Tag Archives: family

about that homeless, mentally ill, and intoxicated man

Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmallz

Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmallz

Dear Well Intentioned Friend,

I know your intentions were not unkind when we talked the other day. I’m certain you had no idea the affect your story would have on me, and I’m somewhat ashamed I didn’t speak up more clearly at the time.

homelessOkay, here’s the thing. Your story? About your daughter’s dance class being threatened by a lone homeless man, the one where the instructors bravely hid all the girls (who ‘were practically dressed in bikinis’) in the locker room to protect them? The story where the lone homeless man who may have been intoxicated, who likely was mentally ill  (spoken with your voice lowered), had come into the lounge near the studio and sat down to watch the tv, you remember? Do you remember telling me how horrified you were, what danger these girls were in. Do you remember when you first described the man that I said, poor thing, he was probably just looking somewhere safe to rest?

Here are some things I didn’t tell you. I have worked with homeless people for the last ten years. Yes, many are mentally ill, many are alcoholic or addicts or both. All of them suffer greatly. All of them are human beings, who love and are loved by someone. I didn’t point out that mental illness and substance abuse are medical illnesses, just like cancer, or diabetics. I also didn’t mention the reason many of them are homeless is because of inadequate resources to treat these disorders,and the tremendous negative stigma that goes along with being homeless, with being an alcoholic, with being an addict.

At one point while you were describing in great detail how horrifying and dangerous this man was, I did manage to quietly say, just like my son. I don’t think you caught my meaning. I don’t think you understood that what I was saying was that my son is homeless, that my son is mentally ill, that my son is an addict, that my son has curled up in all sorts of places trying to get some sleep, some comfort. I don’t think you realized that while you talked about saving these girls from this threat, all I could see is the countless cruelties that the homeless, mentally ill suffer, that my son suffers. The diseases themselves and the heartbreak they cause to families are bad enough, but the stigma that well intentioned people attach to them and then use as a justification to treat them badly, as something less than human, and something not worth compassion, or love or comfort, the stigma is the worst of it all.

Change mentally ill to someone with cancer, with diabetics, suddenly it seems horrifying that someone suffering from cancer, or uncontrolled diabetes would be ostracized, would be seen as a threat to children.

Eventually all I could see was someone treating my son with the horror and disdain you very eloquently described, all I could see was the pain and the humiliation he has suffered. All I could see was my little boy being threatened, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing I could do to save him. All I could feel was all the pain and the heartbreak of the last several years as I fought to keep my son sane, sober and safe. You see, my well intentioned friend, I too am a mother, a very protective one, and I do understand the overwhelming desire to protect my children. My daughters took dance when they were young, I did my time sitting in studios, going to recitals, I do understand that part, to this day I would do anything to keep them safe. I also love my son with the same intensity, and I have done, and still do everything I can to protect him. Sadly with his disease part of doing what’s best for him and my daughters is to let him hit a bottom so he can hopefully one day come back to me.

I couldn’t tell you any of this. All I could do was to cover my face to hide the tears and run away. When I got to my car I sat for a very long while until I stopped crying and could drive home.

The other thing I didn’t tell you is what I may have in common with the homeless man, I’m an alcoholic. I was raised by one and am related to several. The disease runs rampant in my family. I’ve been told to say I’m a person in long term recovery, meaning I’m sober and have been so for quite some time. I don’t generally tell people this, because unlike, say cancer survivors, there aren’t any coloured ribbons, or fun walks for alcoholics or addicts, even the clean and sober ones. People don’t look at you as someone who has fought – and remains constantly vigilant – against a chronic and deadly illness, and survived, people see a drunk, an addict, someone who has a flaw in their moral character, someone who cant’ be trusted, someone you can’t leave your children with (yes, I have been at the receiving end of all these attitudes) people look at you as something that is less than normal people. That’s why I don’t generally share that about myself. That is also why when you told me about the homeless man the first thing I felt was empathy for him, and the pain he must feel at fear and loathing that he experienced in your daughter’s dance studio, and likely just about everywhere else he goes.

I didn’t tell you any of this, because these things are usually too raw for me to say out loud. These things have brought judgement and negative stigma on me and my family, and some days I’m just not up to saying out loud that this is wrong. This is so very wrong. That it is not okay to view people as less than. No is less than anyone else. I think if people could get that straight in their heads the world could be a more compassionate and beautiful place.

