The original title of the book I wanted to write about my journey with three grown sons who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol was IF MORNING EVER COMES. That if is important. If reflects my decades of praying, hoping, enabling, toughing, failing and flailing, all while desperately trying to keep hope alive. I’ve been advised that the if in the title sucks the hope out of my predicament, but after more than twenty-five years of watching my sons kill themselves a little at a time, dawn still has not broken for them.
Yet in some ways, morning does peek above the horizon. I’m learning that I cannot change my sons’ behavior, much as I’d love to. I’m learning that as much as I hate suffering, my hurt and my sons’ hurts end up softening my heart. Our shared suffering has somehow attracted love—a holy love that is teaching me not to judge, not to roll over and not to be a doormat. To stop enabling but never to stop hoping. Capital L love seeks only to enlarge my heart.
Because my human love is not big enough. And when you add in significant mental illness—what scientists call comorbidity—everything becomes more complicated. Many persons with mental health issues also self-medicate. In fact, it’s difficult to find anyone without both problems.
As loved ones, we
constantly flirt with depression, anxiety and despair, too. Our country’s
pathetic response to both substance abuse and mental illness forms a vicious
circle, a cycle that often ends in tragedy.
Some parents of addicted
children say their kids have driven all the love out of them—or so they say.
Trust broken is not easily repaired. I can’t judge those who sever
relationship—if I’m honest, I don’t know how much of this I can take. Listen, I
am not Mother Teresa. I’m just as opinionated and impatient as the next person.
But I do take comfort in a love much bigger than I am.
Each time I’m sure I’ve
gone past my limit, that Presence I call God pulls me back from the ledge. I’m
sure I fit the classic picture of Enabler at times. OK, most of the time. But
just because I have never found a wormhole to a different universe doesn’t mean
it isn’t there.
Yet I’m also a realist: Life with an addict is horrible, maddening, depressing, sad, interminable. Missing items, sold for drug money. Begging for just “one more beer,” one more excuse to miss work, one more loan until payday. Middle-of-the-night calls to police or from jail. The lies, the lies, the lies.
Glimmers of hope are
almost as bad—mainly because they so rarely pan out. I’m gonna quit this
time. After I get out, I’ll be at meetings every day. I’m done with all that. I
swear. Just need to get on that inpatient waiting list. My motherly
instincts usually stick to false promises like gorilla glue, and I always vow
never to fall for that old ruse again. Until I do.
Sure, I have war stories. You do too. We both probably have given or received enough advice to last until the sun burns out. We try our best, we really do. And we pray—for guidance, for change, for that miracle we need so badly. When we connect with others on this lonely road, we cry, we share, we hug, and we pray some more.
This is the life I live with three grown sons who each battle substance abuse as well as undiagnosed mental illness. If you’ve found me here because of Prayers for Parents of Prodigals, welcome—although we both wish you didn’t need to come here at all. If you are a loved one of an addict, alcoholic or someone with mental illness or all of these, I want you to know that I get it. Really. We’ll wait for morning, and we’ll wait together.
Waiting for Morning will be an honest—sometimes hard—place to read about my situation and yours. I figure you don’t need platitudes, cheerful advice or someone spouting scriptures to build or rebuild your broken heart. Plenty of that out there. No, this will be a spot to be raw, and vulnerable, and authentic. A place where, if the mystics are right, God waits to meet you in the middle of the pain.
If you’re still in the waiting room too, maybe we can comfort one another. I can’t do pity parties, but I can acknowledge the hardships, the regrets, the occasional panic and the always-simmering anxieties. Death, the ultimate fear—losing your child forever—is a dragon who sleeps with one eye open. That’s why hope is something we all need a fresh dose of every morning.
If you find any comfort here, I hope you’ll tell your family and friends. There’s something powerful in all of us waiting, watching together. We may not be able to make our loved one change, but we can stand together in love.