My Big Brother

I picked up my phone today.  I wanted to call.  It hit me.  I can’t.

My brother is gone.

Today is his birthday.  And I wanted to call to wish him a Happy Birthday….. but I can’t…….

January 13, 2010, my phone rang.  It was an Idaho number and I knew it had to be him, my brother.  The brother I searched my entire life for.  I had had his name for over 20 years and longed to hear his voice and to see him.  I knew it was him calling.

I will never forget that phone call.  The first time I heard my brothers voice and his laugh.   We talked a while that first phone call.  We laughed.  We cried.  We asked questions.  It felt so good to finally have heard from him.

My brother.  The one I longed to know.

We called each other quite a bit over the next year and connected on Facebook where we could share pictures and catch up on our lives.

And then came the day I would finally meet my brother and the rest of my siblings.  I met him and my older sister at a hotel.  It was wonderful.  That first hug!  I will never forget that.  Or his laugh.  Us girls talked and talked, and he listened and laughed at us and with us.

And then it was time for all 6 of us siblings to finally be together.  What a wonderful weekend that was…… a weekend filled with laughter, stories and bonding.

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I spent some time alone with my brother that weekend, sitting in his car in a parking lot waiting for our sister to meet our father.  We talked about our birth father.  My brother heard the emotion in my voice, saw the way I was struggling with seeing our birth father from a distance and he made me get out of the car and meet our birth father.  I will NEVER forget that.

After that time in the parking lot the three of us headed back to the cabin to have dinner and hang out with all our siblings.  We had a great meal, sat around the fire talking, and had a great time just hanging out.  So much laughter.

After that first meeting in 2011, my brother and I talked on the phone and stayed in touch via Facebook.  I would call on his birthday.  He would call me on my birthday.  And we would talk in between.  I really enjoyed those conversations. And his laugh.  He would tease me….  I so enjoyed having my big brother in my life.  It was part of what I had been missing in my life.

IMG_2328 copyWe didn’t see each other again until November 2012.  My husband and I went home to Washington for Thanksgiving that year.  I let my brother know we would be within a few hours of him in the tri-cities in Washington for a night on our way back to the west side of the state and he made the effort to drive a few hours to see us, meeting us for a late lunch.  It was the first time he had met my husband.  Such a nice visit, short, but nice.

The next few years brought lots of phone calls.  This was what I had always wanted.  My brother was a part of my life.  I wished we had grown up together, that we had had those years of memories to talk about… but we didn’t.  All we had was now.  Precious time to get to know each other.  I am so grateful for the time we did have, the short in person visits and the many phone calls.

I loved my big brother…  He was funny, had the biggest heart and loved the outdoors.  He could fix just about anything.  And he could play the harmonica!  He was so talented!

The end of December 2018, my brother came to Arizona, wanting to escape the cold winter in Idaho.  We were just one stop on his trip through California, Arizona and Nevada before heading back home to Idaho.

He arrived a day after my youngest son and daughter-in-law had arrived.  Finally, one of my siblings was going to get to meet my sons.  I was so excited to have my brother here.  The first night he hung out with us for a while, had some dinner.  We talked and laughed.  It made my heart so happy to see my brother with my family.  Another day he went fishing with my oldest son and stayed one night here with us instead of out at the lake in his camper, the night before my birthday.  It was a wonderful feeling to wake up on my birthday and have my brother here, in my house.  We spent the first half of the day just talking.  It really was nice to have him here.

And then he left again, heading farther away from us and then eventually back home.

May 29, 2019, I got a message to call his younger sister, the one who had helped my sister and I connect with our long-lost older siblings.  She wanted me to call as soon as I could.  I knew something was wrong.  That phone call….. I won’t ever forget…. She told me our brother was gone.

If only I had known that the night he spent here would be the last time I would see him….. if only I had known….. I wish I had been able to spend more time with my brother while he was here.  We thought there would be more time.  We planned for him to come back next winter and we would have more time together, we would plan it better.  If only……

That is the thing about death, it makes us question everything.  And it makes us wish for more time…for one more day…. One more hour…..

Today I wanted to call my brother to wish him a happy birthday.  I had 9 years with him.  It wasn’t enough time.  Yet I am so deeply grateful for the time we did have.  I am so grateful my boys got to meet their uncle.

I miss you, Nathan!  I will always miss you!  I will always love you, my big brother!

Happy Birthday!  I hope you had the best party EVER in heaven!

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Memorial Day– A Day of Remembrance

This morning, our town held a Memorial Day Ceremony hosted by the American Legion-Post 39 and the Gilbert Historical Society.  It was held outside at the Gilbert Historical Museum in HD South.  My husband was the guest speaker for the ceremony.  It was an honor to be there to honor and remember all who have given their lives in service to our Great Nation.  And I couldn’t be prouder of my husband and the words he spoke to honor them.  May we never forget those who died keeping us free and my we always remember to honor them!

