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?

surprises

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.

joy

 

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

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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.

What a difference a year makes

One year. What a different day today is.

One year ago today began with deep dread in the pit of my stomach. Would things go well? Would the judge see the improvements? Would my son be going back to jail, a jail where he would not receive his medicine?

One year ago today I was driving with my son to another county, north of us, and my husband, who is a teacher, had to be at work (it was the first day back for teachers). It was really hard for my husband to not be there with us and to wait for word from me on how the day went, not knowing if our son would be coming home with me.

The drive was long. The day was extremely difficult.

One year ago today, my son was granted his probation reinstatement. We were relieved! Still facing more charges in our county, but this case was done. Relief.

And here we are today, one year later.

One year later and my husband is back at work, some things don’t change. But instead of worrying about us and waiting for word from me on how things would go, he spent the day in training and thinking about and planning for the return of his students next week.

One year later and my son and I were in the car again this morning, only it was a short drive to the clinic and home. And then errands for me. Much different! Instead of dreading the day and worrying about my son I was planning meals and cleaning house and even found time to sign up for a 5k.

One year later and my son was not worrying about jail time… his only worry was whether or not the pool was warm enough or to warm. He was cleaning his room (YES! Miracles do happen!) And he was not stressed, looking forward to the day when he can finally move away and be on his own near his friends.

One year later and it is a much better day. My son is doing well. He is here at home, talking to us, and participating most of the time in our family.

Are things perfect? NOT AT ALL! But compared to where we were a year ago, today is a GREAT day! The sun is shining, I didn’t have to drive north, my son had a great conversation with me and is taking care of his cats today…. And he swam.

There are still tough days. But nothing compares to the difficulty of the year leading up to this day last year. Nothing compares to last summers nightmare or the years before.

I am ready to start sharing the lessons learned and will be writing about them over the next week and sharing here with all of you, in the hopes that sharing the lessons will help someone… anyone…. Just one.

But for today…. It is a good day!

And I am trying to stop the worry that was the base of every single day for years. I am trying to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop while holding my breath. And trying, really hard, to just appreciate and enjoy the days that are good and to find the good in the days that are a little harder. Because NOTHING these days is as hard as the past few years were. And my son is still here. Still clean. And getting help.

One year. What a difference a year makes!

It Starts With Me

I opened my Facebook feed this morning, and there it was for the umpteenth time in the past few months….a meme shared that perpetuates misinformation about addicts.

I was angry seeing it, yet again.

And then it had me thinking about everything the past couple of years—the comments, the questions, the looks, and I was angry again…..with family, friends, acquaintances, doctors, psychiatrists, addiction professionals and strangers who have continued to judge and perpetuate the stigma and misinformation surrounding addicts and their families.

I was angry because for the past couple of years I have had to explain to others my son and our situation and the choices we have made that they “kindly” tell me are wrong. And angry because I continue to need to correct the misinformation and have to continue to fight for help for my son from professionals who make decisions on care based on their own judgements and beliefs about addicts.

I was just angry with everyone this morning.

And I realized just how tired I am of all of it.

I. AM. TIRED.

Some days are just like that.

And then my day went on.

My son is having to deal with some health and dental issues now that are a result of his life these past few years. And he was not mentally ready to go to one of those needed appointments today……I was not happy.

We argued.

He said he was just having a really bad day…..and I said I was too….I wasn’t feeling well and wished I could have just stayed in bed today…….

And then, just before my next words came out of my mouth…..it hit me. Another epiphany!

I was about to tell my son that we all have to do things we don’t want to do and we just do it……BUT it hit me in that moment…..I still didn’t completely understand…….

I have been living with my son’s emotional ups and downs his entire life. I have been his biggest advocate for help. I am advocating for change within our broken system. And I have been living and explaining life with a loved one who suffers from mental illnesses and addiction, yet I STILL don’t completely GET IT!

