Friday, May 29, 2015

The Addict's Mama

My aunt tried to call her children to tell them Avery had died. I think about that sometimes. Those phone calls. How people found out. The numbers that were dialed first. The words that were spoken. The reaction.

I remember calling my cousin on the way to the hospital. To this day I feel so bad that I put that responsibility on her. Avery died. Please tell the others...  Can you imagine receiving such a phone call?

My aunt called her children. Except she couldn't get a hold of Little Luke. I used to call him Ducky when he was little. The most perfect child I had ever laid eyes on.

Luke was sweet. Gentle. Loving. He had the best giggle in the world. And I adored the way he said my name in his precious voice, unable to pronounce the "r"... Bwidget.

In the months before she died, Avery started insisting that we write Luke a letter to tell him we were praying for him. I never did that. I didn't know then what I know with every fiber of my being now -- that, whether or not people tell you, they need to hear that you actually do love them. That you actually do care. That you actually do pray for them by name.

You see, somewhere between the towheaded innocence of a toddler and the man he is now, my cousin became addicted to heroin. His face a stranger to me. Eyes bloodshot and unable to focus. Hair stringy and unwashed. A shadow of the man God had intended him to be. 

I see him sometimes, at the local cafe downtown or pulling into the gas station. And when I do I always go straight up to him and give him a hug. Sometimes he's alone. Sometimes I walk through the shifty, paranoid eyes of the people he is with. I can imagine what people are thinking as they watch me approach. But I don't care. I know what he looks like on the outside... but I also know his beating heart on the inside.

And that beating heart was one created in love but led astray by hurt, confusion, loneliness and fear into the deceivingly comfortable and accepting arms of addiction. 

Avery was dead. An 11-year old who had pushed and pushed trying to get me to reach out to Luke to tell him we were praying. "Mom," she'd say out of the blue with an urgency I didn't understand, "Little Luke needs to know that we pray for him!" She wanted to do good and I made excuses. 

While my aunt was trying to reach him - calling, leaving messages, even driving to the flop house he'd been known to stay -  Little Luke was driving, driving, driving to nowhere.

And then he pulled over and prayed. 

He prayed. 

In the days that followed, my cousin endured withdrawals with such extreme nausea, body aches and sweats that most people would have succumbed to them. 

While I was laying my daughter to rest, God was pouring new life into my beautiful cousin.

I wish I could say that was the miracle we were all waiting for. I guess it was, for a little while. But not long enough. Heroin is the devil himself dripping from the end of a needle, bullying his way through veins once teaming with joy and laughter with only one goal in mind: complete and utter darkness. 

Little Luke relapsed. Then went back to rehab. Then relapsed again. 

Fighting back tears my aunt spoke, "sometimes it feels like my child is already dead.... I'm just waiting to be told when I can bury him." 

And something snapped inside me.

My aunt has been grieving, grieving hard for her child who comes and goes in fleeting shadows - alone. Alone. 

How fair is it that I have a far reaching community of friends and strangers willing to hold me up when my sorrow becomes too much? But who makes themselves seen to hold up the broken hearted mama of the dirty, drug addicted man-child who ought to know better and make the decision to just "be" sober?

There are no casseroles to store in the freezer for that night when the fear and anxiety become too much and there is no energy left for peeling potatoes when the mother of an addict spent all night on her knees begging God one more time to protect her son and deliver him from the grips of his addiction.

There are no cards with words of hope scribbled in love to the mama whose heart has been shattered for so long she can no longer tell you where the splinters fell. 

This is a mama, a good mama, who held her newborn baby and was filled with the same ferocious love you had when you held yours - and a fierce strength to protect and love him forever. 

This is a mama, a good mama, who looked into her baby's eyes and saw hopes and dreams for him that would rival the ones you had for your own child. 

No, this is not a bad mama. This is not a neglectful mama but rather a compassionate woman of love and strength who believes in an Almighty God and angels who walk among us on earth. This is a mama with a big heart and an even bigger love --- and yet neither of those were big enough to stop her son from sliding down the slippery slope that has plunged them both into an unrecognizable place in this world.

