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How one mother came to terms with what her heroin addicted son really needed

How one mother came to terms with what her heroin addicted son really needed

I choked back every maternal instinct that screamed at me to protect my son as I left him and his suitcase sitting on the side of a county highway next to that rehab, like so much discarded debris. In order to allow him any hope of recovery, any chance to survive, I felt forced to abandon him.

I was naive in hoping that a few weeks on the streets would snap him to his senses. Instead, for the next six harrowing years he only became increasingly isolated and entrenched in his addiction. He repeatedly suffered near-fatal overdoses in dark stairwells and public restrooms as he cycled between rehabs, jail and the streets.

Counselors and peers continued to encourage me to combat enabling by diligently questioning my own behavior to determine if I was loving my child or loving my child to death. A single glimpse of my sons emaciated frame made it shockingly clear that, in practicing tough love, I was doing the latter.

As the world abandoned him, my son came to believe that hed been given a death sentence, and had hopelessly resigned himself to it. Flirting with death became a daily routine; yet even death held no bottom.

A Frantic Search

It was early in the spring of 2013 and I hadn’t heard from my son in weeks. Calls to ERs, jails and morgues had been fruitless. I was panicked at the thought that I’d soon get a call telling me that he had been found, alone, in an anonymous dark corner, dead from an overdose. Pacing at home became unbearable, so, instead, I paced the hectic streets of downtown Denver with a photo of him in hand, looking for help.

A boy, all of 16, wild hair skirting the torn collar of his well-worn t-shirt, recognized my son, but had not seen him in weeks. He knew my worry well. He shared stories of loved ones he had lost to overdose and his concern for a friend who was still missing. Overdose was a looming fear on the street, just as it was in my home.

The gritty wear and tear of lives lived on concrete may have been all that defined these faceless junkies to the casual passerby. However, the young souls I met that day yearned to be seen as caring, worthwhile human beings. Undoubtedly, their capacity for compassion far outweighed any they might receive.

They offered advice on where to look for my addicted son. They asked if he carried naloxone. They told me I could find it at the syringe exchange and that perhaps the staff there had seen him.

Injecting Grace

Every reality I had come to accept about addiction was brought into question as I walked into that needle exchange and glimpsed the raw truth of my son’s struggle. What initially caught my eye and incensed me wasn’t the line of people, young and old, well groomed and disheveled, who waited to exchange used syringes for sterile ones. Even the bins filled with works—all the supplies needed to prepare and inject drugs—while foreign and shocking to me, didn’t evoke my anger. Instead, I found myself livid over a piece of literature. A thin booklet, it described how to shoot up, how to safely access a vein and where to find the cleanest water to prepare one’s drugs for injection if sterile water is inaccessible:

If a toilet is the only source of water, always draw from the tank, never the bowl. And at any cost, avoid scooping water from ditches and creek beds.

On the one hand, I was appalled. “They’re teaching my son to shoot up!” On the other hand, I was even further horrified thinking, “People are so desperately trapped in addiction they’re willing to shoot up sludge from a creek bed?”

It was a pivotal moment. These were the bottoms I had left my son to pursue. If the daily potential of death had no power to deter him, the thought of shooting up sludge from a ditch wouldn’t either.

“He knows that he’s valuable to me even if he continues to use.”

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  1. I read this story in the magazine last year. It changed my way of thinking and doing about and for my son. Many people don’t understand it, and think I’m doing it wrong, however, I feel people should not judge, and whatever works for some, may not work for another. I chose this way, and it works for us. My son is currently incarcerated on prior charges that he was in drug court for, and “flunked” out of drug court, but this is the way I treated him after I read the article, and will continue to treat him even after he’s released.

  2. I cannot thank you enough..I’ve spent all day with angry moms trying to explain why I don’t agree with tuff love..I am shocked I stumbled on to this blog…i had a very similar experience and felt the same way..my addict daughter is now one year clean and my alcoholic son is now three months sober..i couldn’t fathom abandoning my kids in a time like this..I did try..for years..it just never felt ok with me…thank you agian..beautifully written..

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I am going through the same exact thing. I have not one son but two that are heavily using meth and whatever they get there hands on. My youngest child was killed in November 2015. I need help please. I don’t want to lose another son. My boys are 35 & 36. I don’t know what to do or where to get help. I don’t have money. One of my sons is in jail getting out next week the other is on the streets talking about suicide. I don’t know what to do. Please call me if you have any resources. My phone #303 808 0279. Scared momma in Denver. I don’t drink or do drugs, I have a stressed heart had a heart attack when my son was killed… my stress and worry of losing another child has put me in the hospital several times. Please please help. Forever grateful.

  4. interesting article-we all know that there are People who are allergic to bee stings must carry a shot, people with asthma must carry an inhaler, people who are heart patients carry nitro and diabetics they too have their meds, smokers carry their oxygen one day etc – a lot of people carry condoms – for disease prevention and pregnancy prevention and one never knows when they will need these things if ever in some cases and they are all lifesaving items and it is in the best interest of the person to have it rather than not, a life depends on if they have it or not and no-one knows if or when on any of the above. this is an interesting article and based on this read yes i would I would provide the narcan (sp) /naloxone – this will save a life. Knowing as a parent that you have the ability to make an informed and personal decision with no regrets or “if onlys” – you have given every option possible is a huge statement for your heart and the addicts and educating them to use it and making sure an active user has it is priceless you can hope they never need it but if they do it is there for them. Making this available to an addict is no different than the above mentioned items needed to save lives on the above mentioned diseases. It is not enabling it is saving a life. Its not a cure its not granting permission it is saving a life period.#addictslivesmatterperiodmothersneverstoplovingnandnevergiveupontheirkidsfamilystrongsupportingourkids. You never know when asthma is going to take away your ability to breathe have hour inhaler- or when a tiny bee is going to fly out and sting you, its just a matter of time because you know they are out there somewhere if you know your allergic-be prepared and have your shot with you at all times..forever be prepared.