What if…….

I can’t breathe…….

The regret, guilt and the What ifs are weighing heavy on my chest, threatening to keep me from ever breathing again……..

What if I had fought harder for my son to get help when he was a young child?

What if I had known my family medical history before becoming a parent?

What if I had forced my son into some sort of treatment program when he was still under our care?

What if I had known then, what I know now, how would that have changed the events that led to today?

What if I had never encouraged my son to move here, hoping it would help him to get on track in life?

What if……..I could run those what if’s through my mind until my head explodes…….the guilt, the regret, the what if’s are overshadowing all that is good in our life……coloring the joy………and keeping us stuck in the guilt……

These past few days the what ifs have really been running through my mind. But regret does not change the past, guilt does not correct the wrongs, and what ifs won’t change the outcome.

I have shared that my son suffers from mental illnesses and is an addict. I have shared the struggles and challenges of living with and loving someone with his illnesses. And it is hard. His most recent bottom, though, had brought us some hope.

He finally was seeking help. He had an intake last week for an outpatient program and tomorrow he was to start intensive outpatient treatment…….

He has been off of drugs since his last arrest in March…….

He passed a random drug test…….

Over the past almost two months I have watched as my son emerged from his addiction and became “my” son again. He was laughing with us, talking with us, taking care of his cats, going places with us, and taking care of himself. He was doing everything he needed to do to get his life on track and get clean.

And then the system stepped in…….and the county where he was arrested last fall revoked his probation. He was going to have to go back to jail.

We were all surprised because it came about suddenly, after saying they would not do this. But the justice system can change its mind. And my son did violate the terms of his probation by being arrested again…….

I was scared that this news would send my son into a tailspin back down that awful path……

But he took it in stride, accepted what would be happening and continued to do the things he needed to do to get himself healthy.

And then today, we had to do one of the hardest things a parent should ever have to do…..when our son asked us to take him north to turn himself in and face the consequences of his probation violation, he was so brave. He wanted to do the right thing. He wanted to do what was necessary to continue his positive progress.

This morning we drove our son the 2 hours to the jail……..and I was having a hard time just breathing……

But I drew strength from my son’s courage.

When we arrived, my son bravely walked into the jail lobby and self-surrendered. I was so proud of how he handled himself, of the courage he showed and his attitude.

We waited 2 ½ hours for them to come and get him…….and watching the officer walk up to my son and take him through the door…………..THAT was awful…….and if it was so awful for me, I can only imagine how hard this is on my son, yet he didn’t show it.

Now we wait……..and pray that the court and the judge will see his progress now, and see that he is finally ready. I pray that the judge will see that punishment will not benefit my son as much as treatment and counseling will. I pray that God will protect my son while he is in the jail and that all the forward progress he has made will not be for nothing or be too late.

At what point, do we as a society, start to treat addiction as the disease it is? At what point do we, as a society, start to look for ways to heal those afflicted with mental illnesses rather than locking them away for punishment? It really is time to start acting, not just talking. Drug addiction is the one crime where the perpetrator is also the victim, and yet we punish them rather than get the addict REAL help. Yes, there are consequences for our choices, but addiction is different, it is an illness and throwing an addict in jail does not get them help, not for the long run. Instead, the punishment continues the cycle and continues the stigma that surrounds addicts. When are we going to stand up and change this? When will we do the right thing for addicts and start saving lives?

I am starting now, with this blog post and with the many letters I will be sending out to my local politicians….it is time I do more than talk, it is time I take action! For my son, for my family and for the many others I know who are dealing with these same issues.

And I will be praying while I try to breathe…….just breathe…….

What if…….we as a society committed to REAL change instead of just talking?

Advertisements

Clearing the Clutter to take back control

Clutter.

Cleaning.

Control.

I spent some time last week talking with members about cleaning up the clutter, in our physical space and in our mental space.