And if I still struggle to understand…..if I still struggle to wrap my head around it when he just cannot get out of his bed or cannot look someone in the eye or cannot do the daily things the rest of us do….then HOW can I expect anyone else to understand? How can I expect anyone else to “get it”? To know what it is like? And how can I expect compassion?

And how can I be angry with those who do not understand….who have never walked this walk……who have never been in my shoes?

I realized that it is up to me to help others to understand what this life is like, to understand the realities and the truths instead of the myths and stigma and stereotypes. I need to help others so that they can find compassion for those who are sick and for their families…….

And my anger left me…..my anger at the world and my anger with my son.

No matter how tired I am, I must continue to explain, to advocate for aid and to advocate for change. And I cannot judge others who have never walked in my shoes, my son’s shoes or my family’s shoes.

I am now taking the leap and formulating what it is I want you all to know……the lessons we have learned, the loneliness and isolation, the fear, the dread…… And I will share this soon, in the hope that it will help to change the narrative surrounding those with mental health illnesses.

The change starts with me.

Shouldering the Load

How much weight can one person’s shoulders carry?

The past couple of years, and specifically the past 21 months have shown me just how strong my shoulders are…..and how much stronger they are when the load is shared with another and when I trust in God.

March 2016……my husband’s birthday weekend, one of the worst weekends we had had in a really long time….years actually. That weekend, we couldn’t reach our son. He didn’t come home. He didn’t answer his phone. And after a couple of days, we decided to try tracking his phone through our carrier…..and that is when we discovered his phone was more than an hour from us, so I called again. This time it was answered by a stranger…..my son’s phone had been found on a garbage can in the parking lot of a casino and the person took it with them. We spent the next few days talking with the police, and driving….hours of driving trying to find our son….up and down every lane in the parking lot of the casino where his phone had been found, looking for his car……hours driving city streets in areas we knew him to have been……hours texting and calling his friends and no one had seen or heard from him……and many sleepless hours. And then we feared the very worst, we would never see our son again……..and then he called. Relief. And anger when he told us his crazy story.

That weekend began 21 months that showed me just how strong I can be. The beginning of months of disappearances and worry. Months of having him home then asking him to leave. Months where weeks at a time we had no idea where he was, or if he was alive or dead. Months of fearing the knock on the door and the ring of our cell phones. Months of dealing with the darkness of addiction. Months of dealing with the justice system…arrests, court appearances, probation visits…….

And today, finally, relief……

My son has been under the threat of prison time since last April, when the system decided to file more charges from earlier arrests. And those charges started months of stress for him and for us…. Probation violation and the nightmare that followed in Yavapai county, then the threat of prison. In September, my son decided not to accept the plea deal to go to prison….. and he opted for trial.

More stress. Worry. Fear.

The last nine months had my son finally at a point that was positive in his life. He had completed intensive outpatient drug treatment. He was present and working on staying clean. He had monthly random drug tests that kept coming back clean.

But the threat of prison weighed heavily on him. And that stress sunk him deep into the dark hole of depression and severe anxiety. I was scared. We were beginning to lose him again, but this time to depression not drugs.

My shoulders were sagging under the weight of all that had happened and the weight of the fear and worry while watching helplessly as my son sunk deeper and deeper into that black hole.

And then things started to look up, positive things were happening……an emergency visit to a real psychiatrist had my son hopeful, finally being put back on medication he had been without for a couple of months. Hope. Relief.

And then a letter in the mail a few days ago, one that may have upset another, but for us…..relief. My son had gone through an evaluation for mental health services and was accepted, his mental health illness severe enough to warrant real help…..finally! Someone listened. Someone saw what we were seeing. Someone heard my son and knew he needed help. Hope. Relief. Weight lifting for all of us.

But we were still facing today, a court appearance for sentencing. The choice to go to trial gave my son another chance for treatment and not prison. They offered him a much better plea deal, one that would not send him to prison and one that dropped the charges from 2016. He accepted the new plea deal last month.

