Monday, January 6, 2014

The Love that Broke My Heart is Free Now

I love Ethan more than I have in a long time.

No, that's not quite right, I love him more freely now, without the constraints I'd had to live with for the last seven years.

While death removed him physically from my life, it also removed the bonds of his addiction. Not only was he set free, but I was freed as well.

There's nothing as hard as "tough love," but for years that's the only kind of love I could allow myself to express. To love as freely as my mother's heart desired risked my sanity and safety and that of others I love as well. So although I loved Ethan with every fiber of my being and took every opportunity to tell him so, I could not express it in the way I wanted to for a long time.

I didn't realize how bad it was until I used his birthdate for a password the other day. I realized I had not done that for a long time because there was so much pain in our relationship. Just typing his name or birthdate on a regular basis would have been like cutting myself over and over. Now, because the ongoing emotional anguish of his life is over, even though I'm grieving, I can let that guard down. That string of numbers has a pure meaning now, not one that is as tangled and twisted as an angry black snake.

Not everyone who has dealt with addiction can understand that. Not everyone manages to achieve the level of separation that I had to have to survive. You see, I love Ethan but I didn't think I could survive his addiction. It wasn't just a matter of finding him high and that being hard to live with, it was the fact that his highs could trigger psychosis, hallucinations and violence. I feared my son.

People will tell you that the love we had for one another would have kept me safe, but they would be wrong. His best friend told me that the drug-fueled anger that drove them had no bounds and would not have been stopped by love, because love didn't have a place in those highs. My career in journalism had sent me to the side of a road where a man in handcuffs cried on his front porch because he'd finally snapped and killed his mother; it had taken me to the death chamber at Raleigh where I watched the life drain from another man who had been crazy on drugs when he chased his mom and stepfather into the yard of the home they all shared and gunned them down. It was a fate I wanted to spare us both when I made him move away.

While I missed his laugh, his jokes and his smile, I never knew which Ethan might be living in my house. When I took him places after he lost his license, I never knew which one would suddenly be in my car. I could never predict which innocent conversation might trigger an outburst, when my slowness to respond might provoke his anger.

I hate that I didn't see him more and yet realistically I know that I probably saw him as much as either of us could manage. Because we loved each other so much, our inability to be what the other person wanted hurt as bad as not seeing one another. We broke one another's hearts over and over again.

Yet, I always tried to answer when he called because it was my only chance to hear him. I always hoped I'd get the young man with some goofy story to tell, the one who was so easy to make happy and so full of love and caring. But sometimes I got a young man whose speech was garbled and whose words were full of pain and despair and who I often could not understand no matter how hard I tried. Sometimes I got the angry man that nothing could satisfy and my inability to say yes would end the conversation with cursing and a disconnect.

When we planned a family gathering, other than Christmas which still overrode his addiction to provide delight, he was just as likely to decide at the last minute that the safety and security of his walls was preferable to the love and hurt in the eyes of his family. Just as he longed to be with us, I know that at times we were just more than he could bear. I know his addiction took over and there were times that the only thing that brought him any pleasure was the drugs.

Loving Ethan has been a struggle for a long time. Losing him puts an end to the struggle, but not the love. I didn't love his physical body, I loved the soul that lived within. Now the physical body is gone, so I can no longer see, hear or touch him, but the Ethan I love is still part of me and always will be.

Learning how to live with that love and his loss is going to take a long time -- possibly the rest of my life.


  1. in great regard for your Challenge, reading this deeply touches me....anyone who has ever known an addict intimately, as you did, appreciates and respects what you must feel. God's grace on you both...I bet he was a lovely, lively soul. You are the One who taught him many beautiful things. He is with you always now, without any of the change brought on by foreign substance. Amen to you and yours.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I could have written it myself. I'm so sorry for all your suffering. You are both free from addiction now, I pray for your healing. I feel and understand your words. Bless you!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I could have written it myself. I'm so sorry for all your suffering. You are both free from addiction now, I pray for your healing. I feel and understand your words. Bless you!