Clutter is stressful. Clutter makes it difficult for us to live a healthy life. Clutter makes it difficult to take care of ourselves. And clutter in our physical world can reflect the chaos and clutter in our head.

The past couple of weeks I have been clearing out clutter, cleaning out and rearranging the physical spaces in my house.

And with each closet, drawer or room, I have also been clearing out my head.

When you love an addict, your head becomes quite cluttered. And when you live with an addict the physical and mental clutter collides with the chaos of their cluttered, chaotic life.

Today I have been cleaning…..and as I scrubbed my cabinets I realized I was scrubbing……or rather trying to scrub away the visuals in my mind…….the images that threaten to suck me into the spinning funnel cloud that hovers above my life, always there ready to touch down and rip apart all that I love.

That is how it feels to live with and love an addict.

And I HATE what this has done to my child. The child I carried inside me. The child I dreamed about and loved before he was born. The child I read to at night. The child I cried with when he was hurting. The child I laughed with while watching a beloved show. The child I watched become a man. The child that is a part of me, who had so much to offer this world. My child, who is funny, kind, impulsive, daring, creative and opinionated.

Addiction has robbed me of my son. And has robbed my son of the life he should have had.  He is lost inside the spinning tornado. And I have no idea when or where this tornado will drop him.

Every day is filled with a rollercoaster of emotions. And every day is filled with prayer.

I love my son. And I want him back—whole, healthy and full of life. This is not my son right now.

So, today, as I scrub cabinets, floors and walls….as I sort through the physical clutter, I am also sorting through the emotional clutter created by a life I never wanted to live in……a life I never imagined I would HAVE to live in. And through de-cluttering I am trying to get back control….control of my life, my emotions, my home.

I am trying to find my way and navigate through this funnel cloud so that when the tornado touches down again….and it will…..I am ready and more prepared. Making it so that I can recover more quickly and so that I can help my family through the debris.

As I clean and de-clutter today, I am just going to breathe……and trust that God will help me.

A Turning Point

Turning points—those moments we can look back and pinpoint as a moment that made a change in our lives happen. An event that occurred September 15th was a turning point in my son’s life and yesterday was the culmination of that moment.

Yesterday was filled with emotion………and it was the beginning of what I pray is a new start, a new chance for a change in life direction and hope for the future, which seems a little brighter than it has in the past year.

The events yesterday, really began months ago…..actually years ago with the struggles my oldest son has endured throughout his life. I wrote about those struggles in my blog post It is Time to Start the Conversation and those struggles with mental health illnesses, including addiction, continue.

Yesterday was a culmination of a series of events over the past couple of months.

And it started with a phone call on a Saturday morning…..a phone call resulting from my text message to my son, who had been gone this time for a week…..a week in which we had no idea where he was or how he was. And he wasn’t answering our calls, a sure sign that he was not doing well with his addictions. So, I texted his phone, threatening to have it shut off if he did not call me that morning……..and then the phone rang, his picture and number popping up on my phone……..only it wasn’t my son on the other end, it was his friend. He wanted me to know that he had my son’s phone and that they had been separated from each other in a town two and half hours away from us. And he wanted me to know that he had finally discovered that my son had been arrested for drug possession, two days prior and that he was released from jail the night before in a town fifty miles from where the friend was.

Now I was worried.

I knew my son did not have his phone, money, or his car. And he was in the middle of nowhere. He did not know our phone numbers, so I did not know where he was or how he was doing.

Worry really set in.

And then an hour later, the phone rang…….a number I did not recognize. I answered, fearing the worst……and then I heard my son’s voice.

He sounded pretty shook up. And he told me that the police had confiscated his prescribed medication……how that happened along with why he did not have his car is another story for another time…….and the police refused to give him any of his medication. This is a medication that when he goes without it, leads to seizures and can have life-threatening consequences. He had been without his medication for 3 days by this point. And when he was released from jail, it was night…..with no car, no money, no phone and suffering without his medication, he had nowhere to turn.

