Sink. Or. Swim. Three small words but they have a big impact. It infers that someone will either be able to stand on their own and survive, or fail and die. That might be the highly dramatic version. It could also mean that someone is able to live and still need help. Either way, at some point in everyone’s life we reach a sink or swim scenario. Often, we reach this point several times in our lives. As lives grow and change, we have different junctions that we may have to change course. It could also be a shit or get off the pot metaphor but that is so crass, not that I have ever been known to be crass, so I like sink or swim better.
In the world of addiction, sink or swim means something else entirely. Maybe my metaphors are usually around water because I come from a family of sailors and sea-lovers. When I think about how addiction as affect our family, I see JoDee has a small toddler standing at the end of a dock. She can’t swim, metaphorically, of course, so she should be afraid of falling in. She should know that if she falls in it could cause her serious harm but she isn’t afraid because I am standing with her. She knows that her mother will stand with her to protect her, even if it means protecting her from herself. She watches the water with curiosity. Kicking pebbles, admiring the ripples and rings. After a while she sits on the edge of the dock, with her legs tucked under her. I can tell she is thinking. I watch her inch forward. Leaning over. Looking at her reflections. She is watching me out of the corner of her eye. She is waiting for the opportune moment, so I casually look away, as though I am not really watching her. As soon as I turn my head I hear the splash. I run over to the end of the dock, I can’t see her in the water, I jump in anyway. Almost immediately, I can feel her deep in the water struggling. Arms and legs flaring, reaching out, hoping I am there. I feel her arms, I grab them and pull her towards me. Of course, panic sets in so she fights me. When we are in a bad place it’s hard to believe someone is trying to help you. Or trying to save you. I have to work hard to bring her to the surface but once her face hits the cold air, she takes a deep breath, realizes she is safe and relaxes in my arms. This cycle continues over and over like we are stuck in ground hog day.
The issue with sink or swim in this scenario is that it’s no shit. If she sinks, she sinks to the bottom, to the end. With no one to save her. It’s against every fiber of my being. No mother, or father for that matter, is worth their salt if they watch their child play with matches. Never mind next to a can of gasoline. It feels so confusing to cut JoDee out of my day to day life (I could never disown her for good, she knows if push came down to who do I have to knock out, she would call) when I feel like this is when she needs me the most. The problem is, as long as I am waiting ready to jump in the water, to hoist her out when she is in trouble, she really has no reason not to continue to jump. It feels like as long she knows I will kick someone’s ass, fight for her rights, get her into programs, administer narcan, or any other amount of unspeakable things that I never imagined would be part of my everyday life, she doesn’t have to think before she jumps. I want to be her safety net. I want to wrap her in a bubble and follow behind her so if anyone goes near her I can give them a kung-Fu death punch but I cannot keep doing that. Even if it is my motherly instinct. We are at the point that I have to defy my reflex. If one of my kids teeters, I immediately reach out to try to catch them. I remember many years ago when Jared was maybe 2 we went to New Year’s or some other holiday party at the home of my one of my longest friends and her husband, Bonnie and Tyler. Jared was on the stares with some kids and in my peripheral vision I saw him start to fall backwards. I don’t even know how I grabbed him, or got across the room that fast, but I snatched him up right before he hit the floor. I could never do that if I thought about it. If I processed it as a decided thought. No. That wasn’t a thought. It was a reaction. Thus my struggle. The struggle is real folks. It’s no joke and sucks.
So, I tell JoDee she can’t talk to us. She can’t come home. She can’t call me. But for what? What does this mean? I don’t even understand it. How is she supposed to? It’s not even the drug use. I have resigned myself that she has an addiction. And it’s ugly and it could kill her and she needs to fight it. I expect relapses, even. I mean, what addict in history just woke up one day and said, “Ya know, I’m done using so I’m just never going to do it again” on the first try. If someone knows someone who stopped using on their first try, let me know who so I can ask them how they did that. This is not because she relapsed. It’s because she won’t own up to it. It’s because I need her to be honest with us and with herself if she is ever going to find real recovery. I see that her behaviors, dangerous behaviors and self-loathing, harmful behaviors, are not changing. I know there is a difference between clean and recovery. It’s time. She needs to begin real, true, step working, facing character defects, and changing behavior recovery. And I think it is way too easy to behave however she wants and then have me help her out. I want too. I want to help her but it isn’t helping either one of us. I don’t know how else to break the behavior then to step back and… let her sink or swim.
