What Healing Might Look Like…
I arrived three days ago, prepared to see my son and spend the weekend with him for the first time in six months. Thursday, I attended a parent workshop which while good, was absolutely heart breaking. To listen to the other parents’ stories that were just like mine and yet they were their own. The drug overdoses, the medication merry-go-round, the therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, the fear, the powerlessness, the exhaustion, the desperation. It was a hard day and I spent most of it, crying in my seat. For their pain and loss, and for my own. For our boys, for our other children. For all the people caught up in one person’s tornado of self abuse.
It was an intimate circle, five families with five boys who are struggling to make it out of adolescence. One family has both their children in treatment because both of them overdosed on fentanyl. I watched that mother all day. She was so desperate to save her children. I saw her sit with immense pain, guilt, shame and bone crushing powerlessness. I got up to hug her a couple of times, but felt like I was intruding. So I held back. I wish I hadn’t done that. I always feel so awkward, like the other person would be offended if I were to offer support, an ear, a hug. But I have never resented anyone for those things. And I know, first hand, that there are many people who do exactly what I did, for the exact reasons I did. And I really, really wish they wouldn’t…I can and do need support, an ear and a hug far more often than I allow.
I wanted so much to tell her that I saw her love. All of it. That she was a good mom. That this was not her fault. That her children were in the grip of a progressive illness that she could not control or out love. But that felt mean to say to her when her heart was in shreds, barely contained in her chest anymore, beating so fiercely that it threatened to break through the bones that encased it and run screaming from the room. So I cried for her and prayed all day that she and her children could find a path through the horrific self destruction.
I had similar feelings about all the other families. I felt their heartbreak and powerlessness. We were all in the same boat, loving young men who have had a hard start in life. Watching with love and quiet desperation as they slip further from our grasp and influence. Almost as if, the more we love them, the more determined they become to leave us.
Emotionally it was rough. But it was still a good day. It was healing for me. I learned things from them, the other mothers and fathers who were swimming, just like me, in treacherous waters, way over our heads. I learned that we all hurt, we all don’t know what we are doing, we all feel intense feelings of guilt for not being better mothers (or fathers)…as if our sons’ struggles could solely be a result of bad parenting. As if addiction and trauma and self destruction only ever spring from one source — bad parenting.
I have my own backstory like these boys. And I had good parents. They were not perfect, but they loved me and I never doubted that, not one single day of my life. But despite their good efforts, I still almost drowned myself in whiskey…for years.
Yesterday, I saw a room full of parents who have fucked it up but mostly in a desperate attempt to fix it, them, their children. There was no malice there. Perhaps a lot of confusion, sadness, some anger and a lot of pain.
I saw the boys when they joined us at the end of the day, beaming with excitement, fear and boundless love for the parents that they do not completely understand, sometimes resent and often feel completely disconnected from. But I saw the massive amounts of love flowing freely in both directions. I saw how much the boys loved us and I saw all day long how much we love them.
I have no idea how all of our weekends might go. I have no idea how much mixture there will be of struggle, or love, or laughter or pain. But I do know that every single one of us was there yesterday with the fervent hope to heal. Each of us for ourselves but also so that we might better participate in the love and the loving of these sons of ours. To be present and bear witness to the carnage while also praying for release unto the joy which follows only sometimes after hope.
Both were present with us Thursday, the carnage and the hope. And I wasn’t sure which one I was more afraid of…the carnage I have become used to. Inured to the hateful words, the harsh tones, the hard realities. It felt a bit indulgent and reckless to hope. But that for me is the heart of parenting. To hope. To never lose sight of the fact that these boys we brought into the world, are ours to hope for, to never give up on and to show up and stand beside them as they struggle to make it through the thorny thickets of childhood and into the world that is finally their own. Praying every single minute of every single day that they make it in this world long enough to find out that life is this beautiful mixture of happy and sad, joy and pain, heart break and love. And, it is worth all the effort for those sublime moments when life is good.
I struggled all day to identify the myriad of feelings that I felt. To give each contrary one its rightful time and place in my heart and mind. To allow all of the feelings clamoring to the surface, to sit with them all, not rushing the hard ones away and not clutching the hopeful ones to me with clenched fists.
What provided me most hope the whole day was one boy’s mad dash for his mother. He ran hard and fast to hug his funny, beautiful mom who doubts her mothering, who doubts her raising of him and who struggled to keep her own head above water as her love for him seemed shunned as his hardships threaten to take her out. This almost man ran across the room like he was five and threw himself into her arms. Later she told me he hurt her boob with that hug and we both laughed knowing that we would gladly give up almost any body part for hugs like that.
And I was encouraged, that a boy-man could summon up all that courage to run toward that mother who sacrificed so much for this kid. Who raised him solo not out of choice but necessity. I think I saw this boy’s recognition of how much love that takes and how much he knows that his life, his happiness and his sorrow has landed hard within her soul.
And I sat next to a couple whose son is so like my son. Crippled with unbearable anxiety. Anxiety that would cause anyone to pull up the covers and never get out of bed. Plagued with a never ending internal dialog that iterates and reiterates the glaring deficiencies and myriad of ways that they can’t or won’t ever measure up…to anyone, ever. They told my son’s story. It was so similar that it was almost surreal. But it wasn’t a painting by Salvador Dali, it was our sons in real life, living as if they are being held hostage by their own skin. I saw the anxiousness transference, as if the parents being willing to feel anxiousness too, somehow relieved their son.
I have felt that way a lot. I have felt like my son throws situations and insults at me in a way and manner to knock me off my game, to pull me down to his level. To transfer some of the awfulness contained within him, like if he could just get it out and onto to someone else, he could live a little better, safer, less anxious.
I don’t know if they felt that way, but I sure did. My heart broke for them and their son too.
The seminar was about parenting with love and logic. But I think that parenting defies standard definitions of both (no respect to Dr. Cline who was amazing). Parenting throws you off the cliff that logic tells you not to approach and love carries you swiftly through the air, alit on backdrafts and air pockets that shake you, rattle you and threaten to spiral you to the rocky shore. But just when the death spiral seems to have finally won, love’s wings beat back gravity and lift you up again. Logic thrown aside, bringing you safely back to the edge that no logic would ever have condoned you standing on. And for the moment, you are safe. Encased in love’s delusion and you know that every moment means something, be it banal, heartbreaking, death defying, boring, troubling, gut wrenching, because you are standing with your child, and he is alive.
It isn’t pretty. The lives we lead. The emotional interiors we reside with. But they are ours. And in reality, not too dissimilar from everyone else’s internal shitshows. We all have something that terrifies us, that keeps us up at night, that threatens our ability to go on living. Everyone I know has something or someone whose abrupt and permanent departure would shake their living foundation to their core.
But healing might look like what we all did yesterday. To sit in a room with each other and tell the truth. The painful, awful, gory truth about what occurred in our homes, behind the socially acceptable curtains and doors. To share with others who have walked the path, the bloodletting and watershed moments of our parenting lives. To see that others suffer too. Healing might look like a bunch of middle aged parents who love their sons with everything they have while they sit in a hotel conference room and watch their minds bounce between hope and fear…and to know that there is no soft landing where this all gets magically easier for any of us. And that can just be ok, even if it doesn’t feel that way. That you can move forward in life even while you fear death. In fact, there really is no other way to live.