On St. Valentine’s Day, my grown son offered to wash my car, even though legendary Oregon rain was in the forecast. I was thrilled by his gift—long-time meth use and ongoing mental health issues keep him unemployed. Besides, any mom will tell you that a kind gesture from your kid is worth its weight in long-stemmed red roses.
Yet only minutes after shining up my old red Honda, I heard yelling out in my garage.
Son had been on his drug of choice for longer than a week. With meth, rage sits in the brain’s front row, needing little to no excuse to bust a move. I stopped to listen and sure enough, he and his lady friend were at it again, arguing and shouting and slamming stuff around the way their arrested development dictates.
Typical drama, but such a bummer—especially if the neighbors got wind. I was so tempted to storm out and shriek that they were ruining my Valentine’s Day. But by the time I’d talked myself out of attacking drama with more drama, the girl had sped off in her car. Son still banged and slammed but with less enthusiasm now that his target audience had driven away.
My son’s frontal lobes must be damaged by now. The rush of uppers combined with his severe anxiety and panic disorder make every waking moment a sort of crisis that no one else understands. My heart breaks thinking about how trapped he must feel. I often think the closest he comes to satisfaction is when the rest of us feel as terrible as he does.
No one can make you feel bad without your permission. Eleanor Roosevelt
But as I stood in the doorway, ready to yell that my Valentine’s Day was ruined, I remembered Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous adage: that no one can make me feel bad without my permission. I’m not required to be in an awful, no-good mood simply because he’s having a tough time. I tell my husband this all the time—that other people can’t force you to feel any way at all. Emotions come from inside us—we get to decide if the day is good, bad or indifferent.
I peeked out into the garage. Son was still out there, cursing and tossing hand tools around. Again, my heart started to sink, seeing the pain in his eyes. The mom in me wanted to gather him into my arms, to kiss his hurt and assure him that God and Mommy loved him to the moon and back. That I’d fight any bully who dared to say he wasn’t lovable.
But as I stood watching him through the crack in the door, I knew. He’d already chosen a feeling and it was anger. It was fury and blind rage and madness, aided and abetted by the insatiable drug methamphetamine. Although they say that Mom sets the tone of the whole household, I could no more make him feel better than he could make me feel bad.
On a day full of hearts and sappy sayings, cards and chocolates, amid the promises of laughter and love, I struggled. How could I keep from falling into the same ruined day trap as my son? And what is love, really, I wondered. A cruel way for those with addiction issues to prove that they’re unworthy? A Hallmark-inspired day that pressures us into believing we’ll never quite make the grade?
Those questions might deflate a lot of us. I could have felt crappy and then gone further, sorry for myself that I couldn’t even celebrate Valentine’s Day cheerfully, upset that on the biggest love day of the year, all I got was drama with a capital D. I regretted that we weren’t one big happy family that day and closed the door without a sound.
Love you to the moon and back. –Mom
Take a Step Back
But by stepping back for a moment to ask myself how I wanted to feel, everything changed. Instead of reacting to the garage drama, I could do things differently. I could appreciate, if only for an instant, how my son’s meth use took away the anxiety and gave him a moment of feeling indestructible, even euphoric.
I remembered all I’d learned about how the drug then cruelly dupes users into believing that every glass is half-empty, sucks them into self-defeating loops of depression, encourages them to hate themselves—and anyone who happens to come too close.
I won’t make excuses—if he became violent or out of control, I’d have asked him to leave. But my own mood transcended from mere reaction to one that can love genuinely—sometimes, unfortunately, from afar.
Maybe there was a little magic in my sliver of understanding. At some point, my son had slunk into his room and was quiet. I slipped the card and candy I had for him under his door, sending along motherly love that had flown to the moon and back. Later on, when the drug wore off and he was his sweet self again, I was sure he’d hug me and find more household chores to do for me. Until then, I was content to smile while standing in the Oregon rain.