And today we were back in that courtroom in front of the judge. It was a long morning. Stress. Worry. Fear. And then my son was standing in front of the judge. And when she told him she was sentencing him to 3 years probation…..the weight I had been carrying suddenly lifted. I didn’t hear the rest of what the judge said.

Everything these past 21 months, every moment of fear, worry, anger…..every moment that sought to destroy me, to destroy my family……. It suddenly bubbled to the top…… I wasn’t sure I could walk out of there in that moment.

Relief overcame me…..

This chapter is over. And in that moment, as the weight on my shoulders lifted, I realized just how much I had carried….. and wondered how I had done it…… How did I manage to still get through a day at work? How did I wake up each morning and get through my day? How did I manage to take those trips that needed to be taken? How did I stay afloat when the weight was trying to drown me?

I have heard many times that “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.” True. I am stronger, much stronger than I ever thought I was. And I can do so much more than I ever imagined. I have traveled a road I never imagined I would find myself on…… and now I get ready to help my son navigate this new road, one that is leading him toward hope….. hope for a life without drugs….. hope for a life with some meaning…… hope for a life where he does not live in fear and where he can find peace.

And I know that I did not carry this load alone.

How much can one person’s shoulders carry? It depends. I have discovered that my shoulders can carry a lot of weight, but not alone. I have only gotten through these past 21 months because of my family, who helped me and gave me strength when I thought I would fall….. some dear friends who checked in on me and gave me a listening ear, a hug when I needed it and a shoulder to cry on……. and my faith, with God by my side I can do anything, and He made sure that the people I needed were there when I needed them….. and I carried this load because my best friend, my partner, the love of my life and the father of my sons was right there next to me, helping me to carry the load and at times carrying all of us when I was too tired to keep going and then resting while I was strong.

We now have hope. We are ready to continue this next chapter, to help our son get healthy and find his way in the world.

It won’t be easy for him. But it sure will be easier without the fear of prison weighing on him every day.

These past 21 months I trusted….. and I just kept breathing…….

And for those of you reading this, who find yourself going through the storm, don’t give up…… hold on…….reach out to others….. and know that you ARE NOT alone. So many are going through this and you do not have to shoulder the load alone.

For those of you who know someone going through the storm, don’t pull away….. instead reach out to them, give them a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, let them know they are not alone. The storm of addiction is lonely and isolating and the weight of it all can crush a soul, but with support, with care and understanding, the weight can be carried, the storm can be gotten through and lives can be changed.

My hope is that by sharing my families story we have opened the minds and hearts of others so that we can support each other without judgement and stop the isolation and loneliness that comes with addiction.

My Sweet Friend

I have really been struggling to find my words this past week…..

I lost an old friend.

On Nov 12th my friend went missing. All of her friends rallied together, shared information and tried to locate her in the only way we could from distances far away.

You see, my friend had moved from Washington to Illinois over a year ago with her boyfriend of over a decade. And she was lonely. She didn’t have friends or family in Illinois…..

And things did not go well.

My friend has struggled since I have known her with bouts of depression…..and being isolated, away from all who loved her…..in physical pain, daily……and in a relationship that was….well, let’s just say that the relationship fueled her depression….all of this led to the moment that broke so many hearts…..

The thing is, I did not realize just how bad things were for her…or how depressed she had become because I was lost these past two years in my own storm, dealing with my family situation and my son’s addiction and mental health issues……so I didn’t know…….

This was a dear friend of mine from high school.

We spent a lot of time together…..she spent the night at my house many times and we always had a great time. When she was at my house we were up late, long nights talking, laughing and enjoying our friendship. We stayed up late baking cookies and then in the middle of the night our craving for cheeze pleezers and strawberry Shasta would strike, and off we would go, walking to 7-11 to get some…..mostly at midnight and once at 2am. As long as the two of us were together we were safe!