The new scenario that plays in my head goes something like this: JoDee is all grown up. She is staring down at the end of the dock into the deep black water. She has heavy weights all around her. On her arms and legs and around her neck. I am nowhere to be found. I am not there. I am home. Watching through a looking glass. If I yell she can’t hear me. If bang on the glass, it goes unheard. I have no choice but to wait and watch. I could close my eyes, but then I might miss something. But I might not want to watch it anyway. But how can I not watch? So, she edges closer the too the end of the dock. She holds on to the post, bending one knee and sticking the other leg out to try to dip in a toe. Her toe hovers about the water- the rest to be determined. She will either, retreat. Put both feet back on the dock, start to shed some of the weight. By shedding the weight, she asks for help. She works the steps with her sponsor, she finds friends that support her recovery, and accepts their friendship back without expecting something material from it. She phones a friend, goes to meetings, and attends programs. She participates in her house meeting, stays gainfully employed, and doesn’t jump from boy to boy. These are the ways to build a strong foundation for recovery. I want to help her with that and participate with that. I want to bask in her road to recovery life, but I can’t do any of that until I know what happens.
The opposite could happen. She could bend her knee more, stretching that toe out trying to get it wet. Not wanting to commit to jumping in but just keeping herself involved enough to ride the fence. She may stay that way forever, carrying the weight, aka the burden alone, which would be terrible. You can’t live a life that way. That isn’t living, it’s just barely existing. It’s living in a state of insecurity. At any moment she could fall, get sucked under by the water and the weights. The end. That would be horrendous. I don’t want that for my daughter. She has so much to offer life. She has so much to contribute. Like so many of our addicted daughters and sons. They are not the junkie trash that society has labeled them. And seriously don’t even get me started on society as a whole. Society, the media, glamourize addiction and drugs when they promote Wolf of Wall Street and Breaking Bad. Sure it’s entertainment but everyone talks about how awesome the show was or how cool Leonardo was in that role, but condemns my daughter when they see her with track marks on her arms and hickies on her neck looking like something that should have been put on the curb on trash day. How dare you… any of you that enjoy those films and judge our children. Enjoy the shows/films… even I have watched them, but then have decency when you see a real addict suffering in real life. I’m sorry if they aren’t as attractive as Leo was, but they are rea. That is what REAL addiction looks like, not the glorified shit you see on the big screen, and the families suffering are the ones helping you check out at the grocery store, at the library, at the bank, or are nurses caring for you, lawyers defending you. They are not all shooting up or snorting with their kids. Sadly that does happen, but it is not the rule, it’s the exception. Sorry, I was deviating from the subject at hand. What was that again? Oh, right, sink or swim.
As Reality has reminded me, much to my dismay, Sink or Swim is really happening for both of us. Rage is a fickle thing. It comes and goes. And the struggle to fend off Despair is exhausting. It is literally a struggle. I hate Reality sometimes. But when Rage is busy off with someone else, I need someone to help me keep Despair at bay. I can’t let Despair back in. No matter what. I have to swim. If Despair takes me over again, I Sink. So even though I have locked myself in my bedroom, alone, and am watching Pretty Women instead of participating in any New Year’s Eve fun, I am keeping that in mind. I am lonely but not alone. Reality is standing next to me, daring me to call her, daring me to break the ice, reminding me that if nothing changes nothing changes. So I guess my New Year’s resolution is the same as the last two years, do whatever it takes to save JoDee’s life, even if that means I can’t be part of it. And Rage sits on the other side, reminding me how angry I am at her for pushing us to this point. 1/1/2015=10=1 a natural number… that’s a good start.
Here is too a year of recovery, patience, love, friends, and mending a family that does not want to be broken anymore.