While I was waiting for the elevator, I read a five-word text that tore apart my heart and left my stomach in knots. The elevator ride provided under a minute of privacy to process my 20 year old son’s message. As I re-embraced the professional environment, the words, “I will be dead soon” reverberated. My usual mantra, “Please keep him safe” was futile. I begin my presentation with a smile and further deepened my disconnection with the “normal world”.
The combination of a gnawing guilt that I’ve failed, and childhood conditioning (albeit unhealthy) to maintain the pretense of composure, requires I censor any heroin related topics. A cultural bias that deems opiate addicts as “unworthy” puts me in exile. Coffee cart banter that my son may overdose before he’s admitted to detox is unimaginable. I am sequestered, the extent of my connectivity is reading heroin statistics. The data estimates 85 million loved ones “affected”, an epidemic.
However, no one shouts out their child’s addiction; there are no parades for addicts; donations aren’t solicited in check-out lines. We are united in our silence, driven by the universal power of shame.
I remain optimistic about recapturing normalcy, but addiction and recovery are inherently unpredictable. Preparing for a holiday get together included praying for 24 hours of peace, but that didn’t prevent me from noticing his unannounced friends in the shadows. A flicker of disappointment was the precursor to the dread of executing the consequences. None of my friends were contacted to advise on how to explain his absence to his younger sisters. Jack in the Box was my beacon, their extended holiday hours reassured he wouldn’t be on the streets on Christmas Eve. That soul crushing memory melds into countless other secrets I keep. Loving an addict is riding an erratic carousel of hope, fear and frustration; companionship is unrealistic. Over the last 3 years no single, painstaking choice or heartbreaking decision that I’ve made has been with support, unless you count the reaction of my dog, who’s steadfast in delivering an earnest gaze.
I was alone in my sorrow when my son’s former coach called to say he was begging outside a local grocery store. I relayed a historical retrospective of the “good” parenting practices employed, but it was pointless. The thirst to identify the failures that led to addiction is unquenchable and those unaffected will both openly and secretly “blame” the parents.
When I joined The Addict Mom Facebook page, my newsfeed augmenting 22,000 new friends was overwhelming. “Unfettered” was stunning; the realities were harsh, but the culture created an immediate kinship. I “liked” the post “My son is incarcerated but alive! Not the best holiday but blessed still!!” I left a passionate comment to “I work in a hospital, and I overheard a coworker in the break room say that they hate wasting time on these worthless addicts.” I cried with the mom who shared a photo of a beautiful young woman, with “My baby was found dead today”. Initially, experiencing the enormity of the epidemic via the voices of mothers made me physically sick. I was considering disconnecting, when it hit me, I had become so engrained in editing reality I nearly discarded the lifeline.
Unconditional acceptance and around the clock support was foreign. However, the steady engagement of this community is powerful. During a dark moment, hundreds of people reacted to my post with comments like, “Please tell your boy hundreds of moms are praying for him, he is worth it and we can’t wait to see his success story soon”. I sent screen shots to my son, who was struggling 500 miles away. We were shocked by the outpouring of compassion and the collective support propelled us through.
As a member of The Addict’s Mom, having given and received countless virtual hugs and prayers has desensitized me to the shame. I am member of an army of soldiers who are fighting a grassroots war to address archaic laws, substandard care and limited resources. We are in plain sight, sitting next to you in the lunchroom; standing in line behind you at the grocery store. Mamas quietly aligned, but viciously battling for the children who are lost to us even when they are still alive. We humanize the statistics, our children have names, and their struggles and pain are echoed in our posts. Addiction is a reality, and loving my child does not require justification. I am an addict’s mom and not ashamed.