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Here is his speech, in honor of the men and women from all branches of our military who paid the ultimate price to keep us free-

“TIME WILL NOT DIM THE GLORY OF THEIR DEEDS”
– General John J. Pershing
MEMORIAL DAY 2019

Mayor, Councilmembers, distinguished guests, great patriots of the American Legion, fellow citizens and veterans of Gilbert, and to those among us who have an even deeper, more personal connection to this special day. It’s an honor to share this morning with all of you as we remember the fallen…… recognize their sacrifice…. and express our infinite gratitude to their families.

“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” These are the words at the base of a large stone eagle located in the middle of an American military cemetery in France. I found myself reading them as I stood among thousands of American graves as I visited the St Mihiel cemetery almost 20 years ago. St Mihiel is just one among many of the dedicated resting places for those to whom we owe so much.

It’s incredible to think that over 1.2 million Americans have been lost in service to our great nation since those first days when the ink was still fresh on our founding documents. So many Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty across the globe. So, I want to take you on a short journey of remembrance this morning.

If we travel 7,000 miles to our west, to the Philippines and the Manilla American Cemetery, we will find 17,000 servicemembers laid at rest. A little closer, in Hawaii, we remember the over 2,300 servicemembers lost in December of 1941, including over 1,100 on the USS Arizona alone…those lost on the Arizona included 37 sets of brothers and also a father and son.

Across the United States, in the 151 national cemeteries as well as in community cemeteries and family plots we remember hundreds of thousands of fallen warriors…the bravest of the brave…geographically separated but eternally linked in their sacrifice.

As we journey to our nation’s eastern shore, just across the river from the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capitol, we come to Arlington National Cemetery…final resting place of so many of the fallen. At the epicenter of this most hallowed ground …. The Tomb of the Unknowns. Perpetually watched over by the Army’s Old Guard, a tradition they have maintained for over 70 years, the Tomb is a reminder …. A reminder of those lost in conflict that were never recovered or returned to their
families. Since WWI over 86,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are still listed as missing in action …… but it’s been said, and I’m certain all of us would agree, that a servicemember is only missing if they are forgotten….so today we also remember those American heroes who rest in unknown graves.

As we look across Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknowns, just downhill and towards a rising sun, we find Section 60, also known as the saddest acre in America. It is the final resting place for so many of those brave young men and women killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. It’s where you will find the still grieving Gold Star families and friends of those most recently lost. These graves aren’t as old as the others in the cemetery and it’s not uncommon to find a family member kneeling
next to their lost loved one’s headstone in silent prayer. It’s here that you will find Army Staff Sergeant Alex Conrad, a local Hamilton High School graduate and special operations soldier killed in the line of duty just last year. We especially honor the sacrifice of those families today.

As we continue to move farther east and cross the Atlantic, we find Western Europe and North Africa dotted with 21 American military cemeteries where over 100,000 Americans are buried.

At the Normandy American Cemetery, situated just uphill from that historic beach, we can walk among 9,300 graves of America’s bravest from WWII …… and a single grave from WWI.

It’s at Normandy, inscribed at the cemetery’s entrance pavilion, where we find the immortal words of Sergeant John Ellery who said … “You can manufacture weapons ….and you can purchase ammunition, ….but you can’t buy valor and you can’t pull heroes off an assembly line.”

Among Normandy’s graves, we can find President Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest son, Ted Junior, who at 56 was the oldest to land during D-day. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on that beach but would not survive the war. As many of you know, he had been instrumental in the establishment of the American Legion after WWI. Ted had been gassed and wounded during the summer of 1918, then had returned to Europe to serve his nation again in a second world war.

At Normandy, Ted is buried right next to the only world war one grave in that cemetery. That grave belongs to his brother, and President Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin. Quentin had been killed in 1918 in aerial combat when he was only 20. He had been buried in an isolated gravesite until, a few years after the end of WWII, he was moved to the Normandy cemetery where he lies today, side by side with his brother.

As I mentioned earlier, it was just about 20 years ago that I found myself in France, about 300 miles to the east of Normandy. I was with my unit and we were participating in a combined military exercise.  While there, I made time to visit three local military cemeteries.

I first visited a French military cemetery to pay my respects. It was in a bit of disrepair….crumbling headstones and unkept grounds greeted my eyes……those young French soldiers had been forgotten.

Next, I came upon a German military cemetery…..and found a group of young military cadets doing their best to maintain those German graves, marked by metal crosses, so far from home. Their countrymen were remembered.

Last, I visited the American military cemetery at St Mihiel…over 40 beautifully landscaped acres containing 4,153 graves and a memorial to 284 missing in action. There I found a cemetery employee on his hands and knees moving from white marble headstone to white marble headstone along a perfectly aligned row of graves. Carefully, he sanded each to ensure they were a pristine white. I was
proud that the Americans buried there were not only remembered, they were cared for and honored each and every day. And on this day, we remember the sacrifice, often made in faraway lands, of our servicemembers.

At noon today, our flag will move from half to full staff and the memory of the fallen will be raised by the living. We will not let time dim the glory of their deeds but resolve that on this and all future Memorial Days to not let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and for a bold future… for our children……our grandchildren….. and for our great nation.

