Are Some Things Unforgivable?

Despair 1 painting by Lette Valeska, 1954.

Despair 1 by Lette Valeska, 1954.

My son is 8 months into his recovery. That’s the good news.

The bad news? We’ve had a terrible falling out, words said that seem unforgivable, and I don’t know how we will get past this. Or even if we should.

This was, hands down: Worst. Christmas. Ever.

With one small bright spot.

After writing my last post about if you can’t be with the ones you love (my own grandchildren), love the ones you’re with (the child of my son’s girlfriend), I did just that. A few days before Christmas, the little boy spent the night with me. It was a sweet, tender time.

He helped me decorate the Christmas tree, set up the Nativity scene, decorate sugar cookies. We played together, sang together, read books together. We cuddled in bed where I stayed with him until he fell asleep. When he woke up later calling “Grandma! Where are you!” I spent the rest of the night in bed with him. We’d had a lovely time together. I was looking forward to Christmas Eve when he would return with his mom and my son for dinner, then spend the night and open presents the next day.

But it never happened. And I’ll probably never see the little boy again.

After spending weeks preparing to make this the best Christmas ever for them all,the boy’s mother texted me an hour before dinner to say she couldn’t make it after all. She’d been spending the day migrating between the festivities held at the four churches she attends. None of the churches know about the other, and all were trying to help her. One promised her a laptop. Another new tires for her car. She decided she’d rather spend Christmas with them than with us. This infuriated my son, and he broke up with her. We spent a sad, lonely Christmas together–just my son and his dad and me–staring at a Christmas tree and all those lovely gifts we had so joyfully selected and wrapped, which would never be opened.

The next day we went to return the girlfriend’s presents (I held on to the presents for her son, hoping I may still be able to get those to him someday). That’s when things blew apart. When things were said that seem unforgivable.

I used to think it was the drugs, when he would go off on me like this, say these horrible things. I told myself, it’s the drugs, not him, not my son. In his right mind, when he wasn’t strung out, when he wasn’t having withdrawals, he would never talk to me like that, never scream and hurl horrible names at me. But he wasn’t on drugs now. He had no excuse. And the terrible realization that this is how he really feels toward me, how he sees me, that it wasn’t the drugs at all, was devastating.

I don’t know how to get pass this. Are some things unforgivable?

Here’s what happened:

When my son and I were in the store returning gifts, I said something that hurt his feelings. He lashed out at me and stomped off. When I returned to the car, he was still fuming. I tried to explain that what he thought I said wasn’t true, and wasn’t meant in the way he found so offensive. But he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t believe me. He shouted me down when I tried to explain and called me a liar.

The whole time he was shouting at me and calling me a liar, I was picturing him treating his girlfriend like this. He had told me once how she was always lying to him, and even when he called her on it, she would never admit it. It’s the one thing big thing they fought about. I was thinking, if he treated her like this when he thought she was lying, no wonder she didn’t want to be with him, with us, at Christmas, and I said as much. I wanted him to know that if you treat people like this–her or me–you push them away.

Apparently that was the worst thing I could have said to him, rubbing salt in his wound, he said. He hit back screaming the worst things a son could ever say to a mother, calling me names that no mother should ever hear a son call her.

I was shocked and stunned. Nothing I had said should have brought out this kind of hatred and profanity.

I told him to get out of my car, but he refused. He just kept shouting at me and calling me names. So I grabbed the keys and left. We were in the middle of a busy parking lot and I had nowhere to go. I sat on a bench and tried to pull myself together, hoping that by the time I returned to the car he’d be gone. But he wasn’t. And he wouldn’t leave. He insisted I drive him back to my house where all his things were, including three bags of laundry he had washed, and then drive him back to his place.

I was furious, shamed, outraged. I felt violated, abused, sick. I drove him 30 miles home so he could get his stuff, then 30 miles back to his place, all in a furious silence.

By the time I got home, I was physically ill, vomiting, my head pounding. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t see how I could ever get past this, how I could ever forgive him, now that I knew it wasn’t the drugs. Now I knew it was him all along. It’s how he feels about me, how he feels he can treat me when he’s angry and hurting. He has no respect for me, no gratitude, no love for the one person on earth who has always stood by him and believed in him no matter what.

He has no clue how despicable, how unforgivable, his words were. How utterly they ruined our relationship.

