“How can I support you?” I ask my forty-one-year-old son. He’s experiencing excruciating day twelve of meth withdrawal. He’s just said the words I’ve long to hear: He’s determined to do life differently.
He gently rocks side-to-side, the way he does when he’s coming off a binge. “I guess just be here for me.” Gray streaks blaze through his beard these days, but I can’t help seeing a toddler, fuzzy hair standing straight up, muddy lips from where he’s eaten dirt.
Some family members immediately scoff, but in this battle, I’d rather be a carrot than a stick. My son, who I’ll call Middle, has smoked and snorted meth regularly since he was in junior high school, not counting the year he spent in jail. For him to even speak of quitting is a miracle.
But the miracle opens my Superstitions Box. It’s like Attila the Hun is about to lay siege to my hopes and desperate prayers. My box contains silly beliefs that I hide behind whenever one of my three sons says they want to stop their drug of choice.
Like clockwork, these ridiculous superstitions start whispering in my ear. For heaven sakes, don’t celebrate—he’ll be high before the sun goes down. Who are we kidding? He’ll never change. Don’t talk about it or you’ll jinx the whole thing.
Before my son has a chance to tough out the withdrawals, I’ve decided he won’t make it. So many times, he’s lasted a week or two, only to slip away to use without saying a word. He’s “failed” abstinence so often, I hardly dare to hope.
Thankfully, I’ve learned that healing doesn’t have to be either/or. Things are changing for the better, casting aside old myths. I don’t have to wait until he “hits bottom.” I can love my kid no matter what. Professionals, treatment counselors and families are adopting inclusive ideas that don’t demonize drug users.
For me, superstitions are a kind of self-defense against that demonization. If I tell myself not to acknowledge that my son is trying—probably for the thousandth time—to quit using, then if he stumbles, that effort never existed. I can believe he didn’t mean what he said. I don’t have to feel disappointed because as the superstition states, “he’ll never change.”
I’m only jinxing myself.
You can never jinx love.
Slam shut the Superstition Box. My job isn’t to judge, it’s to love. I can keep expectations low but also treasure every moment as my son struggles to throw off addiction’s iron shackles. I can love and support him without losing my safety or myself. I can support Middle’s effort without falling prey to manipulation. I won’t decide if he’s really and truly trying to quit—every moment that my son spends clear-eyed and in his right mind is a gift. The more I treat him with dignity, respect and a mother’s love, the more I change.
And boy, do I need to change.
I’ve spent years chasing the miracle—that one day all three of my sons would wake up and simply walk away from substance use disorder. They’d kiss me on the cheek and tell me they’re off to go adulting.
This kind of miracle does occur now and then. But like winning the lottery, the odds aren’t exactly in my favor. So far, no one has shown up with balloons to celebrate. Not that I ever stopped praying for miracles—I’ll never stop praying. But in my life, miracles are often ordinary and hard to see.
Yet even if the miracles aren’t showy, they’re all around me. A while back, I stopped making sarcastic comments, grimacing and silently judging my sons, and these days, they often tell me they love me. Today, Middle hugs me, which due to being on the autism spectrum, is rare.
His hug is genuine. When I mention withdrawal, he looks away, ashamed of the painful gauntlet laid out before him. I want him to succeed so badly, but more than that, I want him to live. But it’s his journey. He’ll need a ton of love to keep going toward health—I can give that.
I’ve thrown away the Superstition Box. In its place is a Thank You Box—I’m working to keep it overflowing with gratitude. If Middle falters this time, I’ll be thankful that he keeps trying, keeps inching toward change. If he makes it, you’d better believe there’ll be balloons. And if he has to try again, I won’t forget that you can never jinx love.