Enduring the Unendurable — A Day in the Life of the Addict’s Mom
I got up this morning and looked at my 60-year-old face in the mirror and for the first time I saw an old woman. I went outside and gazed over my waterfront view but I wasn’t out there to reflect on the beauty that surrounds me. I was outside to indulge in the one thing that quells the terrible anxiety I’m suffering from. I went outside to smoke a cigarette, a habit I gave up 20 years ago without a backward glance. After a smoke, I check my 25-year-old son’s room and I’m thankful to see his chest rise and fall. He is home and he is still alive. I go to my 30-year-old daughter’s room. She is up and getting ready for school. I must take her there because her driver’s license has been suspended by the state because she was convicted of possession of one narcotic pill. You see, I am the addict’s mom. My two adult children suffer from the disease of addiction.
I wasn’t always an anxiety riddled old lady. I was once an upwardly mobile, YUPPIE type having it all in the spirit of the 1980’s woman. I lived in suburban Atlanta, I had a husband, two beautiful children and a great job. I had a nice house, nice cars, a loving family and friends — life was good. I wish I had known to savor those days because they are gone forever, replaced by a powerful and confusing disease that steals everything that is good about life away from those who suffer from it and those who love them.
As my day progresses I try to function at my job. I am now a telecommuter, not something that is mentally healthy for an addict’s mom. I spend my days in solitude and silence, pouring over data from hospitals all over the country and stressing that my performance is not good enough for my bosses who demand perfection with a massive workload. I used to be out and about visiting customers and designing software to fit their needs. I like this type of work much better but 60 is terribly old for an IT person and it is almost impossible to find a good paying job. After two job layoffs I try to be thankful that I have this one with a major corporation. And no one there knows my secret. That my children are addicts and always in trouble, frequently in jail, and forever on my mind.
Unless you have experienced loving an addict up close and personal, and especially your own child, I don’t expect you to even begin to understand. I know you will judge me as a mother and find me wanting. I used to be that way too. It’s OK. Really. But I wasn’t a bad mom. My children were born this way. They inherited a defective gene from their grandmother, my husband’s mother. And it is a very strong presence in all our lives now.
Before the disease manifested in my daughter I didn’t think I knew any addicts other than my mother in law who was several years into recovery from alcoholism by the time I met her. I didn’t believe all the horrible stories I heard about what she did when she was drinking. They didn’t correlate with the wonderful, kind woman who was always trying to help other alcoholics. Now, of course, I know better.
My husband’s brother also became an addict but we didn’t have a lot to do with him after that because he was always stealing from us. I know now that they were both suffering, but back then I just thought he was morally deficient and she was crazy for trying to help him.
As my day progresses I scroll through my Facebook feed reading posts from other addict’s moms (there are a LOT of online support groups for us and I’m in most of them) at various stages of dealing with their children’s disease and posting where I feel that I might be able to comfort someone. I try to make a gratitude list but I find that I am not terribly grateful for any of my very real blessings. I cannot enjoy them when I am overwhelmed by fear that my children will be arrested, incarcerated, or die from an overdose or car accident or some other calamity relating to their addiction. I feel guilty that I cannot find gratitude but I just can’t.
In the evening, I prepare to go to either an Al-Anon or a Nar-Anon group meeting. I attend a meeting every day and I have for the last nine years. These are support groups of for families and friends of alcoholics/addicts. They were spawned by Lois Wilson, the wife of Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous’ founder. Her idea was that the family becomes just as sick at the alcoholic (addict) so we should follow pretty much the same program. I know the sick part to be true. I’ve been active in service in Al-Anon, something that is touted as a good way to get better. Although I enjoy it I do not think I am “working the program” correctly because even after all these years I still feel the fear and I still let the disease my children have color my entire world. I am not better. As their disease progresses, so does mine.
Just an aside on the relevancy of 12 step programs in addiction treatment. And in case you were wondering, I don’t distinguish between alcoholic and addict. I think an alcoholic is an addict whose drug of choice is alcohol. No difference. At all. 12 step recovery programs, wonderful though they are, are not the be all and end all in addiction treatment. At least from my observations over 10 years or so watching my kids go in and out of various programs. For a lot of years 12 step recovery has been the gold standard, the only true way to help an addict. These programs do help a lot of people and the ones who have truly “gotten the miracle” are wonderful, caring, kind people. The opposite of what they were in their addiction. But the problem is that most people who enter “the rooms” of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or any other 12 step anonymous program around right now do not stay, do not get better, and often meet new friends to get high with — or have sex with. Such are the perils of addiction treatment.
So, I “hit” a meeting to discuss my angst with like-minded people. And since these are now my only friends, my old friends having dropped away over the years, and my only social contact, this is my lifeline. I can’t talk to “normies” anymore because they don’t understand my life and even more than that they don’t want to be tainted by my “problem.” But I find it impossible to “Let Go and Let God” or take it “One Day at a Time” or adhere to any of the other slogans that are thrown around in meetings. I can certainly talk the talk with the best of them but having it work in my life is another matter altogether. They tell me that it is possible to find contentment or even happiness whether the addict is active or not. I do not believe this because the only happy people I see in the program have addicts that are either NOT active or are dead. Those of us with active addiction in our lives are not happy. The fear of what can happen is just too strong.
I do what I can to make a difference. I advocate on county addiction committees, host radio shows about addiction, serve on boards of directors of advocacy groups. I also “tell my story” whenever I am asked. I’m not asked too often because my story does not have a happy ending. People want to hear that things get better but often they don’t.
Sometimes all we can do is endure and keep doing whatever it is that we do. That is where I am now. I am enduring the unendurable.