drug overdose

A House on Stilts.jpg

Love Is excerpted from: 

"A House on Stilts : Mothering in the Age of Opioid Addiction"

by permission of the author Paula Becker

3 minute read

pages 195-197.  Published by University of Iowa Press. Copyright 2019.

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.