“I don’t know when I last woke up happy. I don’t know when the great hollow vacancy began to take up so much space in my emptiness. I don’t know, because I’ve been busy putting one foot in front of the other. But this morning the simple motion of lifting my head off the pillow is too much. Just. Too. Much. All because a rogue ray of sunshine slips through the window blinds and does the cha-cha on my face, taunting me, teasing me, with all its shiny brightness and the promise of a better day. The liar.
“A little ray of sunshine. And suddenly life is impossible. Suddenly my whole family is washing down the drain unless I put the stopper back where it belongs. Because that stopper is the only thing between my grip on Joe’s and Rick’s ankles and our slide down a deep, dark hole.
“If not for Rick’s still-occasional need for me to play a maternal role in his life, I might not be able to do it. But he deserves more from me than I’ve been giving, and so does Joe. Joey’s addiction must not be allowed to chip away at Rick’s last year at home or erode twenty-three years of marriage. Joey’s addiction must not be allowed to destroy our whole family. The poison seeping into our household passes directly through me—sneaking in, I think, on the umbilical connection. Joey may be the one consuming the poison, but the poison is consuming me.
“The spread of this disease must stop.
“I will get out of bed. And tomorrow I won’t get back into bed after Rick leaves for school. I will get myself dressed and brush my teeth. I can do this. I can go back to pretending that everything is normal. Even as my child busily gnaws off his own foot. I will put on the dressing of normal life in the same way I shove myself into my jeans—take a deep breath, swallow the pain, and paste on a smile. I’ll smile when I put dinner on the table. I’ll even tuck a smile in my voice when I pass Joey’s new address on to the next debt collector that calls.
“I will re-emerge from the house, step back into the world I’ve been unable to face. A world where people do not, cannot, understand drunken car accidents or intravenous speedballs. A world snug and comfy in the illusion of sweet dreams and happy endings and the power of a mother’s love. A world that believes, because it must, that children do not self-destruct randomly and therefore this mother’s love must be tremendously flawed.
“But, on this, the world would be very wrong.”
The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to acknowledge that I can’t control my son’s addiction recovery; maybe the most important thing I’ve ever done is to let recovery begin with me.
No more shame, no more silence.
Excerpt from ‘The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction’ by Sandra Swenson. Now available in bookstores and libraries.