☼ I Will Not Help The Addict To Kill My Son

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My baby grew up to be an addict. There was a time when I believed a mother’s love could fix anything, but it can’t fix this.

For too many years I thought I was helping Joey.  I thought I was doing my job by keeping him out of trouble and getting him out of trouble and believing his lies. I snooped and stalked and tried to out-manipulate his manipulations. I did everything and anything to make things right. I tried to keep my child from suffering, because that’s what a mother’s love does.

I loaned Joey money when times were tough, but not wanting to make times any tougher didn’t ask him to pay the money back. I made excuses for Joey’s new self-centered meanness and I pretended not to hurt when he missed my birthday or when his place at our Thanksgiving table remained empty. I believed Joey’s explanations for his sunken eyes and shaking hands and I believed his convoluted denials of drug overdoses and emergency room DOA revivals. (Well, sort of.) When Joey was arrested — the times I knew about — I showed up in court as a reminder that he was loved and had reason to head in another direction; I even stayed when he bared his teeth at me and hissed. I wrote letters to the judge (damage control) pleading for Joey to be sentenced to rehab not jail. And then I listened as Joey blamed everyone he could think of for why he did end up in jail; the only person not to blame was the one looking at me from the other side of the smudgy glass.

Three times Joey was convinced or cornered into going into addiction treatment. And three times Joey played it and everyone around him like a game and then walked away. I connived. I wheedled. I cried. I begged. And, I continued to aid and abet and enable like a champ.

I did everything I could to protect Joey from himself until finally I realized it wasn’t him that I was protecting. I was protecting the addict. Making it easy for the addict. Giving the addict one more day to further consume my son’s body and mind.

I was helping the addict to kill the son I was trying to save.

My motherly love would need to be contorted and redefined.

There’s nothing about this kind of love that feels good. But I’m not doing it for me. It’s not called Tough Love because it’s mean. It’s called Tough Love because it is tough to do.

I will do nothing, ever again, to help the addict. Because, if I do, I have no hope of ever seeing my son. I love Joey. And it is because I love him that I’m done paying the addict’s ransom.

The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction  is available in bookstores and libraries.

59 thoughts on “☼ I Will Not Help The Addict To Kill My Son

  1. Margaret searle

    Much of the overview of this book follows the exact pattern of our son’s addiction to alcohol before he died aged 27. We had no inkling that anything was wrong until he’d been at university for a year. Even then, never ever having had experience of alcoholism, we didn’t put two and two together. By the time we did it was very hard to help him, but help him we did. We thought in our innocence we were strong enough to save our son, we weren’t. I have written a book on our personal tragedy called Detach with Love’ and my website – detachwithlove.co.uk- tells you more. Although our story didn’t end happily, our experience of where to get help, or indeed where you won’t get help, might just help families in a similar situation. Good luck to those who need it.

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  2. Dorothy

    This is my story almost word for word !!! My son is 25 yrs old and still doing heroine but denies it. It has been so hard and still is but I have turned him over to God, I love him so much but I am mentally and physically wore out by this. My prayer is one day by the grace of God he will defeat this horrible disease !

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  3. Dawn

    Not all of u have had parents to treat us this way, mine weren’t in my life properly from the age of around 8yrs old, i was being sexually abused and had all sort of other stuff going on in my young life and was in the UK childrens caresystem by the time i was 11yrs old, i was placed in a approved school in other words a lock up where i grew up being sexually abused again and learned how to steal, and lie and cheat and do unto others before they did unto me and I wished i had a mother there to support me and i ended up an angry teenager at 16yrs of age being set free to live my life, only i had no idea how to function n a normal grown up society, i ended up had 2 children that i did not bring up, i ended up on heroin and crack for 20yrs going to prison numerous times and was 35yrs old before i was strong enough to take control of myself and live a good decent honest life…….But I do agree with everything this mother says here about propping up the addict and enabling him to the fullest, i think it turns us all into conniving little swines and i agree fully the only way to get an addict to stop it off is to withdraw all support being given, you have to let them get to a point so low they want out of it……………what she says here is honesty at it’s finest and so hard for her to do…i have both my children in grandchildren in my life these days fully 🙂 anyways just wanted to share is all 🙂

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    1. annette

      I did all this. Join naranon and in the end lost my son to heroine. I do not have the answers and do not pretend to. I wish I could visit my son even in jail just one more time. I miss him more every day. He did all these things. He lied and stole and manipulated me. I still miss him.

