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I’ve  read that when an airplane is about to crash, a prerecorded voice  barks, “Brace! Brace! Brace!” I had been braced for Hunter’s death for  six years now. He was still living, despite my terror, despite all odds.

After  the failure of our last attempt to help Hunter, I knew, on an almost  cellular level, that Hunter would die. Or Hunter would not die. But that  utterly nothing I might do—or not do—would tip the balance. I  understood that Hunter’s addiction was something I could not change.  Gratitude for the wisdom to finally accept this truth bloomed in me,  seeping through everything.

After  a few months, I felt compelled one day to take a yoga class. The next  day, I went back to yoga, the next day to modern dance. Moving so  mindfully, I took the first steps toward letting go of the years of  bracing. I needed teachers, classmates, insight from others. I needed  healing and release, and I began to find those through moving, listening  and breathing. “The breath is central to the practice,” one of my yoga  teachers says. I am breathing now.

Maybe  all children recede as their adult selves emerge. Maybe parents whose  children stay the path can see the progress, watch the growth, like  time-lapse photography. For Barry and me, the dissonance between who we  felt Hunter was as a little boy and the actions he took as a teenager  and young adult nearly destroyed us. They broke the childhood moments,  burned the bright pictures one by one. I knew rationally that Hunter’s  childhood was warm and loving and full of goodness. But what came after  did its best to rob me of that certainty.

My  work, I now saw, my Hunter work, was to see those moments without  clutching or judging them. I hoped they could again be something I knew I  owned rather than something I felt was stolen from me. A friend once  told me, after her house was burgled and irreplaceable heirloom jewelry  taken: “Those things are out there, still, and they still belong to me,  wherever they are.” This brought her peace about the loss. I tried to  let the millions of bright moments that were my memories of Hunter’s  childhood be like that: still out there, and still mine.

People  with drug addiction cannot help but see their families as prey. It does  not mean they love us less. The need to fund the addiction is  completely opportunistic, and families—open, vulnerable, loving,  trusting, wanting desperately to normalize the person with addiction and  see him once again as part of their whole—are nature’s perfect victim, a  ready source of cash, given or taken, to the same end.

I  had made the journey from denial and revulsion in response to this fact  to an understanding that people with addiction did not—my beloved son  did not—mean this personally. I now fully comprehended the reality that  Hunter loved me, loved his father and sister and brother, even as we  separated ourselves from him, accepted distance that brought protection,  reinforced our boundary walls. Addiction destroys relationships,  including the addicted person’s relationship with himself. Craving and  terror of experiencing the agony of withdrawal impel a person with  addiction to prioritize the substance they crave over everything ese.

I  finally clearly saw that we could not heal Hunter, however mightily we  would have if we could. We could not get clean for him or maintain his  abstinence. We could love him fiercely, but we could not repair  addiction’s damage for him. Unless the person with addiction is striving  even harder for wholeness than everyone who loves him, he will remain  fragmented, broken from himself and from others. Trapped by the physical  toll the abused substance takes and by the chaos into which craving  that substance and struggling to obtain it have the power to cast him.  Society, friends, and family can support recovery. Harm-reduction drugs –  Suboxone, naltrexone, methadone—can help. But only the person battling  addiction can do the work of recovering.

For  families, the struggle to decide and decide and decide what choice to  make in each separate instance—the struggle to support without  enabling—is never over. There is no inoculation against addiction.  Opioid addiction has no boundaries—whether class, income, race, or  gender. It sinks its fangs with equal fervor into beloved children and  neglected ones, into the ones society predicts will fail and those who  appear most destined for success. it happens in all kinds of families.  Parents, siblings, spouses, and other family members are collateral  damage.

I  write this knowing that there are people who will judge our actions,  question every choice, find us deluded, lacking. Those to whom this  shattering of the idealized child has not happened or has not happened  yet. But there are others—good parents to whom this bad thing is now  happening—who may feel less alone for knowing my story. This is for  them: You do not love a person with addiction any less when you stop  allowing him or her to prey upon you, but you do value yourself more.

I still love Hunter. The difference now: my love for Hunter is. It cannot any longer do.

pp. 195-97. Excerpted from: "A House on Stilts : Mothering in the Age of Opioid Addiction" by permission of the author Paula Becker. Published by University of Iowa Press. Copyright 2019.

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