The Unsent Letter

Adapted from the Fall from Grace album: artist Paloma Faith

I miss you in the mornings
Been up all night
I tell myself
You’ll be alright
Maybe someone will help you in a way I never saw
I am frantic, torn, and raw.

I miss you in the moments
When everyone is there
Listen to the silence
That hurts my heart
Maybe someday you will be back again
And not turn your  back
On the love that we try to send.

So I write this letter
That I’ll never send
Because there is no one to receive it on your end
And I write this letter
To my daughter, so filled with strife
So it stays with me forever,
Even if you aren’t in our life.

I miss you when I’m laughing
You’re very near
But then I open up my eyes
And you’re not here.
Maybe one day you will understand
The things I do,
I did it all for you.

So I write this letter
That I’ll never send
Because there is no one to receive it on your end
And I write this letter
To my daughter, so filled with strife
So it stays with me forever,
Even if you aren’t in our life.

And I’m just as scarred as you
Since you run wild with freedom
And I know right now you think there
Is no reason
But you’ll see
Nothing in life is easy

So I write this letter
That I’ll never send
Because there is no one to receive it on your end
And I write this letter
To my daughter, so filled with strife
So it stays with me forever,
Even if you aren’t in our life.

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How’s JoDee?

Hmm. Everyone asks that. How is JoDee? What’s up with JoDee? Any word from JoDee? My answer is always the same. Fine, Thank you. Good, Thanks. Oh, really no knew news, thanks for asking. Those are the responses you hear on the outside. On the inside, well that is a totally different story.

On the inside, the words how is JoDee elicit a reaction in my gut that is akin to a rupturing volcano. My heart, which feels like a delicate piece of crystal, develops a new crack. Each crack threatens to break into a million pieces, for good, with no chance of putting it back together.  The more that she is homeless, by choice, on her own, on the street, staying with this person or that person that will give her shelter for the time being, using her mother by preying on her raw feelings of despair begging to come home, begging for a bus ticket and then using the money I send for a bus ticket (which the mother knows better than to do) for something else, the more helpless I feel.  Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t want people to ask, and I know they want too and should. I am not pointing fingers and telling anyone not to be inquisitive.

The problem is that the question, as obscure as it seems, is such a leading question. Why? Well, let me tell you. Suppression. Ignorance. Denial. If no one asks about her, or if I have talked to her, or where she is then I don’t have to think about it. I can pretend in my own ignorant mind that she is just off with friends somewhere living her life. I can suppress the idea that she is a drug addict, living a rough and degrading life.  People can tell me over and over and over again that this is not my fault. And I know that it probably isn’t but if there is a mother out there that can see their child living on the street, asking for a coat instead of a hotel room because the coat she can use everyday but the hotel will only keep warm one night and not feel like she has failed as a parent, raise your hand. I don’t know if it was a direct parenting flaw. Or if she is paying for my sins of the past. Is the way I treated or mistreated people in the past the reason she is suffering? If I apologize and humble myself to the people I have wronged, will the karma bus let her off? Will she be able to stop suffering to rejoin the world? Sadly, I am desperate. I am desperate for any relief so I started making a list. A list of people who may have felt wrong by me, or I  know I wronged, or I didn’t wrong but need to apologize anyway just in case. I have begun my own version of the 12 steps that are not Al-Anon, Nar-Non or NA/AA approved. It is not identical.  It is just me accepting that I can’t change this, but I can face it, and I have to find the courage to admit my faults and atone for them. I have begun atoning. It isn’t easy, and it is uncomfortable and it is embarrassing but I don’t know what else I can do. It is not ideal, but it’s all I have.

