someone’s house, or down an alley, I felt like a pimp. Like I was pimping my son. Driving him around town, looking for drugs, selling him out.

I was letting his addiction, the thing that is ruining his life, that is killing him, talk me into buying him drugs. And all the arguments about how I was just helping him, saving his life, seemed incredibly naive and twisted.

“We’re just buying Methadone until he gets a prescription for Suboxane!”

“We’re just plugging the holes in our broken healthcare system.”

“We’re just trying to keep him from using heroin and dying.”

But I don’t even know if it’s Methadone he’s buying! It could have been heroin all along.

I see its skull-and-cross-bone face now, grinning. “Thank you, Mama!” it tells me. “Thank you for selling me your son.”


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?


He’s Home. Now What?

Cc photo Kevin Steel on flickr-28912555-original

Creative Commons photo by Kevin Steel

My son was released from jail last week, much sooner than either of us had expected. I wasn’t ready for this. I’ve been doing so much reading and research on addiction and recovery since his last overdose, hoping by now to have mapped out some course for moving forward.

But I have nothing. No clue what to do.

The more I read, the more confusing it becomes, the less decisive I feel, and the more hopeless it seems, at least for finding a clear-cut path to recovery.  At best the path seems murky, fraught with pitfalls, forking out in a dozen directions.

What I’ve learned is this: There is no clear-cut path to recovery for the addict and his family. Every addiction is different and so is every recovery. Outpatient programs, it appears, can work as well as residential rehabs.  And some addicts recover miraculously “on their own” with no program, no treatment, not even a “come to God” moment.

Abstention isn’t always on the road to recovery either. Some never stop using, they just learn to manage it better, learn to moderate and weave their drug use into a productive life. NA and AA while helpful for some can be harmful for others. The only definitive answer I could find was that Suboxane, a drug that blocks opoids and eases craving, is the safest and sanest path to recovery for heroin addicts. Yet its use is almost unanimously frowned upon by most of the “affordable” and state-funded programs.

The only thing I know for sure is that we can not afford the kind of science-based long-term residential rehab program I had hoped to find. We’re stuck with that cluster of worn-out, already-tried, faith-based, less-expensive options. The ones that treat addiction not as a disease but as a moral failing and treat addicts as weak-minded losers who need a huge dose of “tough-love” (translate stern lectures and a cold back) and “humility (translate debasement).  The kind of programs that kick you out if you relapse, or miss meetings, or commit other minor violations. Or they send you to county jail for the same mistakes if you happen to be “on probation.” The kind that prohibit Suboxane.

That’s where my son has ended up (again), on probation and mandated to a Prop 36 program: a well-intentioned program that is completely lacking any scientific or medicine-based or therapeutic style of treatment. Mostly it consists of group meetings, a few films, once a month one-on-one counseling, random testing, and weekly visits to court where he will sit for long hours on wooden benches waiting for his two-minutes before the judge, who will either say “good boy,” or “need a little time-out in jail.” This “treatment” didn’t work the first two times he was in Prop, but hey, maybe it will this time.

So no, I’m not hopeful.

The only hopeful thing I had going was knowing that at least he’s coming home clean and sober, optimistic and enthusiastic, ready to make a fresh start.

But no. That wasn’t to be either.

When I picked him up at the bus station I had the uneasy suspicion that he was already using, or maybe he’d never stopped. Maybe he was using the whole time he was in jail. Maybe the packets of extra food and coffee that I purchased for him because he “was starving” went toward drugs.

Or maybe, like so many times when he was released, someone saw him walking down the road toward the bus stop with his little paper sack and, identifying him as a kindred spirit (they’d done time, they knew how it felt to get out), they pulled over, offered him a ride, shared their stash. Their good deed for the day.

Maybe I should have picked him up from jail rather than making him catch the bus to where we live. Maybe.

So many maybe’s. The only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing for sure.

And when it comes to addiction, no one else does either.