So, maybe, next time you see a homeless person, someone who is mentally ill, intoxicated,maybe, you could let some compassion enter your viewpoint, and not let fear guide your thinking and actions, maybe you could lead with kindness and compassion, just a little at first. Or maybe you could, just for a moment, reexamine the way you view the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted, the alcoholic. Maybe that could be a start.

life with addiction, mental illness and stigma

It started about 9 years ago with a handwriting tutor.  In grade three Graham’s handwriting was terrible. I found him a handwriting tutor and drove him there three times a week until we realized it wasn’t having any effect on his handwriting. Over the next year it became clear it was something more than sloppy penmanship, it was like his brain was going way too fast for his hand to keep up. I found him a psychologist, had him tested and to absolutely no one’s surprise he was diagnosed with ADHD, and so started a long and inglorious period where I became an expert on 504 education plans, communicating with teachers, school social workers, and psychologists. I learned everything I could about the –constantly changing – prescribed medications and while I was at it I tweaked his already pretty healthy diet in an effort to improve his concentration and focus. At some point he told me he was seeing colours that weren’t there, I had his eyes checked – all normal, and chocked it up to an intelligent and creative kid’s imagination.

 During his middle school years I got even better at working with his teachers and school staff. He now had an organizational counselor who met with him a few times a week in an attempt to keep him from losing track of pretty much everything. I worried about him not fitting in, but I told myself a lot of kids have trouble in middle school and end up just fine, in high school things would be better, I was sure.

I can’t remember when he first told me he heard voices, but it was somewhere in his second year of high school. Again, I attributed it to a very active imagination and by this point his relationship with facts was off and on, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. In high school there were many more pressing things to worry about. It wasn’t easier, it was harder, so  much harder. I got to know a lot of teachers, became very close to his guidance counselor – who eventually memorized my phone number from the sheer volume of calls he had to make – the school social worker – who still hugs me when she sees me, and I got to know, quite well 3 separate school Deans.  He struggled through school, painful to watch because he was so bright, just not in a way the he could show. Things seemed to be getting better the summer before his junior year and he was hanging with people and going out and seemed generally happy.

And then his junior year. Small things at first, some dishonesties, stories that didn’t quite seem to make sense, but he had friends and seemed to be enjoying himself, so I told myself. He was seeing a ‘very cool’ social worker who kept assuring me that everything was fine, and that I needed to back off and ‘give him some space’. Then I found a pack of cigarettes. I was appalled. This was the worst thing that I could imagine, how could a child of mine start smoking, where had I gone wrong? I got over that soon enough. Shortly after the cigarette discovery, I found out he had been selling his ADHD drugs at school and buying marijuana and cigarettes with the money. I found out he’d been stealing from just about everyone. Suddenly the cigarettes didn’t seem so bad. His new friends? Customers. He had found a way to deal with his social awkwardness.  His ‘very cool’ social worker? He knew about everything, all the drugs, the dealing. He didn’t seem so ‘cool’ anymore. All the signs pointing to something more much more serious mentally going on he attributed to me being an over protective mother, and he told me so several times.  I stopped taking him to that social worker, but some serious damage was done, from that point on Graham blamed me for taking away ‘the one guy who understood him’ and wouldn’t cooperate with any new counselor, or social worker that I found for him. Graham still talked about the voices, but at this point I assumed everything he said was questionable – and generally this was true.

His behaviour became worse and worse. One night after 11pm he jumped out his bedroom window and ran

off into the night, just because. Catherine and I were each driving around for over an hour trying to find him. It was surreal. Eventually he showed up and we never did figure out why he did it or where he went. Within a few weeks his behaviours became concerning enough that I called the police, starting what was to be a long and complex relationship with Naperville Police Department and my son. We got lock-boxes and locked up everything of value in our home – money, medications, jewelry. During all this craziness I was taking him to a recommended drug education and prevention program. That was a colossal failure, and two drug counselors later, residential rehab was suggested. I drove him to the facility in Rockford and managed not to cry until after I was in the car coming home alone. For the next 35 days I was in constant contact with the facility and the school to participate in his recovery and to keep him from failing his school year. I drove back and forth twice a week. The nights I was gone my daughters were on their own. For the next year Catherine took over driving her sister to appointments because I couldn’t.