 

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A Tale of Two Returned Letters

I have shared here on my blog about my adoption and the search for my birth family.  And I shared how I found my family and the reunions with them.  (Finding the Missing Pieces part 1, part 2 and part 3).  I am an adoptee and that is a part of my life story and a part of who I am.  And though I have found my family, there is still so much to learn, so many to get to know…. the journey continues through phone calls, in person gatherings, laughter and tears.  This month marks 8 years since I met my siblings and birth father in person.  In Finding the Missing Pieces part 2, I shared about meeting my birth father, how I forced my way into meeting him after he denied being my father three times.

The first denial was in the form of a letter, returned to me.  It was September 2002 and I had been waiting with breath held for an answer to a letter I had sent in August to the man I believed was my birth father.

aAnd then I received this letter in the mail.  An envelope addressed to me with his return address.  I held my breath…. Could it?  Would it give me the answers I was seeking?

And then opening it, my heart fell, hard, crashing into a million pieces.  Inside that envelope was my letter and my envelope, returned to me.  And on my letter was written-

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I was devastated.  I cried.  And then I got angry.  My gut told me this was the right man because he did not want me to contact him again… and that was underlined to emphasize his wishes.  But my gut knew he was my birth father.  Why?  Because if he wasn’t he would have let me know in a kinder way and wished me well in my search, as others had done during my long search.  Underlining those words and sending me my letter and envelope told me there was much more to the story.

And I cried more.  The feelings of abandonment returned.  The feeling of having done something terrible came back in full force.  I was again that little girl who thought she had to have been horrible in order for her father to leave her and to not love her.  It had to be my fault.

It took me a really long time to get past this let down.  But I moved on.  Mostly.

And I continued to search for my siblings and my birth mother, while stopping the search for my birth father.  What was the point in searching for him, when I already knew where he was and that he wanted nothing to do with me?

My reaction to that letter was not a positive.  Despite finding a way to move on, the pain stayed with me until that day, May 9, 2011, when I finally met my birth father and he acknowledged me.

After finding my birth father, he called me many times.  We talked and he answered the questions I had.  He sent me pictures of my grandparents and of him as a child.  He sent me birthday cards.  He called on the anniversary of our meeting.  He said he loved me.  It was nice to have a relationship with him, even if it meant I could not call him and had to wait for him to call me.  He had a difficult marriage situation and he hid his relationship with his kids from his wife, calling from a cell she didn’t know about and using a post office box that we could send letters to so she wouldn’t see them.  I was okay with it, because I had a chance to meet him and the communication we had was a bonus.  Something I never expected.

Those few years of contact gave me time to heal.  I was still angry about him not giving me my birth mothers maiden name in 2002 when I first asked in that letter that he returned to me.  I was still angry because had he given me that info first time I asked, then I would have found my birth mother before she passed away.  But I couldn’t change what happened, so I learned to let it go and forgive him.

A lot had changed in me between the time I had received that returned letter and the day I met him.  I was healing and growing and learning to let go of what I could not control.

Eventually the calls from my birth father stopped.  It has been a couple of years now since I last heard from him.  The last few phone calls I had had from him were short and filled with questions about my older sister… had I heard from her?  What was going on with her?  And then he would have to go.  The calls to me stopped about the time she told him to not contact her any longer.

And it didn’t bother me.  I didn’t even notice he hadn’t called until a few months after my birthday a couple of years ago.  But I still sent him letters, Christmas cards and birthday cards.  I just wanted to let him know I was still here.  But I didn’t worry about and even wait for those calls or letters anymore.

I was okay without him.

cAnd then this past Christmas I sent him a card, like I have done the past few years.  And a couple of weeks letter it came back to me, marked return to sender.  Another returned letter.  But this time I didn’t cry.  I actually laughed.  Okay, I thought, he is finally done with his kids and moved on.  Instead of crying, instead of my heart crashing to the ground in a million pieces, I was fine.  I was okay.

My reaction to this second returned letter was a complete 360 from the first returned letter.  I was different and in a different place in my life when the second returned letter showed up in my mailbox.  I had finally realized that this was his issue, not that of any of his children.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  I wasn’t horrible, I wasn’t unlovable.  He had the issues.  And he was the one missing out, not me.  He was missing out on knowing his daughter and his grandsons.  And I was not the only one he was missing….. he was the one missing out on relationships with his six children, all wonderful, unique and amazing individuals.  And he was missing out on the opportunity to know and enjoy ALL his grandkids.  THAT was his loss.  Not ours!  NOT MINE.

I am very grateful for the relationship we had while we had it, and grateful for the answers to my questions.  I will always have a place in my heart for my birth father, for the man who took care of me along with my mother, the first year of my life.  And I am thankful, every day, that he gave me the information I needed to find my birth mothers family… my family.  I am happy that I got to know him and that I was able to get those missing puzzle pieces from him.

And more than ANYTHING I am at PEACE with this last returned letter.