Please don’t do that thing where everyone tells me it’s not my fault and I am a good mother because it only makes it worse. It makes me feel like a fraud. Like one of those people who says how fat they look when they are a size 0 and you want to punch them in the face with a hostess Twinkie. And a vat of lard. But I digress…. at this point we aren’t really communicating which is something I have to do but don’t want to do. Although I preach cut them off, kick them out, tough love the truth is when she is sending me text pictures of her in a tent during a snow storm I offer to get her a hotel for the night. Which turned into two nights, which turned into a coat, and some money for a food, and then a $30 Uber ride and money for a bus to come home because she was alone and lonely and need me, which turned into her not buying a bus ticket. And when I questioned her she said she bough sleeping bags but she knows I can see the transactions on her debt card so I know that isn’t where it went. And the final straw is when she casually calls me, without realizing how stupid I feel for believing all the crap she has told me over the past few weeks, to say hey can you put money on my card so I can buy some food at the grocery store and I say….no. It is two letters. One word but the hardest one in the world to say. No. I cannot give you anymore money. I cannot give you even $10 for food. All I can do is say, No. And good-bye. And try desperately not to drive my car directly into the bridge embankment in front of me, or cry. Because if the damn breaks….there is no telling what will happen. Not one tear. One small, lonely, wet tear rolling down my cheek leaving a salt mark in my perfect make-up would cause a hurricane of emotion that would probably end with me in my bed. Again. For days. So….. ya, JoDee is great. Thanks for asking.

The Cast of Characters

I have spoken about the cast of characters in blog posts past: Reality, Despair, Anger, Fear, Denial. In the world of addiction they play an integral part of everyone’s life. I can’t speak from the perspective of the addict but I can from the mother of an addict. At different intervals I have experienced all of these emotions. They don’t feel like emotions, they feel like living, breathing beings that lead me through life by the hand helping me make sense of something when my brain won’t cooperate. It is overwhelming to say the least. But it is down right terrifying when they all show up at the same time.

Everyone shows up on the door step at holiday time, doesn’t it feel that way? Aunts and Uncles you see only once a year or when someone dies or is married. Cousins that moved to the area with no other family close by, or friends that have no relations close enough to spend the holiday with, is always the way, right? The cast of characters are no different in my world. At any time during a holiday or birthday one or more show up to pay a visit, but this holiday, I was not prepared to see them all at the same time. In the many, many years of dealing with heroin addiction I have never had that happen. And it sucked. Monkey ass, if I do say.

Let’s start with Denial. Denial began appearing a few weeks before Thanksgiving when it helped me convince myself that JoDee and Scooby could come home for the holiday and it would be awesome. Perfect. We would trim the tree, eat Chinese food, decorate the house, make Christmas cookies, have a big Thanksgiving meal while holding hands and singing Jingle Bells. Pause for me to shake my head in embarrassment and horror. As the days crept closer, Denial sat with me, holding my hand, and petting my head like a good doggie obeying orders to proceed even though my gut told me I was missing something. That is the beauty of Denial. It has a way of forcing a person to deny that which they feel in their core or see right in front of their face. Good Ole Denial.

As soon as I picked them up Fear jumped in the car. Loaded to the brim with their dirty laundry, brandy new, little kitty and who the hell knows what else, we began the two hour trip back home. Within a few minutes I was already worried. Worry turned to Fear but I didn’t notice it. There were phone calls and conversations that just didn’t seem right. I wanted them to be in a better place. I made it clear that when they came home they had to be clean, not sick, and ready to spend the time with us drama free. This was a bit controlling on my part because the truth is that when a person fears that something won’t go the way they plan the reaction is to try to control it. In the world of addiction there is no such thing as control because no one can control anything much less the addict herself.

I won’t spill the dirty details because it wouldn’t be fair to anyone, or much less be agreed upon as far as the way things happened: there is my version, her version and the truth somewhere in the middle. The truth is that Reality showed up after two days to let me know this was not working. It wasn’t working for me, it wasn’t working for them and there was little I could do to make it work. We were trying to fit a square peg into a round spot and it was only hurting all of us. Reality sat with me, whispering in my ear that I didn’t have to like it it, I could even hate it, but this was life and she was not ready to actively be part of it yet. Or, I had to accept that I was not wiling to have her part of it yet. Either way, the end result was the same. She had to go.