Still we were confident that we had acted quickly enough and effectively and soon enough Graham would be well.

 

After he came home he started an Intensive Outpatient Program, four nights a week for 4 hours in Downer’s Grove. Back and forth I drove, again, the girls were left to fend for themselves. We did this for 11 months. I was also taking him to NA meetings most nights. Our life revolved around Graham his recovery program, his meetings, and his school work. I hired a private tutor and a life coach to try and save his school year. There wasn’t room for much else. He still blamed me for taking away his first ‘cool’ social worker, and wasn’t working well with anyone.

He started his senior year – having passed his junior year just barely – with plans of doing well and finishing strong (a tag line from his life coach). I got to know yet another school Dean, and we had more unpleasant adventures.  He still talked about the voices and this time I decided to see if there was more than addiction going on in his brain. More doctors, more tests, much more money, more arguments and appeals with insurance companies and we ended up with a sobering result. Graham has bipolar disorder. By this time we had taking him off all ADHD stimulant meds because of their negative effects in an addictive brain and although he had been mostly cooperative with rehab and all the doctors and testing he decided the meds for the bipolar didn’t work and he stopped taking them.

Before the Christmas break it was pretty clear that he couldn’t continue at his school and he was told he needed to attend an alternative school. He wasn’t pleased, but he adapted. A couple of months into that school, we were told he couldn’t continue to attend, that his behaviour needed a more controlled environment, and so with tremendous resistance he was sent to another very structured alternative school – where the staff “are trained to restrain” I learned during orientation.  He managed to graduate from high school. He managed this with tremendous support from countless professionals in the schools, in the recovery and medical communities, and from his family. Our lives continued to be dictated by his needs.

The day of his commencement arrived and I couldn’t believe he would actually graduate. I thought we’d done it, we’d won, from now on it would be easier, the worst was over. I was so grateful and relieved and so very proud of him. He looked so proud in his gown, I don’t think he thought he would ever graduate either.

 Sadly it was after he graduated that things got much worse.

He turned 18 right after graduation and was legally considered an adult. By the end of June we had to do the unthinkable, we told him that because of his behaviour he could no longer live in our home. The lying, stealing and erratic behaviour was more than we could bear. We gave him 45 days to change his behaviour, participate in his recovery, to start to take his medication, and at the end of the period if he had not moved forward even slightly, he would have to find somewhere else to live. To come to such a decision was excruciating, to follow through even when his behaviour had only deteriorated was worse. For the months after he moved out I was felt I was the worst parent ever. How on earth did we get to this point? It broke my heart to send him out – even though I spoke with counselors, his NA sponsors and several professionals about how to navigate this with firmness, boundaries and with compassion. That he was loved was never in question, it was the behaviour we couldn’t tolerate. There were late nights where he tried to break into the house long after I should be asleep and I would sit curled up in my room just listening to him try to get in through a locked window. We stayed in contact, sometimes I would hear from the police, sometimes from one of his friends. Near the end the police were looking for him, but because he was now an adult they wouldn’t tell us what for.  In the fall I received a phone call from one of his friends saying that he had tried to walking into traffic to kill himself and that he had been taking to Lindon Oaks. This was his second suicide attempt – the first happened at home when he swallowed a bottle of pills. There was no warning for either, they seemed to be completely impulsive. He was in ICU for the pills and straight to Lindon Oaks (LO) for walking into traffic.

This fall we started the cycle of in-patient admissions and outpatient programs. After his discharge from LO he moved back in and agreed to take medication and participate in treatment. There was more driving back and forth to Outpatient programs and to meetings. There were 3 more admissions to LO, more outpatient programs after he was discharged. He was diagnosed with rapid cycling Bipolar Disorder, an Impulse disorder, Anxiety, and with Psychosis Not Otherwise Specified. It was decided the suicide attempts happened during manic phases, which is common with Bipolar disorder. At the beginning of December I received what was becoming a very familiar call – Graham was being discharged from the outpatient program and was recommended to a higher level of care – residential specifically. I found him a bed in Chicago and drove him in on December 5th to his second residential rehab – which also specialized in dual diagnosis patients. While we were waiting in the lobby he pulled the advent calendar from his bag and ate his chocolate for December 5 – this, more than anything else broke my heart. He stayed there till the end of January with one 8 hour pass for Christmas day. While he was on a waiting list for a spot in a halfway house, I got the all too familiar call saying he couldn’t stay at Gateway anymore and they had sent him to the psych ward of Mt Sinai hospital. He had been planning a suicide attempt. Much scrabbling and a many phone calls later I found a halfway house for him in Elgin. During this time I was driving to Chicago, and in Elgin every week to participate to support him and make sure he was receiving acceptable care.