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      1. Viv

        Annette, I’m so sorry for you loss. I lost an infant son to a congenetal heart defect so I know the pain of loosing a child. No one has any answers. No one knows why one things works for one person and it doesn’t work for another. I have read and read many books/articles about addiction. I don’t know if I believe in “tough” love but I also know I can’t enable my addict son any longer. I pray to God I don’t ever have to bury another child. I don’t think I could handle it and to be honest I’ll live with the stealing, lying, and manipulation but I know it isn’t the life I want for him. I want him to happy, healthy and moving forward in his life — I still miss my son I didn’t get to know so I can’t imagine the pain you must feel everyday of the son you lost to this addiction.

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      2. chris

        My 25 year old son is in recovery from Heroin, about 2 years now I think. He did the lying, stealing, cheating, begging, writing bad checks, selling all of our jewelry. We had him arrested and put in the system and that still wasn’t enough to make him quit. He played the Probationary system for over a year – not testing dirty. Conned everyone, even us. One day he woke up and decided he didn’t want this life anymore. He wanted ‘stuff’, true friends, a job where he actually could use the money for real things like a car, food, socializing, an apartment. He got clean, with our financial help and a great Doctor. He could not have done it without Suboxone. I know some people feel that is not the way, but the brain needs time to heal and re-trigger the natural endorphins. Almost $1000 per mont initially, now my son has a great job with great insurance so Rx is almost free. So far he is doing great. He has his dream car, his dream girl and moving into his dream apartment in 2 weeks. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think back to those very dark times, his no-show at all family functions, cops at our door. I pray every day, many times a day that God keeps him on this path. There is no cure, heroin is terminal. I hope and pray for eternal remission.

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      3. Lucia

        Me too. I still would do the tough love thing again but with much more compassion and more love. I really didn’t know what tough love was exactly and found no help so I just ignored her and hoped and prayed for the best. I think most of us wish we had done the opposite of what we did but we did the best we could with the info we had at the time. Wish I knew then what I know now. It’s not easy. I miss her so much. I thought she would get it; I thought we had more time.

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    2. Staceymarie

      Thanks , You are a survivor with wisdom and hope. Keep sharing Your story because it matters to that little lost girl waiting to hear how it can all turn out.

      Reply
  4. Victoria

    This hit home. You just described my mothers nightmare. I was manipulating, she gave me money, I even once cursed her (I’m not the type to yell or swear) she saw rage and the addict completely take over…I hardly remember the awful things and the thing I became. Today I thank her. She eventually did the most painful thing a mother must do, tough love is the only reason I am three years sober, and a mother myself. The Grip of drugs is stronger than words could ever describe and I wish ppl weren’t suffering every day. And everyday I beg that my daughter never feels the cold dark touch of the first needle rush. Thanks mommy

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  5. kahlia ventura

    Coming from a recovering addict of near nine months, this touches my heart. I know the pain I put my mother through only through rebuilding our broken relationship. I’ve overdosed once last June and never did heroin again. It scared me straight but did meth until February of this year. I have two brothers as well, one now fresh in recovery and one still in active addiction. I fear for his life everyday. But this woman is right feeding the addict will make sure the person never can be recovered. I feel for every parent of an addict. Sibling of an addict, because your pain I’ve felt too many times before.

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    1. michelle

      To one stranger to another, Congrats on 9 months of sobriety… It makes my heart smile… One day at a time! Blessings~

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  6. Ellen

    So many of our stories are the same, just the name of the addict is different.

    Each time my son tells me he hates me (when i refuse to enable) i explain to him that i love him enough to let him hate me…..

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  7. Heather

    Sandy,
    Thank you for sharing the “other side” of how addiction destroys everyone and not just the addict. I am a recovering heroin addict with two years clean and I can still feel the damage I caused to those around me every day. I begged, borrowed and stole from EVERYONE because I was convinced I couldn’t live without it. Now I know that I will never have the amazing life I have rebuilt with that horrible addict still living inside of me. I went to rehab after rehab and nothing ever stuck because I thought I didn’t have the problem with drugs, everyone else had a problem with me using drugs. Then one day the light bulb came on after every door was slammed in my face and I pray that your son will have that same moment. Sobriety isn’t only a blessing to the addict, it’s a blessing to ALL. Thank you for sharing and reminding me why I continue to fight the addict inside ME! God bless and prayers, hugs and faith for you and Joey.

