Last week, driving to pick up some plants and gardening supplies, my three sons were all sober at the same time. The. Same. Time. The late Spring sun was out and like a lot of us Pacific Northwesters, we were itching to get growing. I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty.
Oldest was excited about building a raised bed at his place. Middle and Youngest had each staked out a few rows of turf in my backyard. So far, we’d started seedlings of green beans, peas and tomatoes, but we all craved more plants to tend.
To be honest, I also craved the guys’ sobriety to go on approximately forever. The sparkle in their clear eyes. Those hundred-watt smiles. The hugs and thoughtful speech—it felt like paradise to me. I was daydreaming our perfect future when, on our way out of the garden store, I fumbled a box of plant starts.
I juggled the box, afraid of ruining both plants and such a perfect afternoon. Deep down, though, my high expectations were laying a trap for me. I realized that when it came to emotions, I juggled constantly.
Daily, from dawn to dusk and beyond, I juggle. I juggle my job and my personal life. And like many moms of addicted children, I juggle my emotions.
These days, my emotions are so up and down and sideways, I feel like I’m stuck on the world’s worst roller coaster. I belong to many groups for moms of addicted loved ones. But on any given day, the posts and reports whipsaw between the ultimate pain and exuberant celebrations.
Sometimes, I can’t bear to read another lament by a mom whose child didn’t make it. I’ve feared that my son is next a million times. Reading OD death stories, I worry that someone else’s tragedy is contagious. A voice inside whispers, “It’s your turn soon.” I often can’t stay long enough to extend sympathy for their loss.
And just as often, I can’t face the “good news” of someone else’s son or daughter in recovery. Their loved one’s plump cheeks and broad smiles feel more like a dagger twisting my insides than a hope I can cling to. I believe in weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Except when I don’t. Then guilt and shame bring their suitcases for an extended stay.
I’m stuck between terrible choices, I proclaim. Then, I’m gently reminded that I’m not stuck at all. I’ve made my choice: to stay in relationship. To love. It’s the boundary thing I don’t do well.
As I juggled those plantlings, my sons scrambled to help me keep from crushing them. They were there before I could ask, admonishing me to let them do the heavy lifting. When I gazed into Youngest’s beautiful blue eyes, I didn’t see an alcoholic staggering toward ruin. Middle barked at me to “stop trying to carry stuff,” and I heard only love behind his scolding, not the cruelty of meth. Oldest generously paid for more than his share of the starts—his way of giving back after all my bailouts.
My sons demonstrated how I can juggle the good, bad and enabling of addiction without condemnation or withdrawing. The more I see them as capable adults, the less I think of them as failures to launch. When I speak to them with kindness,I show that they’re worth saving. If I set boundaries which reflect my true values, I’m less apt to let anyone trample them.
As I practice living in the tension of Love and Boundaries, my sons are beginning to open like flowers—slowly but surely. As I erect boundaries that I can keep, I’m watching my three adult sons eke out a change.
Like time-lapse photography, you can’t see tiny movements until suddenly a bloom appears and you’re looking at someone you thought was long gone. Maybe it’s a smile or a new willingness to talk and listen. I stand guard at the garden gate, waiting for the first green shoots of the season, the evidence of hope not seen.
Some call these “green light moments,” times when our loved ones soften their defenses and we’re honestly interested in their well-being. Times when we allow our loved ones to inch closer to recovery while we weed out our shame and guilt.
Keep on Trying
There aren’t any guarantees. I may end up at one end of the seesaw or the other. But I’m determined to stop allowing addiction to juggle me. At the fulcrum of day-to-day living, I’ll probably still battle the urge to tell my sons what they need to do. Instead, I aim to plant a mother’s love in hopes of germinating small changes that could yield big results.