Any mother or father or loved one of an addict that has had to pack their person up to essentially throw them out of the house can tell you it is a heart breaking and soul crushing process. I have had to do this so many times that it summon for Anger. While JoDee and Scooby packed all their crap, and their brandy new kitty, and the laundry I cleaned for them, Anger, Reality and Denial all sat next to me on the couch having a debate about the rights and wrongs of this situation. Anger volleyed for them to move faster because it was so mad that it didn’t turn out the way we wanted, and Denial argued that maybe it wasn’t as bad as we thought, opting to give them another chance. But Reality reminded me to stay the course. Not to ignore my gut. Now, to be clear, an addict does not need to be actively using to have addictive behavior. There are ways in which a person can behave like they are in active addiction without nodding out, or shooting up or stealing. Removing drugs does not make a person drug free. Only someone who deals with an addict first hand would understand what I mean, but there is an entitlement and self-absorbed/centered/focused attitude that is often at the root of the addiction that can be as damaging if not more damaging then doing drugs. It was that behavior that put the four of us on my couch arguing the next steps.

Eventually I had enough of the four way yelling match between Reality, Anger, Fear and myself, and the girls were packed so it was time to go. Currently, I am driving a tin sardine can of a rental because my youngest son crashed up my car, so it was a tight squeeze with me, AC, those two, the kitty and the four characters (Fear, Reality, Anger and Denial) all in the car. The ride was a roller coaster of emotions. Fear that I was never going to see her alive again, Angry that we were driving to East Podunk Village in the middle of the night on Friday, Denying that this was changing the dynamic of our relationship possibly for good, and understanding that in Reality, I had no choice.  When we got to their apartment Anger was torn between getting out with them or staying with me. Anger made her knock on the car window and ask me to give her cat without wanting to give me a hug or say good-bye at all. In the end, Anger got back in the car with us, and brought Despair for the long drive home.  Waking up on Saturday morning (or should I say getting out of bed because who the hell slept at all that night!) Anger, Fear, Denial, Reality and Despair were all waiting for me. To sooth our souls we watched Dirty Dancing, Titanic, Legends of the Fall, Wind River, Ghost, The Hateful Eight, and We Were Soldiers all day and night.  As difficult as it is to have them all around, they taught me a very good lesson: Don’t celebrate anymore fucking holidays. The end.

Embarrassed

One of the things a parent of an addict, or any loved one of an addict, feels is embarrassment. I know that people are often embarrassed FOR me. The thing that is misunderstood is that I am not embarrassed BY JoDee. I think that might be really hard for people to understand. I know fellow mother’s in the same situation as I am, like Jill and Toni, will agree that it is a complete misconception that our addict is an embarrassment. She isn’t. There is a lot of embarrassing things floating around us, and there are situations that I have been embarrassed by but those are typically emotions I have felt, or actions I have taken, or thought that I have had-less the addict. The statement hate the addiction, love the addict is true and with that comes a broader level of patience and accountability, and perspective. When dealing with an addict a person cannot use cookie-cutter methods to their madness. Madness it is. Madness is probably a perfect word for it. And that is a word I can dissect in another day, but today is about embarrass.

The first moments that addiction becomes so obvious in your family, there is no time for embarrassment. The brain cannot catch up fast enough to comprehend embarrassed. The first emotion is disbelief. Horror. Terror. As a mother, I went directly into mom mode. She has an illness, how do I cure it? I read everything I could, I called every medical person I knew, I learned there was no cure. I learned that there was so much more to it than someone doing drugs. So I read all the information I could about that. I went through a lot in the first months of her addiction. Pulling away from the very detox after I dropped her off, I felt numb. I was shook. I thought I was devastated. I thought it couldn’t get any worse. But I realized that it could. And the first time I realized just how fucked up things were about to be was when she ran from the first rehab in Arizona. Locked in my bathroom, laying in child pose, crying harder than I ever remember crying in my life, I thought my life was over. Confessions time: I am an ugly crier. And not the regular ol’ ugly crier, we are talking absolutely horrendous, think the mask from the Scream movies. Scary. That is embarrassing.

