By Sherrie Cassel
Once upon a time there was a mom and a boy. They loved each other fiercely, even though they were both broken. Their beginnings had been chaotic because there were many broken people in their lives. There was cruelty, but there was no malice. No one hated them, even though they hurt them. They hurt them because they themselves were hurt, and hurt people hurt people.
Those who hurt the mom and the boy died never knowing the pain they caused. When they died, they took their secrets to the grave, and the mom and the boy were left to sort through the rubble of their lives.
As the years went on, the mother looked for ways to make the pain stop. She struck out at others, but that didn’t make the pain go away. She ate when she was stressed out and the more stressed she became, the more she ate. She tried smoking pot, and that numbed her enough to not feel – for a while; it also numbed her enough to not live a full life. Alcohol made her stupid and while some memories were dampened, she knew she had behaved badly and the shame was great.
All the while, the boy was watching.
One day the boy grew up and became aware of his own pain, and he was old enough to make choices for himself. He chose food to numb his pain at first, but when that didn’t work, he tried smoking pot. When that didn’t work, he tried alcohol, and alcohol became the mistress with whom he would spend the most time.
At first it was fun, and he would laugh and laugh with his friends and with his mom. She thought it was a phase and that he would move past it eventually, but the numbing effect of alcohol wore off. The pain returned, and he went in search of something stronger to deaden his pain.
He tried acid, but he couldn’t live in the unreality of tripping so he left that behind. He tried several different types of drugs hoping that his pain would die, and that he would never have to deal with it again. But he did have to deal with it because pain returns over and over again until it is examined well and dealt with.
The Cycle Begins
He went to college when he was 14 and he felt very much alone. He was younger than all of the other students, and he was very shy with the adults in his classroom. One day, a woman approached him and welcomed him into her group. They were “partiers” and the boy felt very happy that he had friends.
Unfortunately, for the boy, these friends used heroin to deaden their own pain, and the boy wanted to fit in so he started to use it too. Broken people find each other, and the boy had been found.
The mother was busy with her own life, feeling proud of her boy for being in college at such a young age. She worked at the college her boy attended, and he was free to stop into her office any time he wanted. He did stop by at first, and they would have lunch together, or chat about everything when they rode in together in the morning. The relationship seemed idyllic. They would laugh and talk about their day, and everything seemed good.
The boy started having dark moods, and he slept a lot. He would fall asleep at dinner, and the mother thought he was just working so hard in college that he was exhausted. She would help him to bed and tuck him in just like when he was her small boy.
She realized at some point that his sleeping was actually “nodding out” from heroin, and she confronted the boy. He lied and said she was crazy, and he convinced her that she was just a spaz who worried too much. So she dropped it and they proceeded with their lives.
One of the classes the mother took was an abnormal psychology class. One section of the class covered substance abuse, and what each of the drugs looked like and how they affected individuals who used them. Heroin. Her boy was, in fact, using heroin. She confronted him and he lied again. There were verbal fights on a daily basis. Because the mother was broken, words were said that could never be taken back, and they hurt. Desperation makes you say things that you would never say otherwise, when you are of rational mind. She told the boy he would have to leave the home he had lived in for 19 years. She told him she could not and would not watch him die in their home.
Round 2: Hope, Dashed by Relapse
Years went by and he got clean and they worked on healing their relationship. Soon, they were back to their silly relationship, and they laughed and laughed, and spoke openly about the “drug years.” He was very young and he already had his own personal knowledge about drugs, and the mother was very sad about it.
When he turned 21, the mother threw him a big birthday bash, with a keg and other adult drinks, and they partied all day and all night. Life proceeded from there, and all seemed well. He was happy with his new girlfriend, and the mother was happy that he was happy.
Broken people find each other, and his girlfriend was even more broken than he was. The boy and his girlfriend had a love that was unhealthily intense. He got clean largely for her, but then it was almost as if she became his drug of choice. They loved fiercely and they fought ferociously. She cheated on him a number of times, and he took her back every time.
