So I’m about to step into very scary territory. My heart is racing just typing these words and knowing I’m crossing into a place of more honesty and sharing. It is being written with the consent of my son, Jake. It is being written only because my son is four months clean and clear enough to give his consent to my sharing this. It is being written because I am proud of him. It is being written by a mom who deeply loves her first-born son.
Full disclosure: there will be disturbing language and some shocking things that I know are not nice to hear. Especially if you’ve come to this blog looking for pretty inspiration that ends with a flowery quote. But this website isn’t Instagram and was never intended to be. We don’t need to share everything, but I know if I’m going to work through so much of the pain that I’ve been going through, I need to be real.
There are private conversations that I have with people, that happen when we’re set back from the crowd. Something is said that sparks a deep knowing that there is something familiar, it sparks a niggling thought “oh my gosh.. I think (s)he’s referring to the same thing I’m going through”. But you don’t want to ask and come right out with your suspicions. You don’t know if they would be willing to talk about it and you don’t want to face their judgment, or worse.. your shame.
Some days might pass and you get a text or private message that picks up where the conversation last ended. It tiptoes around the topic without saying the words so you just decide to put it out there “My son has a mental illness and is dealing with addiction. I won’t judge you for whatever you are going through”.
That moment where the other person breaks down and admits the same, is like dropping a hundred pounds in less than a second. Instant relief. Still unsure of where the conversation will go, but relief that it’s one less person that you have to keep up the pretence to. And when they respond in that same way that tells you they feel that same relief, it’s like Leo and Kate in the water after the Titanic has sunk; our hands are gripped together so tight as we try to keep each other from drowning. Even if we never speak of this again, we know we’re in the same club that we never wanted to be a part of and we’re tied together in that knowing.
There’s a lot of support and awareness now for mental health. We have done a pretty good job over the last decade of ‘raising awareness’ and we talk a lot about anxiety and depression and self-care and PTSD. We tell people who are struggling with these things that we support them and that there is help if they just speak up about it.
But what about the more complicated and complex mental illnesses. What about the ugly behaviours that can come up from those who suffer. Are we willing to talk about how medication and therapy don’t always get it right all the time and when it drives a person to “self-medicate” to escape the pain from their illness, or when that self-medication is in the form of drugs, alcohol, dangerous sex or other dangerous behaviours, are we as willing to openly talk about that and show our support? Not to mention the fact that quite often, medication and therapy are skipped because your loved one kept slipping through the cracks of a broken system that doesn’t seem to have any follow-through?
We might be willing to talk about it, but I don’t think many are willing to dive deep to support people who are living in it. And not to place the entire blame on others, because I would say that it’s an isolation that is often very self-induced. Because I don’t feel we live in a supportive society, I don’t feel that I can talk about what I’m going through. So I just suffer alone. I might share with my loved one’s professional supports, I might let my family in on some of it. But if they knew how ugly it really was, they would think less of my child and I couldn’t bear that. So we suffer alone.
Boy do we suffer.
In the darkest moments of living with my son in his darkest days, I would survive a crisis while holding my breath. But the moment it was over and the adrenaline had subsided, I would run to my computer to write. I needed to be rid of it since I couldn’t voice these thoughts to him, or to anyone.
Today I came across something I wrote nearly two years ago.
My bottle of rum’s horizon line has sunk a couple of inches since I last checked it.
I just got a phone call from Jake – who went for a walk to the store. “Mom – our neighbour – your dad’s friend R just freaked out on me because she thinks Winnie pooped on her property and I didn’t pick it up. She followed me and my friends to the store and told me to get in the car with her to go back and pick it up. She’s going to come to the house and I told her to @#%@ and not bother you.” – “You did what?!!”
While waiting for R to show up at my door I went to the basement to find any dirty dishes or laundry that I could grab. Found some of that and also found a bong and other drug paraphernalia – something that has no place in the basement when he swears he only smokes in the garage. Then found an empty bottle of my hard cider. My shot glass. And my Chris Stapleton flask – gifted to me from a good friend who went to a concert I had to cancel going to because I couldn’t find a sitter. The flask was filled with rum. I dumped it. Not sure what I was thinking when I did it but I didn’t care. My flask. My rum. My frustration and disappointment.
Jake returns from the store. I hear the familiar sound of a very loud muffler. A car is in the driveway.
It’s the drug dealer delivering his weed.
I freak out on Jake and his two friends. I can’t stop you from smoking but you will not flaunt it in my face or my neighbours who are all starting to hate me because of your behaviour.
I’m told it’s not a big deal, I’m over-reacting. It’s legal now.
It’s not legal for 17 year olds and I never want a drug dealer to be doing the deal on my street and especially not in my driveway. Period. I asked his friends if their parents would be okay with it. Silence.
I tell Jake I can’t handle the stress he brings to this home. I tell him I found the alcohol. -Sorry, he says.
Jake and his friends go downstairs to prepare to go out for the night.
Jake comes upstairs freaking out because the flask is missing. He goes crazy. I told him I dumped it and the flask is in the dishwasher. That the flask had been a gift to me. No apologies. Instead – I’m a fucking bitch.
“How dare you! That wasn’t your rum! That wasn’t your alcohol to dump! Do you know what that cost me?!” I stare at him. Dumbfounded.
“You’re a fucking bitch. I can’t believe you could dump that. Do you hear yourself?! Do you hear how ridiculous you are? You never buy me alcohol, you’re such a bitch. You’re purposefully mean. S’s mom buys her alcohol. R’s mom buys it for her. I can’t believe you. Fuck you.”