We spent a lot of time at her house in the summer of 1982….helping her dad to haul hay. My friend lived on a small dairy farm and the summer/fall meant hauling hay….loading the truck and unloading in the barn. We had fun doing it, even though it was exhausting work. We sang country songs and then rode on top of the hay in the big hay truck after hours hard work……those days were amazing and our friendship became stronger.

We went to camp together in the summer…..spent a lot of time in Rainbow girls…..went on double dates…..and so much more. Life with my friend was fun and crazy…..she made me laugh, made me cry, shared my joys and pains, and sometimes drove me nuts.

In the fall of 1982 my dad made it unsafe for me to live at home any longer and my friend and her mother offered me a home to live in so I could finish high school…..I shared my friends room with her and we became inseparable. She was with me, skipping school, when I met my future husband. We laughed, cried, shared secrets and our dreams. She was a sister to me.

I saw it back then, though I didn’t really talk about it with anyone…..her depression. There were times when she would be depressed and we would spend hours talking….or rather her talking and me listening and I would do everything I could to help her.

Through the years we stayed close. We both got married and then we each had children. She stayed in the same town and I moved away with my husband, going wherever the Air Force sent us. We would go long periods of time without seeing each other, but then I would go home to visit and she and I would get together and it was as if no time had gone by….we always picked up where we left off. We wrote a lot of long letters in those days before email and internet and paid for high long distance phone calls. But they were worth it. Friends staying connected.

And then her life changed dramatically over a decade ago and our phone conversations were less often, but we still wrote letters and then she climbed onboard with facebook and we would message each other to stay in touch.

It has been 10 years since I last saw my friend in person….we met for breakfast on one of my trips home……just the two of us. And we talked for hours. I could see that she was struggling, but she was surrounded by friends and family so I knew she wasn’t alone.

And then the past two years things took a turn for me and I stepped back from my friends, my family needed me and emotionally I couldn’t handle anything else.  We still messaged, but we didn’t talk……

Then over a year ago she moved away from her family and her friends, to another state with only her boyfriend for support…..and as the year passed she became more isolated, her depression growing…fueled by loneliness and…..so much more.

And now she is gone.

Gone.

I will never again have a chance to talk with her, to hear her laugh…….I didn’t know. I wish I had.  I wish I had called her.  I wish I had taken the time to listen.  I wish I had known.

And now she is gone. I am still in shock. I am hurting. I feel guilty.

Eight days after my friend went missing she was found. She had taken her own life.

Her sister called me to tell me…..

I am left with so many questions….WHY?  Why, my dear friend?

I know she was alone, having left her support network back in Washington when she moved. And now I know now just how bad things had gotten for her in that new state…….with no one to help her, to seek help for her, to love her and support her……

Why? Depression strikes so many and yet we still struggle to understand and talk about it. When are we going to change that? When is mental health going to be as important as physical health? When will the medical industry treat mental illnesses the way they treat physical illnesses…..

The image in my mind of my friend, alone…….it will never leave me. And I am left with the questions of why, and also the “what if”….what if I had called…..what if I had known…..what if…… and the “if only”.  I will never know the answers.

…..and I am left with guilt and heartbreak.

My dear, sweet friend is gone. And I realize that no matter what is going on in my life I need to make sure I keep in contact with my friends and family, that I let them know just how much they mean to me, that I never again miss the signs and never again lose someone I love to suicide.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression and expressing thoughts of suicide, please reach out, call the National Suicide Awareness Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Today, hug your loved ones a little tighter….tell them how you feel……don’t waste another minute or day. Life is all too short and we never know when it is our last moment on earth or that of our loved ones.

I wish I had one more day with you, my sweet friend….you drove me nuts at times, you made me laugh, you listened when I needed a friend, and I wish I could tell you, just one more time, how much I love you!

I miss you my sweet friend! I hope you have found peace……