What mom dreams of being the mother of an addict?

What child skips around the house and says when he grows up he wants to shoot up heroin?

Neither are where they pictured themselves to be. 

And the scary, hard to hear truth is there isn't a fierce mama love strong enough to stop any one of the plethora of diseases, addictions or death that can dig their claws into our sweet, sweet babies.

But you know her. 

You know that mama you avoid eye contact with because her kid is the one who smokes or drinks or cuts or swears and thank god you don't have to deal with that. (Guess what? She never thought she would have to deal with that either.)

You know that mama you try not to talk to because her world is so different from yours - what are you going to say to her anyway? So, I hear your son was arrested last week for drunk driving... You don't want that stuff seeping into your life. (Guess what? Maybe she didn't either.)

You know that mama that you ask about some of her kids - the good ones - but not the bad one. It's easier to just pretend that one doesn't exist. (Guess what? She can't pretend.)

I invite you to stop for two minutes. That's all. Just two minutes. And imagine yourself with one of those kinds of kids. The depressed one who was hospitalized again. The addicted one who was fired again. The angry one who was arrested again. 

And tell me, would you want to deal with this heavy, hard stuff while feeling all alone?

We're Mamas and we need to help each other stand! 

Grab a card and send words of hope in it. 

Thinking of your heart today.
Praying for strength and peace

or maybe

Not a day goes by when I don't think of you.
Know that you are always in my prayers. 

That mama who is setting serious boundaries - unwilling to enable their child's addiction by forbidding them into their home, refusing to allow them to participate in Christmas or Easter gatherings, standing firm by not shelling out a single penny to keep them off the street - that mama is tired. Tired to the inside of her bones. 

That mama who flinches every time the phone rings, vacillating between ignoring what could potentially be another venom fueled rant or answering what might end up being the final declaration of her child's life - that mama is tired. Tired in a way that makes her feel 80-years old and unable to see the goodness of a simple sunset anymore.

That mama who worries about meeting new people because inevitably they will ask how many children do you have? and for some reason that simple question pulls her emotions in a way that makes her want to vomit - that mama is tired. Tired to be living this hard mama life she didn't sign up for. Tired of not fitting in with the other mamas. Tired of belonging to a club she never wanted to be a member of.

That mama who sits sometimes at the stoplight wondering if anyone would even show up to her child's funeral, besides, how do you eulogize someone who spent their entire adult life addicted to drugs, finding ways to lie, cheat and steal for more - but yet visions of that beautiful baby and that precocious toddler tells her the truth - that goodness was there and as long as her child breathes on this earth that goodness is still here; it's just being held hostage right now - that mama is tired. So very, very tired. And she doesn't know where to start. 

We can change that. 

A simple smile. A card. A dinner. 

Say to her I am really good at listening.

Say to her I don't understand what you're going through, but know that I am here

Say to her I see you. You are not invisible to me. 

Because, I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like raising kids is kind of a crap shoot. There's no tried and true formula that ensures a child will never get wrecked in such a way that depression or addiction can't worm its ugly way in. And, while I know we're all doing whatever is in our power to protect our kids, there are just some things beyond our control. And we could all use whatever support we can get.

It's time to stop judging. Stop pretending not to see. Stop fearing that if you show compassion to the addict's mama you somehow ushered addiction into your own children's lives. 

It's time to stop making excuses and start showing compassion.

 And after you have suffered a little while, 
the God of all grace, 
who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, 
will himself restore, 
and establish you.
1 Peter 5:10

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Driver

Years ago, the man I began dating had a motorcycle. He grew up in a family of Harley riders - his brothers, father and even his mother drove motorcycles. I did not. I grew up with 4-wheeler's on dusty trails. Dirt bikes that soared over soft hills. Snowmobiles that raced through open fields. We did not do hard pavement and oncoming traffic at 55-miles per hour.

My hesitation and concern was voiced. It was simply not something I did. Not something I had ever done. Not something I was sure I even wanted to experience. Because hopping on a motorcycle means hopping on something that might, quite possibly, hurt you.

There were stories. Newspaper articles and breaking news announcements proving that one could get hurt when riding a motorcycle.

