T came by to get a suitcase of clothes today. It's good-bye, for awhile, though I've learned never to count on any one reality remaining so for too long. He is going to stay with a half-brother for a bit having shorted out of his substance abuse treatment program. That may last a week, a month, or a year. Last time I wrote, he was doing well in recovery - but that came to an end when he went missing for several days and started using again, descending into a relapse worse than what preceded treatment.
He's been staying with a friend for the past week figuring out what to do next, as we would not let him move back home unless he got himself some kind of help. We tried a few things - an intervention with his long-time counselor; setting up (and paying for) sober living housing; reaching out to a local reverend who met with us to see if T might be ready to take some steps toward recovery; a wrap-around service through his psychiatric provider that would offer transitions to independent living, and even offering T terms under which he could move home. He is not willing to accept any of the options we've been able to present. Over the past year-and-a-half, he's moved from smoking weed most days to pursuing a high nearly every waking moment, sometimes via harder drugs. He insists that his drug use is not a problem, despite the fact that it has resulted in expulsion from school, arrest, probation, the loss of two jobs, the end of most of his friendships, and the evaporation of virtually every penny he's ever earned or been given. The path he's on may take his life, or it may eventually drive him into recovery, but there's no telling how long that might take.
It's very hard to reach the conclusion that a child can't live at home anymore, and I am sneaking up on acceptance by telling myself that we'll take this week by week for now. Our goal has been to show love and consistency, avoiding anger or attempts to shame him into compliance, while still enforcing firm boundaries. I feel a lot of grief at losing him (losing him in more ways than one), but I truly believe I have done my best for him and I have not added to his pain by shaming him or making him a backboard for my anger and frustration. I have certainly felt a lot of negative feelings, and I've taken them out on unsuspecting mental health providers, random colleagues at work, and other drivers during my morning commute (not to mention Tim). But we've managed through much self-education to keep our relationship with T focused on two things: love, and boundaries. I will always be his adoptive mom, and I will always stand on the side
of sanity and sobriety so that someone who knows and loves him deeply can,
hopefully, be a beacon if he decides to try to make it ashore.
This gives me a chance to reflect on a new aspect of older child foster/adoption that I haven't experienced yet: the inevitable parting with a child. We will always be T's parents, but given his age, even without the level of drama we've sustained for the past year or so, a transition to parenting him from a distance was unavoidable. I have a deepened respect for all foster and adoptive parents who are willing to open their hearts to a traumatized child--especially an older child--whom they know will one day leave, often in complicated circumstances. It is not the same as parenting a birth child who grows up and moves away, because (amongst other differences) it is unlikely that the child will take a linear developmental path such that they transition out of the home in a way that leaves everyone feeling resolved and satisfied. (Because of his age, unsuspecting friends keep asking us if T is headed to college this fall, and if he's happy with his girlfriend. It's like they come from another planet. If I had a penny for every time someone has said to me this year "But he's doing well, right?" I'd have enough to buy a nice dinner. I don't even know what "doing well" means anymore!)
This kind of parenting is crisis parenting, with very bad odds of "success" if you care about conventional definitions. It is a set up for pain, especially the pain that comes of deep empathy with a child whom life has handed a shovelful of bad luck, and who struggles with the behaviors and fault lines that trauma produces. Even setting aside the realities of addiction, kids like T have
terribly complicated issues with attachment--and so, by the same token,
their detachment (a normal part of late adolescence) is likewise
complicated. Add extremes of substance abuse and underlying mental
health issues to the mix, and it has been easy to see for quite some
time that whatever transition he eventually made to living outside the
home would be very turbulent. Nevertheless, I would make the same choice again to be this kind of parent. I love him for all the things that I've been able to recognize and
appreciate in him, all the qualities and characteristics that are his
very own, beyond the pain and the distracting behavior. It is profound and it is necessary; T could be a young man in crisis with no parent to love him, or he could be a young man in crisis who can raise his head above the chaos now and then and see that he is loved. I do think it makes a difference.
I may blog less often for awhile, but I will still be here, and I do intend to stay involved with kids in foster care. We might even parent a second child someday, though Tim says it will have to be a girl next time. :)