I don’t know how to forgive that. I don’t know that I want to. I can’t imagine anything he could ever say or do that would allow me to forgive him for treating me that way, for thinking I deserved it.

He’s texted me a few times. In his opinion, what I said to him was far worse than what he said to me. He says he talks that way and uses that filthy language all the time, so it doesn’t mean anything. I shouldn’t take it personally.

But I do. I do take it personally. Any self-respecting mother should.

And now, I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I don’t want someone who would treat me like that in my life.

I could rationalize it all in his favor. I could tell myself he was obviously hurting a lot more than I had known about the break-up. He could have been harboring resentment for me for the part I played. He broke up with her in a way because he thought she had hurt me and disrespected me by not coming to dinner and spending Christmas with us. Returning those presents he had picked out for her, dresses he thought she would love and wanted to see her wear, maybe that was more painful than we had realized. Maybe when I said something that he thought was insulting, it all came to a head. And then when I called him on his temper, said if he treated her this way, no wonder she didn’t want to be with him, taking her side as he saw it, maybe it did feel like a betrayal, like the mother he’d defended by breaking up with her was stabbing him in the back. Maybe obscenities are the only way he knows how to express his hurt and anger toward anyone, including me. Maybe. Maybe.

But I’m tired of making excuses for him. The excuses don’t matter. It’s the behavior that matters. I didn’t deserve that. He had no right. Something got broken between us, and I don’t know how it can be mended.

At first I felt I hated him, but now I know I don’t. I’m not even hurt any more. And I do love him still. I care about him. I want him to learn from this and be a better man because of it. Be the man I’ve always known he can be. But how can he be that man if he thinks it’s okay to treat me like that? If I forgive him this time too?

He needs to learn: Some things are unforgivable. Am I wrong?

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Six Months Strong and Bulking Up

body building bicep_curl“You’re getting fat,” I tease my son, pinching the roll that is starting to form around his waistline.

“On purpose, Mom,” he tells me. “I’m bulking up. This will all be muscle. You’ll see.”

I don’t doubt him. Already his biceps bulge like barbells. He can bench press 240 now.

He works out every day at the gym. But he doesn’t have the budget that will support the kind of high quality diet that most body builders use when they are trying to put on muscle. Bread, rice, and beans are his stables. He’s not complaining.

A year ago he was lying unconscious on my bathroom floor from a heroin overdose.

Seven months ago, fresh off the streets, he was so skinny you could count every bone in his body.

But now, after six months clean, he’s starting to look like The Hulk. In a good way.

The thing is, the way it was before never seemed real, always seemed like a bad dream. It wasn’t who he really is.

And now I have my son back.

I feel so blessed. I hope every grieving mother who reads this, knows there’s hope for their sons and daughters too. Six months clean can make a world of difference.

There’s much to celebrate this Thanksgiving.

 

Four Months Clean, and Struggling

Cc photo by Katy Silberger flickr-3503359255-original

Photo by Katy Silberg – Creative Common

I’m so proud of my son. Last night I took him out for dinner and he ordered a beer. When it came, he told the waiter he had changed his mind, and ordered a coke instead. I was so relieved. So was he. We were both relieved that he’d the strength to do that. On such a bad night.

His new girlfriend had just left him.

He came home from work that night and all her stuff was gone. Out of the blue. It was a blow, and he was crushed. They’d been living together with her three-year old son, mostly in motels. But they were looking for an apartment to rent together. She’d sounded so happy the week before when they were visiting us. Her little son, who is such a doll, was calling me “grandma.” I was helping her look for apartments to rent. We had become friends. Then this.

They may be getting back together. He doesn’t know yet, but they are talking.

I hope they don’t. This is the second time she’s left suddenly like that with no explanation, no warning. She doesn’t use drugs or drink, but I think she may have mental issues. She’s very vague about her past. We really know nothing about her. When he met her, she was staying at a homeless shelter. It sounded like she was running away from a bad relationship, someone who had been abusing her. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think she may be someone who is looking for love, and running away from it at the same time.

I feel for her, and for her little son. But I worry about mine. I think he needs to let her go this time. Not try to get her back.

My heart has been aching all day for him.

