Loving someone with an addiction is a heavy burden to carry. At times, you feel alone, as though no one else could possibly understand. And most of the time, no one can, unless they’ve walked this particular path themselves.
My twenty-two year old son, my first-born, my Gunner, was a cheerful little boy, his smile like sunshine, his charm enough to talk himself in and out of mostly everything. He was bright, he was bursting with potential, and he was beautiful. He was rambunctious, he was all boy, playing with lizards and turtles and snakes from the yard. His favorite show was The Land Before Time, and he wanted to be a zoologist when he grew up.
Then, as a teenager, he changed. He became a shell of his former self, his mood mercurial. He lied to himself, and to us, told us that nothing was wrong, that his disinterest in school was because he was bored. That was a lie.
The truth came out soon enough.
He was using drugs... things like methamphetamine and heroin, and pretty much anything he could get his hands on. The Addiction hooked into him with sharp talons. I address it in capital letters, like it is a thing, because it is. Addiction is a palpable monster. It grabbed my son, and it wouldn’t let go, and he didn’t want to let it.
It dragged him down, and we all went with him.
Loving someone with an addiction is like being on a terrible roller coaster than you can never get off of. Gunner went off the grid. He slept on couches, in garages, in parks, under bridges. He called me in the middle of the night, he called me crying, he called me saying he wanted to die.
He raged. He cried. He soared, he crashed.
People on the outside looking in think that I should’ve been able to fix it. That if I FORCED him into getting help, he would’ve beat the addiction.
That’s not the way it works. I put him into rehab multiple times. It didn’t take. Because he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t a minor anymore- he was over eighteen. So I couldn’t MAKE him do anything, not even when he was killing himself with that dangerous cycle. The addiction made him someone he wasn’t, someone who said awful things, someone who tried to hurt those who loved him because the only thing that was important to him was feeding that demon inside of him.
It was exhausting.
And then, one night, at two a.m, he called me. I could tell he’d been high, that he’d crashed. He was very, very low. His speech was jumbled, incoherent. Eventually, he said, “Mom, what time is it?”
I pulled the phone away from my ear to look at it.
“Two-thirty,” I told him.
He didn’t answer.
He didn’t answer.
Still no answer.
I could hear some sort of ragged, gurgly sound in the background, and I knew it was coming from his throat. I hung up, and tried to call him back.
So I did the only thing I could do. I called for an ambulance. I didn’t know if he was dying, I only knew, in my mother’s heart, that time was of the essence. I waited by my phone, barely breathing myself, until I heard back.
He had overdosed, and the police had found drugs in his house, so he was arrested after he survived. He was lucky though, because he lived.
This certainly wasn’t the worst incident we experienced with Gunner, but it was the one that for some reason, turned out to be his catalyst. He was treated, and arrested, and he was put into jail. He was eventually released, and placed on a list for rehab. Finally, after several weeks, he entered rehab. Again.
All we could do was hope that this time it took. That this was the time he’d want to get better and we could all get off the roller-coaster ride from hell. He told me he wanted to get better, but he was in for the fight of his life. He woke up in the night, in cold sweats and craving needles. The cravings were stronger than he was, he thought. But I knew that wasn’t true.
And you know what?
I was right.
He came through rehab triumphant that time. And then he entered a post-rehab program, and then a halfway house. He got a job and he put himself back on the path to recovery.
Today, he’s still fighting his way back. He got a crappy job and bought a bicycle, so he could get a job further away. Then he got a better job, and rides his bike to work every day, through rain and snow. He’s determined to be better, and he’s doing it. He’s been clean for a year. That’s huge for him, and it’s huge for me as his mother.
I want to show that a series of choices can affect life, that addiction can affect anyone, from any walk of life. Our family is normal, like any family that might live next door to you. If it can happen to us, it could happen to anyone.
According to the numbers provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the rise of drug related deaths is startling.
During 2014, 47,055 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.
In 2015, that number increased to 52,404.
In 2016, that number became 64, 070.
This is a pandemic. It is growing, and it is real. I’ve lived it, I know. As a society, we have to stop ignoring it, and start fixing it. Most of the time, people don’t start out wanting to use hard drugs. They slip into it, like a whisper that turns into a roar. We’ve got to stop labeling and condemning, and start helping.
Where there is life, there is hope. That is something I’ve learned, and it is something we should all remember.
If you or someone you love are in the midst of drug addiction, know this: You are worthy of hope. You are worthy of help. You are worthy of LIFE. Take the first step today, and go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. They can help you find a program to get you on your way to recovery.
I have also recently started a Facebook support group called The Anchor Room. In there, you have a safe place to share and listen, without judgement. Find it by searching for The Anchor Room in your Facebook search bar.
You may also call SAMHSA. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
If you need help, please, please, please ask for it.
Then fight for it.
You are strong enough, and you are worth it.
Live one day at a time, one moment at a time.