Will yells “fuucck”.
Now I’m smelling weed and/or cigarette smoke floating up the stairs.
This is my Saturday night. It’s not even 8pm. I can’t do this anymore.
At this point a couple of years ago, life with Jake had somehow slipped without my realizing it, from life with an angry and traumatized teen, who was reacting to the breakup of his family and who was also dealing with several diagnoses – to life with an addict. I thought I was dealing with an angry kid who was taking advantage of a distracted, over-extended single mother (he was), who was drinking and smoking weed and breaking every rule of the house that I’d ever set. That was bad enough. And knowing he was in so, so much pain, and having experienced so many scares with his mental health with the ever-constant threat of losing him to suicide, I kept trusting that whatever therapy or service we were in, would be the one that would get him the help he’d need. So I rode it out and held my breath. What I didn’t realize is that while I was holding my breath, cocaine had become the fifth unwanted member of our family and he had turned our world to hell on Earth. For the next two years, I was holding on to the life I had built, by my fingernails.
Written a few months later:
I clean up.
I cover up the broken bits and apologize for the holes in the drywall.
I make excuses for him.
I do damage control.
I take my lumps when the pharmacist gives me a hard time because he’s not taking his meds daily.
I hide the fact that my dog gets high from bong water or tobacco on a regular basis.
I struggle to find child care who will also turn a blind eye.
I take the lectures from his school when they remind me that he’s not attending and will be expelled with only a grade 10 education.
I pretend it doesn’t apply to me when the do-gooder moms of the world talk about drinking and drugs underage and how it wouldn’t happen in their house.
I hide my head when my neighbours see me in the driveway, after I know they saw things the night before that suggest I have no control.
I fish out my last dollars when he needs it.
I turn a blind eye and compromise my own beliefs and boundaries in order to maintain the peace.
I replace the hundreds and hundreds of dollars of groceries from food that’s gone bad because it was left out to spoil overnight.
I spend hundreds on phone chargers because he’s lost them all.
I replace items like makeup and toiletries that he claims he never took, but are found months later in the corners of his room.
I scrape the mold out of the dishes I find rotting in the four rooms he’s taken ownership of in my house, knowing I’m lucky I even found these because so many of my dishes have disappeared.
I try not to cry when the only precious things I own, that were gifted to me – a rare thing – are ‘borrowed’ and never returned.
I walk the fine line, worrying I’m pushing him too far. This boy who tells me daily he wants to kill himself. The boy who disappears for days at a time in anger, without a word to tell me he’s safe, knowing he has no money in his pocket. I hold back from following through on my ultimatums in case I’m driving him into the arms of someone offering him the comfort and escape of meth, dangerous sex, or the freedom of the downtown streets.
I suffer in shame.
I love him.
I yearn for the son who was borne of me.
I ache in my hope that he turns things around to fulfill his goals.
I have had enough.
I want my life back.
I want a house that is clean and in order and not broken.
I want a living space where I can breathe fresh air.
I want a home full of laughter.
I want a thoughtful housemate.
I want kindness.
I want company.
I want to be asked if a friend can occasionally come over. Not overnight. Not everyday.
I want to be asked if a boyfriend can spend the night, not have it thrown in my face. Doors closed in the middle of the day.
I want to own a bottle of alcohol and not have it stolen, then be blamed because I never buy it for my underage son.
I want to trust that I can leave my purse out in the kitchen and not have to carry it to bed with me.
I want to sleep and wake up refreshed from deep slumber and not have to sleep with one eye and ear open because he’s prowling the house with friends or because I hear a loud muffler and know there’s a drug dealer in my driveway at 3am.
I want to be able to set boundaries and not be told I am breaking him down. Not be told that I am shaming him or vilifying him.
I want him to go to school.
Get a job. Make his own money.
Get a bank card.
Pay a bill or two.
Learn how to be responsible. Be accountable.
I want him to care.
I want him to take pride in his possessions.
I want him to add joy to our lives and not just take.
I’ve had enough.
I can’t live this way any longer.
I just want Jake back.
And if my Jake really is gone, then I don’t want this one in my house any longer.
This was not the worst. It got way worse. But this tortuous place of loving and hating your own child is a pain I wish on no one. Aching to have peace in your life and wanting it for your own (selfish) self and feeling so much guilt for wanting it. Living in a place of no longer knowing if unconditional love had to mean that you sacrifice your own well-being and the absolute loneliness of knowing you were trying to figure it all out on your own.
So painful to read this again. But I can share it only because we got through it. Only because I’m proud of where he is now. Because Jake is in a place where he could give his permission for me to share it. He intends to follow this up with some posts of his own about what he has been going through. I write it with the hope that there might be other parents out there who are in this place and who want to come out of the deep shame themselves. I’ll leave you with this:
If you are the parent of a child struggling with addiction and are overcome with shame, hear this:
- Everything you are feeling is normal
- You are not the first parent to experience this, nor will you be the last
- This is not your fault
- Addiction can happen in any family
- Help is available
Take a deep breath.
If you are willing to support your child through this struggle, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
You don’t have to do this on your own and you have nothing to be ashamed of. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I promise there’s a Kate to your Leo.
I’m trying my best to pay it forward by dealing hope and sharing stories & tips on caregiving and how to survive hard things. I blog a lot about single parenting my adult twin sons who both have autism, and the challenges we face in surviving the everyday challenges and planning for a future full of unknowns.