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I was getting out some gardening tools yesterday when I look over at the pile of my son’s belongings.
The pile has grown smaller over the years as addiction has helped toss his belongings. They have been sold, stolen, left in rehabs etc.
In the box was a pink toothbrush I had bought him. You may be asking why would he buy his son a pink tooth brush.
Well it was probably 6 years ago and my son had been in a constant cycle of recovery relapse then recovery relapse and then guess what more relapse….
I was angry and had yet to fully embrace the disease model of addiction. After all this heroin addiction was all about me. This was affecting my world, my life, my everything! I was #$%%^^ heated.
I remember him calling and asking me to bring a toothbrush to his latest rehab. “Yes son. I will bring your highness a toothbrush. I love bringing toiletries to rehabs”. I’d show him! I went out and purchased the pinkest, barbie toothbrush I could find.
His face was priceless as I handed to him. It was totally a WTF moment. Payback was accomplished , I was for this moment a little bit vindicated. Or was I?
Yesterday I didnt find the pink toothbrush quite as funny. It was a sign of my naiveté back then. Guess what? His addiction was not about me. It is a sickness. I thought would I have done this to another person suffering a disease? NO I wouldn’t.
I am still learning many years later and his addiction does piss me the $^*#$ off somedays. But I am trying. I accept far more these days but it truly is my work in progress.
Any parent of family member who reads this blog knows I have been writing and involved with addiction for a long time.
I was driving through my town yesterday morning early when a young man stepped out in front of my car. Thank god I drive like Grampa Walton and was moving along at my normal snail’s pace. The kid looked up and I knew immediately he was wrecked.
Fast forward a few hours and my son shows up for a visit. Now I try not to dwell on addiction when he shows up. I looked at him and knew he was not 100% sober. But to me he looked “OK”.
We had to cut the visit short as my wife and I were heading out to view some fireworks.
As we got in the car I asked her “what do you think” She looked at me and said “both me and his sister thought he looked not too good” His sister, the barometer who is never wrong w her addiction prognosis, thought he looked “F8cked” up.
Great…I am blind! I can see everyone else’s kid for what they are but when it comes to mine I am not sure what it is that makes me so stupid.
Granted my son was not “face down in his mashed potatoes high” but the consensus was he is still not sober. Blind Blind Blind! I truly am blind at times.
Oh well… nothing I can do about that other than pray.
Peace and strength and please enjoy your 4th of July
When I finally figured out my son was addicted to heroin I thought I knew what was best for his recovery. I was naïve and figured that if I worked really hard I would help pull him out of his disease.
One of my first “mistakes” was attending his AA / NA meeting. I would drive him and sit in on the meeting, and thought what a fantastic job I was doing. I mean after all, I was attending and making sure he attended his meeting, was this not “collaborating with recovery”?
In retrospect I was probably doing my son a huge disservice. I was blocking any chance that he would find friends in the “fellowship”. Come on folks, how is anyone going to approach our child, if we are doing our best “MARIE BARONE”, as we sit next to our little addicted “RAYMOND” in the halls of recovery. In addition to my limiting my sons ability to find fellowship, I was also trying to control his recovery by making sure he attended.
After getting some good advice from another POA, a light went off in my tiny pea brain and I handed his disease back to him. I have not attended his AA meetings in years. I don’t have a little white board where I track his attendance. In fact these days I am working on asking less and less about his disease. I still make some of the same stupid mistakes I made a decade ago. I catch my stupid ass asking the same “how are u doing?” trickery questions and getting the same bullsh*t answers in return. Today I am proud to say I have not attended “little Raymi’s” AA meetings in many years. If he goes to meetings he goes…if not , well that is his choice.
Today, my son knows the drill. He understands conceptually what he needs to do to get / maintain sobriety. It’s his disease to conquer.
My Marie Barone persona has taken a back seat in my life. These days I am in a far healthier place and I have become far more of a Sofia Vergara fan. My family is a truly modern family, with modern family type issues, but it is a family that I love and accept for all its quirks.
I tell my 7th grade students writing is the souls way of letting out steam. It is a way to clear the mind and to make room for more information and emotions. I picture dusty linen being shaken out an open window on a sunny spring day. I tell them to just write about anything. To write about their thoughts, their feelings, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their triumphs, their failures, and/or questions they may have that later may get answered or never get answered, it didn’t really matter either way. Mostly, I tell them just to write—to just let out that steam. It’s cathartic; it helps clear and focus the mind. I know it’s a cliché, but the last two weeks have been a nightmare, to say the least. Every morning I wake up crying and wondering how I am going to make it through another day. These emotions are the antithesis to the days following Derik’s birth. It has been an ebb and flow of information overload—a roller coaster of emotions, uncontrollable fear, panic attacks, and feelings of being an utter failure. I feel I need to let out some steam or I will self-implode and writing is my outlet. I also have a question— a question many mothers who have lost a child may also ask themselves.