He heard me. Heard my fears.

And brought me a helmet.

He talked to me about how to lean into a curve and how it was dangerous to try to do the opposite.

He explained how hot the pipes were and how to hang on.

He promised to go slow.

And he did.

True to his word, he puttered slowly down the road, me clinging so tight to his waist I'm almost certain he was incapable of taking in a single breath. Slowly we returned to my driveway, the shortest first trip ever known to man complete, his steady hands carefully unbuckling the helmet. Smiling into my still shaking self he said see, I promised I'd be careful with you.

That trust allowed for longer rides. And longer ones still. He always went slower than he probably wanted. Always took turns more conservatively than he probably wanted. Always cautious and aware making sure I felt safe until I was riding confidently on the back of his bike, head tipped to the sun, the warmth and the wind lulling me into a relaxation I'd never experienced before.

This was good.

Everything was good.

Life was good!

And nothing could touch me!

Until that sudden moment when out of nowhere the bike swerved in a way I instantaneously knew it shouldn't and I could feel the wrongness before I could understand what was happening and without thinking I threw my arms out, hands splayed open, trying desperately to stop myself from hitting the ground, willing myself to please be okay, please be okay, please be okay.....

And then it was quiet.

So beautifully, peacefully quiet.

And the sun was still shining and the sky was still blue and the birds were still singing and the grass was bright green and it was still a picture perfect summer day. Except it wasn't. Because picture perfect summer days weren't supposed to include a motorcycle on its side and a girl in a ditch and her boyfriend - where was her boyfriend?

But then he was there. Right there. Eyes wide and wild, are you okay? Bridget! Are you okay? I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Are you okay? I'm so sorry! And I looked up at him stunned and confused and not even sure if I was okay or not but I said I was. Yeah, yeah. I'm okay. I'm okay. 

He looked at my hands. At the blood dripping and the gravel sticking and we both knew it could have been way worse had he not been driving slow and careful. But we didn't say it.

I wanted to walk back. Like a little kid taking a spill on their bicycle, pushing it back home to get a band aid. But I couldn't. We were in the country, in the middle of nowhere. A pothole, perhaps, misjudged. We thought we were doing everything right. Driving careful. Driving slow. Staying on the quiet roads nobody ever traveled. And we still got hurt.

I had to get back on in order to go back home. I didn't want to. I suggested instead that I sit in the ditch while he went back and got his truck. Bridget, he said quietly, apologetic eyes searching mine, I can't let you sit here by yourself. I knew he was right.

I didn't want to know he was right.

I had to get back on.

With bleeding hands I turned toward the very thing that had just hurt me, took a deep breath and hopped back on.

He went slow. Very slow. And steady. Calling out are you okay? and how are you doing? and is this too fast? I can slow down. And I know he would have.

We went to his grandmother's where she cleaned and bandaged my hands and filled me with her amazing food and listened to me as I told her how scared I was and how I was never, ever going to get back on a motorcycle again.

But the funny thing is, I did.

Not right away, but eventually I did.

Because I trusted him. Because I knew he didn't intend to hurt me. Because I knew that when I did hurt, so did he. He had known I was scared to begin with, and yet he had been so gentle, so patient, allowing me trust him in my own time - not pushing or getting frustrated that I was taking too long. And he waited patiently again.

I enjoyed many rides on the back of that motorcycle. Taking in the scenery of countrysides and lakes, hills and highways. But always in the back of my head was the knowledge that this could lead to hurt.

I think, sometimes, that being a mother is like that. Wanting to be that carefree, wind blowing your hair back woman - but knowing this could also lead to hurt.

And sometimes it does.

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, a pothole is misjudged and throws you right off.

But with the right driver - one patient and kind and caring and trustworthy, you choose to get back on again.

People ask me how I do it. How can I function after my child suddenly, without warning, died? How do I face each day ready to ride when I'm still reeling from the greatest fall? Because God is my driver. Because He was there the whole time. Because He picked me up and searched me asking, are you okay Bridget? Come with me. I'll take care of you. And I promise not to go too fast.

And He hasn't.

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