Two returned letters….. two different responses.  And a grateful heart!

Mom

40 years today.  (I wrote about losing her here in my blog)

40 years of living, exploring, finishing school, graduating, going on to college, marrying, becoming a mom twice, traveling the world with my best friend, the ups the downs, the trials and tribulations…. all the times I wished my mom was here.

40 years without her now.

And I still miss her every day, missing her more during those times we all just “want our mom” (like now while I am sick) and talking to her through the good times, knowing she is watching and smiling and laughing with me!

Thank you mom, for loving me!

Thank you for telling me that you picked me, making me feel loved and special when the kids at school teased me about being adopted.

Thank you for showing me how strong a woman can be, showing me that despite being alone to raise your girls, giving up was never an option.

Thank you for showing me how to respect myself and how to be strong when the world knocks you down.

Thank you for teaching me to think for myself and to form my own opinions and then letting me talk with you about them, never making me feel that my thoughts were not important.

Thank you for comforting me when I was sad, and for calming my fears.  I still can feel your arms around me when I really need you, even now, 40 years later.

Thank you, mom, for making me go to Sunday School, giving me a foundation in faith.

Thank you for teaching me what unconditional love was by loving me no matter how unlovable I was, and yes, I was a handful at times.

Thank you, for being my mom!  (Our mom!)

I miss you every day!  I love you!  And I will see you again one day!

 

Christmas Comes Early to Our Home and Hearts

I love Christmas.  And yes, Thanksgiving is this week and I enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.

But I LOVE Christmas!  I wrote about my family Christmas’s in 2016 here.  That year was made special because my son and now daughter-in-law were home for Christmas.  2016 was the first time in 5 years that both of my boys were here and it had been 4 years since spending Christmas with my youngest son.  So I was happy.  And it was a good Christmas….. but there were some underlying stresses that made it difficult too.

Hopefully, my youngest son did not see how much of a struggle it was for me….for my husband…. Christmas that year and the year before and the year after were difficult to say the least.  Like so many families across the country, we had our stresses to deal with, our burdens to bear.  And sometimes life is difficult, especially during the holiday season.  I really think that it is only because we love the Christmas season so much and all of the magic it brings that we were able to celebrate at all.

Christmas 2015 was the beginning of the chaos with my oldest and I didn’t want to celebrate…. But I did because I had always promised myself that no matter where life took me, no matter what was happening or who I was missing, Christmas would still be celebrated, I would still decorate and bake and sing and shop and so much more.  So I did.  Despite the pain and chaos.  But that year, 2015, I actually started to put away the Christmas decor on Christmas eve.  I was done.  It takes a lot to get me to that point and I had never been there before.  But there I was.  Done.

Christmas 2016 found me exhausted.  I had spent weeks trying to find treatment for my son, navigating the mental health system and the justice system and I was emotionally exhausted and completely drained.  But there I was on Thanksgiving weekend, decorating like I always did.  I played my favorite Christmas music.  I baked.  But my heart wasn’t there.  I was exhausted.  And overwhelmed.  And at one point I just wanted to skip Christmas….me!  The Christmas person.  But my son was coming home and it would be the first Christmas my now daughter-in-law would spend with us, so I kept doing the things that made it Christmas for my family and my wonderful husband picked up some of the slack for me and took over some of the things that were overwhelming me…  I was excited to have my family together and am so thankful they were all here or I may have completely missed my favorite holiday.

And then last year, Christmas 2017, was hard for all of us.  We had been spending months with the fear that my son would have to go to prison…. And how in the world would I be able to do Christmas with him there?  Thanksgiving weekend, I again got out the décor and ALL of my trees and decorated.  It was my distraction from the pain and stress.  We found out in the middle of December that year, that he would not be going to prison and that should have made for the best Christmas…. But the stress took its toll and for the first time EVER I slept through most of Christmas eve, getting up after 8pm.  I just wasn’t into it, still.

BUT this year is way different!  In every way!  My son is doing well.  He has been getting the help he has needed.  There is no court to go to.  There are no lawyers to talk to.  There are no emergency visits to psychiatrists needed.  The stress is so much less.  Things are good.  REALLY good!

So in October, yes before Halloween, when my husband started singing Christmas songs, I thought someone had taken over his body…. What?  Where did my husband go?  Who is this guy, disguised as my husband?  My husband loves Christmas too, just not as obsessively as I do, so this was very strange!  Usually my guys won’t let me play Christmas music until Thanksgiving and then I get the “eye-rolls” from my guys when I say the only music allowed in the house or car is Christmas music.  But here was my husband singing Christmas songs.  And it was October!  And then we would go shopping and he wanted to see the Christmas decor….and we bought some….in OCTOBER!  IN OCTOBER!  Then there were the days my husband would run out to do an errand and he would come home with more Christmas decor for inside and outside!  What happened to my husband?

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All the years of being married to me finally rubbed off on him!

outsideMy husband started decorating the outside of our house the first weekend in November.  I was shocked.  And very happy!  He was making me laugh and smile and we were having fun!

