Midwestern Mama ponders the many questions she’s asked over the years about addiction and the many more she’d like to ask. The biggest question remains: When will her son embrace sobriety and recovery?
One of the first questions we asked was, “What is going on?” We were observing behaviors and attitudes that were different, out of character for our son. It prompted us to pause and ask him, to ask the doctor, his teachers, coaches, friends and family members.
The more we watched, wondered and asked, the more we started to ask the next couple of questions: “Could it be related to mental health?” and “Could he be using drugs?” Again, we didn’t get a lot of answers – from him or from others who cared and were concerned.
From my perspective, if you’re concerned about your child, don’t hesitate to ask questions and to seek answers. Just like the president of the United States of America or the CEO of a company, parents need to ask their “cabinet” of advisers for input and insight. We can’t possibly know everything there is to know, especially when it comes to things we’re often unfamiliar with such as mental health and substance use.
Finally, our answers began to cam from observations – not only the behaviors but from bits and pieces of evidence, of drugs and paraphernalia. Often these weren’t outright pieces of evidence but by Googling images and scouring the internet, we would learn that paperclips, hollow pens, tin foil, baggies and other seemingly common items had drug connections.
That would lead us to ask our son questions: “What is this?” and “Are you using drugs?” Of course, his answers, if he’d answer at all, were explanations and excuses. Again, we’d have to piece together little bits of information to get a small sense of what was going on.
The questions continued, but the answers didn’t to any great extent. From there, we started asking questions of ourselves: “How can we help him?” and “What can we do?” Through family counseling, therapy sessions, Al-anon, and lots of reading, we learned some answers – ones that were clinical, ones that were evidence-based and many that were centered on the classic mantra of “You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it. You can’t cure it.” These helped us better understand our role, but the answers still don’t fully satisfy even if we understand these rationally and emotionally.
For a while, we stopped asking questions. We accepted. We let go. We detached. Except that we still witnessed, experienced and observed the devastation happening in our son’s life. While we had greater understanding and knowledge, we realized we still had questions.
When my son contacts us or comes home, my natural tendency is to start asking him questions. I don’t mean to interrogate him per se, but sometimes the power of my curiosity and concern is overwhelming and my need to know feels so urgent. I’m working hard to know when and what to ask.
There’s a psychology technique called Motivational Interviewing. It’s quite brilliant because it leads a person through a process of questions and answers in a way that allows the person to come to positive conclusions. Admittedly, I’m much better at using this technique in a role-playing scenario instead of in real life with my son.
After several weeks of asking him when he was going to reschedule a dental appointment to get three cavities filled, I changed the question to what’s holding him back from doing so and what if anything I could do to help him. That question wasn’t met with much appreciation either. In fact, he snapped at me quite nastily.
At first, I reeled from his irritable response, and then it came to me that when mental health and addiction own the minds of our loved ones, there are no good questions … and that is why there are no good answers.
Regardless of what question I ask or how I ask it, I realize that what I’m really asking is when is he going to embrace sobriety and recovery. He doesn’t know the answer and my asking him isn’t going to yield an answer that either of us likes nor one that is the least bit helpful. Never the less, it’s still the question that is on my mind, the one that I cling to with hope and one that is rooted in love.