Before, and After: How I learned to support the mother of a young addict

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Mention addiction and almost immediately the world becomes a smaller, more intimately connected place. Everyone knows someone. Everyone has an experience to share … if not now, they will in the future. This past spring a mutual acquaintance connected me to today’s guest blogger, Mandy Meisner, and we’ve now connected in a variety of rewarding ways. Mandy shares an important experience and message of how to support a friend – a lesson for all of us. MWM

When my husband and I were first married, we dreamed of starting a family someday and thought about the kind of parents we’d be.  One of our favorite ways to wonder at, was visiting our friends and family who had paved the way first.  We would spend an evening with them, cooing over babies and small children, smiling at the messy chaotic scenes, listening intently to all the advice given to us for when it would be “our turn”.  We’d wave goodbye, thank them for their candor, then hop in the car and as soon the door shut we’d look at one another and gasp, can you believe …?  Before we had kids, we thought ourselves experts in parenting.  We had all the answers.  We knew exactly how we’d do things. Before.

After we had kids, when we were living the messy chaotic scenes, when we didn’t recognize how cute they were because of sleep deprivation and the bone deep fatigue that comes from trying to reason with unreasonable beings, we realized we would never be an expert in parenting.  We would never have all the answers.  Hell, we would never know exactly how to do anything, save blow our tops.  But we never fully understood our deficiencies until After kids came.

I met Tammi years ago.  She was the sort of person people were instantly attracted to.  Her small frame, long dark hair and megawatt smile kept her timeless and youthful.  She was charismatic, open, and exuded fun and positive energy.  She and I hit it off right away.  Over the ensuing years we would become professional colleagues, and later, good friends.  We racked up countless laughs and dinner dates, strewing empty wine glasses across the north metro.  I would come to learn underneath all the fun, she had a steely center, forged in a past laced with abuse, heartache and self-doubt.  But these things only made her more self-reliant, strong and incredibly kind.

When I learned her two young adult sons were heroin addicts, I was shocked.  I thought of addicts as inner city, homeless, their sinister looks or vacant faces hiding in dark corners.  Outsiders of some kind.  Not middle-class, suburban, articulate, shiny young men.  Adam_Before_AfterOf the two, one of them—Adam—would be the most unbelievable.  He took after his mother in many ways; good looking, charismatic and charming, he made anyone and everyone feel important.  Being in his presence felt like warm sun on your face.

At the time, I was not well versed in addiction and its complications.  Though I presented patience and understanding to Tammi when she shared stories of Adam’s relapse—another job lost, another program failed, another lie discovered—I did not in fact feel patience or understanding.  I felt anger at Adam for throwing his life away, seemingly over and over again.  I felt impatience at Tammi for enabling Adam to keep making bad choices by allowing him to live with her, for constantly running to his aide, for bailing him out of every bad situation his choices brought him.

After a while, I ventured to say things like I applaud you and am amazed at your support and love for Adam, but my love and support is for you.  You need to protect yourself. Show tough love.  And still…even saying and feeling these sentiments, I too held out hope for Adam.  He had heaps of potential, if you only knew him! When he was well, he was magnificent in every way, made more beautiful and humane by his suffering.  Perhaps this time he would change!  Perhaps this time it was truly going to work! Perhaps. Next time.

As his addiction would ebb and flow, I grew more steadfast in my perspective.  You can’t control the choices of other people. You can only control what you allow in your life.  I felt I was there for Tammi as best I could be as a friend, but secretly grew tired of the drama and wished she would too.  I wished she would cut him out to allow peace in her life.  Peace she longed for and deserved.

All of this I felt righteous and confident in.  Before.  When Adam was alive.

Then came After.

After Adam’s death, when I saw the devastation of a mother who found her child dead in her home, when I understood the meaning of the loss of this one life—permanent and untimely—I began to own and see how I had failed her as a friend.

I am a mother myself, and as every mother knows, love for your child is whole, illogical, and will always hold your best wishes for their future.  Children, like all humans, have their limitations and challenges.  As loving parents, we are compelled to aid them as best we can, no matter what.  I forgot this.  I disregarded this fundamental drive as a parent because instead of a car accident, or cancer, or genetic disability, Adam was an addict.  I believed he chose this.  Before.

Ah, but After.  Now that I have the luxury of a neatly tied loose end, now that I see Tammi’s enduring devastation, I know now that an addict may choose that first hit, but no one would ever choose to become an addict. To be an addict goes against the grain of all that it means to be human.  It is to relinquish your sense of self, and all the tremendous things that make up you and your life—for the temporary visit to a beautiful island made of sugar.

After, I realize the way I should have been a friend, was to better empathize an impossibly difficult and complex situation.  To tell her whatever she feels and decides, is OK. That I could not say she is a good mother enough times.  To be the one she can share anything with about her life with addiction and there would be no judgment.  Only love for her.

I was foolish to think “tough love” or cutting Adam out of her life would somehow bring her peace.  It would have only traded one kind of pain for another. Denying our love is seldom a wise choice, let alone possible.

In a horrifically bittersweet way, I have the chance to act on my revelation. Tammi’s second son, Josh, is also an addict.  He continues to struggle—I think with more determination now, to reclaim his being.  He has his own After, finding his brother dead with his mother.  My compassion for Josh fills me up.  I am in his corner until he wins.  And I’m committed to being a better friend and supporter to Tammi.

I am only sorry it took an After to find out how.  But maybe, like many things in life, it’s the only way to truly learn.

About Mandy Meisner

Mandy_3Mandy believes in the power of stories and that we all have important ones to tell. She has been blogging for nearly five years on Fridley Patch and is a nationally published blogger on several different syndications, including Patch (national). Simply, she loves to write and welcomes all opportunities.

Mandy is honored to be a guest blogger for Our Young Addicts, sharing a deeply personal story she hopes will help the many others who are supporting loved ones with addiction. To learn more about Adam, you can read his original blog, Life, Unfinished.

You may connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

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