And I started to decorate inside too.  Just the rooms that did not have the fall decor, those insidewould have to wait until after Thanksgiving.  It has made me really happy to decorate.  We started playing our Christmas music a couple of weeks ago and we started watching hallmark Christmas movies then, too.

Christmas was coming early in our house and in our hearts.

I couldn’t figure out why we started so early this year (we never start before Thanksgiving) or why my husband was so into it…. Not until my son asked if I had an extra tree that we could put in his room….. he had NEVER wanted a tree in his room….. of course I had a tree for him!  He says that we are so into Christmas this year that he just wanted to give us a little gift and have the tree in his room to participate in the Christmas spirit.

And that is when it hit me.

This year the stress is gone.  He is stable.  We are all feeling good right now.  The chaos is minimal.  Compared to the last three Christmas seasons, well this has gotten off to a near perfect start!  We have all come a long way this year.

And that is why we are all excited about Christmas.

I hadn’t realized the toll the past few years had taken on us or on our joy of the Christmas season.  I hadn’t realized that it had affected my husband as much as it had affected me.  Or the effect on my son.  And I was pretty good at hiding my lack of Christmas joy from the world outside our walls.  I was trying really hard to find it in the midst of the chaos, but just couldn’t get all the way there.

But we are REALLY excited this Christmas season.  There is NO faking it!  We are ready for the magic.   We are ready for the spirit of the season.  The lights.  The smells. The goodies.  The events.  ALL of it!

So, yes, we started early this year with our decorations.  My friends think we are nuts.  So do our neighbors.  And I am more than okay with that!

Our jumping into Christmas early, isn’t about skipping any other holidays or trying to rush the season.  Our early Christmas spirit is ALL about wanting to enjoy it…. ALL of it…… and ALL that we missed the past few years.

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This year Christmas has come early to our home and our hearts!  My heart is happy and full of joy!

Paralyzing Fear

Anxiety….

I am sure I am not the only one who has felt anxious…you know that heart racing, butterflies in the tummy, sweating and sometimes nauseous feeling.  Yes, I think most people have experienced anxiety at some point in life.

My first real anxious moment that stuck with me was my first day on my very first job, at the age of 14.  I had applied to work as a maid in a hotel in the beach town my family lived in just a few months after losing my mom.  I was sitting there in the lobby area on my first day, surrounded by those who had worked there for some time and a couple of other new employees.  And I was nervous.  Really nervous.  My heart began racing, my body started shaking, and suddenly the world around me became a tunnel and started to fade….I was going to faint….that made me panic…. So I slowed my breathing, taking deep breaths and focused on one person…. And slowly, the world came back into focus and my heart slowed.  I was able to get through that moment of intense anxiety…

But not everyone can.

There have been many other moments in my life that have made me feel anxious.  And when anxiety inducing moments happen, I just push through it and breathe and I am okay.

But not everyone is.

I believed, like many believe, that anxiety was momentary, that it was a sign that I was stepping outside my comfort zone.  Pushing through and doing the thing that made a person anxious was the way to deal with it.

So when my young son (my first born) showed signs of being anxious, well I just encouraged him to push through it, take a deep breath and do it.  So many fits of anger and uncontrolled emotions filled his life when I tried to force him to “just do it”.

I didn’t realize the debilitating effect that anxiety had on some people.  On him.

If I knew then what I know now, how much different would my son’s life have been?  How much different would the life of my family have been?  How many fights would we have prevented?  How much stress would we have avoided?

Thinking back now and remembering, I can see those moments, the stress and the effects the anxiety had on my son…. I just didn’t know it all those years ago.  How could I?  No one I knew suffered, or maybe it was that no one talked about it.  We all were told to just “suck it up” and do it.  And that is why I am sharing today what I have learned and what may have been different had we known all those years ago what we know now.

So many times, my son fought going to school…. Oh the fights to get him to go when he was young, and the “mommy I am sick” moments were many.  So many times, he would drag his feet, often ending up in tears when we tried to get him to get moving for many events.  The times he would be sick to his stomach before having to perform in a band concert or speak to a group, go to school, go to the doctor, or when meeting someone new.  The hours, yes HOURS, of crying when he was too young to really verbalize is fears when going to bed.  Everyone told us to just put him in bed and let him cry… they didn’t know that the crying would not stop, for hours, not until I went in and sat with him, reassuring him that all was okay and promising to stay with him… then the crying stopped and he would finally sleep (for a bit anyway).  The difficulty he had with every move we made with the Air Force and the difficulty getting him to get out and join other kids in our new locations were moments of stress for him, often leading to emotional distress, an upset tummy and isolation.

So many times I missed the signs.

Because I didn’t know.

In October 2016 my son decided he was tired of the anxiety medicine and the addictive and dangerous side-effects, so he asked the doctor to titrate him down, slowly, until he was no longer taking the medicine.  He was sure that the anxiety wasn’t as bad as he thought and that it was the fear of the seizures when taken off the medicine that would cause the anxiety and panic attacks.  So he felt if he was weaned off the medicine, slowly, he could overcome the fears and then life would be easier.