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  8. Annie Palmer

    I lost my nephew Joey on October 9, 2015 from a overdose, we knew this day would come, but prayed that it wouldn’t happen, Joey was so bad that he was mixing everything he got his hands on, I just learned that he was also running for his dope to help a dealer sell this crap, Joey was far to gone to be saved, he was no longer the Joey we all knew, but just a shell of him, he became evil & manipulating to all the people that knew him, I believe now that he is finally at peace, his depression & mental illness took over. Joey was only 35.

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    1. Mary

      Is this the same Joey that is in ” Joey’s Song? I am so sorry for your loss. Such a tragedy. Terrible loss of a precious young life. May he rest in peace. And may God bring comfort to his family

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  9. holly

    My son Michael was a heroin addict. For awhile I helped him. He was in and out of jail about 8 Times is his 25 years of life. About 3 years ago I stopped doing anything for him except if he needed something to eat I would feed him if he needed cigarettes I would buy them for him. (A pack at a time so he could not sell the other packs). If he needed clothing or shoes I took him shopping and bought them. That was my tough love I guess it was not tough enough. I lost my only child on August 28 2015. I pray that our county get a grip on this epidemic of drug.

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    1. Lisa LaTassa

      So sorry Holly….you did the best you could do. This is an awful disease that so many of us are losing our children to. Prayers for you..and for Michael

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    2. Barb

      Holly. We lost a Michael this August 2. He was 25 it was his third time using this awful horrid drug – Heroin. I am so sorry for your loss. I hope our Michaels are at peace. I love and miss him so.

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    3. Terri

      So very sorry for your loss. My heart breaks as I read comment after comment on the suffering this drug causes. I too know the pain as my son is an addict. He’s overdosed 4 times and I know one day he won’t make it. Sadly I’ve prepared myself for that day.

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    4. Diana

      Oh dear Holly…it was not that your “tough love” was not tough enough. Please don’t blame yourself. A good friend of mine just lost her 29 year old son this week because of this horrific disease. The blame goes to the demons that trap our kids and refuse to let them go. As with other diseases, sometimes there just is no cure. The only cure is God taking Michael home to be free of pain and full of love. I am so very sorry for your loss. Peace, Love and Strength, Holly.

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    5. Debbie

      Holly, my family has also been affected by addiction n u did right by ur son u fed him when he was hungry n clothed him when he needed it but stood firm with everything else. a mother’s love/ tough love is what u gave him unconditionally n I didn’t know ur son but I feel when his time here was over n God called him home he knew u had his back n you did all u could or all the addict would allow u to do for son I will have u n ur family in my prayers n I pray the Lord Jesus gives you peace over ur son’s death.
      Sincerely,

      Someone who just felt moved by ur. Testimony may God be with you, u sound like a praying momma like my
      Mom n ur prayers are never in vain

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  10. Jen

    sandy, I am a recovering addict 4 yrs clean reading your story broke my heart and was a harsh reminder of everything I did to my parents. When they stopped enabling I started to realize I needed help. I hope Joey get the help he needs and for the right reasons….

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    1. Lina Ghirxi

      I used to tell my addict son’s counsellor: I love my son, but I hate the addict. He once told me: Your son is the addict and the addict is your son. Don’t hate him, but yet, don’t enable him. After I took his advice, which wasn’t easy, I let go of him and left it all to my Higher Power. My son has been clean for over 3 years now. He does not live with me anymore, he has his own life. My son will be a recovering addict for life. He will have turmoils and relapses, probably, but it’s not in my control what he does. After 5 rehab programmes he knows what he has to do if he does relapse and if he really really wants to quit. He’s an adult, 29 yrs old now, he has been battling addiction since he was 16, but now that I’ve let go of controlling him and enabling him, he’s doing much better. Let Go and Let God. That’s the secret. Yes, my son is the addict and the addict is my son. Even though I have learnt to let go, I love my son, the addict.

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  11. Nina Stephens

    Ms. Sandy…your words could have come from my own lips. My son,Craig is currently living in a night shelter in Ft Worth . He’s been homeless for 2 months…walked out of 2 rehabs and was kicked out of salvation army for stealing and manipulating the system there. The last I saw him he was a shell of his former self. Meth has robbed him of his hope/friends/family. I am really not sure how this will end…i live in fear of that “dreaded” phone call saying he’s gone. This is no way for child or mother to live.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

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  12. Belinda Travers

    I’m in tears! Your story mimicks my own.

