My grown son ran outside to my car in the
pouring rain, hauling in the bags of groceries I’d just bought. Before I could
ask, he polished the silver for the holidays and then vacuumed the carpet. For
nearly two weeks, we laughed and talked and once I even got to hug him. He
talked about all the things he wanted to do. Then, late on the twelfth day of
Christmas, he melted away into the night.
He’d been summoned by his drug of choice: methamphetamine.
I truly believe he tried hard to ignore
that call, but it was a siren song too strong for his fragile sobriety. Immediately,
my heart fractured into a million little pieces, a prism of free-floating gloom,
colored with grief. My precious boy was gone again.
When he’s sober, my thirtysomething son is the sweetest, most helpful person I know. He not only asks me how he can help—he anticipates my needs. But his “normal” self only appears after he tweaks, exploding in fury at the slightest provocation. Next, he sleeps it off for a couple of days, like a caterpillar in a chrysalis. Finally, my real son emerges.
But life isn’t totally normal. Whenever he
recovers from a binge, he talks and talks and talks. And eats and eats and
Since he also struggles with mental health
issues, I feel obligated to nod politely as he prattles on and I bite my tongue
as he messes up the kitchen. The eggshells I walk on are sometimes literally
strewn all over the place.
Why do I tolerate this? Do I think that if
I push back, he’ll break?
Yep. He’ll break. I’ll break. We’ll all break.
We’re the definition of broken. During the
binge, he’s trampled on my heart and yelled a bunch of ear-sizzling curse
words. His features take on sharp edges I don’t recognize. My need for
comeuppance pushes against my sternum, clamoring to be heard. But you can’t
reason with someone on drugs. I save the pain for later.
But when later arrives and his cheeks grow
plump again, my feet get cold and my voice disappears. Fear squeezes me. Insist
that he clean up or say, “Be quiet for two seconds so I can hear myself think,”
and he’ll run right out to do more dope.
Or he’ll stop loving me.
I once asked a counselor why my son always
seemed to direct his rage and epithets toward me. The counselor replied, “Because
he knows you can’t stop loving him.” It’s true—I can’t stop loving him. But I’m
always terrified that he’ll find a way to stop loving me.
A day and a half after he disappeared, he’s back home. He avoids me, skulking around or holing up in his room. I avoid him back, mixing hurt and sorrow with wet-hen anger. I remind myself that you can’t reason with intoxicated people. No, I’ll wait until he’s tweaked and slept and starts blabbing a blue streak. I’ll face him after he’s morphed back into the son who is thirty-eight on the outside but as emotionally mature as a sixth grader.
There must be a way to preserve his
dignity and still get the kitchen clean. Although choice words sometimes park
themselves on the tip of my tongue, I can’t sink to that level. I won’t admit how
embarrassed I feel at times, knowing the neighbors must hear his shouted profanities.
I won’t say my dignity hangs by a thread and my sanity dangles from its end.
Silently, I practice those “I” statements
that are supposed to be better than screaming, “You idiot!” I vow to stick by
my boundaries and resolve to change my wimpy, shrinking violet ways. I stare at
my reflection and repeat, “I am not a doormat.” This time things will be
different. This time, I will not stand for messes and endless chatter. I will
tell him the rules have changed. This time, I swear, I’ll say he must seek
treatment or else.
And I will too, as soon as I get past that one niggling fear. No matter how smart or how logical I am, the specter of being unloved looms like a bitter winter storm. It makes no sense, and I’m ashamed to admit it. But it is as real as rain clouds. If my son stopped loving me, I might not survive.
On the thirteenth day of Christmas, I’m
looking for light in the darkness of yet another meth binge. Like moms of
substance-dependent kids everywhere, I walk a thin line between love and
loathing. At times loathing wins but mostly there’s a little bit more love than
not. That sliver of love generates new hope in the face of terrible odds and forgives
broken eggs. And I tell myself I love him so much that he could never stop
loving his mom.
There seems to be no way out, but I won’t
give up. Light hides all the colors of the rainbow, love’s prism. Sometimes you
have to squint to see it, but it’s there.