Hindsight is 20/20- that is no shit. I remember the time that JoDee went to the emergency room in Salem because she was high, and breathing shallow, and they were going to medically clear her for detox. At that time, I was so mad that she relapsed. I was so pissed that she was still doing this. I remember seeing JV and Big Al waiting for me at the entrance, knowing I was going to kill her dead, trying to calm me down I of course flew past them directly to the doctor where I demand he do a list of things (blood work, fluid, etc.- this wasn’t my first rodeo) and he treated me like, well, I guess, like the mother of a dirty, smelly, unkempt, incoherent addict. I responded with a personal attack that sounded something like the air was thin for him because he had a giraffe neck.  That was embarrassing.  And I have about 900 examples of that. Every road block, every person that didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, every time I couldn’t get my way to help her get better that is embarrassing.  It some instances the person on the receiving end of my attack maybe didn’t deserve it. In some instances that deserved that and more, but I’m a reality and I should be able to maintain a level of decorum, especially if I want people to have a different perspective of addicts and their families.  I consider it part of my duty in changing the stigma to behave in a manner that is not embarrassing to other families of addicts.  Every time we walk into any setting with our loved one that is drooling, and unclean, and combative, it is up to us to make others see them as a sick, and not less than- that means acting like we are not less than. It is not easy. It is trying, and disappointing and sometimes hurts in a place that brings out the worst in anyone, especially me. Since I am not a crier, I don’t break down and cry but instead square up, fist up, ready to take it on. That sounds tough but it isn’t. It’s weak. It is the easy way out to fight with someone instead of staying calm to send a clearer message. That sort of behavior embarrasses me (kinda sorta, in a #sorrynotsorry sort of way).

I can’t think of a single example of me being embarrassed BY JoDee. I might be embarrassed FOR her sometimes. Those feelings are different. I would never not claim her as mine or be unable to be seen with her in public or uncomfortable talking about her. If was at all embarrassed this here blog wouldn’t exist, y’all. I implore other families to feel the same. Feelings of embarrassment toward an addict is only going to feed the stigma fire that says they are of a lesser class. Our addicts need to be seen as people first, with a disease that makes them sick not as a sickness on society. They are very, very different things.

 

 

This Is What He Learned

I taught my son how to ride a bike. I taught my son how to ice skate. I taught my son how to tie his shoes. I taught him how to turn on the computer when he was four years old.  I taught him how to drive a stick shift car.  Those are the things I know I taught him. I have memories of teaching him these things. There are a lot of things I worked at teaching him through the years like manners, kindness, respect and laughter. Those are every day parts of parenting. I strive to teach him to be independent, to think before he jumps, to manage his money like he might be broke tomorrow, and to do his own laundry (though I miss doing his laundry because I could steal his sweatpants!).  I’m sure there are a lot of subtle or subconscious things I have taught him through the years but none was more evident than the incident that recently happened.

My son has a friend who is struggling with addiction. Many, many people have been trying to help him, but most of them do not understand the process as well as I do. There has been a lot of really high highs and really low lows lately except that I have anticipated them. When he reaches out for help, I remind them all that its great that he is asking and we should not be discouraged if it doesn’t work because at some point it will. Of course, the friend didn’t stay at the first detox attempt. And he didn’t continue going to his first IOP attempt. And he has called for help several times without following through all of which is really hard for the people around him that want to help. I keep saying just hang in there. I know that people said that to me along the way, through the years, and I know that they are doing exactly what I did: Ignore my advice entirely. I can’t take it personally because everyone hopes that their loved one is going to be the one that miraculously is clean and healthy after their first attempt, never to return to the drug world. I’m sure it does happen sometimes to some people but I can’t imagine it happens very often. I have never heard of it.

I wasn’t surprised when I heard he was going to detox again. I wasn’t surprised to hear that maybe his addiction had reached an all time dangerous level, either. A lot of times addiction will get worse before it will get better. I was surprised, however, to hear that this friend called my son in the middle of the night asking for my help. I was even more surprised when my son said that he didn’t need me because he could help him. And he did. He did everything I would have done. He was kind, and patient, and respectful but firm. Getting an addict to detox, for those who have never done it, is not easy. Most addicts are anxious, and high, and wanting to get more high on their way there. It means helping get rid of any triggers for when they get out, and cleaning up a mess that they may have left behind. It means hoping to hell that they don’t jump out of the car at a red light to run away. Or after getting there hoping to hell that they will get out of the car and into the detox without incident. Sometimes an addict will decide to go to detox, reach out for help, find a bed (Thank you Maureen at http://www.magnolianewbeginnings.org), only to panic at the last minute refusing to leave.  There is a balance of support, honesty, and strength needed by the driver/deliverer/helper. It’s not easy. And I don’t mean physically. It’s mentally hard to see someone you love using, and high, and strung out, and desperate. It’s not a pretty picture.  And my son handled it like a pro.