    She has stolen from us, I have gathered my strength and have pressed charges.

    I would rather she hate me for the rest of her life than me mourn her for the rest of mine.

    I pray that I see my daughter again someday.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Wise words, Belinda: “I would rather she hate me for the rest of her life than me mourn her for the rest of mine.

      I pray that I see my daughter again someday.” Unbelievably sad, but so true. Sending hugs to you.

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  13. Kathy East

    My son is 24 and he still lives with me but he doesn’t help pay any bills but maybe $80 a month. He is addicted too pills. He has a good job as a welder and it seems he has no respect for me. I have begged and pleaded with him too get help because i can’t do anything without him signing. I don’t want too kick him out of the house but i feel all I’m doing is helping his addiction. Please somebody tell me what too . I am so heart broken

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  14. Helene

    Hi Sandy, reading your story is like hitting replay on my life as a Mom to an addict. I hate this disease and what it has done to my Daughter. Thank you for sharing, in a sad way makes me not feel so alone.

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  15. Karen Alberini

    Dear Sandy,
    Thank you for validating the human dignity our children deserve. I am living your life with 2 of my 3 children. Every time I am with them I let them know their worth and that I love them. I invite them to church or different recovery web sites without being pushy. I stopped giving money and they no longer live with me. I am raising my 3 yr old grandson. I lost my job as a nurse due to severe anxiety and depression 6 months ago. I live with Jesus strength in my heart one day at a time.. joey is in my prayers and you are putting Gods love in action.
    God Bless You Karen

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  16. Shy Rice

    Oh Sandy,
    My eyes are all leaky reading this post. Have walked the same trajectory in my own life. Praying for you and your beautiful Joey.
    Heartwrenching and difficult to sometimes not cave into the deception of helping when you are actually feeding into the addiction. I so loved your quote to stop enabling to help the child inside the addict and not the other way around.
    Grace and love sister sojourner.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Hi Shy. I’m sorry you’ve walked the same path. Thanks for you prayers. Grace and love back at you, Sister.

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  17. Lorie

    Sandy… Your words are strength to me, my son has been on the streets for 2 years he is barely 19. Has been in and out of rehab and manipulates his way through. when he goes to jail and i wont bail him out I am horrible.. actually I am hated in almost every conversation we have. Every problem he has is because of me, poor parenting, lack of support, lack of attention, love etc. He has stolen from literally every family member that lets him come to stay. He is just so convincing that his entire problem is my fault because I wont let him come home.. and they let him in until he burn that bridge.
    Your descriptions fit my son to a tee.. I try to be strong and keep a solid face but sometimes I’m dying inside. I feel so alone.
    Thank you so much for your strength,
    Lorie

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    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Lorie, Thanks for writing. Yes, sadly your story is very similar. I know your pain. You are not alone. Sending hugs.

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  18. Amy Quinlan

    This story is so me!!! I feel sick to my stomach. I feel that one day that knock on the door or the phone call that my child.is dead!!! I am doin the tough love but its one of the hardest things to ever do.A mothers instinct is to take care,love,support and to do the oppisette is just crazy. Its like you dont have a heart, but I know I have to do this if I ever want my son back! It just saddens me to no end. How do you put on a happy face and act like everything is ok when u are dying inside?

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  19. Dawn

    weeping……because you just told my story. my feelings and ‘failures’…..and helped me see that NOT ‘helping’ is the only way to help.
    damn the stigma….from now on, open book. we all have so much in common, so much to share.
    thank you, and blessings to you.

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  20. Laurie

    I am speechless, you have just told my story. Thank you and may God bless all of our addicts, may god bless our angel addicts that will never be forgotten and all the loved ones that hurt so deeply.

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    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Laurie, we all have so much in common. There is such comfort in discovering someone else knows exactly how you feel. Sending hugs.

      Reply
  21. Jjenny

    What a wonderful sharing – every mother can relate – addiction or not – because we all think that a “mothers love can fix it all” and later our kids blame, criticise, don’t acknowledge and appreciate – this resonates so deeply with me.

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    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Jenny, thanks for writing. I’m glad this resonated with you, and that you recognize this is something every mother can relate to. Sending warm hugs.

      Reply
  22. Jonathan Barlow

    Your sensitivity, your openness, and your courage are a wonderful message to families that are struggling. Addiction is very clever; it works hard to push us from one extreme to another: “give up” or “cover up.” You struggled mightily to find the middle road.