Strangers often ask me, “How many children do you have?” I was just asked this question yesterday at the doctor’s office. It sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it with a simple answer? Some mothers may answer they have none, one, two, three, or if you are Michelle Duggard, 19 (and counting). For me, after the death of my son Derik, that question doesn’t have such a cut-and dry answer, and it brings me anxiety every time I am asked it: How do I respond? Three or four?
My first answer is I gave birth to four perfect children: Evan (31), Tara (29), Derik (25), and Daina (22). Our family has celebrated many holidays, vacations (especially years of Disney World trips), lived in two different homes, attended four high school graduations and two college graduations, Evan deployed to Iraq, Tara’s wedding to Devon, the birth of Scarlet (Derik’s now three-year-old-daughter), the deaths of my two of my siblings, my mother, and my father (who lived with us for 2 years), fights, make-ups, emotional growth, love, and lots of laughter—four beautifully eclectic children. Unexpectedly, tragedy crept in like a thief and robbed me of my precious Derik, instantly making four into three. Here is where the dilemma arises—How do I answer that question now?
Proponents of “the truth will set you free” camp say tell the truth, “You have four children. You gave birth to Derik and raised him for 25 years. His death doesn’t change that.” True, but then here is how that conversation would go:
Stranger: How many children do you have?
Stranger: Oh, how lovely. How old are they?
Me: 31, 29, 25 (but he passed away in May), and 22
Stranger: I am so sorry for your loss. How did he die, if I may ask? (Side note:
Don’t ask the question, then ask if it’s okay to ask.)
Me: Heroin overdose
SILENCE. You can hear crickets chirping, babies crying in the next county, and a slight quiet cough from the stranger. Awkward. What does one say then? Derik didn’t die of something unavoidable like cancer, tragic like a car accident, or one of those statistical household mishaps, like falling in the tub. Judgment immediately peeks its ugly head around the corner: Derik was a “junkie.” People form an image in their mind from what they have seen on television about addiction and what “junkies” look like. After that stereotype gets tossed around like children playing the Hot Potato game, we immediately get judged as parents: We must have been bad parents; we didn’t eat together as a family enough; we weren’t home often enough; we didn’t hug him enough; where did he get the money?; how did we not know before it got to that point? What people don’t realize about addiction is that yes being an addict was Derik’s choice, but addiction is a disease. He fought his disease by going to rehabilitation/detoxification centers and meetings. Sometimes Derik was in “remission” and sometimes he relapsed. His father and I were there with him through every phase of his disease. We encouraged him, rewarded and praised him when he stayed clean, we tried tough love (withholding love), we tried paying his rent to ease his stress level, and we tried giving him a helping hand—not a hand out, but every effort hit an unmovable wall in this endless maze of addiction. Funny how even now I feel the need to defend myself as a parent and explain that I tried everything possible to save my son from his disease. In reality, deep down inside, I do know the choices were Derik’s to make, not ours; we just have to live with the consequences. Even with that being said, with the “tell the truth” option, I will have to relive his death every time I tell this story—his story, my consequence.
Adding into the four-child option is how do I deal with work? I wonder how am suppose to react as a teacher at school? Should I leave up my old pictures showing my four happy, smiling children? Have parents remark during small talk, “You have a beautiful family,” while I choke down the tears? Perhaps they may ask their names and what they are all doing with their lives; then, I have relive the story again and again and get the judgment as previously described. What is even worse is what if a student asks? Now that would be interesting. What do I say to them? He died of a disease. “What disease?,” they will ask.? “Addiction,” I will answer. They would run home and tell their parents so fast and then their parents would judge me based on Derik’s choices too and most likely will say that addiction is not a disease.
On the other end are the proponents of the “Make it easier on yourself” and (with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye) say three. Technically/logistically/legally, I do have three not four living children. I would remove all pictures that show all four children together and only put up ones with the three of them together. Only my colleagues know the truth, and they wouldn’t discuss my personal life with students or parents. The only glitch is when I am asked which parent is Scarlet’s? Now, that is going to be a problem because Scarlet is Derik’s daughter. I haven’t worked out that part yet.
When someone asks how many dogs do you have, you never say, “Oh, I have two. I had three but two years ago one died. Here is a picture.” I wish it were that simple with the loss of a child, but it isn’t. There is no pain like the pain of losing a child. I have lost many people close to me, and I suffered their loss. I mourned for a long time, but this pain is different. It’s like I physically have a piece of my heart removed or someone has cut off one of my arms, yet I still feel the phantom limb. Derik is in everything I do and everywhere I go. Scarlet looks like him, I see the room where he slept, I hear phrases that were inside jokes to us, I drive near where he worked, eat at the restaurants we ate at, and just this house alone reminds me of him every day. This question is something I don’t have an answer to as of late; so amongst the grieving, closing bank accounts, warding off credit collectors, paying funeral costs, writing Thank You cards, and spending as much time with Scarlet as I possibly can because she lost her daddy, I have to ponder an answer to the seemingly simple question, “How many children do you have?”