SuperMom, in all her packaged glory (Photo credit: happyworker)
As of today, I am 15 weeks clean. It feels good to be able to say that, especially when I think of the incredible challenges I’ve been facing as I walk this road. On April 5, when I decided it was time to get clean, I never could have perceived that the hard part of living clean was not giving up the drug and detoxing, but learning how to stay clean when the hard stuff of life comes at you and popping a pill to make it all go away would hold an allure like never before.
The area in my life where I am seeing the most challenges to my clean time is my relationship with my son. My son is at once the best and worst thing that ever happened in my life. Before anyone misunderstands that and thinks I’m a horrible person for living in that dichotomy, let me explain.
I love my son tremendously, more than I ever thought it was possible to love another human being. Certainly, I have loved before, but when I gave birth to my son, it was as though I was experiencing love in its purest form for the very first time. I had no expectations of him, realizing that my job was to pour unconditional love into his life, and his job was simply to receive it. He could give me nothing in return, as he was fully dependent on me for everything needed to sustain life. His job, if it could be said that he had one, was simply to teach me how to love better.
I loved my baby, everything about him. From the start, he had a mind of his own, He had a preference for how I held him, where I stood and did the maternal sway as I held him, where he slept, and so on. Newborns are far more aware of their environs than we give them credit for, I think. At the tender age of one day old, my little man knew when his bassinet was too far away from my hospital bed for me to be able to reach over and touch him, and he would essentially say, “Mom, I am too far away from you. Can you fix that, please?”.
As he gets older, his strong will and keen intellect continue to be his trademark, evident to people who meet him only in passing as well as to those who are a part of his daily life. I love that he has his own mind and his own way of seeing the world, and for the most part, I roll with it. He insists that he lived in Africa at one point in his life, with his grandmother and his sister, and that he had a best friend named Nefelenabobo. To my knowledge, this is all but completely impossible. He is an only child, my mom has never lived outside of the U.S. and his other grandmother has never met him. I also think I’d remember if I gave birth to a daughter at some point in my life.
I love his imagination, though. When he talks about his life in Africa, it is as real to him as his life here with me, and I encourage him to share his stories with me. Accordingly, he has told me of his adventures with his sister and his best friend, and these adventures often include seeing zebras and elephants. I cherish these stories, and I never want to quash his love for letting his imagination run and spinning a good tale.
As he gets older, though, I am also realizing that managing his strong will is something that is incredibly difficult to do as a single parent, particularly a single parent who is still early in recovery from drug addiction. While 15 weeks clean is a monumental amount of time for an addict to stay away from their drug of choice, it is still “just” 15 weeks, which is a small amount of time in the larger scope of things. As with a 15 week old human baby, a person only 15 weeks into recovery is still discovering an entirely new world, seeing with new eyes, experiencing all of life’s guts and glory without the aid of a drug to either make the highs higher or make the lows go away entirely. Trying to be a good parent in the middle of it all is a daunting task, and damn near impossible.
“Intervention” has long been one of my favorite shows. I enjoy seeing people face their demons and allowing themselves to be vulnerable so their healing may begin. The show breaks my heart every time, because the struggle with addiction is profound and raw and human, and it is not to be the stuff of entertainment or tabloid fodder. It is real, life and death stuff, and “Intervention” puts a human face on the struggle. The people who agree to be part of the show are very brave, even if they don’t realize they are about to face an intervention. Putting all the ugliness, all the broken-ness of addiction out in the open for all to see is no small thing.
The addicts that really get me are the women who have children, who seem…at a glance…unable to understand how their addiction is impacting the lives of their kids, who are but innocent bystanders caught up in the mess of someone else’s epic battle. I have to admit, when I see what some of the women put their kids through, I sometimes think, “Well, at least I’m not THAT bad!”.
Except, I am.
My choice to get clean has impacted my son’s life in a multitude of game-changing ways. Many of those ways are good. I am present and aware with him in the time we have together. I am better able to participate in his life rather than simply standing by the sidelines with a dopey grin on my face. We are experiencing the give and take of life together.
I know, however, that it has not been easy for him to adjust to his “new” mommy, because up until April 5 of this year, I had never been clean during his lifetime. My use varied in its degree of severity over the years, but until 15 weeks ago, I was “Jaden’s Mom, On Drugs.” As I was that person, the boundaries and expectations I had of him were malleable, as I was so mellow that I could just roll with whatever was happening at the moment. If what was happening at the moment was my son deciding he didn’t want to do what I asked him to do, or do what I asked him to do only after he did everything but that, or whatever the case may be, I was not gonna make a big deal about it.
As I continue in my clean time, I am taking the reigns away from him and becoming the parent in this household. I have taken steps to establish firm boundaries and expectations of him, with clearly defined consequences if those expectations aren’t met. I’ve learned what his currency is, and I use it regularly as I establish my place of authority in his life.
This has been a tough turn of events for both of us, and I think I can speak for him when I say that we both hate how incredibly difficult this has been, although likely for different reasons.
Days like yesterday remind me of how very much of my role as a parent I sacrificed on the altar of drug abuse. The four years of my son’s life that I spent sowing the seeds of criminally mellow attitudes are now reaping a harvest of incredibly stubborn will and a blatant disregard for my role as the parent in this household.
