B.C. mom shares the heartbreak of an addicted child

With every fiber of my being as his mother, I have stood resolutely, phone in hand, and said No, I cannot help you with that.

To the editor:

With Mother’s Day approaching, this is an open letter to all mothers who have children dealing with addiction issues.

This November will mark another Addictions Awareness week and that is a good thing. I have to trust that weeks that are dedicated to bringing people together to learn about addiction and the ways to cope with the addicted must be helpful. Does this change the tone of my letter? Not really, because every week for me and my family is addiction awareness week. We have a grown son who has lived with his addiction to drugs for over 15 years. His addictions have played a significant role in our family dynamic and as his mother, I am acutely aware of the toll that an addiction to drugs can take on a person and the people who love that person.

This letter is being created in the wee hours of the early morning. The fact is, with my son out there in the world being tormented by his addictions and his reactions to those addictions and the consequences that go with all of that, I am often left sleepless and chronically worried about him.

A vortex of loneliness can develop with an addict due to the fact that they tend to exhaust all the goodwill and compassion of those around them with their need to satisfy their craving – whether it be for drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, attention – whatever it is.

The need for their particular fix has a pull that blocks out all other seemingly reasonable actions and thoughts. The pursuit of that fix can truly appear selfish, callous and all-consuming. Lying, cheating, theft, violence and debasement of self- worth have become such a common thing for us as a family to witness that I truly fear we are becoming numb to it all.

I constantly ask myself if my current approach of refusal to loan money, refusal to give rides and refusal to contribute in any way to my son’s addiction is really the right way to do things. In the past, we have bailed him out, given him “loans” (which have never been re-paid), made him food and generally tried to keep in contact with him. How, then, can I possibly adopt this new regime of saying “no”?

With every fiber of my being as his mother, I have stood resolutely, phone in hand, and said “No, I cannot help you with that,” then hung up and cried in frustration and anguish and truthfully, sorrow at what I have been forced to become.

Do other mothers say “yes” time and time again? Certainly they do and do they also cry in frustration and anguish? Yes, they do. We are slaves to the love that we feel for our children, no matter how old they are and no matter how tormented and destructive they are. I am not talking saying “no” to candy before dinner – I am talking saying “no” to another $1,000 loan that will supposedly get creditors off his back for another month or a repayment to one of his fed-up friends who kindly loaned him money for rent. All sarcasm aside, anyone is fair game for one of these “ loans” including those least able to help and those who are typically more emotionally vulnerable.

The seemingly boundless energy that an addict has to deny responsibility for his or her actions and the disaster that is often in their wake leaves me breathless. If anything goes sideways or wrong, it is always the fault of someone or something else – never the fault or responsibility of the addict. Everything and everyone can be blamed in this game of Responsibility Dodge Ball other than the soul at the epicenter of the whole thing: the addict themselves.

How then, my fellow mothers, can we possibly cope?

I have found that hiding the truth about our child is one of the most destructive things we can do. Revealing the nature of our son or daughter’s addiction and the path they have chosen is a huge step in releasing ourselves from the private hell that we go through every day.

We are many, we mothers of addicts. Not to say that the other members of our family are in any way lesser players in this drama, but a mother’s role is typically to nurture and support. When those abilities are manipulated, twisted and discarded by our addicted children, then we have to turn to other means of showing love. Self-preservation and firm resolution in the face of utter chaos can be strong messages to pass on to our family members, addicted or not.

I, personally, have sought years of professional counselling to cope with the issues that have arisen from our son’s addiction. Programs like Al Anon and Nar Anon have boundless support for dealing with addicted family members of all ages, not just children. With there being a relatively limited number of treatment facilities in each province, there are procedures that must be followed strictly if an addict is to be admitted into a treatment center. Knowing these procedures and offering them to our addicted children can never hurt and can sometimes help. Treatment is not always a sure thing, but it can be a cautious first step for our child to reclaim a life previously lost to addiction.

Please let this letter be a ray of support not a lament – you are not alone as I am not alone in this test of our motherhood. Let this upcoming Mother’s Day be an opportunity to explore how we mothers of addicts can reach out and support each other. If our addicted children will not accept help at this time, then we need to be still enough in ourselves to acknowledge that this is not their time to finally get well – yet.

– Patricia Schmunk, submitted to the Similkameen Spotlight

Related: B.C. mom whose two sons overdosed urges doctors to check prescription history

Related: Police fear fewer fentanyl imports don’t signal the end of the overdose crisis

Related: How can we change the public discussion on drug addiction?

Related: B.C. overdose deaths surpass 1,200

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