It took a year to do.

The first week of October 2017 was the first time in over 13 years that my son was no longer taking the anxiety medication.  He was so proud of himself.  And he had hope for the future.

And then…

It became difficult.  The anxiety was coming every day, stronger each day.  The anxiety was real.  Not imagined.  Not created from a fear of not having his meds.

For the month of October 2017 into the first half of November 2017, we watched our son’s mental health deteriorate.  The anxiety was so debilitating that he could not look us in the eye.  He could not get out of bed.  He could not talk on the phone.  He could not shower.  He could not leave his room.  He could not sleep.

My son was fading away from us, sinking deeper and deeper into a hole.  He kept trying to explain to us what he was feeling, but it was so hard.  He couldn’t live in his own skin.

Here was my son, who had been through treatment, was not self-medicating and was off all mental health meds.

And we were losing him.

We were beyond frightened.

When he began to express to us that he now understood why some take their own lives…. Well, we knew we had to do something.  We had not been through all that we had been through to lose our son now.  Losing him was not an option!  Not when we finally had him back from the grip of drugs.

We got him in to see a psychiatrist who was hesitant to put him back on any medication, because he was an addict.  (and that will be part of my coming blog on the problems and difficulties and brokenness with our mental health system).  The Psychiatrist then asked my husband if he was worried about our son going back on the anxiety meds…. And my husband’s response was that he was more scared of what would happen to our son if he wasn’t put back on the medication.  And so they started our son back on his meds, just a much lower dose.

I never knew until that month and a half just how debilitating anxiety is for some in this world.  There is no “just getting through it” or “sucking it up”.  It is real.  It is a fear that is so deep that the person cannot move beyond it.  It keeps them isolated.  The fear paralyzes them.  And they cannot stop it.

I asked my son recently what it was like that month and a half, how he would describe it and here is what he said

“It was like I was collecting phobias.  I was constantly having a panic attack and everything around me became something to fear.  I would fear that spiders and bugs were going to attack me in my sleep so I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t leave my room for the fear that something would get me.  I couldn’t do anything to stop the panic.  Nothing!  I kept thinking I was going to have to live with this constant panic attack and kept fearing I would have to live in a hospital for the rest of my life.  I kept thinking it would never end so maybe it would be better to not live any longer.”

This breaks my heart.  This makes me realize just how debilitating anxiety disorder is.  I didn’t know.  I wish I had.  Maybe, just maybe, things would have been different….

That month and half in the fall of 2017, showed me what my son has been dealing with his entire life and has given me an understanding I did not have before.  An understanding that now has me being more patient with my son when it takes him a little longer to get moving, when he needs a moment to catch his breath, when he just can’t do it today.  I now understand and I am learning new ways to help him through it and to make it easier for him to do the things he needs to do, without the pressure from me…. Things I wish I had done when he was younger.  Maybe then he would have learned more of the coping skills he so desperately needs now.  Maybe then he would have felt supported.  Maybe then I could have provided a safe place for him to share his worries and learn to find strength in the midst of gripping fear.  Maybe, if I had known what I know now, we would have been able to get him the help he needed all those years ago….

Why share this now, when the medication is helping, when my son is doing well and having more good days than bad?  Because I wish that the generation before me and the generation before them had talked about mental health issues.  I wish earlier generations had shared what was happening in their families, instead of keeping it secret and keeping it “in the family”.  And I want to change that for future generations.  I want to keep talking and sharing our story, my son’s story, so that others know they are not alone.  So that the young parent who’s feeling alone and judged because their child has uncontrolled emotional outbursts in public and at home, knows that they ARE NOT alone.  Help is out there.  Support is out there.

If we keep talking we can change the life of so many before they get to the point my son did or before they are no longer with us and take their own life, as my friend did.

When you see someone struggling, or you know someone is dealing with a loved one who has a mental illness or addiction, or you see the young parent at their wits end because their child is on an emotional rollercoaster, reach out to them…. Let them know you care.  Let them know you understand and do not judge.  Let them know they are not alone.

Let’s go beyond previous generations and let’s change things for future generations by talking about mental illness, educating ourselves and supporting those who need our love and empathy.

I am taking the leap and continuing to share our story……

Will you take the leap with me?

Tough love to me is……

(This is long. I apologize for that.  But I couldn’t write this without the length.  This is what I have learned about tough love and what has worked for me.  Each of us has to find what works for us and define what “tough love” means to us.)

I have been asked a lot of questions over the years about what I have done when it comes to my son and how I did it.  And I have been given a lot of advice about how to handle everything….from advice that we should send our son to a military school when he was very young to recent advice that we should have no contact with my son at all…you know “tough love”.

