On a bright summer morning, I sip my coffee, and I’m glad to be alive. The day before, I enjoyed my son with the thrill of seeing him sober. He showed me an animated short film we both loved, we talked about our veggie garden. And he laughed, a real honest-to-goodness chortle that sounded like heaven.
Yesterday, my handsome son grinned ear to ear. “Gonna be beans any day now. We’re gonna have beans for days.” He worked extra hard to fence in the little plot after last year, when our pet bunny had devoured every single Blue Lake pole bean sprout. This spring, Son planted so many beans that they wrapped their tendrils around stakes, fence posts and each other as they fought for a place in the sun.
Whenever he’s not using meth (his drug of choice) my son has a chance to be who he really is—a talented, good-looking and caring man. I sip my coffee, which has gone cold, and remember.
That was yesterday.
Sometime in the night, after I retired to watch documentaries about astronomy, he did what he couldn’t stop himself from doing. And now, my insides suddenly feel as if I am lost in deep space.
In between his binges, I always tell myself not to have expectations. I always want to freeze him in time, preserve the wonderful brief few days when he becomes more like his true self. I wish I could tie him to the bed post to keep him from slipping away. Still, I remind myself that he doesn’t use to hurt me or because he “wants” to. He’s as unable to control his substance use as I am unable to keep myself from going into shock with each new cycle. He loves me and I love him. Yet here we are again.
Try as I may, I never seem to overcome the initial shock and disappointment. The first day, I change from a real mom into a mom made of wood. I’m Pinocchio in reverse, movements stiff and feelings numb. Maybe he feels the same way, for he avoids me. There is no eye contact. No conversation. No laughter.
All through the first day, I hold back tears, try to stay busy. I want to shake him and cry out, “There’s another way! Don’t you see?” But we are each inside our own private hell. He’s on the defensive as it is, anyway. If I ask him to please pass the salt, I’ll probably start a yelling match. I keep walking, swallow the lump in my throat and try not to bite my nails bloody.
Hours trickle by. But instead of turning myself into a pile of useless kindling, I begin to recover from shock. I hold my chin up, remembering that we are both doing the best we can. I vow to think of him as much more than the last bad thing he’s done. I dare to see my son, so broken by years of this cruel Svengali called meth, as someone God loves. As someone I love.
I will treat him with respect, even when he doesn’t deserve it. I will speak words of hope and I’ll avoid spinning my words into subtle or not-so-subtle suggestions to do things my way. I will commit once again to stop making my relationship purely transactional. I will love my son with wild, even goofy abandon, especially when he rejects my overtures. Most of all I’ll view him with possibility instead of disappointment. I’ll love him for who he is, right here, right now.
On day two, my son still isn’t saying much. His cheeks have already started looking hollow, and his eyes are sunken from lack of sleep. Right this second, I could tell the world that it’s hopeless, that the sky has fallen again. But my son looks up at me, the slightest smile on his gaunt face. “Hi,” he says. It’s not the miracle I asked for. But right now, it’s enough.
Feelings flood back into my veins. My wooden limbs reanimate with all the things that make me human: blood, bone, hope. With my son’s next cycle, I’ll probably go through the same shock. I’m never truly prepared for losing him again.
I squint against the bright sun, and wave at all the little bean plants shouting hurrah. On this summer morning, in this present moment, I sip my coffee. I’m glad to be alive.