I remember my son’s first pair of sandals.
It was the summer of 85′. As soon as I buckled the straps, I watched as he ran he back and forth from the living room to the kitchen. The smile on his face made my heart melt like chocolate. I was thrilled that he was so thrilled. His joy was my joy, and all it took was a pair of sandals.
Those were the days. If I could just turn back the clock. It pains me that a memory once so precious has now turned to a sorrow I can’t push down even on the warmest days.
As I travel this road of addiction with my son I ask myself, “What did I miss? What did I do wrong? Why me? Why him?” I was a good mom…I thought. He played in the band…I was there. He played baseball…I was there. I sent him on all the cool field trips. I bought him not 1 but 4 cars. I loved him to pieces even when he was a little brat. It astounds me that he chose heroin when there were so many other choices right there in front of him. I just don’t get it. Then again, I’m not an addict. So I guess when addicts tell me I can never understand, they are right. None of it makes any logical sense to me. I just can’t justify addiction over sanity, no matter how bad my life feels.
When I look back, I think my child was an addict long before he took his first shot of heroin. I remember when I nursed him, it was never enough. When I would pick him up from daycare I’d find myself hoping he would be in a good mood, telling myself, “We are going to have a good night.” It was though there was a tempered rage in him that he could barely control. Were those just the terrible twos or my warning signs that something was wrong?
His emotions were like a yo-yo. I was a young mom. It never occurred to me that something was amiss. I just thought he was a difficult child…lots of mothers have difficult children. I figured he would grow out of it. I remember one day I had enough. I thought to myself if I make you this unhappy I will have to leave you with your father. So I told him, and I meant it…at least I felt like I meant it. It was like a light switch went on in him. In a blink of an eye, he became this sweet, caring little boy. I remember wondering, “What just happened? Is that all I had to do?”
He stayed that way for a long time…at least in front of me. Though in reality, I see now that his demons were hiding. They were always waiting to re-emerge, and they did when he became an addict.
I scour the internet looking for answers. The National Institute of Drug Abuse gives three factors that cause addiction. At first glance, number three hits me like a ton of bricks, “Both drug use disorders and other mental illnesses are caused by overlapping factors such as underlying brain deficits, genetic vulnerabilities, and/or early exposure to stress or trauma.” So I ask myself, “Did I contribute to my son’s addiction?” The answer is yes, according to the NIH. I did expose him to stress and trauma. Did I notice something was off? Possibly. But then I ask myself, “Why am I not an addict?” I had stress and trauma. I have underlying brain deficits and genetic vulnerabilities. Don’t most of us?
Is it morals? Is it the culture? Is it lack of belief? Mental illness? I don’t have the answers. What I do know is I wonder every day if he is going to choose life over death. The sun over rain. Joy over tears. I want to feel normal. I want him to be normal. Where is his white picket fence? When will it end? Will it ever end? I feel like he slipped right through my fingers, and I didn’t even realize that he was letting go.
I once had a woman I worked with tell me that her father had been a heroin addict for the past 35 years. She told me how they found him in the backyard from what they thought was a heart attack only to realize that he had overdosed. I asked her if he had found sobriety. She said no, that he was 85 years old and still using dope. I stood there in disbelief. I couldn’t imagine my son an addict at that age. But then I heard my little voice say, “He could live.” What a sad rationalization for a desperate mom.