The day after Christmas, Middle Son raised his arms. “I did it!” I smiled so hard I thought my face might break. He’d done it, indeed—stayed sober for Christmas. All three of my grown sons with SUD had given me the best gift—if not total sobriety, then at least no ugly drama. Gratitude flooded over me. No better gift for moms like me.

But as I basked in the glow, a restless feeling tapped at my senses. What gift did I have for them? If they hadn’t been sober, could I have given them such a costly gift?

Believe me, we’ve had many holidays when un-sobriety was more like it. Times when I’ve worried myself sick, wondering where my precious boy might be. Christmases when I’ve paid thousands and driven miles to get a son’s car out of the impound yard. Holidays where all I could do was sit and cry.

We who love those with addiction and/or mental issues tend to focus on what they might give to us: a renewed commitment to treatment, a family gathering minus the raging, the nodding off in front of your judgmental aunt, a return to before. Before all this started, before we were forced to always carry Narcan, before we were thrown into this gyre of substance use.

Now, their choice to leave it all behind is the one gift moms crave. Well, most of us—too many only wish for one more minute with their kid who didn’t make it. But what about the gift our loved ones would wish most from us?

“Can you love me? Please, oh please love me.”

Somehow, addiction skipped me, so I can’t say what I’d love if I had SUD. But when I look into my sons’ eyes, they seem to say, “Can you still love me? Please, oh please love me.” In spite of what I do. Of what I’ve become. Can you see me without that tinge of disdain on your face? Will you overlook my choices just this once?

The best present I can give my sons—and your sons and daughters and all those with SUD and/or mental health issues—is to be present fully with them. To see through the muck and the cursing and your cherished missing items and see that person fully. The way God sees all of us. The way we hope others see us.

Sounds easy, right? Paste a smile on your face and pretend your child hasn’t just called you every name in the book. Pretend she didn’t steal from you or wreck your car or wind up with a DUI on Christmas. Keep smiling. Right.

The truth is, no matter how inebriated, a person can still spot a phony. Our loved ones know when we’re putting on an act. Fake love is no gift to anyone.

And even though you might really try hard to spread the love but then he starts an argument because he’s drunk or high or both and then you lose your temper and next thing you know the neighbors call 911, you freely gave that gift.

It still counts.

Don’t hold back from this kind of gift-spending. Try to remember that you don’t always have to be right. That it’s okay if your loved ones are hardly ever right. That you can still love them today, right this second, even though she just barfed on your shoes or he’s so blacked out he can’t remember his name.

No doubt, some are having a miserable holiday. Your loved one has done that thing you never thought she’d do, crossed that line you hoped he’d never cross. You’re tapped out, tired out, stressed out. You most certainly want off this horrible ride. I’m sorry.

I admit that my son staying sober during Christmas was wonderful. Today, he’s back at it, but no one can take away yesterday. Today, my heart hurts in all the familiar ways, but the memory of his fist-pump and grin helps.

Even so, if my sons had been drunk or drugged or belligerent or foul-mouthed, I’d still have to ask if I had any worthwhile gift for them.

So I’ll run up my credit cards buying Mercy and Kindness. Elbow in on the year’s last Blue Light Forgiveness Special. I won’t buy accountability or consequences—maybe that comes later. Right now, right this holy minute, I’ll light up the holiday with the gift of love. Because straight or buzzed or strung out, their eyes always plead, “Can you love me? Please, oh please.” And I will.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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