I’ve had 31 years to love my son, imperfectly. He is an addict, and I have done everything from tough love to soft touches to screaming expletives to get him to wake up and face his addiction. I am trying to save his life, of course.
I don’t have a lot of leverage, though. He’s clearly a fully-grown adult now, able to make whatever decisions he likes about his life. But the darker side of this is that my son started using drugs when he was 11 by stealing the marijuana I thought I had hidden.
My son was ripe for addiction; it was just a matter of time and opportunity, and having a single, working, stoner mother gave him plenty of both. So did his other relatives: His grandfather was an alcoholic. His uncle and aunt experienced the negative consequences of methamphetamine for some time. His father was a pothead, a meth head and absent, and I was a mother who spent many years self-medicating. My son is also half Native American and the scientific literature shows that alcoholism, leading to liver disease and cirrhosis, is the fifth-leading cause of death for Native Americans.
Growing up, my son would tell me about his experiences with drugs. Being the “cool” mom, I just listened attentively. But growing up in a family where denial was also a drug of choice, I chose to believe that his admissions were bravado, and I didn’t take them seriously.
On his 21st birthday, I threw him a party to celebrate: I bought the keg, the liquor, and the food and provided the location. I heard my son vomiting into the wee hours of the morning. I thought, Oh, he’s just an inexperienced drinker. He’ll taper off; I did. That night, though, was also when he started using heroin with his friends.
My contribution to raising an addict is so clear now. As I watch my son, I know that that party was the start of his addictions and that his disease (is alcohol is a disease?) is likely to be a death sentence. Ten years later, he has an enlarged heart and his edema is so bad that he can barely walk from one room to the next without gasping for air. And yet the alcohol and heroin still call to him like a seductress he cannot refuse —damaging, dysfunctional and deadly.