Monday, May 21, 2012


T is doing well in sober living, so we are having one of those relatively rare crisis-free periods. After all, let me just recall that T has been through THREE stints in rehab in the past year alone! It really does make me laugh. Previously, I wouldn't have thought such drama was even possible. I think a lot of parenting older traumatized kids involves this kind of epic try-and-try-again struggle.

Anyway, among other pleasant developments, lately, T's capacity to love is back. When he hates himself, because he's binging on drugs, he hates me. (He hates everyone at such times, but I'm first on the list, being the closest.) Therefore, the few months leading up to the most recent stint in rehab were rough. I grew a thick skin and learned to depersonalize it. Frank acknowledgement of the depth of his addiction really simplified things for me; it's a disease, and when it's active, it takes over every other vital emotional function. It's really no use pursuing any other goal than to get him back to treatment at such times.

When he's not abusing substances, T not only feels proud of himself - increasingly, he's able to extend the gentle compassion and patience that are part of his essential nature to himself, as well. He is self-reflective and aware, saying things like "I'm very sensitive when I'm sober..." and "I got my feelings hurt today - I tend to take things personally." His giant milky eyes reflect his keen awareness and perception. (At the treatment facility, an older woman yelled to him "You have the face of an angel!" It's true, he does; he's like a fresh, naked soul walking around in the big, bad world. Sometimes I want to throw a blanket over him.)

When he's happy and we've been apart, he often takes a moment to grab my face and stare at me with his big mournful eyes; if I hold his eyes and smile, he smiles.  Like a baby, he wants to use my face as a mirror to check his emotional state. A new thing, too: he has begun to accept compliments. The other day I wrote to him (he emails about a million times a day from the sober living house) just to tell him that it's nice to see him happy, and that his intelligence is showing in his eyes again. "Thank you, I appreciate that," he wrote back. That might seem a small thing, but it's not. For years, he's rejected compliments - self loathing shut the door on any gesture of appreciation offered by another person.

At the same time that I'm happy for all of this, I'm grateful for the modest distance afforded by his time in treatment. The intensity of parenting him both suits my own style of love and wears me out.
I would have liked very much to be one of those parents who can foster or adopt several children at once. I know such parents - some even have full time jobs to boot! I'm struck that their love for their kids is fierce, but also more casual and spontaneous in its expression than my own - somehow, it's sportier. The mothers I know who are like that have houses that tend to be messy and warm and busy, where people gather around big tables and eat big meals and talk loudly and all at once. That's not me. My style is to love deeply and singularly. I need time to think.

T is similar and I think that's why we were all drawn together in the beginning. He's probably even more intense than I am in his love style. He has a full array of love behaviors that are like sonar, ways that he sends out little "pings" all the time to see what comes back. Receiving all those messages and transmitting back on the right frequency is both captivating and exhausting. The rest of the world starts to feel intrusive and noisy. "I'm trying to hear my kid!" I want to yell.

T tends to resuscitate early childhood bonding behaviors, because that's what he missed out on. (The other day, I had cause to wonder, when he said his first words, who did he say them to? When he took his first steps, who yelled with pride? He was in eleven foster placements before he was three - probably, he barely knew the adult who was in the room on those momentous occasions.) That's why now, when he tries, fails, and tries again, he looks to us with a much younger chld's intensity, craving recognition. He's not learning to walk, he's learning to confront the world sober, but the process is similar.

The intensity of his attachment to me and my love for him are private and all-consuming in a way that vies with life's other priorities. It reminds me of an experience I once witnessed with a friend. She had given birth to twins and during her first months at home, she asked me to visit and give her a hand. The atmosphere was peaceful and intense at the same time. She spent much of the day feeding one baby, then the other, gobbling power bars in between to keep the calories stocked. The curtains were closed, she had little sense of night versus day, and we hardly talked - we just juggled babies. They would lock eyes with hers and hold her attention - they ruled the rhythm of her day, with their intense attachment and all the crafty little things they did to keep her in their employ.

Obviously, parenting a teenage boy is not the same. But when I get worn out by my love for him and his attachment to me, I think about that day at my friend's house.  Older children with unmet developmental needs have a way of reviving all sorts of tools and tricks for meeting those needs - some are dysfunctional and others are elemental, honed to near perfection by millions of years of human evolution. It's a powerful equation and such a child's primal needs can create a world apart that is out of synch in some ways with the rhythms of the adult world.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

It was a very good day. T got off probation today, after a year. At court, he made a cute little speech about the power of addiction and how he's working his 12 step program. The judge, who knows us very well after the drama of the last year and has seen T through treatment, relapse, arrest, etc., was touched and thrilled, and he doesn't tend toward either. He called T up to the bench and held his hand and told him it was good to see him looking so well, and wished him luck and dismissed everything and sent him on his way.

After court, T wanted to go right back to the treatment house where he's living, didn't even want to "cheat" long enough to get a much-needed haircut, which I would have indulged. On the way back, we discussed post-treatment sober living (better known as a "halfway house") and he asked us to help him find a place. We called several and found a house just blocks from where he is now, where he can continue the groups he's been participating in. It's a community of young African American men, with a semi-structured 12-step approach, random drug testing, a curfew, and it's close to the community college where T wants to start taking classes. It has a computer, a hot tub in the back yard, clean, comfortable bedrooms and the men take turns cooking for each other. It sounds fun, like a college frat house without the beer and the mess. It's close to home, so we can visit often, and he can earn overnight passes.

For now, for as long as it lasts, it's a sweet and fortuitous transition. I'm grateful for the opportunity to help introduce him to semi-independent living, in a situation where he's supported and amongst peers in his struggles with substance abuse, and where he's still close to home and can get lots of love from us. I'm grateful, also, that circumstances came together so that we could communicate in a loving way that if you're abusing drugs and doing all that comes with it, you can't live at home - but you do have options, and we'll support you in pursuing them. Sober living is a good answer for him - he may need to return to such a place someday, and I want him to get familiar with the network of support that's out there. Last winter during his extended relapse, I could see that part of his shame and horror came from having little sense of his options - he couldn't see a way out. I hope from now on, if he needs it, he'll have a direct sense of where to go and what to do to get back on track.

It was interesting to see the way he approached the prospect of sober living when it came up. He preferred to return home, but we all agreed that he wasn't ready yet, and that the interim step of a semi-structured group situation would likely help him. The goal we set is sober living until he gets a job and enrolls in at least one college class, sets a schedule for himself, and then he can transition home. But when his counselor told him what sober living would cost per month, T was tentative in proposing it. He seemed horrified by the idea that we'd need to pay for it. "It could cost five hundred dollars a month!" he said, aghast. (It costs more than that, and it's a stretch to make it work, but we regard it the same way we'd regard paying for college.) I suggested that he think about the fact that he is precious and loved, and try stating his case in a way that reflects that point of view. (We ask him to restate this way a lot, because he has little practice asking for what he needs.) He paused for a moment, then said very theatrically, "I was wondering, if you would be able to pay for sober living because you love me!" "Yes!" we said, "We'd be happy to pay for sober living, because we love you!"

The lessons he's learning now are more valuable than any college could provide. If all that happens in the next few months is that he gets through the post-treatment period with the support of a few new friends who help him find ways to fill his time and resolve stress without running amok, that would be a great blessing.

He's a lovely person when he's sober - deep, loving, somber, wise, a little nervous. As always, he manages to seem both much older and much younger than his chronological age, and being his parent requires meeting him in both places at once.
Site Meter