Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sometimes Love Requires A 'No'

Ever since I first said "No," to Ethan's addiction, I've struggled with balancing that "no" with mother's love and plain Christian charity.

Any mother or father who's ever had to turn away an addicted son or daughter's request for anything ranging from a few dollars to a place to stay for a few nights, or months, has felt that pain. Couple that with handing a few dollars to the homeless person on the corner who may well be using it to feed their own addiction, but doing it because of a desire to show Christ's love, and you'll get an idea of what I'm struggling with.

Add on the sudden death of that child who you've denied time and again -- not love or necessities, but other things -- and you can look for a boatload of guilt. A big ol' boatload of guilt.

In Sunday school this week one of the class members talked about loving without the "buts." Setting aside prerequisites on love and just loving, how he'd been able to do that with a person he was having trouble with and help that person, and I was in imminent danger of leaving class in tears.

Days later, I was still grappling with myself over whether my love had not been the quality it should have been. But there are no coincidences.

When an older gentleman who I've known for years called Wednesday needing a strong back (thinking of my husband) to move some items out of an office, I volunteered pointing out that toting 80 lbs. of granddaughters has given me a fairly good set of muscles. The deal was lunch, and during lunch I raised the subject with him as he's a sober alcoholic, a retired substance abuse counselor, and an Episcopal priest who has known my family for years and attempted to counsel Ethan at one time.

"I think you probably did for Ethan all he would let you do," he said, "because you're independent and I think you raised him to be independent."

Well, yes. He was right on those points. Pretty much the only things I turned him down for were allowing him to use and live under my roof (or a roof I provided) and his last request for a Playstation 4, an outlandish gift under the best of circumstances, but one that given the circumstances has plagued me all the same.

"I always saw these 45-year-old men who were calling their mothers to use their social security to bail them out," he continued. "When I was showing my ass and called my mother to go my bail, she told me to use my wonderful gift of gab and get myself out, that she wasn't responsible for my drinking. When I got sober, I thanked her for two things: the gift of life and making me take responsibility for myself."

His words brought me some comfort. Had Ethan ever managed to get straight, perhaps he would have been thankful for the same things.

Although he never achieved the independence he so craved, Ethan owned his addiction. He had a certain sense of warped responsibility about it. He shoplifted dextromethorphan rather than use money my mom occasionally gave him. He quite likely committed food stamp fraud to swap his food for drug money. He worked an odd job now and then if he needed money for pills. Sure, he'd use food stamps and take rent and utilities money from my mom (after exhausting my reserve of help), but he owned his addiction.

Still, it hurts that I couldn't do more for him. That he didn't ask for the normal things, like a good phone, new clothes, or his computer fixed -- the things I could have given him and been glad to do. Despite efforts not to, it bothers me that people probably judge our relationship not knowing the facts and decide I didn't love him enough.

Was I not a good Christian when I didn't do more? I don't know. The prodigal son's father never chased him down when he was living with the swine to make life better, so the only example I can find anywhere close doesn't say I was.

Still, when I give money to one of the homeless people I see so often in Winston, when I pray for them, it's in the memory of Ethan and who he might well have become had he lived life on the path he was taking. It's my love for him and for them as people who have their own struggles that makes me dig into my wallet instead of turn away.

Do they always use the money wisely? That isn't the question. The only question is whether we give in love.

And still wrestling with this question in the evening, I realized something else. Sometimes, even with love, the answer is "no."

We don't always give our children or anyone we love everything they want, addictions and other struggles aside. Sometimes we have to say no for their own good or because we simply cannot.

Sometimes, in this Christian walk, our answer is no as well, whether we are being asked or doing the asking.

If the answer were always yes, then I would have had the healing touch I sought and Ethan would still be with me today.

My limited, human, mother's love was right sometimes to say "no," because even with infinite love, the answer, sometimes, is still "no."


  1. I struggled with similar feelings of guilt Angela after my wife died. The truth is that I may have enabled her to death. My selfish inability to say "no" at the end likely contributed to her overdose. Even though I spent years trying to limit her access to financial resources, by the end I just gave up. The truth that I have come to realize is that she was on a path over which I really had no control. I was just as powerless over her disease, as I was over mine. Treatment, counseling, and medical intervention were all offered and declined. The sad truth is that she was on a path which no one had any control over, and was going to end in one of two ways: with her having a moment of clarity and seeking help, or with her death.

    1. It sounds as though you were trying to control her addiction, which we all try to do at some point, but giving up wasn't enabling. You are right, the sad truth is that the path they take is their own, wherever it leads them. Ethan's path was the same. It's simply that the wreckage that path leaves behind is so hard to live with some days.

  2. What difficult fuzzy-lined positions we find ourselves in. We do what we can in loving and giving. We're only human and each situation is different. Too much of the time we just cannot fix things. But we need to try to stop beating ourselves up over it. Life is short and for some of us it is even shorter. Please be kind to yourselves. Thank you for teaching me something about your world, your reality. Hugs.

    1. Losing a child is beyond what most people can imagine, as you know. Finding peace with the circumstances is our struggle. Thanks Robin.

  3. It is always a struggle to find that very fine line with our children no matter what it is. You loved your son there is no doubt in my mind you did everything possible. People who pass judgements have not been there to see all the painful steps it took to say no.

    1. Thank you Rena. I hope my sharing can help others struggling with the same issues. And, as is so often the case, in writing I've found some peace and been able to work through a little more of my pain.

  4. I never give money to the homeless. I give shoes or clothes or blankets or food. I have known a few homeless people who I met as a teen, back in my days of experimental drug use, who used all the money they begged up on drugs and alcohol. Food, clothes and blankets were always needed as they'd always be on the streets and if they left their things unattended for even a moment they'd be robbed. (who robs a homeless person? :( )