My oldest son, my first true and forever love, is a heroin addict.
He has been clean for years, but as we learned from Philip Seymour Hoffman, that doesn’t always mean much. It’s hard to have hope for your addicted child when you learn of a person who had been clean for 23 years dies of an overdose.
It’s hard to have hope when you watch your child twitch and flinch, having little seizures that longtime addicts have. It’s hard to have hope on the days when you realize both you and your child wear the same 1,000-yard stare. His comes from using; yours from despair and terror.
It’s hard to have hope when you are sleep-deprived because the scream in your head just won’t leave you alone. You can’t sleep when he isn’t home because you are positive a dreadful phone call or knock at the door is coming. You can’t sleep when he is home because he is the danger. No matter where he is, he is in danger.
Don’t give up.
There is always hope. Always.
Over a six-year period, my son went through multiple rounds of methadone clinics. The longest he stayed clean was six months. I never gave up though. I drove him to therapy, clinics, and doctors. I posted bond and paid for attorneys. I did everything I could to force him to stop being an addict.
I learned that it didn’t matter what I did. He would either use or stop using. The choice was never mine to make.
I read a great deal about addiction when my son was actively using. I read that addicts lose their humanity and become nothing but a ball of need waiting for the next fix. The loss of humanity broke my heart every single day. To look at my child, right in front of me, and to know he was lost. Buried. Beaten down by a demon who demanded all of his attention, affection, and empathy.
I remember an afternoon in December when my son was actively using heroin. We were together, in the kitchen, when a chickadee flew into the glass door, mortally wounding itself.
My son went outside, scooped the little bird up and stared at it. Then looked at me. I saw pain in his eyes. He wanted that bird to be okay, and he knew that it wouldn’t be. He quickly ended the bird’s suffering and came inside.
A few hours later, I heard him crying in his room. I hadn’t seen my son cry for many years. I knocked on his door and asked to come inside.
He was sitting at the edge of his bed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. I asked him what was wrong and asked if I could help.
It was that little bird. He was crying because the bird died.
My son’s pain felt like Christmas morning to me.
He was crying, and my heart soared. I caught a glimpse of him. My son still had his humanity. I could still hope.
The hope I felt was great and terrible. It was great because it dampened the fear that my son was lost to me forever. It was great because even though it felt like it was being applied with a wire brush, the hope felt like relief. The hope was terrible for the same reason it always was: When it shattered, it would feel like shards of glass pumping through my veins. No matter how many times hope was shattered, it never got easier to feel.
The six years that my son and I lived through his addiction are blurry to me. There are moments that stand out though. Moments that gave me hope. A tiny bird died and showed me that my son was still human. I only needed a glimpse. That was enough to know that he could still come out on the other side.
He did. We are lucky. My son is clean now. He continues to thrive. I breathe easier than I used to, but I will never breathe completely easy again.
A tiny dying bird showed me that my faith in hope has been fractured, but not destroyed.
If you are the parent of an addict who is actively using, I am sorry. This is a special kind of hell that can never be fully understood unless you live it. Please don’t give up hope. When you see glimpses of humanity in your child, hold on to those moments because sometimes they make it possible to get from one minute to the next.
Sometimes, those moments are glimpses of things to come.
I believed that there were only two realistic outcomes for a junkie, prison or death. I know now that I was wrong. Sometimes, an addict will come out on the other side and thrive.