I am the mom of a heroin addict. Even now, after so many years, those words startle me to my core. In the beginning, I knew something was wrong but never, not even in my worst nightmares, would I have imagined my son using drugs. When his confession finally came, he was deep in withdrawal – sick, scared and pleading for forgiveness. My beautiful son, this precious child who I had loved and nurtured for 20 years, wept in my arms. I can still feel those arms around him, rocking him gently as I sat on the side of his bed, his fevered cheek against my arm, his tousled hair under my chin. Though neither dared to say it, I think we both knew the door he had so carelessly opened, would not so easily close.
In the days that followed, I would search endlessly for a cure to a problem I did not understand. My son had come to me looking for help and I would not let him down. If there was a fix I would find it. After all, isn’t that what parents are supposed to do? Finally, a solution came. I would send my son to rehab. I called a facility close to our home and a lovely woman, an intake nurse, assured me that they could help my son. The only caveat – my son would have to make the call himself. No problem, I assured her. I’d have him call her right back. It would be years before he did.
The battle raged on. Promises of sobriety would lead to weeks of drug use, followed by withdrawal, then the cycle would repeat. Oh, how I missed my son and the family we used to be. Conversation led to confrontation and every argument led to lies, denial and tears. I don’t know if my son was chasing heroin as much as heroin was chasing him. Either way, the drugs were winning and eventually my son moved out. That day was both a blessing and a curse. I stood in the doorway sobbing, holding a garbage bag of his belongings in my trembling hands. I didn’t want him to go, I hadn’t asked him to leave. I only wanted my son back and I begged him to choose us over drugs. Heroin had numbed his heart and stolen his soul and even though there was no empathy left on his face, out of the corner of his eye a single tear appeared. Somewhere, deep inside this person I no longer knew, my son was still alive…and in that single tear, I would find hope.
Days would turn into weeks of not seeing my son. Those restless days led to sleepless nights and, often times, I would find myself driving aimlessly through the worst parts of the city. I’d whisper the same prayers again and again. If only I could see him, even just a glimpse. Sometimes, those prayers would be answered and I would see my son wandering down a street, his shoulders hunched forward, his gait slow and unsteady. I don’t think he ever knew, those times I was there, but like a guardian angel cloaked in shadows, I would tail along behind him until he would disappear into the night.
With every sunrise my ritual began again and I’d worry if my son had lived to see another day. Morning coffee was spent over the computer, scanning headlines, looking for any information that might tell me if my son was safe, if he had made it through another night. A drug death would send me into a frenzy of panic and drug arrests would give me hope. The hospitals, the jail and the morgue were on speed dial and when I could find no answers there, I’d start texting my son…again and again and again. Mostly, my texts went unanswered and that would only fuel my every fear. Over time that fear led me into a deep depression and that depression eventually made me sick.
Utterly exhausted, there were days when I could no longer get out of bed. Even shuffling to the kitchen for a glass of water required more effort than I had to give. I had done everything I could think of to help my son and in the end he was still an addict. I had completely isolated myself from the world and I was a failure…as a mom, a wife and a friend. I had nothing left to give, not even to myself. In my darkest, loneliest moments I simply wanted to die.
Somewhere in all of that sorrow I began to realize that it wasn’t death I was longing for, it was life. The day my son stopped living his life was the day I had also stopped living mine. No amount of begging, pleading, cajoling, manipulating, promising, bribing or praising would ever make him clean. I couldn’t fix him, cure him or love him into sobriety. I could die trying but it wouldn’t change a thing. It was then that I vowed to do something different. I started writing about my journey and as I began to make new friends, other parents of addicts, I could feel my loneliness and shame washing away. I found myself wanting to live, laugh and love again.
In the miracle of my rebirth came the very change I’d been praying for with my son. On June 5, 2014, at the age of 27, he suffered a near fatal overdose of heroin. The day he nearly lost his life, was the day his new one began. I can honestly say we’ve both been to hell and back and although our journey will continue, one day at a time, I am forever grateful for the gift of second chances and I know my son is, too.