During the two months at the halfway house he had three separate psych hospital admissions, all for voices and panic attacks. He was compliant with his medications by this time, but it’s a difficult thing to balance and it can take years to find an acceptable balance between effectiveness and acceptable level of side effects. Less than a week ago I got the call from the halfway house, he could no longer stay there and was being discharged within the hour. Graham has relapsed on marijuana and LSD. From there he found his way to what would be his 6th or 7th emergency psych hospital admission. After that admission I drove him to another Gateway residential rehab in Lake Villa. Six days into to that he was back in hospital, the voices were telling him to kill himself. After a day of negotiating Gateway agreed to take him back, and within 6hours of returning he was kicked out, this time for good, the voices had told him to harm his roommate. After this hospitalization I had no more ideas or resources. When he was discharged from hospital and they called to see who was picking him up I had to tell them no one was coming, to discharge him to the homeless shelter. While we was at the Lake County shelter I helped him apply for Medicaid and started the process for Social Security Disability (we got an official rejection letter before we even finished the first application). These could both be long processes. He went back into hospital last week and was supposed to have a bed in a state run rehab, but at the last minute they turned him down, and he was discharged once again into another homeless shelter.

In the last 3 years he has had at least 8 emergency room visits, 10 admissions to hospital – a couple of months total time, 1 ICU stay for 2 days, 4 separate outpatient treatment programs – totaling 16months, 3 residential programs totally, so far 4 months. You can imagine our insurance horrors and staggering bills we owe to many separate institutions. He has also been homeless and lived on the street or in various shelters. He has slept on the street, in people’s garden sheds and the occasional friend’s couch. The time at friend’s houses never lasts long, his behaviour makes it too difficult for people to accommodate him for long.

Graham has an illness. A chronic, debilitating, life threatening illness (and no, I’m not being dramatic, we have been to funerals for children with these diseases). Mental illness and addiction don’t have ribbon campaigns, there are no fun runs, no fundraisers where everyone feels good about helping out.

During the months and months of time he spent in hospital, during the last 2 ½ years of our life Graham received 2 cards – total. He had 2 visitors who were not family. During the months I had to leave my daughters to fend for themselves it felt like there was no support from our community. We were hurting, we were so very tired, and we were on our own.

 

I write a blog. Often I write about what living with a person with addiction and mental illness is like. I wrote about how no one brings you lasagna when your child is an addict. I write quite a bit actually because I am tired of the stigma and fear associated with these illnesses. If Graham had a medical illness with corresponding amounts of hospital admissions it would have been a different experience.

There have been acts of kindness and support which helped tremendously. A friend showed up one day with two books she thought I would enjoy, and batch of homemade cookies and then just hung out for an hour and chatted. A couple came by around Thanksgiving and raked my yard and brought us pumpkin pie. During the 11 months of driving to Downer’s Grove 4 times a week several church do gooders helped out with some of the driving. Some of Graham’s young adult friends from camp mailed him homemade cookies, and 2 even went through the multiple and inconvenient steps to spend an hour visiting with him while he was in Lindon Oaks for the last time. I will never forget these acts of kindness.

Some of the things that have not been helpful :

  • ask if there is anything you can do, and then do nothing.
  • ask if there is anything you can do, and not mean it a word of it.
  • ask if there is anything you can do, and then gossip.
  • ask if there is anything you can do while wearing a fake smile and (literally) walking away (body language – it’s not always subtle) – yes, this has happened, a few times.
  • tell me “I did something right” because, at least, my girls are doing well.
  •   If you think addiction or mental illness is a moral failing, that’s fine, it really is, but please, I don’t need to hear about it

What does help

  • Treat us like a family with an ill family member, we are going through many of the same things families of

people with cancer go through, except we also deal with the negative stigma associating with mental illness

  • be a benevolent witness to the grief and the pain, this doesn’t mean fixing anything, it just means bearing witness with compassion and without judgment.  And I do mean grief – I grieve for the healthy son I thought I had, for the life I thought he would have. The hopes and the dreams I had for him will never happen, they have been replaced with much smaller more basic hopes, like I hope he survives this, I hope he finds someway to be happy with his life.