On top of this, his daughter turns two years old next week and her mother won’t let him see her. She won’t even tell him where they are living. They keep in touch by phone, and he’s trying to stay in her good graces so she won’t sever that contact. But he’s worried. He thinks she using heroin again. She talks crazy sometimes. She berates him for not being in his daughter’s life.

He says, “How can I be, you won’t tell me where you are living!”

She says, “I wouldn’t let that stop me, if I was in your place.” It makes no sense!

He pays child support, but she wants money on the side, and he wires it to her! I tell him he shouldn’t. But he’s afraid if he doesn’t, she’ll disappear for good and he’ll never see his daughter again. At least she sends him photos once in a while.

I tell him he should call Child Supportive Services. But he wants to wait until he has a place to live so if it comes to that he’ll be able to get custody of his daughter. It’s all so complicated.

Just a week ago I was planning this post–how wonderful everything was: four months clean, looking for an apartment with the woman he’s falling in love with, a sweet little boy in his life, being a dad to him. He was happy, hopeful. So much to celebrate, it seemed.

Still, there’s one thing to celebrate: Despite all he’s been struggling with these last few months, he’s stayed clean. That alone is well worth celebrating.

On Loving an Addicted Child

Mother and children Lange-MigrantMother02

Migrant Mother (1936) by Dorothea Lang

I found this poem on a Facebook site for mothers of addicted children. It spoke to me and I wanted to share it with you. Many thanks to Jacqui for allowing me to do so.

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.

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.

Rants and Rage and the Bright Rush of Wings

Archilochus_colubris_Illinois_(6155782912) Creative Commons Jeffrey W FlickrMost of the posts that I try to write for this blog disintegrate into dark rants and rages.

Rants against a society that fully recognizes how an epidemic of addiction is destroying our children, our families, whole neighborhoods and cities, filling our jails and prisons, and littering our streets and alleys with the living dead.

And yet, and yet, how this same society provides painfully few resources toward treatment and recovery. A son or daughter seeking a bed at a detox center is forced to wait months for something affordable, dole out thousands of dollars for a few short days, only to be turned out onto the street again when the stay is ended.

Rages against the fact that the few available programs designed to help recovering addicts will bankrupt most families, since the road to recovery, as all admit, includes multiple relapses. But instead of sticking with those who relapse, helping them when they most need support, these programs kick them out on the streets again. With no place to go, to start over again and again and again, with no end in sight.

Sometimes it helps to rant and rage. And sometimes it just creates a dark hole that sucks me ever deeper into despair.

That’s where I’ve been heading. What I’m resisting.

What helps is knowing that I’m not alone. That I’m not even worse off than most.

At least, I tell myself, my son was not gunned down in his first grade classroom by a half-crazed boy; he did not hang himself because he was cyber-bullied into thinking he was worthless; he was not hit by a drunk driver on his prom night; he was not blown up on the battlefield in a senseless war; he was not shot in a movie theater for texting his daughter; he was not lost somewhere over the Indian Ocean on a flight to Malaysia.

At least he was not sold into slavery as a boy in the Philippines; or forced to murder his family as a child-soldier in Somalia; or bombed by a wayward drone on his way to a wedding somewhere in the hills of Aden.

Somehow it helps putting personal suffering into perspective. None of us are free of suffering. Even if what makes us suffer is the suffering of others.

Suffering is not the point, we soon come to see. It’s not what matters most. It’s not what breathed life into us, what keeps us moving forward, or what makes our lives worthwhile—the lives of those we’ve lost, and the lives of those still here, and those still waiting to be born. We do well not to dwell on our personal sorrow any more than we must to move past it.

These willful rants and rages help no one. I can let the darkness suck me up and become another casualty. Or I can turn away from the darkness toward the light. I have that choice.

I can choose to honor the light in me and my son and all those who are struggling–all the fallen children, all the mourning mothers–rather than dwelling on the darkness that dishonors us all.

I can honor the light that lies at the edge of every shadow, that pierces the storm clouds, and melts the mist. The light that filters through tree leaves, and slants across the grass, and pricks the night sky, and rains down in moonlight on the dark meadow.

I can honor the light outside my window this very moment, this first day of Spring, where the hummingbirds dazzle the garden with a bright rush of wings–hovering and humming, everywhere, everywhere! When I stop, and look, and listen.Colibri-thalassinus-001-Creative Commons photo credit mdf