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[ Personal Narratives ]

Joyce Cooper of Detroit Muscle Has Her Say About Supporting Her Recovering Son

Jeff Vande Zande’s novel Detroit Muscle tells the story of Robby Cooper, a young man in early recovery from OxyContin addiction. Robby must return to Michigan after rehab and try to put some kind of life back together. In her review of the novel for Recovery Campus, Nicola O’Hanlon of the I Love Recovery Cafe blog writes: “Detroit Muscle has something for all walks of society in relation to viewing addicted people in a more compassionate light.”

Although much of Robby’s journey is his own, he is not without people who care about him and want his recovery. One of those people is his mother, Joyce Cooper. Addiction Unscripted had the opportunity to track down the fictional Joyce and ask her what it is like to support her son as he navigates early recovery. She had this to say:

I’m not sure where someone starts with something like this. People are often asking me what Robby was like as a little boy, so I guess I can start there. I think people want to know if there was some sign I missed. I really don’t think it works like that. Plus you end up beating yourself up. I mean, yeah, there are warning signs, especially when they’re using, but those warning signs shouldn’t be used against parents, right? Nobody gets to say, “You should have seen this coming.” I don’t know, I guess I’ve had some friends who’ve made me feel like that’s what they were thinking, so I’m sensitive to it.

As a baby, Robby was about perfect. He pretty much always slept through the night. He was quiet as a kid and kept to himself. Maybe that’s something to do with being an only child. He always seemed mature for his age. He was on his homework every night without being told. He didn’t have a lot of friends, but I don’t think he was lonely. He spent considerable time with his father, so I think our divorce was hard on him. The divorce, though, was a long time coming. Gerry – Robby’s dad – had issues. I guess the term would be “serial cheater” or maybe “sex addict.” I knew about it and lived with it or ignored it as long as I could. Then I couldn’t anymore. I confronted him, and we fought, and then we split up. Gerry tried to keep close to Robby as much as he could even after we were divorced. They stayed close until Robby was about 16, and then they drifted apart. By then, I think I’d heard that Gerry was with another woman, but was already cheating on her.

The big thing that happened to Robby was his band. I’d never really seen him get committed to something the way he loved playing music. Even when he was in fourth or fifth grade, he was in soccer. He was really good but I could always tell that his heart wasn’t in it. In sixth grade I gave him the option to not play anymore, and he said, “Okay.” That was that. The band, though… that was big for him. He came out of his shell. He seemed really happy, like he’d found something that really meant something to him. He even got a good job with a roofing company. Other than not seeing much of his father, that was a good period for him.

It wasn’t long, though, before everything went really bad. First, the band broke up, which I could tell was really hard on him. He wouldn’t talk about it, but I could tell. That was the summer too that Robby’s dad… well, Gerry… Gerry took his own life. Robby really turned inward after that. As far as I knew, he didn’t talk to anybody. He just worked all the time. With the roofing company, he could work 50 to 60 hours a week, and that’s what he did. Then he fell…

All of this, though—this backstory stuff—is in the book Detroit Muscle. I really think I should be saying something new, something about what it was like to support him in recovery.

But yeah, the injury got him on OxyContin, and he never really got off, not until rehab, anyway.

And that’s the question Addiction Unscripted originally asked me: How has it been trying to support someone who is in early recovery?

It’s just so hard to feel so helpless. I mean, this is my child. You just want… I don’t know, to do something or say something magical that makes relapse impossible. There must be some way to be there for them that’s just what they need, right? But nobody can tell you what that is…if it even exists. It’s all just so much stumbling around in the dark. You can read a lot and learn a lot from it, but there isn’t one book that can tell you what to do because it’s different for everyone. Every recovery journey is unique, and so is every support journey. There isn’t a book because you’re writing the book as you go through it. I mean, I can look back now and see things I would have done differently, but I can only look back because I went through it. And, little of what I have to say will make a huge difference for anyone else because their support journey is theirs too. We each have this book to write…even if it is reluctantly.

For Robby, though, what I guess I needed to do was get out of his space. I needed to let him walk on the journey without shouting “Be careful!” before each step. I can say this now because I’m seeing a therapist, too. I guess that’s one thing I would recommend, especially for a single parent. You need someone to talk to. Being the support person, you end up living in your head a lot. It’s really easy to get codependent. For a while there, that’s all I could think about was Robby. If he wasn’t in the room with me, I was terrified for him. If he was in the room with me, I was offering advice or trying to say supportive things. That really didn’t work out because it just made him not want to be around me, which made me worry more.

I remember asking him once how he was doing with cravings, and he said, “I had a bad one today.” Well, that was it, the rest of MY day was ruined. That’s what my therapist explained is the codependent thinking. For Robby, he had the craving, worked through it, and then carried on. For me, just hearing that he’d had a craving… well, that set my brain on fire. I couldn’t shake it for days. And, Robby could tell how much it bothered me, so he stopped being honest with me. If I asked him how he was doing, he just started answering, “fine.” I had put him in this place where he always felt like he needed to be in an upbeat, positive mood. I know that early recovery was hard for him, and he was usually down, so not to disappoint or worry me, he avoided me. He said as little to me as possible. I craved information from him… anything to give me hope … and he didn’t want to be responsible for my hope. He was on his own thing, and didn’t need his mom’s mollification to be another thing to worry about.

So, yes, through wanting to help him, I pushed him away. I guess, though, that a lot of what I was doing was trying to help myself. I wanted to feel better. I wanted security. I wanted hope. I wanted the promise that every day was going to get a little better. I was thinking about him, but it was really a way to think about myself. I needed to get out of his way, and then doing that gave me more time to think about my own life, too. We came to an understanding. I asked him to keep me posted from time to time on how he was doing. He said he would as long as I stopped hovering over his every word and move. I backed off enough to let him out of the feeling of being cornered. He let me in enough that I was able to see glimpses of light. I started to live my days only thinking about him 90% of the time, then 75%, and now I would say I’m at about 50%.

I garden again. I have a life. I’ve even been seeing somebody, which I really didn’t think I would ever do again after Gerry. None of this is to say, “Hey, if your kid is in early recovery, do this, and everything will be fine.” There’s nobody who can tell you exactly what to do. It’s your journey. Take it slow with your eyes and heart open.

Even if that’s just a platitude, it can get you through. Stay with anything that gets your through.

To read the rest of Robby and Joyce Cooper’s story, consider purchasing Detroit Muscle.

You can order directly from the press by clicking here.

Or from here.