He did exactly what he needed to do. No matter how traumatizing and difficult and probably scary, he handled it. I’m proud of him for that and I’m so thankful that his friend reached out to him. But I’m also horrified and saddened and a little bit guilt-ridden. Why is that, you ask? Well, that is what my son learned from me. Watching me take care of his sister for years has prepared him, readied him to help an addicted friend. How many mothers can say that? His childhood was flanked with detox, rehab, drugs and a mother who spent a lot of time doing all the things he did but a million times more. Is my legacy to my children how to navigate the drug-rehab world? This… this is the life we inhabit. Awesome. Mother of the year right here.

Committed: Recovery, Gardens and Family

The sun beats down on my back as I am kneeling in the dirt cursing the weeds that keep coming back. They are relentless. I have tried all of the tricks of the trade: homemade weed killer, pulling weeds in the middle of the night, when the dirt is dry, after watering, standing on my head while burping jelly-beans, but nothing works. The soil is rich and bountiful since the land was once an onion farm many, many years ago but someone spent many more years covering that farm rich soil up to grow grass. It has taken me several seasons to develop the perfect rectangle in the ground and most of the it is weed free, but the one area that continues to grow year after year is my nemesis. Well, the used to be my nemesis. Now, I am grateful for them.

 

My kitchen faces the back of my house directly into my garden deliberately. While I am washing dishes I love looking out at the butterflies attracted to the marigolds, and the bees pollinating my cucumbers. The blots of red from my tomato plants add a deep color to the mass of green vines and leaves. I am often standing in that exact spot trying to determine the items I will use in that evening’s supper. It’s beautiful, and knowing that the fruits of my labor will nourish my family is an added bonus. One particular day, late in the season, I noticed the last of the tomatoes had ripened, and were ready to be picked. The butternut squash was looking fantastic and on schedule for harvest in another few months and my second harvest of potatoes was almost ready. The flowers were gone and the plants were beginning to wilt, a sure sign that the tubers were ready when the phone broke my concentration.

 

When a person is staring at such a beautiful part of the earth, a part that she herself had helped create, she should not be disturbed by a phone call that will change her life forever. That is what happened to me. Drying my hands off on a nearby dish towel I answered the phone to be told that my daughter has jumped a wall in the middle of the night to runaway from a rehab in Arizona. There is nothing a person can do to prepare for that, and I was not prepared, at all. In the years since that day, we have many escapes and many near death experiences. She should be dead now, by all rights, but she continues to live another day. That first season the garden was all but forgotten about. My husband had been mowing the lawn at the time. The whole winter the lawn mower stayed right where he turned it off. The tomatoes rotten on the vine, and the potatoes under the earth. The butternut squash ripened to harvest and eventually froze to the ground decomposing the following spring. In the beginning getting out of bed was all I could manage some days. The garden seemed like a chore. I lost the love and the desire to watch things develop from seed to life. It felt as though the very opposite thing was happening to my daughter. She was slowly dismantling herself and her life. Killing herself. The drug was the weed that was strangling the life out of her and there was nothing I could do to stop it or help her. It was worse than that. It was like having powdery mildew sweep through the whole garden, and nothing we tried made it better or clear up. It was just a disease that kept on spreading.

