Sometimes you have to dig deep to find kindness. Sometimes the trauma, the crises and nonstop drama combine, and suddenly you don’t feel anything. Yes, you know your child with addiction is suffering and hates his life. She knows full well how much she hurts you. The lies and name calling, the threats and manipulations, the losses, the thefts—he understands the damage to you who love him. And sometimes you snap or stumble, somehow too wounded to respond with the loving kindness you know your child needs.
Sometimes you’re just so human. So am I.
Recently, my grown son—drug of choice meth—suffered a horrendous toothache. The dentist thought he might save the teeth, so for more than two weeks my son pampered his mouth with antibiotics and a lot of saltwater swishing.
But he couldn’t ignore his cravings. I endured what felt like his eternal binge. He became more and more belligerent. I literally couldn’t look at him without rage erupting. Either he was writhing in pain or blasting everyone with paranoid fury.
I stayed cool. I spoke calmly, using the same soft musical tones as a mother with her newborn. When he hyper-emoted about his toothache, I handed him more ibuprofen or reminded him to rinse his mouth. Every moment was an emergency, but I talked to him in a low, reassuring voice—as if he were threatening to jump off a bridge.
A family member commented that if he’d just quit doing meth, his tooth problems would go away. I agreed, before repeating my views of kindness and compassion. Of course, I thought the same thing, but I’d never be so snarky to my son.
I soldiered on, trying my best to keep seeing my son as a suffering person. I didn’t want to judge him or let him see my eyerolls. The rest of the fam was less generous but tried to ignore his rants.
I remembered how mean I’d been to my husband during childbirth, especially during transition. After delivery, I was apologetic and embarrassed. To be fair, I’d give my son credit for enduring dental torture. And when his face ballooned out in a dangerous abscess, I hustled him to the dentist.
By now, he was no longer under the influence—just hurting. And the whole ordeal had a sad ending. Both teeth could not be saved. He’d suffered weeks of agony only to have molars extracted. My son and I grieved.
For the next day and a half, I still supported his needs—supplying soft foods, picking up prescriptions, dispensing loads of sympathy. Kindness, compassion and motherly love poured out of me. I relaxed my boundaries and commiserated freely. It felt so good, so true, so . . . motherly. In my eyes, my son’s nearly thirty years of meth use dissolved. Here was the miracle I’d prayed for.
I wanted an easy miracle. I got the hard work of loving kindness toward my child.
Except that by the next morning, he was onto the next binge.
A dagger of disappointment pierced me. Then righteous indignation ignited. How dare he! I’d been had. I was a fool. That’s when kindness left the building. Compassion admitted defeat. Love soured. I not only didn’t love my kid; I didn’t even like him. He’d manipulated me again.
Or had he?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he’d only acted like his addiction. His behavior was totally predictable. The one who needed an attitude check was me.
I’d allowed my expectations to leapfrog past illness all the way to a miracle healing. While I believe God could do this, He didn’t. I equated one day of sobriety with my son beating the cruel addiction that has imprisoned him since middle school. My fantasy caused my anger.
I’m pretty ordinary. Like many moms with kids with SUD, I get fed up. My son tests my patience, and sometimes I just lose it. There are times when I take the briefest glimpse of my real son and spin it into my own personal dream come true. Times like that, I must dig deep to find kindness for both him and me.
He’s feeling better today, although he’s sad about the tooth loss. He’s not the way I want him to be, but he has enough clarity to write me a note of thanks. And as he hands me his sweet note, he whispers in my ear. “You saved my life, Mom.”
I gaze into his fabulous green eyes. “And you saved mine.”