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What I've Come to Understand After Addiction Devoured My Son

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My life and my family’s lives have collided with addiction. It runs through my family, alcoholics and addicts nested in my family tree, even though much of the family doesn’t like to talk about that elephant in the room.

I remember hearing a story about one of my grandfathers when I was little girl — of how he moved across the United States to start a new life with his young bride and changed the spelling of their last name to shelter her and their someday children from the embarrassment and criminal activity linked to his family of alcoholics in his home state. Addiction is a generational disease. There would have been a time not so long ago where I wouldn’t have talked about this, let alone write it down for the whole world to see. Addiction has attacked and hurt many people I love, but I never really understood the feelings of helplessness until it chose my son to devour. I can’t begin to put into words what that feels like. It is as if your heart is hemorrhaging 24 hours a day, and if someone had told me one of my children would have been in his shoes years ago, I would have dismissed them without another thought. He was a smart boy, we were good parents, don’t be ridiculous!

I have experienced firsthand how addiction takes over a person’s whole life, mind, body and soul and then transplants an individual who will do or say anything for the next fix – the next drink. My boy, a vibrant, kind, funny, healthy, smart, athletic, musically gifted, strong young man, was devoured by this insidious disease. It turned my family upside down, sideways and inside out as it does many families, some who are at this very moment sitting alone in their pain not talking about what they are battling through. It shatters hearts of parents, grandparents, children, siblings, friends and most of all the individual immotile in their battle with addiction.

It tried to devour me as well; I used to spend my days feeling ashamed, guilty and sometimes just numb. I didn’t know what to do, even with my faith, a college degree and years of parenting experience, friends, a supportive husband — I was completely lost. I just wanted to start over to change the story somehow.

I grew up handling what was thrown at me, the oldest child, born to be a problem solver, but couldn’t fix this. I was taught if the horse bucks you off get back on and show that horse who is the boss! Well, I couldn’t get back on this horse, I couldn’t train it, I couldn’t even get a bridle on it and I felt like a failure. “What kind of a mother can’t help their child?” That played in my mind like a broken record over and over. Could have, would have, should have — over and over! 

I had to take care of my own head to help him help himself. I had to take care of me first. I have learned I can’t fix it, and stepping away from my son’s addiction has given him freedom to fight for his own sobriety, because if I don’t let him fight for it he won’t be victorious. I haven’t stopped loving him, thinking about him or supporting him in a healthy manner, he will forever be my child and I his mother. I would be dishonest if I didn’t say this has been extremely difficult, and I still work on it daily. It has pushed me to lean on my Heavenly father rather than try to lean on my own understanding. My son, now 28 years old, sits in a level four prison facing a ridiculously long sentence. It is a broken system, from the insurance companies when someone seeks help, all the way to the legal system locking up people who are addicts, which sometimes makes it worse. And even in this situation I have hope, as he is alive and so many have lost their children.

I now understand addiction is not a moral failing, or a parenting defect, and I will work steadfast to help others gain an understanding. I feel my gift, my calling, is to stand in the gap for any person struggling with this disease and to be emotionally supportive to their family member’s whose voices often go unheard and sit alone in shame. My journey through this has made me grow, and it has not always been a pleasant growing experience I might add. It has built me into a true warrior mom, a volunteer, a strong voice and an advocate for change. I am comfortable sharing our story, knowing that some will turn away from me, and that is OK.

I will not be quiet about something that is killing about 570,000 people annually in the U.S. alone. I will keep talking with hope that it will help pave the way for change within our broken systems and change the way we as a country view addiction. I will continue to speak because I am a voice for those who can’t yet speak for themselves. I pray my voice and our story will help lift the burden of someone else who is feeling isolated and alone.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: November 11, 2016
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