 

It wasn’t just the outside garden that suffered either. My house plants wilted with neglect and my other children sulked around rarely showing their face out of their rooms. My Christmas Cactus never bloomed that year and the Wandering Jew I had for almost ten years on the mantel over the fireplace began to lose leaves and turn brown. Eventually we figured out how to bring life back to our lives. It isn’t an easy process. It is so difficult to commit to a life lived with an addict. It makes life unpredictable and scary. Even the strongest of people, even the people stick to their boundaries still live with the emotion attached to it. Not being in contact with the addict does not ease the pain or the depression or the misery of all that it entails but eventually it becomes just another part of the family dynamic.  Her addiction is like that patch of garden that keeps growing weeds. I won’t stop pulling them, and I won’t stop trying to figure out how to get rid of them for good, but I refuse to let it rock my commitment to the rest of the garden. I make sure I water the eggplant, and trim the herbs to encourage new growth. I snip roses putting them in vases all around the house so we can relish in their sweet scent and I take time to sit back to admire the work I have done.

 

That sounds easy, doesn’t it? To someone on the outside, that sounds like an easy thing. Pick the weed, accept it will grow back and move on. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It is a commitment. It is a commitment to myself and my family. I didn’t want to sell my house to buy a new house without JoDee being clean and able to be with us. I procrastinated as long as I could but it didn’t happen. I haven’t planned a family vacation yet for the summer because there is no way she can come with us. But I have to do it. The rest of the kids, my husband and I, work hard all year and we deserve the down time with each other. This is a real commitment. Every morning while I shower I allow myself to sulk and moan and question why this happened to me, and my daughter, and my family. By the time I dry off, brush my teeth and am dressed for the day I have to commit to putting it behind me until the same time the next day. Allowing the weeds to strangle me would only spoil the whole garden.

 

At this point with JoDee we are in a holding pattern. She says she is clean, but her patterns haven’t changed. Not working, watching Netflix, letting others take care of her is not going to make the weeds stop growing but I can’t preach that. At this point no one can. She knows what she has to do. She knows how to do it but she has to have the desire to do it. That is something that cannot be taught, or given, or explained. It has to come from her. And the first thing she would have to do is admit she still has a problem. She would have to admit that she is in denial because being drug free is not the same as living a clean life, weed-free* life.

 

 

*Weed as it relates to the garden, not a reference or innuendo for pot. Get your mind out of the gutter people.

Lucky Luck

Recently, the girl scrammed again. One minute in treatment and one minute in the wind. Earlier that day she was asking me to give her a ride to a friends wake and hours later, bam-gone. Gone in the wind. It would be a lie if I said I was shocked. I think I have said this before. Nothing really shocks me anymore. I think it’s sad, and dangerous, and I worry about her, but she doesn’t shock me. At the time I received the call I was in the emergency room with AC and AC the Original because he was having a small complication from his recent surgery. I hung up from that call and I told AC the nature of the call. He was shocked. And he was made because he was shocked. He told me that he always believes this is the time. This is the time that she will really stay on the right track and every time she derails she surprises him.  My only true thought was will her luck run out?

She has been so lucky. I can’t count with both hands how many times she overdosed. And I can think of the near death experiences she has had and I believe it takes up one whole hand, including the palm. But she always lives. Homeless, shiftless, left on the street, nearly paralyzed, has not stopped her from her drug addiction. She has been able to come back from the depths of the worst possible places. How long can that go on? Cats only have nine lives. I don’t believe people have that same amount. If we do, she definitely is getting to the end of that number. I mean, doesn’t the death by overdose really come down to luck? The lucky ones put a needle in their arm and live, and the unlucky ones put a needle in their arm and die. It is sheer luck that a person doesn’t get a bag of something other than heroin or something that is heroin but not enough to kill them. Someone can do the same thing day in and day out and one day it’s over. No excuse. No reason. No understanding.  Also, some people can be addicts until they are in their forties or longer and live to tell about it and others  die at twenty-three. Isn’t that luck? Well, bad luck?

When we got home from the hospital I sent her a text that said I hope your safe because you don’t have to many lives left, kiddo. She did not respond though, if I am being honest, I didn’t expect her too. She hasn’t reached out, and I’m not sure I should reach out to her, so I’m not going too. I just hope that the last conversation we had wasn’t about the logistics of picking her up for someone elses funeral.  That would be terrible, horrible, traumatizingly unluck.