So he spent the night in the cold sleeping behind a gas station near the jail………THAT visual, now more than a month after the event, still haunts me.

But even worse is hearing him say that he was in the emergency room…..the gas station attendant had called an ambulance because my son was having seizures…..on the concrete……….behind the gas station…….ALONE. THAT visual, THAT thought is difficult for me, even now a month after it happened and if I allow myself to spend too much time thinking about him in that moment I will lose it……my tears won’t stop.

He then said he wanted help and wanted to come home.

So, we headed out for the over 3-hour drive to pick him up at the hospital and then the over hour drive to get his phone and things from his friend and then back home…….7 hours on the road that day……..and when I caught myself getting emotional, I held it back…….forced myself to NOT go there……not yet.

That night, behind a closed door, I let it all out.

And then began a month of learning, roller-coaster emotions, and seeking help for my son.

I have learned a lot this past month………some I never wanted to learn and some I wish I had known years ago.

Our mental health system is broken.

Help is hard to get for those with no money and no insurance. And addiction is a mental health issue and help is difficult for those with no money and those with co-occurring disorders.

I spent hours and hours on the phone trying to get him into an inpatient program……..sadly we could not afford the tens of thousands of dollars those programs cost. And with no insurance, my son could not get into one of those programs. And government assistance does not cover the programs that help with his co-occurring disorders and most of the government covered treatment programs are outpatient.

Yes, he is getting help now. Slowly….one-step-at-a-time.

And we are doing the best we can to help him.

But it is his life and his choices to make…….something difficult for me to let go of. I am his mother. I just want to make it better for him……but I can’t. And the helplessness is difficult to deal with, weighing heavy on this mother’s heart and soul.

Yesterday, my son and I spent the day back in the town where all these events occurred over a month ago. And he stood before the judge, accepting a plea deal that will have him on probation for quite a while and require him to complete a drug treatment program. His dreams of moving away are on hold for now.

The emotions of this past month threatened to bubble up and escape as I sat in the courtroom, listening as the judge read the charges against my son……….

And then relief settled in……he is alive…….something I am not sure I would be saying if he had not been arrested. I believe that God had a hand in answering the prayers of my husband and I and that this arrest, on that day in September, is why my son is still here. He was headed down a dangerous road and now that he is sharing with us what has really been going on, I am so thankful that this turning point occurred.

He is ALIVE! I still have my son. And today……right now……I know where he is and how he is.

This is a new start for him, a turning point in his life and an opportunity to get help and to start LIVING because the past year, especially that past 6 months, he has not been living……..he was very lost.

We don’t have all the answers. And we may not be handling things perfectly, but we will keep seeking the answers to our questions and keep seeking the help our son needs and that we need. We will take it one-day-at-a-time, realizing that this is a journey and that it has been and will continue at times to be 2 steps forward and 1 step back.

And we will continue to love our son, unconditionally, praying daily that this works, that this is the time in his life when he will become the person he was always meant to be, that he will find peace and happiness.

And we know that no matter how bad things get, there is ALWAYS hope. ALWAYS!

We just have to take the leap, trust, have faith……and just breathe.

It is time to start the conversation

I find myself here again.

Worry.

Dread.

Concern.

Fear.

Helplessness.

Actually, I find myself here in this place more often than not.

This year has been rough. Months of worry and fear.

And then………hope steps in. Something changes and there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The rollercoaster is slowing, coming to the end of the ride………and then……suddenly…….the rollercoaster drops, twisting and turning, gaining speed as it twists and turns and spins us in all directions, leaving us to wonder which way is up and when it will end.

I have been riding this rollercoaster for years now. How I wish I could exit. But I can’t.

Loving someone who suffers from mental illnesses—depression, bi-polar, mood disorder, panic disorder, ADD, addiction—keeps a person on the rollercoaster of emotion and events. Unpredictable. Incomprehensible.

My oldest son suffers from mental illnesses.