Sue Monk Kidd has a passage in her latest book – the older sister who has resigned herself to never marrying is watching her younger sister get married. She describes the feeling like walking into an empty room that you forgot was there. In the room you had planned so many things, but now it is essentially empty. It’s not a room that you visit often, and you don’t dwell there when you do, but every now and then you find it, and you remember what you had hoped it would be. When I hear about or see Graham’s old friends, and his peers I step into that room. I see all the potential that’s gone, I see just how lost my boy is.

 

  • If nothing else, be kind to my girls, they are marvelous, courageous and loving people who should not have to go through any of this

These diseases have, on one hand, devastated our family, and on the other brought us closer and made us stronger. I have sat up countless nights curled up certain that I cannot bear this a moment longer, that I have nothing left to give, that I have done everything wrong, that my life and my children’s will never be normal, will never be without this pain. And yet, each morning I get up and go through another day.

Days that are for the most part, happy and are filled with love. What I have learned is just how resilient people can be, how even when faced with disappointment over and over again, we still find ways and things to hope for. I have learned that adversity and pain can make you softer and more compassionate.

Poetry also helps, this poem in particular by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

 The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

 

 

just in case you forgot he is a person

 

 

Dear Drunk Driver

ImageDear Drunk Driver,

You’re probably going to think I’m over reacting. You’re probably going to think I’m being dramatic. Probably. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with you not liking me anymore. I’m okay with your ego being bruised.  I’m okay with this getting really, really uncomfortable, because you know what? none of that even compares with what you’re doing when you make the decision to drink and then get behind the wheel of a car.

I could tell you terrible stories. Stories about dead friends, dead coworkers, dead family from drunk drivers. I could tell you of a few friends who made the choice you make, and drove drunk and of the heartbreaking and life changing consequences they experienced. I could tell you about the funerals, the jail time, the broken families that that a stupid and selfish decision resulted in, but you don’t believe any of this could happen to you. You’re different from everyone else, right? You’re careful. You drive better when you’re drunk maybe? The police won’t stop you. You won’t injure or kill anyone, that only happens to idiots who are really drunk. You won’t get a DUI, lose you car, your livelihood, your freedom. That happens to other people.

Except it doesn’t.

Keep it up. Drive to the bar when you know you’ll be drinking. Get angry when people tell you not to drive. Let your ego determine what you do. Don’t give a single fuck about consequences, or about what your friends and loved ones think, because this is about you! Don’t consider taking a cab, that’s not cool. You show them. Drive anyway. You’ll make it home. That’ll will show them. When someone speaks up, get defensive. Tell them that hey, nothing happened. Make them feel like an idiot for even questioning your actions, because this is only about you. You’re showing people exactly what you value when you do this. What’s important is your ego. you self image. And don’t forget you’re a great role model too.

You could get away with this for quite some time. Years maybe. Or maybe not.

Maybe tonight some last minute shopper happens to get in your way; some family coming home from a Christmas party; someone coming home after working late gets between you and your car and your goddamn right to drive yourself home no matter how much you’ve had to drink. Maybe there will be kids. Maybe you’ll just hit an electrical box and cut power to neighbourhood, because who the fuck cares about how this could inconvenience anyone else.

Remember this is about you.

Or maybe you’ll just get pulled over by the police. Maybe you’ll just get a DUI, just lose your licence, just get fined, just go to court. Maybe you’ll just lose the respect of your friends and family. Maybe you just lose your job and your ability to support yourself. Maybe that’s all that will happen.

Either way, if you get caught, or you don’t. If you hurt someone, or you don’t. If you kill someone, or you don’t. Either way, we can’t be friends. Period. I can’t tell you what to do with your life, but I can decide who will be a part of mine, and if you drink and drive you cannot be part of my life. Period.

sincerely,

Ruth

and so this is Christmas

 

And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun   – John Lennon

And so it is Christmas and I  won’t be spending it with my son. Today I took him to the latest facility, to the latest attempt to save him. He won’t be home again for awhile, if ever.