And I have learned a lot about myself over the past few years and about my family.  I have had to question the things I believed about mental health illnesses and addiction.  I have had to challenge my beliefs about family and tough love.  I have had to adjust my thoughts and have had to really look inside me to see what is behind my decisions and actions, what really drives them.  I have learned that tough love can come in many forms.  It is not black and white…..there is gray area there too.   And I have learned that what works for one person, may not work for another.  And that means finding what works for me and for my family, while making adjustments to actions, thoughts and beliefs along the way.  Tough love to me, still means loving my child, unconditionally.  It means letting love and compassion rule, instead of anger.

It has taken me a long time to get here to this place of understanding and compassion.  Am I perfect at it? NO.  I continue to learn.  I continue to challenge myself to see things differently, to understand differently and to be compassionate toward my son, my family, strangers and myself.

So, how did I get here to where I am today?

A lot of soul-searching!  A lot of research!  A lot of talking to my husband and to myself!  And a lot of listening!

I started to question my thoughts and beliefs surrounding tough love and began searching for answers within me when my husband and I attended a parent support group for addicts one night in the midst of our son’s active addiction.  Our son was missing and had been gone for some time and I was looking for support from those who “got it” and would not judge.

This meeting was filled with parents from all walks of life and led by a man who lost his son to an overdose.  They would understand.  We were all their because we had a child, an adult child for most of us, who was an addict.  And tough love was the topic discussed most that night. Each parent took a turn sharing a little of their story and where they were at the moment.   We listened to the others share and listened to the advice the experienced parents had for those new to the group.  Every single parent there that night said that tough love was the only way…. Even after their kids entered treatment.  They told us how they refused calls and letters from their sons in jail, telling the kids that they were on their own to deal with their consequences and would not accept any communication from them.  Not ANY! And many would not accept communication from them even when they were out of jail and through treatment, telling their kids that they would not talk to them until they were succeeding in their own life.  Then they told us that they would not help their sons or daughters who were in treatment.  When it came time for their kids to transition out of in-patient treatment, the parents told us that they would not let the kids come home, instead they had to figure out where to live on their own.  The parents encouraged each other in their tough love and encouraged the newer parents to cut off ties with their addict children and to set boundaries that the kids had to follow, with no middle ground.  I got it.  We were there, having asked our son to move out of our house and not giving him any help while he was actively using….. yes, I got it!

I heard their words and the emotions behind them.  And what I heard from these parents was anger.  Anger with their child for becoming an addict.  Anger that their kids did this to them.  And they told a new mom to stop accepting calls from her daughter who was living on the streets and using drugs.  They told her to stop letting her come home to shower and stop buying her meals now and again.  They said that doing those things would keep her daughter in active addiction… the mother cried.  I cried.

I GOT their anger.  I felt that way too.  I was so angry with my son… and heartbroken… and scared….. and maybe this version of tough love worked for them and for their families…. But I couldn’t help but worry that anger controlling my choices was not the way to help my son….. that there had to be a middle ground that included love and compassion.  I realized much of how I reacted to my son was out of anger and I was tired of reacting in anger.

Though glad we went to the meeting and grateful for my new awareness, I knew as we left that this was not the support group I was looking for.

I started to realize some things at this point—

—that tough love means still loving my son while not actively participating in his addiction.  It means helping when I can and doing everything I possibly can to help him to be sober without abandonment and it means walking away without anger when I need to.

–that tough love also means that I am not responsible for my son’s addiction or his sobriety, something very hard for me to face and accept….but I was getting there.  Tough love means letting him be responsible but supporting and helping when I am needed.

–And it meant letting go of the anger.  Separating the anger from our support and love was important in our ability to help our son.

I was asked many times from well meaning “friends” and “family” why we would accept calls from our son when he was arrested and why we would pick him up from jail or even bail him out of jail.  Well, to set the record straight, most of the time when he was arrested he was released on his own, no bail needed.  And the majority of his arrests, we were never called.  He found his own way.  Some of his arrests we did not know about until the charges were filed and he was notified of those charges… talk about a shock to this mother’s heart!

But the two times we did post bond, I would do it again if I had to go back in time.  The first bond we posted was the last time he was arrested and the time that turned it all around for him and got him into treatment.  What if we had left him in jail?  What if we had told him he was on his own and refused calls from him?  What if we let anger continue to build and let the anger rule our actions?  I am not sure we would be where we are today.  We bailed him out on condition he seek treatment and he knew that if he were to use heroin or meth again, he would not be living in our home.  We had already made him move out and he had been living in his car at the time of his arrest.  So, I knew we could be tough.  We loved him unconditionally but we would not participate in his active addiction any longer.

The second time we bailed him out was after he had self-surrendered on a probation violation and his meds were withheld from him.  It was a decision we did not make lightly and one we would do again because it was his life that was at risk.  And he was clean at the time.  Why wouldn’t we continue what had been working and get him back home to continue treatment?

So yes, we bailed him out twice.  And yes I accepted calls from him when he was arrested.  I had to do everything in my power to help him get his life in control…. Because the guilt if I didn’t and we lost him would have been too great to bear.

