Thursday, January 28, 2010

Three moms

This past week, I have been dealing with moms. I want to start out by saying that I love my dad, and the fact that I don’t write about him in every single blog is not an indication of the importance I place on my relationship with him. He is cool, wise, and warm. As I grow older, I enjoy the time building the relationship I always wanted to have with him. He is good counsel, he is a LOT of fun, and he is as much a part of my treatment as anyone. More so.

My mother, however, is a colorful creature who, without trying, provides me with the kind of subject matter most writers dream about.

But back to the other moms I have met this week. Through a series of unusual circumstances I have crossed paths with three mothers who each have a son in a different stage of addiction and recovery, and to speak to these mothers is a profound lesson on the tireless concern that a mom has for an addicted son, the stages of addiction, and as I spoke to each of them, I could have substituted my name for their son’s name, I could have substituted their faces for my own mom’s.

I am writing about this because it really gives me some insight to the heartache I may have put my own mother through, or the joy I eventually provided to her, through this journey to sobriety. The other reason I am writing about it is that I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I am not special, and that my experience isn’t radically different from someone else who might be entering treatment – I wrote that because I want people who read this to understand that I am not remarkable, and that I have achieved success and triumph because I am living sober, not because I have some sort of special quality that others lack. I am your garden variety alcoholic.

I can’t imagine the emotion a mother must feel when she watches her grown son succumb to the torment of addiction. One mother who reads this blog often does so with her drunk son in the next room, sometimes she listens to him throwing up from the physical effects of long term abuse, or the short term of another bender.

She worries at night,
she is disgusted,
she loves him deeply,
she can’t stand to have him around,
she doesn’t want to be near him,
she can’t fathom the thought of him alone in this,
she misses him.

This is an indescribable emotion I would imagine. It’s the kind of emotion she feels in an instant – all of these feelings, wrapped up in a few split seconds every time she thinks about him; even when she doesn’t.

This mother takes comfort from reading this blog, she has said that there is something comforting to see the progress, the challenges, the changes. She reads it with the hope that soon, her son, will be traveling his own journey – the same destination, his own path.

Her son is on the list to come to the ranch. This is the first part of seeking treatment, but sobriety is an endurance race, it is not a sprint. As a runner, I can say with every ounce of confidence that every endurance run I do starts with what seems like an insignificant step. It leads to the next, then the next, and before I realize it, I look back and I am 5 miles away from where I started.

He drinks alone, he can’t stop. He is me, in another family. He struggles not knowing what to expect. He wants to be sober but the method on how to get there escapes him. There is obvious tension in that family because he has been graciously allowed to live with his family until he gets into the program. His life, like mine did, has turned into a minute by minute exercise in addiction maintenance, like mine were, his days are spent consumed by an excess of the pointless. He spins his wheels, and goes no where. This is the critical point that every addict on the farm describes right before they come here.

The chaos of a life which has spun completely out of control is mostly a blur to an addict. I want you to notice the verb in that last sentence, ‘has spun’ and not ‘spinning’ – I use this because by this point, he has either decided “I am about to stop drinking forever, this terrifies me, so I an going to consume so much now so I won’t have to face the idea that I am going to eventually have to stop,” or it means he has given up.

But what I told this mother was this is unsustainable. Something will end at this point. The addiction will go away, or he will die, but no one, not even the most seasoned veteran of functional drinking, can sustain a drinking habit or drug habit when it has reached this point. I say this with sincerity, if he continues, he will die – and soon.

This mother has glimmers of hope. He has days where he is lucid, she says she can still see glimpses of her son somewhere in there. She calls to discover he is advancing up the list. She tries to go about her day, tries to live like normal. She wants things to return to normal. How they should be, normal.
She said she would come visit the ranch on a day she could be sure that things wouldn’t fall apart, and his drinking wouldn’t become a wet mess if she were to leave him at home. He isn't ready to come visit. She is held hostage by his addiction as much as he is.

We have a new guy on the ranch. He came in a couple months ago. Immediately, I sensed a reserve, almost sadness about him. He doesn’t mope around or appear to be melancholy, but, his smile is only slightly illuminated, it remains dimmed because he is where he is, doing what he is doing, and why he is doing it. I know this smile, I had it too. It’s not a forced happy, its more like, ‘I will tolerate this, I will appear happy but I am perfectly fine with living my own sadness without you even involved.” It’s the kind of smile that never makes it up to your eyes – it’s stalled somewhere before it gets there, perhaps right below the tear duct. By the end of this program, I hope his smile moves back up to his eyes.