We’ve been in a downward spiral for weeks (months? years? a lifetime?), and this could be our last chance at helping him. After this I’m officially out of ideas / money / hope / whatever.

and so this is Christmas

We’ll have just two stockings on the fireplace this year. I know we’re not the first family to go through something like this, but it is our first go at it.

and what have you done

I packed his bag this morning and took him in expecting a fight, expecting him to be a jerk. He wasn’t. He opened the advent calender I got him, and ate his chocolate while sitting in the waiting room. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything sadder. When it was time to go he just said thank you. I would have been easier if he had been an ass. He hugged me and I left.

Another year over
and a new one just begun

Last night I bought outside Christmas lights. Something we haven’t had in years. I bought suet wreaths for the birds and gave money to the Salvation Army. I’ll set up the lights today, hang the little wreaths and start decorating the house. It seems insane on one level to be doing anything at all, when what I want to do at any given moment is curl up and wish this all away. But life’s not like that. You keep living. You keep loving. You keep moving forward, and you keep hoping and planning for something better.

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun

Archie Bunker, Wendell Berry and the Buddha

I’m recycling some posts because I think what what they say still needs to be heard.

I don’t when it will happen, but sometimes I get into my car, or arrive somewhere and I just sit. I don’t drive, I don’t get out of the car. I just sit and stare; sometimes I cry, sometimes I just sit and stare at the steering wheel.

Most of the time I think “I’ve got this”, but lately I know, at best, I’m keeping a stiff upper lip. I keep calm and carry on, because to admit you’re not okay invites inquires and I’m not always up to telling my story. This morning I thought I was, but then had to sit in my car for 10minutes waiting for the urge to put my head on the steering wheel and cry to pass.

 God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change

the Courage to change the things I can, and

the Wisdom to know the difference

Carrol O’Conner did a Public Service Announcement after he lost his son to drug addiction. It was well before I had kids, but his face and voice stayed with me, and when I feel like giving up, backing down or running away I think about him and I keep going.

About his son he said:

 

“I should have spied on him. I should’ve taken away all his civil rights, spied on him, opened his mail, listened to telephone calls, everything.”
 “Nothing will give me any peace. I’ve lost a son. And I’ll go to my grave without any peace over that.”
“Get between your kid and drugs any way you can, if you want to save the kid’s life”
In his eyes, I see so much pain, remorse, grief, and also I see resolve and courage to make this statement in hopes that it would help. Help save someone’s child. And now it is helping with my own son. I hear it when I am so tired I want to give up, give up and run away, when I want to give into my own increasing cynicism and cut myself off emotionally. I hear it when I am sitting in my car, staring at the steering wheel and seeing nothing. When I don’t want to go into my own house because I am not up for the next conversation I must have. 
Damn you Mr. O’Conner, this fight is too hard. I want to give up. I want to stop deciding where to draw my line in the sand and then stay there no matter what happens. Drawing the lines are hard enough, standing firmly by them can tear you apart. Then I hear him again, and I get out of the car, I stand my ground and I don’t run away. One day at time.

Not everyday is hard. Some days I have my son back, and he’s goofy, loving, helpful, and kind, but I trust those days less now because I have learned that he lies best when he is being kind and sweet, when he looks me sincerely in the eye. I’ve learned not to drop my guard and think this is the turning point, now things will get better, because invariably I discover missing money, that the sincere face was there to manipulate and lie to me. This used to feel like a kick in the gut, a betrayal. Now, it’s part of my life, and that I’ve become used to it is the thing that makes me the saddest.

Here is where I must remember to hate the disease, not my son. Addiction is a disease and its symptoms really, really suck, but my son is still there, even when his disease has him by the throat. I must remember this, but sometimes I don’t and then I have to forgive myself for not being perfect.

I find peace where I can, like now while I write this, or in the times I sit in my car just counting my breaths staring at nothing. I meditate, do yoga and hapkido, I go to parent groups and talk to other parents like me. These things help, while I’m doing them, but in the end I still have to go home and stand by my line.

