February 14, 2014
I had spent the last year watching my son struggle with his recovery—mostly in, but plagued by terrifying relapses every ninety days or so that had me feeling like I was coming out of my skin with worry. In the same way he was working his program, however, I was working mine. And a major part of my healing had to do with looking for the joys in my life. My daughter’s and my relationship had been damaged over the course of her brother’s illness. All my focus had been on her brother and—to be gut-honest—I had been thoughtless, neglectful, and careless with her. I had amends of my own to make and had spent the last year trying to be in the moment, find the joys in my life (of which she was definitely a major one), and learning not to make her brother’s illness and my struggle with it the center of everything I did. I was trying to learn to put the fear and drama aside when she either needed me or wanted to share her happiness with me. Her new job, her first solo apartment, the amazing young man she had fallen in love with were all moments I was learning to pay attention to—and it felt wonderful!
A few days before Valentine’s Day 2014, my son, now back in California, relapsed again and the terror was clawing at my throat. I was deeply back into my old habit of trying to track his whereabouts, not sleeping, crying at the mere mention of his name, and carrying my phone with me everywhere lest I miss a call from him or the police or—worst case—a hospital.
On the evening of Valentine’s Day my phone rang and, typically, I tensed as I pulled it from my pocket. But it was my daughter. I calmed and answered the phone, reminding myself to be present for her. She was engaged! The wonderful man she had been seeing for the last year and a half had just proposed and she was still crying tears of joy when she called to tell me. I sat myself firmly in the moment, even hoping that she wouldn’t mention her brother because I wanted this call to be a joyful memory. As we talked another call began beeping through. It was my son and my heart leapt in my throat. I made a difficult and conscious decision to not only ignore the call, but to not mention that he was, at that very moment, trying to reach me.
He didn’t let up. The beeping would stop and start up all over again. I had to remind myself that I was 3,000 miles away and there was nothing I could do to change anything that was happening to him at that moment, that whatever was happening with him could not take precedence over this joyful moment, that I owed my daughter my full attention, that there was always going to be another call, and that whatever it was he was calling about could wait. I mentally talked myself off the ledge and stayed on the phone with my daughter, never letting on that her brother was trying to reach me. And, amazingly, I let myself be filled to the brim with happiness for her. No sooner had I hung up and he called again. I took a deep breath, terrified, but also resentful, on some level, that I was about to be pulled out of a joyful moment.
“Mom,” he said. “I need help. I don’t want to die.” My heart sank to my bowels. “But I don’t want to live—not like this. I can’t do this anymore.”
He asked for my help and I asked him what he needed from me that would support his recovery. He said he needed to see me and asked if I would come to California, help him find a place to go where he would be around other people in recovery. He knew what he needed to do, and I knew that he was taking responsibility for his illness. The next morning I flew to California. He spent the night in a hotel with me finishing the detox he had started the night before. Twenty-four hours later he moved into a sober living house.
That was eight years ago. February 14, 2014 my daughter became engaged and my son turned his life around. Love is a faceted thing—joyful, painful, hopeful, terrifying, soothing, and complicated. Love is at the foundation of our relationship with our children and it is at the root of the work we do at LITT. Today and every day, Love in The Trenches is here to support parents, help them navigate this devastating disease and find ways to reconnect to life’s joys. Like love itself—we are here.