I was raised to honor truth. In fact, my adoptive father used to say, ” If you break my rules, you’ll be punished. If you lie, you get double.” Dad’s chilling words float back to me as my son talks about how someone in his life has done him wrong. He’s been betrayed.
Son’s cheeks are hollow from meth use. Still, he’s breathtakingly handsome, even at age forty. He says, “I can’t find my (fill-in-the-blank) anywhere.” He doesn’t look at me, but if he did, his dreamy green-blue eyes would be black holes. He shakes his head. “And then (fill-in-the-blank) just drove off with my (fill-in-the-blank).”
In my head, I hear the cruel and stereotypical cliché: How can you tell if an addict is lying? His lips are moving.
Outside, dark clouds gather like robed justices weighing the arguments. I want to scream at the sky: My son is not a cliché!
He can’t be telling his story straight. He’s been using for more than a week now, this latest binge a blur as he zips around. He cleans, he mows, he powerwashes the siding. Starts up chainsaws after dark. Now he talks too fast, too much. He asks me questions, answers them with snarky sarcasm, plays the victim.
I stand listening, keeping my expression featureless. He watches my face for any reaction to his diatribe. If I do much more than say, “Wow, that sounds really hard,” my son erupts into hurt rage. I sit on my thoughts. Yes, I know. My son is playing me.
It hurts. Nobody likes to feel taken advantage of or manipulated. But I don’t call him out for making stuff up about fill-in-the-blank. Despite my adoptive dad’s beliefs, I won’t dole out twice the punishment for lies about drama.
Being a false witness is not good. I taught all four of our kids to respect the truth. I try really hard not to tell lies. But sometimes, it is better to be kind than to be right.
Old Vietnamese Proverb: It is better to be kind than to be right.
A person in active drug use can transform even the slightest sprinkle into a category four hurricane. Misunderstandings morph into conspiracies. If I thought lies were all I had, I might tell stories too. If I was desperate.
My sons with Substance Use Disorder are desperate. They know their lives are being swallowed up. They suffer intense guilt over what they feel is an unwinnable existence. For me, the shame that my sons and your sons and daughters endure far outweighs their tendencies to embellish the truth about stuff that doesn’t matter.
That’s why I’m not challenging my son over personal drama. If he wants to cross boundaries I’ve set—Mom, pay my rent or insurance or court fees again—I don’t bite. “Someone’s gonna beat me up,” “Last time, I promise,” or “You’ll do this if you love me” kind of manipulating doesn’t cut it.
It’s hard not to correct them.
But I’ve had countless arguments with my sons when they aren’t in their right minds. It never ends well. Kindness goes so much farther than the self-satisfaction of being right.
People with addiction and/or mental health issues are so ashamed and broken that they often gaslight, exaggerate or minimize. Truth matters, but if I call them out, most simply double down. What do I gain by accusing a non-sober person of telling lies? Being the Truth Police is just too exhausting.
I smile at my son as he rocks back and forth on his feet. “I thought he was my friend,” he says, “but I guess he’s not.” He sighs, as if to beg me not to give up on him.
“Getting played must feel like a betrayal,” I say. He nods, gazing outside at the late spring rain. I see a hurting person, not someone intent on making me suffer. A cold wind picks up, as if heaven mourns for him, too. I barely hold back tears.
I can’t help but think that the betrayer is really his own self, the Jekyll to his Hyde. As he plays me, I offer him generous helpings of a mother’s love. With kindness, not right-ness, he’ll see how love leaps over fibs and whoppers. I’ll celebrate my prodigal even if he never manages to find recovery. None of us knows what tomorrow brings. When you’re being played but you still love your kid, the rain stops, however briefly, and I watch hope sprout all over again.