How does this keep happening to me? Why does this keep happening to me? Not that I am complaining but it seems like I am either in the right place at the right time, or a magnet for parents of an addict. Recently, I had a situation at work that called for having a consultant come in to work with me. This was going to be a short term project. Real short. As in days short. The woman who came in had worked with my boss previously. She is older than me, but not old. I would say older-ish. She told me her age, but I don’t remember. I remember she said her son was in his forties so… do the math.
Anyway, the first day she worked, I wasn’t in. I had left instruction with the company Controller who worked with her. The second day we worked together pretty quietly, going about our business with the joint goal of completing the project. On the third day we both took our lunch out at the same time and started having some small talk. How many kids do you have, where do you live, the normal stuff. She recently retired after being an accountant for many years so we sort of talked about retired life. She said she retired because she had recently suffered a tragedy. Her son, the one in his forties, had died suddenly and traumatically. It was very difficult for her to bury her son and she was traumatized by it, rightfully so. I asked how he died and she told me a stroke. She talked about him having a difficult life and having suffered a lot. A heart beat or two of silence went by and she blurted out that he was an addict. I sat silently for a minute, so she would keep talking. She told me that he had suffered depression and other mental handicaps. That he didn’t die from drugs, directly, but that she was pretty sure the years of abuse to his body caused him to have a stroke so young. She felt that he had years of clean time and recently had relapsed which she hadn’t suspected would happen; it was so shocking to her. After a moment, she said she wasn’t even sure why she was telling me all this, she doesn’t like to tell people because they judge. Isn’t that how we all feel? Parents, siblings, partners? Aren’t we, somewhere under the surface, afraid to tell people about our addicted loved one for fear of judgement? And if we are being honest, are we only afraid of the world at large judging our addict, but also of judging us?
If we have an addict in the family, we must be poor, uneducated, trashy. If we are a parent of an addict, doesn’t that make us a bad parent, no rules, non-caring, non-parental? I know that feeling. I also believe that feeling is what helps our addicts stay in active addiction. We will turn a blind eye for fear of yelling to loud, which would attract attention. And now, this woman is grieving the loss of her son and the role addiction played in that death is huge, but she is afraid to talk about it. She doesn’t want to embarrass her son even posthumously so she keeps it to herself, preventing her own healing. Staying stuck in a world of addiction, being a victim of addiction still. Totally pisses me off. I told her that she was telling me because parents of addicts are attracted to each other, and my daughter was a heroin addict. I reiterated that her son’s addiction was not a result of her parenting or his being less than a person, and she should forgive him and herself. She seemed shocked for a moment, and then we had a “war story” session explaining what our children had been through and dragged us through. It makes me extremely sad that she lost her son. It makes me even more sad that she has to be shamed by it. Nothing changes over night, and there is more talk than ever about addiction but parents are left feeling so disjointed and disheveled by addcition, that I feel like there should be more focus on that.
There are support groups, and Al-Anon, and Nar-Non but we only feel comfortable in those groups if you find a group that you like. I have been to many groups of all kinds, and honestly, I can tell you that I find the most comfort in N/A meetings. Surrounded by addicts. And let me tell you why. First of all, some of those support groups with family members are completely depressing. I heard stories of families struggling with a loved one in addiction for 11 years, 17 years, 27 years! The thought of doing this one more day, when I was newly in addiction, and even not so newly, makes me paralyze with fear. A newcomer listening to a 67 year old father speak about his adult daughter having been to rehab and detox 49 times in total during her 27 years of addiction literally made me want to give up on life. That isn’t my story, see, that is his story. I can’t base today’s actions on the statements of people yesterday. I also can’t base my actions on someone else’s story. That man’s daughter is not my daughter. And my daughter will not go to detox or rehab 49 times, because I will effing kill her. And probably myself.
Sometimes those meetings are not as depressing especially when they have speakers whose child/loved one has multiple years clean time. Those are uplifting and give those of us whose child/loved one has no clean time, or only as much clean time as you could count on one hand some hope for a better future. There are a lot of those. Sometimes those meetings give great advice. One of the meetings we went to a woman was crying saying that she needed the meeting that night because her daughter, who was living under a tarp near a river, had her tarp stolen and was begging to come home. The mother knew she could not do that but it was devastating to send her child out into the cold night with nowhere to go and no one to go with. It felt like a death sentence to her. In fact, she would rather be dead than see the slow, painful demise of her beloved child. The story was heartbreaking but the group was so supportive and offered her advice that was helpful. It also showed the woman that even in the hardest times she had support from people who understood (Sandy Silva- do you remember that meeting!). I have also been to meetings where the group is really hard on the loved one. There was a group I attended with a similar situation with a different mother/daughter duo. In this case, the group was ruthless. As the group berated her for past actions or inundated her with “you should have done’s” I watched the woman sink deeper in her chair. I felt like she was being violated twice, once by her addict and again by people who should know better. I never went back to that group, and I told the woman not to either. I gave her the name of another support group, which I hope she went too.
The reason I like the N/A meetings is because it shows me that addicts do recover. I hear stories from addicts, from the horse’s mouth essentially, on how they maintained years of recovery, and why they relapsed. The why is so important because I feel like having some insight into the breakdown that goes on before a relapse helps deal with it instead of wasting time trying to understand it. I hate when JoDee relapses. Not just because of my fear of her dying but it tells me her demons are surfacing, she isn’t able to deal with them, which is the sign of a bigger problem. But I can understand that. Listening to other addicts, clean or not, speak about their station in life, their experiences, has given me the tools I need to hate the addiction and not the addict. It has allowed me to see each addict as a person and not an extension of their crack pipe or needle, and to understand why this is such an epidemic. Some people are assholes no matter what. Clean or using, there are people I would never get along with, or want to have in my inner circle. No one gets along with everyone all of the time. The world is too diverse for that. There are addicts I don’t like because of things they have done in active addiction (even if I understand why an addict does something doesn’t mean I have to like it), and some I don’t like because of things they have done during clean time. There are people I don’t like just because of who they are, and I am certain there are many people don’t like me just because of who I am. All of that is irrelevant. Whether I like you or not, whether you like me or not, how we treat people dealing with addiction is the only exception. Even if I disliked you (I hate using the word hate, ha ha) if you called me needing help with a family member in addiction, or an addict yourself, I would never turn you away. And I would always remind everyone that addiction is not about the person, it’s not about how anyone was raised, it is not about any single thing, it is a symptom of a problem that stems from many things. Something we should all keep in mind.