I woke up today feeling unsettled. Sensing a weight on my chest, I rested my hand on my throat as though it would somehow protect me, although I wasn’t sure from what. I went to workout and got on the elliptical with the intention of dragging myself through my usual 50 minute cardio workout. I plugged in my earphones, selected my iTunes and chose only songs that were melancholy and had a good dose of saxophone. The music reflects my mood. I went faster and longer than I have ever gone before and I felt like I could keep on going. Sweat dripped off my forehead and my hair was wet and messy. I drank my 24 ounces of water and refilled the bottle. I gulped down another 24. If not for the perspiration, I felt like a machine.
Lately I can’t write or, rather, I should say that I can’t post what I write. My thoughts seem to wander in all directions. When I read what I’ve written, it makes no sense. I have blogs that I have written and read and re-written and re-read so many times that I am dizzy. They sit in my non-posted folder. What is the matter with me? I read something I have written and can’t even figure out what the point was when I started. I’ve edited myself into a hole. Sometimes I turn away from my computer and clean out a closet. I feel totally disgusted with myself. This has been going on for weeks but today I reacted. Something happened this weekend. Something hit me. I liken it to discovering a bruise on your arm, a bruise that you have no idea how it got there. You can’t remember bumping it or falling or doing anything to cause the bruise and yet there it is big as life. Here is what I know.
My son lives in a sober house in the south of the valley. He has told me about his house manager (I’ll call him Jim); someone he likes and admires. This guy is smart and funny and manages the house very well. One day my son said, “You’ll never guess what Jim’s last name is?” I agreed, I would never guess. Then he said it’s your maiden name. I was so surprised because I have an unusual maiden name. I can pretty much assume that others with my name are related to me even if it is a distant connection. Anyway, I said I wanted to meet him and felt kind of excited. I mean, what are the chances, right? Maybe I could even go to one of those websites they are always advertising on TV and Jim and I could delve into a little family history.
On Saturday my son came over to visit and help me in the yard. He said that he was anxious because Jim had gone to visit his mother in Southern Utah but hadn’t been in touch with the house in 3 days. That wasn’t like him. My son had texted him but got no reply. Then he said, “I’m worried he has relapsed.” I held back my immediate thought, “Now you know how we feel when we don’t hear from you.” I could see that my son was genuinely worried. I offered some possible explanations. My son nodded but I knew he was thinking the worst. He was doing exactly what all the parents in my family treatment group do; thinking the worst. It’s our specialty. I asked him if he had noticed anything different about Jim before he left for Southern Utah. He said no.
The next day my son called me to tell me that Jim had relapsed. He would not be returning to the house. Now the house would need a new manager. A person from the organization that runs the sober living homes called on my son to ask him if he would step into the position. I know why they asked him; he has the right personality and skills but, in my opinion, he hasn’t been in the sober housing that long. He needed Jim to be there, not to be Jim. Jim made the house run smoothly, kept people accountable, was kind but firm. My son looked up to him. My son confided in me that he had a full panic attack over the weekend. I’m not surprised. Getting a position because someone else has relapsed, can’t feel good. Trying to fill someone else’s shoes conjures up feelings of self-doubt and anxiety. Worrying about someone you care about can make you feel helpless. And, recognizing that relapse can also be in your own future, can lead to a feeling of hopelessness.
I’ve never met Jim and, yet, I cannot stop thinking about him. I wanted to meet him. I wanted to tell him how much my son likes him. I wanted to see if we had a family connection. After a long pause, my son said, “The thing is, with heroin there is such a risk of dying.” I nodded but said nothing. And then it hit me, parents are not the only ones who suffer loss and the fear of loss. Addicts face loss and fear of loss every day. Addicts make friends with other addicts. Addicts go through treatment with other addicts; they know each other’s stories. Addicts have history with those they have used with and those they have been in treatment with. Addicts have bared their souls in front of their peers and shared their fears, their hopelessness and their shame. Whatever else can be said about addicts, they do have a community and, whether using or in recovery, that community is tight.
I tried to think of other groups of young adults who worry about their friends dying or who have experienced such a level of intimacy with their peers? The only group I could think of that comes close is soldiers experiencing combat. We don’t apply post traumatic stress disorder to addicts but maybe we should. As a young adult, I didn’t live in fear of losing my friends.
I cannot bail my son out of the dark place he goes where fear and doubt, anxiety and loss gather. I can listen, share a funny story, touch him gently, and offer him a cup of lemon tea. I cannot reassure him or convince him that he is OK or that things will be OK. I cannot offer suggestions or solutions. I don’t have any. I can be a witness to his pain and suffering. And so it dawns on me, I am like the hospice nurse. I cannot spare him life’s inevitable pain but I can bring comfort. I can offer my presence, my caring, my love.
When I am in my dark place (and I have been in a dark place lately), I cannot expect anyone else to bail me out either. I must search for the light. When I cannot make sense of anything, I must go back to what did make sense and begin again. When fear or anxiety grab me by the throat, I must breathe deeply and find my courage. No one else can do it for me. They can be present. They can make me laugh. They can fix me a cup of tea. They can sit with me in silence but they cannot step into the light for me.
Here is what I am going to do. I’m going to begin by posting this imperfect blog. I’ll read it once or twice for spelling or grammatical errors. I will not read it 20 times. I will not continue to edit it until my eyes are crossed. I will not save it in my non-posted blog folder.
Wait! I think I see a light, a tiny light. Can you see it? I hope so.