Monday, May 4, 2015

It Hurts To Love An Addict

It hurts to love an addict. I love/have loved two of them. Different relationships, different trajectories, different kinds of hurt.

The first was my son. I use "was" not because I no longer love him, or because he no longer is an addict according to the understanding of 12-step groups which take recovery as being one day at a time, not recognizing any "cure". I use "was" in the sense that he is not actively using, has not for a long time, and is busy putting his life back together.

When he was using, he was much like the stereotypical idea of an addict, out on the streets or wherever he could find to flop, behavior aimed at finding the next dose of whatever was available at the moment, up to and including heroin. His so-called friends did him the favor - in their minds - of shooting him up. He came so close to an OD that they thought they'd killed him, but they left him alone rather than seeking any help for him. This was at least enough of a scare that he never took that particular drug again.

I didn't hear the story until years later, after he'd sought treatment, returned home, and declared himself free of drugs because his only drug of choice was alcohol. He still had a ways to go, obviously, but at least I knew where he was. While he was living out on the streets, I would not hear from him for sometimes over a year at a time. I wasn't sure he was still alive, left to wonder whether he even carried enough ID for me to be notified if he weren't. I was left to hear the TV news about the victim of a shooting or bar fight, or the latest body pulled out of the Mississippi, knowing only that the deceased was male, wishing they'd give further identifiers so I could guess whether this person might have been my son or whether some other mother's heart would be broken by the end of the day.

Tough love isn't just tough on the kid.

As a parent, it was all complicated by the guilt of having raised an addict, wondering how much of who he was and what he did was my fault. I poured over my list of sins and shortcomings regularly, doling out more blame to myself than anybody else possibly could or did, including my finally-returned son himself. At its worst, when asked inside a support group what it was I wanted, I replied that I wished I could permanently sever the relationship.

Of course, I never could. Thank goodness! And now, many of my best conversations with one of my children, the ones where we talk about real stuff,  is with him. I'm proud of who he is now, how far he's come, the kind of human being he's become. (I do reserve the mother's right to worry just a little. Just in case.)

The second addict I love is the friend I call  "Rae". If you read me regularly, you've heard about her through the years, most recently here. We stay in touch via phone while I'm 1800 miles away. Lately her news hasn't been good. She's fallen off her particular wagon.

There's a lot going on in her life, and at least for the sake of her kids, she's struggling to continue functioning. She thinks her family has no clue what her real situation is, that she's effective in hiding her behaviors. But she can talk to me. I don't judge or shame her, and I understand a lot of what she's dealing with. I also suspect that 1800 miles makes me a little "safer" to confide in. She tells me things she can't tell her therapist. I won't tell her friends or family.

Her husband was laid off due to a downturn in business where he works. Fortunately it was temporary, but there is a financial strain, compounded by the expenses and caregiving demands of a special needs child. One result is that they live in a 3-generation household. The older generation not only does not understand her addiction issues, any awaremess they may have of it comes with blaming. They can drink one or two beers every night, so why can't she? It's just a matter of character, right?

(Hey, if you go along with that thinking, just ignore the rest of this post. It's obviously not for you.)

So not only do they flaunt their drinking in front of her, they presume she can/should join them in their favorite evening social activity. Even her husband, no matter how many times he's been told otherwise, including by doctors and therapists, believes his wife should join him in weekend drinking.

Some support, huh?

Speaking of support, of course she goes to NA meetings. Her sponsor, coincidentally, has fallen of the wagon. In her case, it's meth, and Rae has confided that she has joined her sponsor in using it a few times. Rae believes she won't get hooked on meth because it primarily reminds her that she'd really rather be on heroin. I'm sure she finds a kind of logic there, but I'm not sure if it's just that meth isn't good enough for her to seek it out (though beer is even less close to the effects of heroin) or that she believes she can draw a line before she gets back into using heroin again.

I fear for her.

I'd love to "fix" her, but I can't. I'd love to change her need for pain relief, but I can't. I know where her pain is coming from, but I've promised not to tell, even with her name disguised. What I can do is listen, ask questions that I hope can get her to think, help her gain awareness of who/where she is and what she wants and is willing/able to do about it. I can share what I know without "shouldding" her about what to do. I'm a trained facilitator who has helped others deal with similar issues in a support group setting.

But I'm not a therapist. I try to encourage her to locate the right kind of therapist for her issues underlying her addiction, but  she hasn't found one she can trust. I suspect in her case that is because, first, it will be hard to find one with the right kind of understanding of her issues, a specialist with the right attitude, and second that it will be so painful to deal with the issues that the emotional pain would have to get much worse before she could begin to get better. Heroin, meth, alcohol, all kill the pain faster, just wear off much sooner. Not to mention they bring a host of new issues along with them.

Bulimia was just one of those, and she has now been in a treatment facility twice as an inpatient and another once as an outpatient, with very limited results. But her insurance has run out. It shouldn't need to be said that there are severe self-esteem consequences for using again. Even with all the teachings of twelve step programs, there is still that inner voice that got there first with society's message that it's all just a character flaw, not a disease. I know just enough about the permanent effects of meth that it scares the crap out of me for the additional effects it can have on her. That, of course, presumes she'll survive her reduced but ongoing level of bulimia, after three heart attacks. Let's not even talk about the potential legal issues.

When she calls to talk, she has this habit of apologizing to me for the next revelation in how bad things are going for her, both in sobriety and in eating. It's like she thinks she's hurting me personally. She wants to know if I can forgive her, do I still love her, am I mad at her? Will I still be her friend if she tells me whatever? I tell her she's not hurting me but only herself, that of course I still love her and support her, that I hope she can figure it all out somehow and find her road to recovery, that of course she can call me whenever she needs to talk. And yet I ache for her, grieve for her.

Perhaps she knows more than I do when she apologizes to me.


~*~Christi~*~ said...

Darlin, I so completely understand. The two addicts I have loved were my husband and my oldest son. My husband turned our world upside-down, and the rest of us are still trying to recover from the damage. My oldest boy...well, I cannot tell you how many times I have feared for his life. I still do, sometimes. I could write a book...but no one would believe it.

Heather M. Rosa said...

Yes, we would. Despite Tolstoy's claim that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, there are thousands of us out here who know what it's like. And if you feel like writing that book, there are millions more who could use some understanding!