    The middle road for families is turning frustration into negotiation. Sometimes it requires “tough” love; other times it requires something less “tough.” Regardless I am convinced that families are the #1 difference maker in bringing forth lasting change. I doubt they could have recovered without you!

    http://www.recoverymaps.com

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Jonathan, thanks for your kind words. I couldn’t agree more: Families are the #1 difference in bringing forth lasting change. The key is to be tough against addiction and love the addict…can’t be one without the other when facing addiction. Also, as you say, neither give up or cover up. Thanks again for your kind words and support.

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  23. jasmine.ram

    Thanks for the sincere sharing.I too have an addict son. i too did everything to protect him and giving him unconditional love, which was actually enabling .By the grace of GOD he is sober now for one year, I’ve don’t give him motherly advice or lectures, He seems to be happy about it. Though he is still not doing anything to earn his living, He is at home, He is 34 , not married. I give him food & shelter. I don’t try to communicate with him when i see he is not interested to listen or talk.I feel so lonely at times but this is how our mother -son relationship has evolved.

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  24. Courtney

    Thank you for sharing your story. So much of it I can relate to as I watch my parents try to help my 29 year old brother. A battle that has been going on for almost 12 years.

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  25. Rhonda

    I too am a mother of an alcoholic /drug user. My sons name is Jacob and he has done the same things to his family. Its all about them and what we can do for him . My son has gone so low as to steal from us my parents anyone that he can get his next fix or high. He almost died a yr ago from mixing oxy and vodka.He was 302 but in 72 hrs was out .Hes been to rehab twice but kicked out this last time due to having went on a binge. There are alot of parents that is going through what you are going through .Hang tough and Tough Love is what you have to do … My son doesnt want anything to do with me because I wont enable him… But he has a father that wasnt there for him before but now my ex is the enabler making excuses for him giving him money and now that he lost his family of a gf and son and step- daughter. Its my fault.. But his gf of 5 yrs said enoughs enough and finally saw what he was doing to her and my grandkids .Peace to you and your son . God is there for you .. and I will say a special prayer for you …

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  26. Francine Warren

    I feel your pain. My son’s name was also Joey. I love/loved him very much. And he hide his additions well. By the time I figured it out the only thing I had left which I could do was to have him arrested. He was renting an apartment from me, above his grandmother. He had turned the place into a shooting gallery. He had stolen from her, from his grandfather- more than 50 years of tools- an accumulation of a lifetime. He spent 6 months in jail- he talked to us of recovery, he talked of a straight life, of hopes for school, of a life. And yet within 80 short hours of being released from jail my beloved little boy, my 28 year old son was gone from us forever. and so this year for his birthday we will be placing him in his final resting place. Please don’t let this happen to anyone you know. If you are reading this and have a problem- those that love you are willing to take your hand- to rehab, to counseling to anyplace which takes you out of harms ways!

    Reply
  27. karen arizpe

    thank you for your story, i impathize with you on every level , i too am a mom whos been an enabler, without , intention of harm , but intention of unconditional love, to the point of exhaustion , from trying to control the puppet that is mastered by the demon of addiction to heroin.
    god bless you and dear joey always

    Reply
  28. Brenda

    There are many things I wish I had done differently with my son before Heroin took his life. I experienced a lot of what you have been through. I pray The Lord gives you strength and the wisdom to continue to help your son. Keep fighting and never give up.

    Reply
  29. Margaret Searle

    Your piece was wonderfully written. I have been there and I know you are moving in the right direction..I finally decided that I had to detach with love one day before my son tragically died.. But it does not have to be like that so keep the faith lots of lov.e Margaret, East Sussex, England

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Margaret, my heart breaks for your loss. Such a tragedy. Thanks for your kind words. I will keep the faith.
      Hugs,
      Sandy

      Reply
  30. Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Love this piece, Sandy. Your opening line brought me right in. “My baby grew up to be an addict. There was a time when I believed a mother’s love could fix anything, but it can’t fix this.” This is the heartache of every mother in this situation. Thanks so much for your heartfelt post.

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  31. Chris Hansford

    Very moving story, you sound like a very strong mother. Only Joey can start the process of recovery, until then you are right not to support him. Hopefully there will come a time when this will change-and I am sure you will spot this when it happens. That is where family support counts.

    Reply

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