They got married and had a child, in spite of their tempestuous relationship. The mother was sad for her boy and prayed he would get some help, like she had. She had seen a therapist for five years and was doing well without substances. She wanted the same for him, but it was not going to happen.
Her boy was in a miserable and volatile marriage for several years. He never learned to handle his pain without alcohol. He always had a drink in his hand from morning until night. The mother was very worried and tried to intervene. There were screaming matches out of desperation. “Please, stop hurting yourself. You don’t have to continue the cycle by carrying the pain any longer. Get some help!” Sometimes ugly things were said like “I hate you” and other terrible things. This boy and this mother who loved each other so much were caught up in this cycle of addiction.
His wife continued to cheat on him and then one day she left him with their child and never returned. He drank even more, until one day he realized he needed help and went to detox and then to rehab. He was clean for the time he was in rehab and he returned to the mother who loved him. He was happy, and they laughed and laughed, and she was full of joy.
The real test was when he came home from rehab. He went to live with the mother who was on cloud nine because her boy was clean and sober and his life would be wonderful and he was brilliant and had so much potential. She just knew he was going to be fine, and he was, for a few weeks. Then he relapsed.
The drunken stupors, the angry exchanges of words, the begging and pleading and the threats to kick the boy out on the street – the cycle repeated itself. The mother thought to herself, “At least it’s not heroin.”
Alcohol is legal. It is easily accessible, and commercials glamorize it. It makes you brave, beautiful and more importantly, it numbs the pain that is deep inside of you. The mother saw the signs, the same signs she saw in her father, the same signs she avoided for herself because of therapy. But the boy was impressionable when the mother was fighting her own demons, and he was left alone to make sense of his.
The Final Round: When Hope Is Finally Lost
The boy got sick with cirrhosis, and he decided it was time to go back to rehab. Again, the mother rejoiced and had hope. Just as she had the first time he was in rehab, she attended every family meeting and every counseling session with her boy. She had hope. He had hope. This time was the ticket.
He met some friends who were on the same path as he was. When they got out of rehab, they got a house together, even though they were cautioned by their counselors to steer clear of others who were newly in recovery unless it was at 12-step meetings. The boy was as stubborn as his mother and made a room available in his home for a friend who struggled with heroin.
Her boy assured her they weren’t using and were attending meetings. It’s strange to say, but parents know. There’s an ache in the pit of your stomach. There’s a foreboding sense that comes over you. There is distance and silence between you and your child. You just know.
The boy continued to drink and this time, he started up with heroin again. He used every day, several times a day. He made his heart sick, and he broke his mother’s. She begged and pleaded, and threatened to cut him off from any support. She called him a junkie and a loser, and said horrible things to try to wake him up. He wouldn’t listen. He couldn’t stop. He was in too deep and his body needed the drug just to stay alive.
The mother knew her boy would die, and that it wouldn’t be long before he did. She chose to just love him and back off about the way his life was deteriorating. She just wanted him to know she loved him. Love was all she had left.
Love is all she has left now. Guilt will kill her just as assuredly as heroin and alcohol killed her boy. She gets up every day now and says good morning to her boy. She lives her life and sometimes goes to pick up the phone to call her boy and tell him some silly thing or another. She remembers then that he is no longer with her, and so, she talks to him in heaven. She still says she’s sorry for losing it and for saying terrible things. She tells him she was desperate to save him, and if she could do it over again, she would have loved him better.
The hope she had for her boy is gone now. What will she do with all of this love she has for her boy when he is not here to give it to?
She will love others. She will help others. She will love herself.
And when she listens with her whole heart, she hears her boy telling her she has made the right choice.
Sherrie Cassel is a freelance writer who handles topics about human behavior, including addiction and its effects on the family. She has written a book, Love Songs to a Junkie Son, available at Amazon, and manages a Facebook website, “After the Storm,” for parents who have lost children to addiction. Mrs. Cassel will be attending seminary in the fall of 2018. She lives in San Diego with her husband, Ben, and their three cats.