I have been asked several times, in different ways, sometimes directly, what it is like to be the parent of an addict. There is really no answer to that. I can’t imagine how one would put that into words to have someone on the outside understand it. And, in fairness, it depends on where your child is in addiction. Active addiction, recovery time, relapse all have different emotions. I have given everyone who reads this blog an insight into my family and our struggle with addiction but everyone’s struggle is so different. The one thing that I can say I have heard in every support group that I have read on every blog/website/search engine consistently is that you can’t unknow what you know. There is life before addiction and there is life after finding out about addiction but there is never going back to the old life. Many times people say I want my daughter back, I want my son back, I want my husband back and I never felt that way. Something was really wrong in JoDee’s psyche to get to this point so I don’t want that person back, I want the new and improved, healthier, wiser, self-loving instead of self-loathing version of JoDee. I don’t want anything back. I want it anew. Let me try, as crudely as it will be, to bring you through the feelings of each situation.
Imagine that you are swimming in this beautiful, crystal clear, totally-can-see-the-bottom Caribbean ocean. The sun feels amazing on your skin; the water is warm and enveloping. Relaxed, peaceful, at ease. Suddenly, something grabs your leg and pulls you under water. You thrash your arms around trying to grab for something to pull you up but there is nothing. There is no fighting it. You try kicking your feet, the sun disappears and the clouds come rolling in. There is no rain, there is no moon, there is no sun, and there is a complete blankness of energy or environment. As you sink deeper into the ocean you keep looking up, reaching up, reaching for the air, trying to reach the surface. Something has you be the leg and won’t let go. You are sure it’s a shark or a whale, it’s forceful and heavy. When you finally take a moment to look down, instead of up, you see it’s an elephant. His trunk is wrapped around your leg. It’s so out-of-place in the ocean that you’re stunned for a moment and you forget that you can’t breathe. It’s not what you expect. It has no place here. You forget that you’re struggling and swirling and losing ground because the very thing that is sinking you is so shocking. But now you see what you’re dealing with, and you are able to brainstorm for a moment, and you find a mouse out of thin air and show it to the elephant, and it lets you go. You shoot up to the surface long enough to catch some air, to let the pressure go in your chest, to rest your tired arms and legs. There is still no sun. There is no moon, there is nothing but blankness. And you understand this is your normal now. Just waiting for the elephant to resurface.
There has been no sign of the elephant. You think about swimming back to shore. You want too. You see your family and friends all on the beach. A bon fire lit, roasting marshmallows. Laughing, dancing, and listening to music. The sun shines and the moon glows where they are, but you’re afraid to get out of the water. You are afraid to make any sudden moves for fear it will wake the elephant. But you can’t tread water forever. You can’t stay in one place, fighting the current. You have to make a choice. Swim for the shore and join your life or swim with the current searching for the elephant. You are tired. Your emotions are tired. You can’t keep swimming because your whole body is tired. And there is no sign of the elephant, so you float on your back. Letting the water take you. Keeping an ear out. Keeping an eye out. You hear something underneath you, you flip over to see, and your instincts tell you it’s the elephant, but you see no sign of him. You put on goggles and stick your face in the water. No sign of him. You aren’t even sure what you are looking for, or if you will know it when you see it. When you lift your head out of the water, the sun is trying to peek through the clouds. The water is feeling warm again. Your legs and arms are starting to feel good. Your emotions are tender, but feeling relaxed-ish. You want to fall asleep. You want to rest but it’s scary. You’re afraid to close your eyes. Eventually, you have no choice. You have to let go.
You spread your arms out, on your back, the sun is coming through the clouds, it starts to warm up your cheeks, the heat finding your forehead and eyes. Wiggle your fingers in the water. Wiggle your toes and stretch your legs- the worst is behind you. You don’t hear the trunk come out of the water. You don’t feel it slide around your leg again until it’s too late. With a sudden jerk, you are being pulled under, down, down, down, down. The sun is gone, it’s laughing at you for believing in it. The moon is gone. The clouds band together, everything is dark, you look down at the elephant, and it has a syringe between his teeth. The trunk is wrapped around both legs, he has the advantage. The weight and strength of him, and the trunk as his weapon. You pound on him, you try to scream but your lungs fill with water. Lurching and twitching, desperate to make him let you go. Finally, you realize fighting is not the answer. You turn to face him, you jam a finger in his eye, pull out his eye-ball, on the end of the tendon is the heart of his addiction. It sways in the ocean water, while he screeches in pain as he tries to grab the addiction back; you buoy to the surface and gasp for air once again.
To truly help an addict, you have to find the heart of the addiction. Addiction does not start because someone simply wants to do drugs. Drugs are a symptom of a bigger problem. This cycle of Active Addiction, Recovery and Relapse will continue over and over unless the necessary steps are taken to address the deeper issue. For an addict or his/r family to be able to search for true lasting recovery, means shaking the stigma of shame out of the picture. If we can shed the veil of shame and embarrassment, and allow our addicts to search for recovery without ignominy, we have a fighting chance to save rather than surrender to defeat. I am the mother of an addict. I am not ashamed of my daughter’s addiction and I will not allow heroin into my family, without a fight. And today, I am grateful that I still have an elephant to fight, instead of being drowned by it.