Saturday, August 2, 2014

When It's Time

This new episode of parenting T is fascinating. He just hit his 40-day sobriety mark and he's twice as alive as ever before, twice as awake and perceptive. The whole point, as he describes it, of getting and using drugs every day was to dull perception, to numb feelings and to cloud out painful realizations. It wasn't working so well, but it was the best he could do at the time.

I would have done anything to hasten his recovery, but I learned I couldn't do anything at all. Or rather, I could only refuse to participate in his self-destruction (not giving him cash, not putting a roof over his head when he was using, not bargaining with his addiction). When given the opportunity, I could also remind him that we would like to see him in recovery and that we would be there for him should he ever choose that path.

That strategy sounds logical and obvious, but as a parent, it was damned hard. It meant waiting months while he slept on the floor of his brother's crowded apartment, doing nothing except planning his next high and trying to figure out how to pay for it. It meant not seeing him during the times that he was angry with us for not letting him live at home while he was using. It meant maintaining the flexibility to respond when he was ready for recovery. It meant forgiving myself when I was sad and angry about our relationship and I let it show. It meant making sure that our own lives moved forward and that we did not let his self-destruction drag us off course from loving his brother, each other, and our own lives.

And then it was time. This round of recovery feels different from earlier attempts. He is all in. He is beaming love and gratitude and wisdom and happiness. He's living at home, going to out-patient treatment three days a week and meetings on the other days, so we have a very firsthand sense of his experience. He goes to group every night, and his treatment plan has required that he share his most intimate thoughts and feelings about being born addicted to drugs, losing his family, growing up in the foster care system, feeling disappointed that his relatives didn't maintain a connection to him during that time, and finding adoptive parents during his teenage years.  Everyone else in his program has their own story, and they embrace him in his struggles and celebrate his progress with him. Whereas he once believed that nobody could love him if they knew the truth about him, he has begun to see that his life story is part of what gave him the wisdom and compassion that draws people to him.

We go to family group for three hours on weekends. With each passing week, he gets stronger and more authentic. We see the effect of his charisma on the friends he's making in treatment, who turn to him for support, humor and wisdom, despite his young age. Often during these sessions, he expresses profound gratitude - to us, and to others.

I used to shy away from his expressions of gratitude. I didn't want him to feel thankful to us for adopting him--I felt that all kids deserve parenting, and I hoped it would be something that he learned to take for granted.

But I realized recently that I was being selfish in downplaying or not welcoming his gratitude. The gratitude he expresses to us is gratitude to the higher power in which he believes, to the great force of life for giving him another chance. It's an expression of his optimism and faith in the world and in other people. My own tendency to shut it down was not humility, as I thought; it was an expression of my mistrust of myself and of other people. Far beneath the surface, I think I declined gratitude because I felt like I wasn't a good person. I believed that if I wasn't screwing up right now, I would probably screw up soon, so his gratitude made me feel guilty. I thought it was my job to be perfect, and if I could just achieve perfection, he would get better. Falling far short of that goal, I felt he had nothing to be grateful for. I felt sure that I was going to disappoint him.

That was all a bunch of fearful, selfish anxiety. Lately I try to just sit back and follow his lead. Whatever he has plugged into, it is an awesome force that is propelling him forward in leaps and bounds. It's finally time: time for him to expose what was hidden in his heart through all the years that he clouded his experience with drugs. It's time for me to step back and accept that he knows me, he loves me, and he's thankful that I'm in his life, and just let that be. There is no flip side, and the universe isn't playing a trick on us, where we might turn the page and find out I'm a fraud and I couldn't come through for him after all.

In place of my previous quest for perfection and absolution, which led to an eternal dance of guilt and exagerrated responsibility, lately, I find myself thinking: I am so fucking lucky! I have this crazy, loving family that connects me to what is true and profound in life. I'm able to mirror his gratitude with my own, for once, and that feels great.
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