I haven't kept up on this blog for quite awhile, mostly because T was away (living in another city, with a friend of the family, and going to school) for the past year, and, while we were still involved in his life, parenting him wasn't a day-to-day activity.
He's back. His first foray into independence ended badly. He's staying with one of his older brothers in a neighboring city for a few weeks and we're helping him work through his options. Meanwhile, his younger brother, E, finally got out of juvenile detention and moved into a therapeutic group home near our house. We have him with us every weekend and he's proven to be an absolute joy. So right now, I have a lot to say! But the main thing that is on my mind is vicarious grief (I'll write more about E later, he is his own weird and wonderful story).
After T dropped out of college and ended up unemployed and deep into daily drug use, we decided to enforce strict boundaries with him. We would pay for therapy, medication, residential treatment, and job training, but until he got sober, he could not live in our house, and we would not give him money for any other purpose.
It hurts my heart to be strict with him. A part of me always wants to bundle him up and have him back at home, to give him time and love, and keep him safe under our wing.
Since he moved back to our area about four weeks ago, he's come to visit on two consecutive weekends. During those visits, he was withholding, angry, sullen, and occasionally verbally viscous. He's too thin, nervous and unsettled. He talked angrily about his birth mom, and, on two separate occasions, almost seemed to confuse me for her. He seemed to want to punish everyone around him.
Finally last weekend after he badly hurt the feelings of his younger brother, I was driving T home and I pulled the car over on the side of the road. I told him that he was hurting the people he loves, and that I would not move the car until I got a respectful, meaningful response from him. He admitted that he was really suffering, and that he knew he was taking out his rage on the people around him, pushing everyone away, and he didn't know what to do about it. He agreed to talk more, soon, when he was ready.
Four days went by, until he hit me up at work on instant message. He said he was signing up for the army. I asked him if he'd be interested in going to a 30 day residential treatment program near our house that accepts our insurance and told him that we thought it might be good if he took the time to get himself on steadier footing before he set off on his next life adventure.
He replied with apparent relief. He said he had only planned on joining the army "to run away" and that he would love to go to rehab. He said he needed help, he wanted to make positive change, and that he's be ready for us to pick him up whenever we decided to come get him. He wrote "I surrender myself completely" - a statement most unlike him. This is not a tone he's ever taken before.
It was a happy/sad moment. We've been supporting his efforts at sobriety for five years and this will be his third stay in residential rehab, so in many ways, we have worked out our thoughts and feelings about it. Tim and I both felt good about how we handled this moment, in that we were able to stay consistently loving while refusing to let his addiction draw us into chaos and confusion. But it is always harrowing to wait out his down times and hope that he'll be ready for a moment like this one. We always struggle with letting him feel the pain of his mistakes, and with the conflict between our desire to care for and protect him and the necessity of waiting it out until he is ready for help.
I found that I was temperamental and sad this week. I was happy that we found a loving option for T and relieved that he accepted. But I felt withdrawn and sad, too. When he is punishing, I'm protected by a certain measure of self-righteous self-protection. But when he is vulnerable and suffering, I feel a depth of vicarious grief that sneaks up on me.
I never experience grief as an entirely negative emotion. I experience it as a great openness to the truth of life, an awareness of risk and loss, the profound unfairness of fate, and the beautiful forbearance and fortitude of human beings under duress, and of these two boys in particular. I am humbled by their endurance and unlikely optimism in the face of the cascade of loss and pain that life has handed them, so early on. It is both enlightening and excruciating.
When other people in my life are grieving, I feel empathetic. But when T's grief returns, I feel vicariously connected to it myself. I feel as if it is happening to me. I don't know why - perhaps it's evidence of some clever evolutionary trick to keep parents connected to their kids. Perhaps when he has a share of suffering greater than he can bear myself he transfers a bit of it to me in some uncanny way. I don't know. In any event, I hope the weeks ahead are a time for him to step away from the chaos and confusion of his present life and tend to his grief and treat himself with tenderness and compassion.
5 hours ago