My baby grew up to be an addict. There was a time when I believed a mother’s love could fix anything, but it can’t fix this.
For too many years I thought I was helping Joey. I thought I was doing my job by keeping him out of trouble and getting him out of trouble and believing his lies. I snooped and stalked and tried to out-manipulate his manipulations. I did everything and anything to make things right. I tried to keep my child from suffering, because that’s what a mother’s love does.
I loaned Joey money when times were tough, but not wanting to make times any tougher didn’t ask him to pay the money back. I made excuses for Joey’s new self-centered meanness and I pretended not to hurt when he missed my birthday or when his place at our Thanksgiving table remained empty. I believed Joey’s explanations for his sunken eyes and shaking hands and I believed his convoluted denials of drug overdoses and emergency room DOA revivals. (Well, sort of.) When Joey was arrested — the times I knew about — I showed up in court as a reminder that he was loved and had reason to head in another direction; I even stayed when he bared his teeth at me and hissed. I wrote letters to the judge (damage control) pleading for Joey to be sentenced to rehab not jail. And then I listened as Joey blamed everyone he could think of for why he did end up in jail; the only person not to blame was the one looking at me from the other side of the smudgy glass.
Three times Joey was convinced or cornered into going into addiction treatment. And three times Joey played it and everyone around him like a game and then walked away. I connived. I wheedled. I cried. I begged. And, I continued to aid and abet and enable like a champ.
I did everything I could to protect Joey from himself until finally I realized it wasn’t him that I was protecting. I was protecting the addict. Making it easy for the addict. Giving the addict one more day to further consume my son’s body and mind.
I was helping the addict to kill the son I was trying to save.
My motherly love would need to be contorted and redefined.
There’s nothing about this kind of love that feels good. But I’m not doing it for me. It’s not called Tough Love because it’s mean. It’s called Tough Love because it is tough to do.
I will do nothing, ever again, to help the addict. Because, if I do, I have no hope of ever seeing my son. I love Joey. And it is because I love him that I am done.
We never had a chance.
In so many ways, Joey’s addiction has taken away so much—in so many ways, the birth of my son keeps on dying—but of all of the breaths of the thousands of little deaths, the saddest loss may be that I no longer know what it means to be my son’s mom.
Oh, I’ve learned how to navigate our now-adult relationship with arms-length respect and mile-wide boundaries, but that’s the sticks and the bricks of it. Sticks and bricks do not make a Mom. Like a teddy bear without any stuffing, this is all wrong.
Addiction has pummeled my family. Beating it back has been one long, hard fight. These mother’s hands of mine, these nubby, bloodied claws, have seen battle—the battle between Hanging On and Letting Go; the battle between Barely Hanging On and Hanging in There; the battle to Survive the Unexpected; and the battle Just to Survive. Battered and bruised I may be, but I’m stronger and wiser.
I finally understand there’s nothing more I can do to help my son other than give him moral support in a quest to help himself. Still, I carry around the very maternal and human need to do something. And I need to do something with this need to do something.
And so, I share my story of love and loss and learning–and surviving my son’s addiction while coming to terms with the fact that he may not.
Written from the place where I live, the place where love and addiction meet.