I love Wendell Berry’s poem, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’, and in nature is where I find the most peace. But even here I find my cynicism creeping in, and it is hard to remain peaceful for more than a moment.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 — Wendell Berry 

“if you want to see just how much control you really have, try raising teenagers, several at a time”– my tweet 

I’m not a very good Buddhist these days (good thing I have Unitarian Universalism to fall back on), being so affected by things outside of my control (ie EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE who isn’t me). I get to control my own thinking, not necessarily my first thought, and absolutely not my emotions, but what I choose to think after that is up to me. Suffering comes from attachments, from ego, from clinging to hopes and dreams and not living with what is in front of and within you right now.

 At this point I would like to point out that the Buddha never had to raise teenagers, he became enlightened only after abandoning his wife and child. 

 I need a teacher who has managed to practice Buddhism AND live with children and teenagers, someone with a regular life. I can detach from my ego, recognize how my pride is making me envious, angry, resentful… piece of cake. Okay it took a long while and I’m still working on it, but try to detach with teenagers. When does parenting stop and enabling begin? How do my expectations of acceptable behaviour become attachment to future outcomes? How to I Be Here Now when there are forms to fill out, appointments to organize? How do I, or should I detach myself from my child’s self destructive behaviour?

 Being a parent is work, trying to be a good parent in difficult times is something the makes Atlas’ job look easy. Being a good enough parent is scary, joyful, funny, heartbreaking and utterly exhausting. It breaks your heart, but I think the only way to live with an open heart is by breaking it open, and that takes suffering, and pain, and that takes love, all the love you have. It isn’t pretty most of time, but it is worth it ( I hope….).

bullshit about bootstraps

ImageToday is overwhelming. Today I am Barney Rubble and I’m mean and mad. Today I am thinking totally unkind thoughts about so many things. Not fun. I’d love a little break, to move forward. Every time I think, yes! now I can move on, now I can make plans a new and worse reality comes bashing down. This month I was going to be back in school. Working at something I liked. But instead I’m caring for my ill child. Does that make me sound heartless or what? Truth is I’m tired. I’m tired of every time there is a glimmer of hope and I think, ah… now things will get better, it turns out to be nothing.

This week we had the insurance company say that they wouldn’t pay for my son to get the treatment that his medical professionals said he needed. Last week he was in really bad shape, last week he had an emergency hospital admission. Last week he was ready to die.

But hey, everyone knows that with a couple of days of treatment you get over that, right? That mental illness is something people just do for attention. I mean come on, people just need some willpower, to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with life and stop being so goddamn dramatic. Honestly. We need to stop coddling these ‘mentally ill’ drama queens, right?

Except, no. 

So, here I am, again. Life on hold again. No job, and I’m not sure if I can even get one because my days will be spent watching over my child. Well, except for the few hours a day that we still have coverage for, and I imagine those will be cut off soon enough. So yeah, I’m overwhelmed, unimpressed and really have no bloody idea how to cope with this. We are appealing (doesn’t that sound like groveling? interesting word use there) – or more accurately, we  are fighting to make the soulless insurance company assholes live up to their fucking obligation and provide coverage when it’s required and not put someone’s well-being at risk because all the insurance companies care about is the money, and if they say differently they’re lying.

Yeah, I’m a little pissed. I want to help my son. I want him to get well enough to function with some independence. I want him to have some hope for himself and believe that he has some sort of future to look forward to.

I also want a pony.

There are programs that would do him a tremendous good, that could help him. There is no coverage for such programs so they might as well not exist for us.

Did I mention I wanted a pony? Right, not getting either am I?

 

rules from the nuthouse

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The first rule of the Nuthouse is no one talks about the Nuthouse.
(they give you papers to sign saying the Nuthouse is nobody’s business)

 

The second rule of the Nuthouse is that you can’t call it a Nuthouse when Anyone Normal is listening, but you can call it that very quietly in a corner of your mind while your teetering on the edge of completely inappropriate laughter.

 

At night the Nuthouse is guarded by a small woman with a platinum blonde beehive and bright red lips named Jean. If you want and if she’s not busy, you can chat with Jean, and she will tell you all about her son and his tours of duty, his divorce, and the Polish woman she hired to take care of her mother after the strokes, and how she was sometimes mean to her mother. Jean will ask you the secret ‘password’ that shows you know someone in the Nuthouse, and if you get it right you get bright yellow Visitor’s badge so everyone will know you are visitor and not a patient.

