Looking back on my first years as a mom, I can practically smell the memories. The scent of a newborn baby. The scent of the cereal and the smashed peas. The smell of the daycare center. The smell of Play-doh. The memories are vivid. Especially those of the hopes and dreams I had for my children before they could even have dreams of their own.
We want many things for our children, but I think it is safe to say that most of us all want them to be happy and healthy. I wanted them to have a love of learning and a love of life and all those things have to offer. However that might look for them.
What I did not expect to be is the mom of an addict. Because back then, I thought addicts only came from families afflicted with dysfunction. Abusive homes perhaps. Negligent parents who failed to keep them safe. I could keep that from happening. I was certain of that.
But I didn’t. A year ago this month, I learned that I am the mom of an addict.
And you might be too. If you are, I bet you have wondered what went wrong too. I bet you’ve asked yourself all of the same questions that I have asked myself. Maybe you fed them too many bad foods. You let them watch too much TV. Play too many video games. Or maybe there is something you didn’t notice when they were little that you should have caught.
I know that I have asked many things. Like, if only I knew that he suffered from mental illness sooner than later. If only I had found the right doctor who had the right answers when he was little. If only I knew he did not have an attention disorder, but was on the Autism Spectrum instead. If only I knew what the Autism Spectrum even WAS!
Like the time he was in pre-school at two years old and his class was part of a little Christmas program. He cried and screamed when it was time for his class to go on stage to sing their song. He cried so much that I had to hold him in my lap and sit on the stage with him.
Or that time we went to a professional scrimmage football game and he cried and wouldn’t settle down until I took him away from the bright sun and crowded bleachers to collect himself in the quiet shade below.
Or what about when he could not learn to ride a bike. Or tie his shoes until he was 13. Or that he was more than just shy if he could not look someone in the eye.
There was also the time when he started school. He cried longer than the other kids while getting used to going to Kindergarten. He begged me to walk him in more than the other children did. Or the time I surprised him with a Happy Meal in First Grade to have lunch with him at school, but he got a stomachache instead of excited about it.
What about when I took him to the psychologist when he was eight after he said he hated his life. We were told that he had attention problems and suggested that we try medicine. And he did really well on that medicine. The stimulants that helped him make friends and do well in school.
Until they didn’t. Until he became bitter and angry when his friends moved on without him in middle school. Having girlfriends and social lives that he did not know how to have too.
If only I knew.
Then there was the time his dad and I divorced when he was 15. Could that have been the reason? Yes, that had to be it, right? Especially when other moms suggested that he was just dealing with the divorce and that his problems will pass.
See moms, I have asked myself all of those things too. But what could we have done? Nothing. Other than release ourselves from the guilt. Because this is not about us.
All we can do is love them.
We can be here for them when that unexpected phone call comes. Like the one I got late at night last October when he was in a crisis and just “needed to talk to his momma.” The call when he told me that he was an addict. And he was scared. The call I will never ever forget.
Since then, I have done my best to love him the same as I always have. To learn as much as I can about this and how I can help without enabling him. And I have kept silent. I have withdrawn from friends and family. Afraid for anyone to find out. Unsure of what to say when I am asked how he is doing. All the while wondering how I failed.
Since then, the anxiety I already suffered from has increased. At times there is the crippling depression that has kept me unable to get off the couch some days. If you are a mom of an addict, I understand.
The worry never ends when we become parents. And now it is worse. I will always worry about that late night phone call. Because the risk of the things we worry about becomes bigger when someone is an addict. The risk of suicide is real. The risk of overdose is even more real.
The truth is that addiction is a disease. I did not understand that fully until I had to. Until it happened to me. Until I became the mom of an addict. No one asks to become an addict. People try drugs for different reasons, but not everyone becomes an addict.
I have learned that people with mental illness have a higher chance of becoming addicts. And just like prescription drugs that alter our brain chemistry to help us function better in our world, illegal drugs can do the same. Eventually, those drugs change the wiring in the brain resulting in a disease. When a tobacco addict develops cancer, that cancer is considered a disease. I now know, that addiction to certain drugs changes the brain the way tobacco changes the cells in the body to make cancer.
If you are not the mom of an addict. Please have some grace. This can happen to anyone.
I will never again look at an addict the same way that I do now. I will always wonder what happened to make a person feel so desperate to turn to an addictive substance for help coping. I will wonder if that person was once someone’s blue-eyed, blonde haired, chubby baby boy. And I will wonder how that person’s mom is doing.
Moms, we are not alone. It can happen to any of us. And we need to support one another. We need to be able to talk about it without fear of being judged incorrectly by others. We need to cry when necessary. And dry it up and press on afterwards.
We must keep living our lives. Practice self-care. Prayer. Meditation. Mindfulness. Find that person – like I am so grateful to have – who can be your rock. The rock that won’t crumble no matter how many tears you need to cry. Whatever it is you need to have peace with this. Because this is out of our control. And it’s not about us.