And I have come to realize that he will never have the life I dreamed for him when he was born, instead I have adjusted my expectations and have accepted that life is and will be more difficult for him. He is funny, big-hearted, intelligent, thoughtful, impulsive, inquisitive, adventurous, fearless, creative and opinionated. I love my son, unconditionally.

And sometimes I love him too much. His mental illness holds me hostage….the worry of what might happen if I am not here when he needs me, if I don’t give him a place to live, if I make him stand on his own two feet, keeps me on the rollercoaster…….and yet, I cannot continue to enable him.

I am lost. I have no idea what is right and what is wrong when it comes to helping. At what point am I enabling him to stay stuck where he is now? When do I stop helping and let him find his own way?

The thing is, his brain doesn’t work the way mine does, or his father’s does, or even his brother’s does. The world is different through his eyes. Normal is different in his mind.

Society tells us all what “normal” is. And those who suffer from any mental illness do not fit the societal definition of “normal”. And that leads to being judged, condemned, misunderstood, and feared……….which leads those who suffer to feel isolated and alone. And those who love them are left feeling helpless and isolated, judged by those who have never ridden the rollercoaster.

I love my son! And I cannot change his world for him. I cannot fix this for him. I cannot make his brain work the way society says it should. All I can do is love him……and try to find help for him in a world that doesn’t want to recognize or help those who truly need it.

This year the rollercoaster went into hyper-drive……sending our family whirling into the dark, twisting world of those lost to addiction and mental illnesses.

There are days, weeks and even months when I have no idea where my son is………I live each day in fear. Where is he? Who is he with? How is he eating? Where is he sleeping? Is this the day that the doorbell rings or the phone rings and he is asking for help? Or I am told he is in jail? Or the hospital? Or worse, gone forever?

And then he is home, getting help and I see glimpses of my baby………and then he is gone again………….

This is difficult to share with my closest family and friends and even more difficult to share with the world. I grew up in a time when family matters stayed behind closed doors and in the family. We didn’t talk about them. EVER!

But I think THAT is part of the problem in our society. We don’t talk about mental health illnesses unless something tragic happens…….and then it is only to judge the individual and the parents.

We need to start the conversation NOW!

We need to stop judging those individuals and the ones who love them. When a child has an uncontrollable outburst, instead of judging and telling the parents “you need to send him to military school” or “you need to spank him more”, we should offer understanding, a hug….anything that helps rather than isolates. (yes, we heard those often and sadly, my son heard those words from “well-meaning friends”, too.)

We as a society need to talk about mental health issues rather than ignore them, hoping they will just disappear. I don’t know how to get it started, or what the answers are, but I know that it has to start……..NOW…………TODAY.

I have met some people over these past few months who have touched my heart. Out of the blue and without knowing my struggles this year, these brave individuals have shared with me their personal struggles with mental health illnesses and with addiction. I believe that God brought them into my life to let me know I am not alone, my family is not alone and my son is not alone……….that this is something many others struggle with.

My hope is that by sharing this now, I can help someone else as well. And maybe by sharing, others will have more compassion toward my son and toward the many others who also suffer. Maybe the conversation will get started and help will be more affordable and more accessible to all who suffer some kind of mental illness……..We need to start talking and start taking action to get affordable mental health care, with doctors who can really help, who know what they are doing……instead of the doctors that now work with the low income population who don’t care about those individuals and judge them instead of truly helping them.

So, I am starting the conversation now. I am no longer hiding from the reality that is my world. I am asking everyone to join me in this conversation because alone I cannot change our society, but together we can really make a difference…..for my son and for all who suffer and all who love them.

I pray every single day for my son.

I pray every single day that help comes, that compassion is found, that understanding for all who suffer is found, that the stigma is abolished and in its place is compassion, understanding and help.

I pray every single day that my son will find his own way in this world.

I pray every single day that my son will be okay when my husband and I are no longer here, that someone will be there for him, that someone will love him.

And I pray every single day that the conversation gets started and keeps going………while I just breathe…….