Friday, March 21, 2014

It's Just Medicine, Right? What's Wrong With That

Sunday evening I'm going to talk about my son's addiction at my church.

I sit down and try to think of what I'll say, and I feel like I don't know where to start, or how I'll get through it. But I know it's too important of a chance to pass up, because if just one kid understands the danger is real, or if just one parent or grandparent recognizes the threat, then it will be worth any emotional upheaval. It is part of who I need to be to go forward. Part of my purpose as Ethan's mom is trying to keep other moms off this same path.

I'll be following the local police chief who will be talking about the dangers of medicine abuse, but beyond that I don't know what he'll be saying. I just know I'll be putting a face on what, with him, will be something a step removed for most people.

But what do I tell them?

What were the first signs of trouble? What can they look for that I wish I'd seen? Will knowing make a difference?

I have to hope it will.

I still wish with every breath I breathe that I could put my finger on the moment things went wrong and change it somehow.

Was it the sad, wild little boy that quickly became one of his best friends in the second grade? Should I have looked at him like the rest of the world as a little boy whose daddy struggled with depression and whose mom tended bar and eventually left him and his dad for another man? Instead I saw a little boy who was lonely and who we could let into our lives sometimes, as long as he knew we had rules that he didn't have at home. We took him to the circus and let him stay over sometimes. When they were older, they went down the path of drugs and alcohol, huffing gas and petty crimes together.

Was it something in his behavior that I should have seen and sought therapy for when he was small even though he never had any problems before high school? He was just a smart, quirky boy, and I'd been a smart, quirky girl and I thought he was like me, fine with being the person that he was.

Was it his other best friend from a "normal" home? The boys were back and forth so much that I know there were times we felt like one extended family. His parents probably thought Ethan was the bad boy in their quiet, shy son's life. They went down the path of addiction together and only one made it out alive, and I've never had the nerve to ask whose idea it was to begin with, because I'm afraid it was my son's. And I would never blame the other boy if it were his, because they were just children really.

Was it when I let him not go to church because my parents had dragged me to church for almost 21 years? After I got married I didn't darken a church door except for Christmas and Easter because I resented my old church where all that was ever preached was salvation and once I had that, I didn't see the point. Ethan knew God, he was radiant on his baptizing day when he went below the surface in the cold mountain river on the first day of winter and emerged a new boy. I couldn't tell him there was more, because I had never learned it either.

Was it when he was caught shoplifting cough syrup and I practiced "tough love" because he was already out of control? The officer thought it was for the alcohol, although there wasn't enough to get drunk. If I had only known it was dextromethorphan and that it wasn't just medicine, it was a drug. Instead of a weekend in jail, would counseling have helped? But I didn't know about DXM then and what it could do. We both learned the hard way.

Was it me? Did I not try hard enough to give him boundaries while at the same time giving him wings? Because I never had wings, only a safe cage when I was a child and I so badly wanted him to have a different life. I didn't want my children to feel like they had to flee home to grow up. I wanted them to make their own decisions and sometimes make mistakes while they had a safe place to land.

Was it because I'd already dealt with addiction and realized it was beyond my control? So I never sent him to rehab when he didn't want to go. I never went through his room or his pockets and tried to destroy whatever it was he was using. I stood helpless on the sidelines as his life fell apart because I had prayed until I felt God was tired of hearing my supplications. I left it in His and Ethan's hands, because once it took root that's where it was all along.

Was it because even when I found the blister packs, when Ethan was virtually crippled by seizures from chronically overdosing on an over-the-counter cough medicine that he was shoplifting, I still didn't realize it was how addictive it was? I thought that once he'd pushed himself to a point where he saw a problem, he was still rational and intelligent enough to stop. I thought the seizures and the car wrecks and the psychotic breaks were bad enough that my smart, capable son would be able to quit.

Was it loving him too much? Always answering the phone even if he was in a rage and I was in tears when I hung up, or even worse in some ways when there was something so wrong that he was in tears and I couldn't understand what he needed; trying to treat him like he was normal and celebrating the good days and special times like we were still a real family.

The fact is that there was no one moment, but all those moments together. Things I couldn't have known would be a problem and things I couldn't or wouldn't change. At the same time, with more forewarning, I have to believe that people can make better choices and be more proactive. We cannot count on our children to avoid a danger we don't even know exists.

So as parents we have to be vigilant, even if things go wrong and ultimately we feel guilty and wish we'd done something different or something more. We cannot throw up our hands and watch a generation consumed by our society and its desire to escape reality with video games, drugs and paradoxically "reality" TV. We have to try to save our children, one by one, knowing that we may make the wrong choices and that ultimately what happens is up to them and God. We have to make sure they have God in their lives so that, perhaps, they will recognize that it's not just on them to straighten out all alone when things go wrong. And because if there is no healing for whatever is broken on this earth, we as parents can try to accept that they can find peace with our heavenly Father.

Beyond all that we have to know our enemies. They come in so many forms, so many lures that will take our children away from all of the bad times and let them forget who they are for just a little while, until they've forgotten for so long that they cannot remember. We have to know that they come not just in the wrappings of crime and bad neighborhoods, not just in dealing with people that they recognize from an early age are not folks they want to call friends. They come in the guise of friends, who offer them a safe escape. They come from the shelves of pharmacies, grocery stores and discount chains. Our newest enemy comes from our own homes and we give it to our children or take it ourselves not recognizing its potential for harm. It's medicine, prescription and over the counter, and we think it's safe and good. So do our children.

Somehow, in the end, that's what I have to say.

1 comment:

  1. I lost my wife to opiate addiction, and began speaking at treatment centers and in institutions very early in my own sobriety. In the beginning, I remember asking the same question that you opened with "But what do I tell them?" The answer I was given was simple, tell them the truth. I speak somewhere in Florida at least every other week nowadays, and before I speak I always ask God to get me out of the way, and to use me to send His message. It hasn't failed yet.

    Good luck speaking at your church. I found it somewhat painful the first couple of times, but there has been a lot of healing in it for me. It's how God has helped me turn tragedy into purpose. To be able to use the most difficult experience of my life to help carry a message of hope and recovery to others today is priceless. It's an opportunity to help His kids, and maybe save life.