Gifts for Young Addicts – Pioneer Press (December 2011)

I find it helpful and healing to look back at past columns and journal entries.  Here’s one from a couple of years ago that ties in with the holiday season. 

A Real Mom: What gifts can you give a child with addiction?
MinnMoms columnist Press
Posted:12/04/2011 05:33:03 PM CST
Without hesitating, parents are natural givers. It starts with the miraculous gift of life and continues with gifts of protection, encouragement,
sustenance, love, praise, boundaries, hope, strength and more.
We give our best without expectation for anything in return. All the while, we’re prone to questioning if we could do better or do more. It is
the unwritten code of parenting, the natural order, the way it is. Our parenting report card may not be perfect, but it’s all A’s for effort. It is
our heart that tells us if we’ve given well, if it’s good enough.
When our son was little, it was easy to give gifts that absolutely delighted him emotionally and materially. It showed in his face and in his
During this season of giving, I’m at a loss what to give our 19-year-old son. Certainly there are things he needs – things we’d ordinarily give
him if he was not living a transient, unemployed, addicted lifestyle further exacerbated by deceit and denial. It’s far more complicated
because material gifts (clothes, food, money and housing) fall within the taboo category of enabling, the major no-no of addiction.
Instead, we give him our prayers daily – actually, multiple times day and night when I wake up at 3 a.m. and wonder if he’s warm and safe.
We give him our love. We give him our commitment to help. We give him our best wishes. We give him all we’ve got and we keep trying to
come up with something more, something better, something of affirmation and value.
We’re learning to give him the freedom and respect to live with the outcomes of addiction and mental health, to own his problems,
challenges and choices. This is the gift I understand in my mind but find difficult to reconcile with my heart.
There are other things we have given him that I wish we hadn’t, at least not for as long as we did. We gave him benefit of the doubt way too
many times. We gave him chances to change, only to be shortchanged by more of the same. We gave him a clean slate more times than
he’s aware, including paying off substantial debts with the idea that we don’t want a poor credit record to hurt him once he gets his life
We also forgave him for all we went through the past few years because we finally realized that he didn’t do these things on purpose or to
us. A combination of drugs and mental health issues has influenced his actions and choices beyond his control.
We’ve made amends, too, by realizing he is emotionally starved for the comfort and joy that home and family represent. And while we can’t
give him our trust these days to live in our home, we do welcome him to visit, to curl up in a blanket by the fireplace, to play with his little
brother and to hold hands around the table in grace before sharing a home-cooked meal.
Emotional gifts are sustaining but often aren’t noticed or appreciated unless these are absent. Material gifts, however, can be just as
important because these are physical reminders, even symbols. And this is the season of material gifts, things wrapped up in paper with
ribbons and small notions that Santa puts in stockings.
I suggested he put together a Christmas list, so we’ll see if he does and whether there are items we can give with good conscience – items
we don’t think he’d sell or leave unused. The last couple of years, his opened presents would stay unused in a pile on his bedroom floor.
The idyllic mother image in my mind compels me to pile gifts under the tree that will magically trigger a transformation in him from despair to
delight, from pessimism to optimism, from stubborn to open minded, from addiction to recovery.
During the gift-opening frenzy, sadly, I know that we’ll keep an eye on any cash that his siblings or cousins receive from relatives because
our son has had sticky fingers. (Three times in the past year he stole his little brother’s wallet full of allowance he’d been saving for an iPod;
his older sister has had cash taken from her purse; and, this summer he stole money that his grandmother gave to his cousin for doing
chores around her house. Parents of addicts nod their heads, yep, it’s part and parcel.)
Any ideas what we should wrap up for him? I know we’ll give the gifts that keep on giving – love, commitment, hope – and probably some
socks, underwear, gloves, books and favorite candies.
With no job at present, he said he won’t be able to give presents this year. It’s nice that he wants to give, but we don’t expect anything nor
do we want something he picked up at the store.
The gift we want is a gift he’ll give himself – the gift of help, of sobriety and recovery, of health and happiness.
R.M. is a Twin Cities mother who will chronicle her family’s experiences with her son’s drug addiction as a guest columnist here.

Thanks for reading,

Midwestern Mama


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