Jean will always be polite and basically cheerful,because the third rule of the Nuthouse is everyone is happy, or at the very least, smiling, pleasant, and healthy looking. 

 

Once you say goodbye to Jean, you wait with other people who got the passwords correct and have bright yellow Visitors badges on until someone efficient and smiling and carrying a clipboard comes collect all of you and escort you through the sets of doors that lock as you pass them.

 

The fourth rule of the Nuthouse is only people with the Special Cards can open the very sturdy doors.

 

To visit at the Nuthouse all pockets must be emptied, cell phones and jackets turned over to the very polite and efficient staff. If you bring anything for patients the polite and efficient staff will inspect it and if it is acceptable, bring it to the patient. You cannot keep the bag in the Nuthouse, also you cannot have drawstrings in your pants or shoelaces in your shoes.

 

You can visit for an hour at the Nuthouse, sometimes twice a day, but only if you know the password. When you visit be sure you don’t laugh too loudly or the polite and efficient staff will come and ask if everything is okay. The fifth rule at the Nuthouse is everyone is calm during visits.

And then it is time for you to go home, and you wait for the person with a Special Card to escort you through all of the sturdy doors, and only when you make it outside, and that tiny part of yourself that wants to laugh until you cry is poking at your sleep deprived brain with a sharp stick, do you finally mutter out loud “The first rule of the Nuthouse is….”  

and on the way home they will play Brain Damage on the radio because the universe is not without a sense of humour.

 

 

thankful

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Last weekend – if you’re Canadian – was Thanksgiving. We did all the usual things, making stupid amounts of food, eating stupid amounts of food, talking and laughing while eating the stupid amounts of food,  and then digesting it for hours (days) afterwards. There was much talk and laughter during dinner. Both my daughters had their boyfriends over and also some extra friends. We had a wonderful time.

No one mentioned Graham.

Actually I suspect everyone was mildly grateful for the reprieve. To be honest the holiday was easier without him. There was no constant redirecting, or monitoring  or having to keep track of the 6 foot toddler. It was easier in every possible way.

Except that it wasn’t.

Graham was on his own for Thanksgiving. He’s been on his own since he relapsed shortly after his sister came home from school for the weekend. He managed 8 days living with us before the expectations he had agreed to became too much. We actually had only about 2 good days with him before old habits started sneaking back.

He burned his bridges with the Marines and now has no life ‘plan’. He’s not in school, doesn’t work, and is homeless, not the sort of future you envision when raising your little boy. I look back over the last 18 years and wonder what I could have done differently, done better, not done, done more of, and my answer is it doesn’t matter. I did try everything thing I could think of to help him. He had mentors, role models, martial arts, fine arts, music, social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, support groups, summer camps, youth groups, retreats, sweat lodges, and on and on. He had more support and resources in the last 6 years than most people get in their lifetime. Did it make any difference? Who knows? He’s still alive, and maybe some seeds were planted that may grow one day. Maybe, or maybe not. I suppose what is important is that we always tried, that we didn’t give up.

Except it feels like giving up right now.

Still, you have to do you best with what you are given. I have two daughters that deserve my love and support, and my time. I have had my own life on hold for more years than I care to admit, and it’s time to put some time and some love into myself, otherwise I will come out of this hollow with no idea who I was anymore. I deserve more than that. My daughters deserve more than that. My son needs to know what being a whole person looks like, what taking care of yourself and others looks like. One day hopefully he may even be able to take care of himself and have enough left to care for others. One day, maybe.

For now I concentrate on what and who is important. On the people I love and nurture and on those who have loved and nurtured me. I don’t have time for anything else. Living through difficult times provides a clarity that might not have been apparent otherwise. I have a limited amount of time and tolerance for bullshit or superficiality. I am begining to see my own worth and the value of real friends. The rest, is dross….

“What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage…”

– Ezra Pound, The Pisan Cantos

Deep thoughts my dog never had

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I’ve been very itchy and mom looked at my ears and said something about little bastards. Then she went away,  and when she came back she sprayed me with something that smelled like my bed, she called it cedar.  I didn’t know what to do with myself.  It felt tingly and smelled too much, so I went in the yard and rolled a lot in the grass,  and then ran very fast. Mom gave me a treat when I came back in, and now I’m not itchy anymore.  Not being itchy is my favourite.