It is days like yesterday that cause me to wonder if getting clean was really worth it. On one hand, I know that of course it is, but on the other hand, life is really hard when you’re awake and aware.
The last few weeks have been marked by tremendous power struggles in our home. Many four year olds are looking for ways to establish power in their lives, and this yearning is usually satisfied by offering them the choice of a blue shirt or a red shirt to wear for the day. Give them that choice, and they feel like they are ruling the world.
Not so with my son, though, as he has been ruling his world as a sovereign authority for his entire life. I was there to provide food and shelter and warmth and tenderness, but the choices he made were his to make, because his doped up mom was too checked out to care all that much, so long as he wasn’t burning the house down or torturing animals.
The battle to establish myself as the parent, though…To say it’s been difficult is an understatement of massive proportions. Yesterday, after I told my son it was time for a “quiet time,” he asserted his will, making it clear he didn’t want a quiet time and fully expected me to support that choice, and told me, “You’re mean! You’re ugly! i don’t like you! I am gonna punch you in the face and kick you and hurt you and keep doing it until you say ‘fine’!”.
Clearly, throwing my arms up in surrender and saying, “Fine!” is his cue that he has achieved his goal and been given his way. I don’t recall doing this very often, but I apparently have done it often enough that it is the result he expects to achieve if he puts up enough of a fight.
However, I kept calm and carried on, and we ultimately did have a bit of peaceful quiet time. Yay for me! Except that I also realized that I cannot continue having these battles with him, because with every battle we have, I feel less and less competent as a parent, and less and less willing to stay clean. The pain of realizing utter failure as a parent is profound and eviscerating, and it is a feeling I don’t like to experience.
After his quiet time, he spent the rest of the afternoon with his Papa, and I spent my afternoon choking back tears and wondering what I was going to do because I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.
I am blessed with very sensitive friends that I talk to via social media, and one of them in particular reached out to me. After giving her a terse, “I’m not okay, but I will eventually be okay, and I don’t want to talk about it,” I eventually did talk to her about it, and shared with her that I thought I had reached a point of being unable to take care of my son and continue staying clean. It’s too much to do all at once, especially with a child whose mind is constantly working, whose energy level never wanes, and with whom the jockeying for a position of authority has become exhausting.
I felt such shame as I shared with her that I had reached this point. Her response, if it could be morphed into a person, would have been dresse to the nines for its brilliance and compassion. Bascially, she told me that I was right, it was time to get a breather and work on myself and let someone else take care of Jaden for awhile.
Say what you will about friendships developed and maintained on social media, but I see them as absolute godsends. There are people all over the world that may “get” us when those we see on a daily basis may not. Perhaps it is the clarity that comes with objectivity, or the fact that we are all human and we all struggle and our connectedness with each othe isn’t limited by physical perimeters. Whatever the case, my friend helped remove the stigma and shame from the place I found myself in yesterday, and encouraged me to be brave and do what had to be done for Jaden’s health as much as my own.
So, yesterday evening, through many tears and some raw honesty, I asked my sister if she and her husband could take my son for awhile, adopting him into their little family while I sort some things out. It was not easy to ask. I was glad to be holding my sweet little nephew as my sister and I talked, comforted by the tiny angel resting ever so sweetly in my arms, reminding me with every breath he took that life is precious and it is worth fighting for.
I have heard it said that hell is other people. Sometimes, that means especially family. However, heaven can be other people, too, especially family.
My sister responded with deep compassion and said that, while she had to talk it over with her husband, she was sure they would be able to take him for a little while so I could work on myself. I told her I felt like such a failure for not being able to care for him the way I need to, and I never wanted to be one of those addicts who reached this point. I told her that it is really difficult to see your child have so many issues to sort out, and to know that those issues are present because you chose to use.
She reminded me that I also chose to get clean, and that this road is going to be rough for awhile, but we’ll get through it. The day is going to come when this will all be in the past, and we’ll be better for having gone through it.
Right now, I’m just looking forward to looking back on all this.
I am broken. Deeply broken. I have a lot of work to do in healing the wounds that led to my use in the first place, and then healing the wounds that my use inflicted on others, most especially my beautiful son.
I never meant for the numbing of my pain to cause him any injury. Yet, at 4 1/2 years old, he believes he is responsible for my happiness and to blame for my sadness, neither of which is true. I am thankful that children his age are notoriously resilient and there is still time to make this right and lay a strong foundation for a healthy life for him. Yet, the guilt I feel is profound. I was entrusted with an innocent, pure life, and I’ve managed to screw it up pretty well.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Of all the ways that nugget of wisdom could be applied, seeing it from the angle of being a parent seems to fit perfectly. I’m not a superhero. I don’t have the ability to do anything that would merit an entire comic book series based on my awesomeness. However, being a parent does give me great power in my son’s life, and with that power comes great responsibilty. With a look or a touch or a tone of voice, I have the power to alter my son’s world irrevocably. That’s a lot of power. It is therefore my responsibility to recognize when I am overwhelmed by the burden which comes with having such power, and I have reached my limit and I need help.
My emotional nerves are raw. My heart is broken. I feel like I have failed in every way that matters. But…I feel a small ebb and flow of serenity even in the midst of this maelstrom, knowing that the day will come when I will be able to be the mom I want to be, and all of this will be in the past. It’s only a small comfort right now, but it is something, and I’m holding onto it for dear life.