You see, my son had a friend who was with him for months, living in my son’s car and staying with my son on couches when and wherever they could.  They were together when my son had been arrested in Yavapai county.  His friend was the one who answered my sons phone and told me he had been arrested and then released in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.  (I wrote about that experience here.)  When we finally made it north to pick up our son at the hospital, he asked if we could give this friend of his, a ride back too.  During the 2-hour drive back home, we talked with this young man.  He was a son, a brother and a father.  He grew up in another state and ended up out here with his ex-wife and kids.  He told us about his kids and how he hadn’t seen them in a while.  He told us that his parents would not accept calls from him, only letters.  And because he was homeless, they could not write to him. He hadn’t spoken to them in a couple of years.  He had gotten out of jail not too long before this.  And having no place to go, he was back living on the streets and back to drugs.  My heart broke for him and for his family as he told us his story.  He was such a sweet young man.

And I say was because 3 months after giving him a ride back here, he was found in an alley, dead from an overdose.

My son at the time was clean and getting help for his addiction.  And they had not seen each other since we had given him the ride back and dropped him off.  They had spoken a few times on the phone with my son encouraging him to get into treatment.  This young man even sent me and my husband a thank you message through Facebook.  He thanked us for our kindness and for loving Josh and helping him.  And he thanked us for giving Josh the hope of a life without drugs, just by being there for him, a hope he didn’t have.  My heart broke for him.

This young man’s death sent my son reeling….and me too.  This could have been my son….. And his friends death led my son into a relapse that eventually had him living in his car and the final arrests that would finally get him some help.

I often think about this friend of my sons and how things might have been different if he had had someone he could have turned to, someone who could have given him the chance at a sober life.  I saw messages his family posted on his Facebook page and each message had me in tears…. They expressed their guilt over not communicating with him and their guilt for not being there, just one time for him.  And they shared the anger that kept them from talking to him or helping him.  My heart broke for them.  I could feel through their messages how heartbroken they were and the regrets they had.  I KNEW I needed to do everything I could to help my son.

This young man’s story and tragic ending of his life, led my husband and I to be there that last arrest and post that bond.  Because we needed to know that we did EVERYTHING we possibly could do to help our son get better, to give him that chance at a sober life and then if he went back to the streets and if we lost him, at least we would know we did our best…. we tried everything…..

I have learned a lot about how I participated over the years in my son’s addiction, the excuses made, the reactions out of fear…. he was a master at finding the right words, the ones that would guilt me into doing what he wanted.  And how turning a blind eye and ignoring the signs, hoping against all hope that I was wrong in what I was seeing and making excuses for his behavior, only added to his ability to continue his active addiction.  And I realized that the buttons I pushed in him, through my anger and the reactions it created, were also ways I participated in his addiction and helped to keep him stuck, giving him the excuse he needed to continue his self-destructive behaviors.  Realizing my role helped me to challenge and change those thoughts and beliefs so that I could stop aiding his addiction and begin to help him recover.

I began to realize just what tough love was to me….

To me tough love doesn’t mean reacting in anger. 

To me tough love doesn’t mean punishing the addict. 

To me tough love doesn’t seek revenge. 

To me tough love simply means loving my son but not participating in his self-destructive behaviors. 

To me tough love means loving him unconditionally, but also loving myself enough to not let the addiction control me as well. 

To me tough love means setting boundaries that keep me from participating in his addiction, while still giving me the room in my heart for forgiveness and compassion.   

Tough love to me means reacting out of love and compassion rather than anger.

It took me a long time to get to this point.  I was far from perfect and still am far from perfect.  Sometimes turning a blind eye was easier than facing the truth.  And anger did rule things at times for me. Anger with my son for the lies and so much more.  Anger made some of my decisions when it came to dealing with my son.

But love and compassion took control.

Love and compassion was the driving force when we asked our son to leave our house and told him he could not live here until he was ready to get treatment.  Love and compassion led when he called wanting to come home to pick up some things and take a shower and we said he could.  Love and compassion ruled when after the shower and a hot home-cooked meal, we told him he could not stay the night, not unless he was ready to get into treatment.  Love and compassion took over and kept us from running after him as we watched our son leave in his car, not knowing when or if we would see him again.  And when he was finally ready to get help, love and compassion drove me as I searched for treatment options for him.  Love and compassion drive me now, as I continue to help him travel this recovery road, as I take him to all of his appointments, and as I work through the anger I still have.

Being a parent is NOT easy.  Being a parent with an addict son is NOT easy.  Being a parent and loving my child has NOT always been easy, but it IS easier today.

Unconditional love is the key.

My mom taught me to love unconditionally.  And I know that she is with me as I walk this walk and travel this unknown road.  And I know that God is with me, every step of the way.

This journey is still difficult.  This walk is not perfect.  I am not perfect.  And it is not about a one-size-fits-all way of dealing with our addicted loved ones.  We each need to find what works for us, define tough love for ourselves.  I am still learning and discovering and challenging my beliefs as I continue to become the best version of me that I can be and as I help my son, rather than hinder him, in becoming the best version of himself that he can be!

This journey has required quite the leap…. A leap of trust…. And a leap of faith.