When your child’s addiction changes everything
Nights are the worst.
Black and huge, a frigid ocean you swim through for hours. Go to the window to see if he’s anywhere in that night, in that ocean. The darkness presses on you.
Drowning. Surfacing. You know he’s doing both. Keep hoping he’s surfacing.
Every headlight brings this absurd rush of hope. Embarrassing, really. It’s just your son coming home. Finally, he bangs through the door near dawn.
Counselors have told you not to check on him, how you are addicted to caretaking. Let his addiction take its course. Let him reach bottom. You don’t tell the counselors you reach bottom every night, that you touch the bottom of that ocean. It’s not what they mean, but it is still a bottom.
It’s where you live.
You don’t tell them that. There is so much you don’t say anymore.
But the counselors. You go to them, ask them questions like they are the curators of this strange matrix you have found yourself in. In daylight, you agree. You think they can help you find a way out. You nod and promise.
They seem to have mapped it all before. You listen. They take notes and instruct you on establishing boundaries, consequences. It all makes sense, what they say. You believe them. You even believe yourself when you say you will do what they say.
Then the night comes.
And you go into his room the minute you hear him and check, terrified that he has reached his bottom. While he’s yelling for you to get out, you are grateful that he can talk, breathe. You look at his neck, at the firm, young curve of it, at the arc. You see the bruises. That’s where he injects. He puts his hand over his neck and yells louder.
Sometimes you apologize for being there. It gives you another minute to stand by him. So pathetic. What kind of mother is that? Scheming for minutes. You tell him, “Fine, I’ll leave.”
You don’t tell him you have Narcan in the bedside, the car ready for the emergency room. That you come in later and spend far too long watching him breathe. You have the signs of respiratory distress memorized, the shortest distance to the hospital in your GPS, the remembrance of a normal life with him stored in a place far from this cold dawn.
And you keep watching him breathe.
One afternoon I am leafing through his baby pictures. We don’t live in the same house anymore, my son and me. His disease touched my daughter, so I had to leave. The courts took months. It was like a pregnancy, only in reverse.
Now I spend too much time looking at pictures of him. Sometimes it’s the only contact I have with him for days, these 20-year-old photos.
Friends think it’s normal, part of what any mother might do. For me, it is more of a hunt. I am looking for clues about what went wrong. He looked so happy for so long. So happy. When did it start? Was there any sign? Was it me?
My daughter comes over to see the photographs.
“Was I around yet?” she asks.
“Not yet,” I answer. “But I wanted you to be. And I can’t tell you how happy I was that you were a girl. I told people everywhere: in supermarkets, in bus lines, everywhere.”
She laughs. “You’re supposed to say you just want a healthy baby. That’s what all my teachers say.”
“I know. You’re supposed to say that. But I say what I shouldn’t a lot. Just what I think. It’s kind of a problem I have.”
We both laugh.
“I don’t say what I think so much, you know, Mom? Not if people will think bad of me.”
“What would you say that would make anyone think badly of you?”
She waits longer than I ever remember her waiting before answering. “It’s sort of weird, but . . . sometimes I think it wouldn’t be terrible if he died.”
The light stops for a minute. It’s like an eclipse. The darkness feels good. It’s a cover, a shroud. Then I realize there is no darkness. I am just hiding from her words.
This is one of those moments when you wish someone else was in the room, in the relationship, someone you could call who would say, “Oh, when your daughter says that, you say this. . . .” The way I could call my mother once about what to do for diaper rash and receive instruction, experience.
But there is no one like that now on a Wednesday, on this sofa with you and your daughter. You have to respond. Only you. You wait, too. For a long time. You need to be neutral, balanced—not crazy. Crazy doesn’t work here. No crazy.
“I get why you wouldn’t say that, but why do you think it wouldn’t be terrible? There must be a reason you think that.”
This time she doesn’t hesitate.
“Maybe he would be happy, then, because he’s never happy anymore, you know? He would stop suffering.”
“You should probably not think that,” I answer very, very softly. “But I get why you do. It’s so hard to watch.”
We both sit there for a few minutes. I wonder if the light eclipses for her sometimes, too. I look at her face, staring down at a picture of her and her brother. They are in a pool. Their faces are bright, in the sun, smiling, water-splashy happy. She puts the picture back in the box, and her gaze meets mine.
That’s when I know the light eclipses for her, too. I want to tell her I understand, that we are both living in this light.
But she already knows that. It is what she has just shown me. We live in this place where words have become too cumbersome.
And we wait.
Anne Spollen lives happily as a Solo Mom to three kids and works as an author, a writer, and a college teacher.
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