Friday, March 21, 2008

Family devastated by late-life addiction
March 21, 2008

We pull up kitchen chairs in her little bachelor suite, and she apologizes for not being able to offer a more comfortable seat. It’s a tight fit for two in the tiny seniors’ apartment.
She’ll soon be 77, and up until a couple years ago believed that she’d reached a point in her life where things had more or less settled out. With her seven kids grown up with lives of their own, she was looking forward to an uneventful old age.
Her first sense that she might be wrong about that was at the family’s annual campout in 2005. Her 46-year-old son, always a bit of a hothead, flew into a fit of temper of grand proportions. Another son told her the problem was cocaine.
She didn’t believe it at first. But then relatives came from Australia to visit that same year, and her son showed up looking sick in a way that really alarmed her. “That’s when I started to wonder,” she acknowledges now.
As it turned out, her son had developed a severe addiction to crack cocaine. She doesn’t know when or why he started using the drug, but by that summer his problems were frighteningly obvious.
It’s been a hard ride down ever since. In short order, the man lost his wife, his four kids, and his job. He lost his house - sold off as part of the divorce - then blew every cent of his share of the proceeds on crack.
He hasn’t yet fallen to the streets. But that’s only because one of his sisters simply won’t let that happen, even if it means going down to Centennial Square herself time and again to bring her exhausted, sick brother home to her house.
Desperate to help him, the family scrounged up $37,000 for a month of treatment at a private addiction facility. He was a “star” participant while in the program, says his mom, but relapsed shortly after getting out.
She knows there has to be an explanation for how her otherwise straight-arrow son fell headlong into the abyss. He was working too hard, she suspects. He’s got some ghosts from childhood that she only recently found out about.
Still, she admits she didn’t see any of it coming.
“Of all of us, he’s always been the one who drinks the least,” she says. “I can’t understand why he ever would have tried crack - he doesn’t even smoke.”
“All his life, he’s held down a job, and sometimes another small job on the side, too. He’s a bright, intelligent man - even now, we’ll meet for lunch and I can’t believe how quick and bright he is. And he’s a wonderful father.”
She’s heard conflicting advice from friends and family about how to handle her son’s addiction. Some have told her that she’s “enabling” him by giving him money and rescuing him from the streets. Their theory is that addicts need to hit bottom before they get well, and that she’s preventing her son from doing that.
But she can’t imagine withdrawing her support. “You remember that old saying from the ‘70s about how if you loved someone, you’d set them free?” she asks. “I think for addicts, if you love them, you never set them free.”
Her other children are sharply divided over how much support their brother deserves, and upset at the chaos and stress his addiction has caused within the family. The annual family campout hasn’t happened since that fateful summer when her son lost his temper.
“Nobody can possibly understand how addiction impacts a family until it’s them,” says the woman, who has dipped heavily into her retirement savings in an attempt to help her son.
“You can’t imagine the sleepless nights I have. I’ll lie in bed thinking of all the things that could be happening to him. To know he’s out there, where bad things are happening all the time - I just don’t know what to do.”
So she holds on, hoping against hope that a mother’s full-on love will be enough.
She tells a story of her daughter going down to the streets one morning to rescue her brother yet again, and of how long it took to rouse him from his deep, dark sleep. The people he was with - all in the grips of their own addictions - watched in silence as his sister repeatedly called his name.
“Nobody said anything,” the mother recalls, “but my daughter was struck by the feeling that all of them wished they had somebody to come for them, too. All these men out there, so lost.”

1 comment:

Stephen K said...

Thank you for continuing to give a voice to the voiceless.

From a long-time fan.