This new guy was given the profoundly sad news last week that one of his best friends was found dead, a drug overdose.

He dutifully put his smile on, he went about his day, kind of in a daze. I observed him for several days – because we work out together sometimes, I know him socially, so I made it clear I was available if he wanted to unload. The ranch is a very safe place, but when you first get there, it is really hard to find a place to be comfortable and to find someone with whom you feel comfortable. You may remember, Curtis came to me first when his brother died over the summer. It was a privilege that he came to me. Providing compassion to Curtis, a friend who’s trust I earned, prepared me for the new friend who would require my compassion, a position of trust I hadn’t deserved or actually earned from him.

Because he was still in Phase I, and the rules of the program state that he can’t leave the ranch without being escorted by a higher phase guy, he humbly asked me if I would go with him on a Sunday afternoon to get clothes to wear for a funeral, to get his haircut, and a few small things he needed. WOW!! It’s as if an angel was at work here – I was being asked to go shopping, AND get a haircut. If anyone on that farm knew the importance of a haircut, it was me. Good grooming has been one of the guiding principles of my treatment plan.

His mom also accompanied us. Her son had already been in the program for almost 60 days, and she could hardly contain her glee at how he is progressing, and that he is somewhere safe. It is a small gift that we are able to give our moms while on the farm, the gift of relief. She was a lot like my mom, ‘When can you get a pass, we should go see a movie, what do you need, tell me about your friends.”

It was as if she finally found her son again, like he had been gone, and VOILA here he appeared again. It was as if the past several years were like a bad bad dream and now she had woken up, and here he was, all the time. When my mom dropped me off at the ranch that first day I arrived here back in May, she hugged me, fought off the tears and managed to kindly ask me to, "bring my son home.”

I watched the careful dance this mom danced, the one that my family made around me in the beginning. Not knowing how much to ask but having a million questions, not knowing what to say, but wanting to say a million things, not knowing how to act – they don’t want to offend, or say the wrong thing, but for chrissake, HER SON IS BACK and she is ecstatic.

When we stopped to get his haircut, she and I had a moment to speak. Of course she had a bunch of questions for me. I have been there 9 months now (257 days to be exact) – and I have worked a pretty good program. She is friends with my chaplain, her son has my chaplain, so the opportunity to speak to me was one where she might be able to fast forward and know what to expect, and one in which she might understand what has already happened.

She grew silent in our conversation. As she looked out into space, out of nowhere, she said with grief, ‘They used to find him curled up in a ball, asleep on the street.’ I listened as she began to pour out tales of her sadness, of her worry, she spoke from such a deep place in her heart about how she feels safe that now he is safe. She never looked at me when she told me of these things, its as if her mind shut off and her heart was talking, she was channeling the fear of a mother who lived with the idea that she could lose her son at any time. She spoke of her hopes for him, all the while restrained by her emotional caution. She hasn't completely submitted to the idea that this time, this may work, but she wants it, she hopes.

She bought me a Smash Mouth Hamburger.

I accompanied this new resident to the funeral the next day because he still hadn’t phased. He spoke to me about his conflicts with that day. He wanted to be with his friends to grieve but he knew there would be alcohol and drugs around and he wasn’t ready for that. He wondered what he might have done if he wasn’t at the ranch. He was troubled all day by the tapes in his head, playing forward to what his friends were doing. The divine message that his friend senselessly died from an addiction, from an overdoes, was not lost on him. To his mom, I say, I believe that your son is gonna be OK… he get’s it. He wants to get it.

I thought about the first son, and how I wished he could have been at that funeral to see the kind of love people have for him, and so he could witness the devastating effects of unbridled addiction.

I also heard from a third mother. Her son was doing very good. She didn’t speak to me about his addiction, instead she spoke about a newspaper article she read over the weekend in which her son was written about because of a few career successes. She spoke briefly about her weekend, and she mentioned plans for her son when he went on weekend pass, the fun stuff they might do – or the regular stuff that they might get around to. When I talked to her she didn’t mention a thing about alcohol or worry, life had gotten back to normal.

And that mom was my mom. And next weekend, I will be bringing her son home.

Peace all,
Keep the faith


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