Agape Love by Marilyn R. Lyon
I could mourn the crack-addiction. I could pray for it to leave. I could try to contribute to its death. I could pretend it was not here, year after year, or that it might always be here.
Maybe even that death might take it away, as well as my son, or that there is and was a quick and easy answer.
What I could do is share with him the place I reached after many years of both our failures. I could give us both a relationship, of sorts. It could be called Agape Love, although at the time I called it my program for surviving my pain. I have no judgments. I have not got the answer. I did share my strength and encouragement with my son to try one more time again, never give up hope. Eventually some inner belief planted itself that he could find an answer one of these next times. Then the new uplifting knowledge that each time he tried and failed, he could start again from where he left off the last time he…
He could call me when he failed. I would sit across from him, wanting to breakdown in total despair. I wanted to beg him to succeed, so I would not die of my pain over all this. In those moments sometimes I would lash out with bitter, angry, or clipped remarks. Mostly I did try and not say any judgmental or despairing things. At those times of being in despair myself, raw and vulnerable, Todd would accept my momentary lapses, stoically. He believed more than I, that he was no good, a total failure. I did not need to remind him, although I did it for me. It was my anger and pain. Todd, was not my enemy or I his. We had reached a point after many years of 'crack-crap' where he knew this. I was grateful for this. The long journey to get this was old and well traveled.
I was there to share another starting over again. There was never any doubt he had to try again. Just as I knew he would make it, maybe this time or maybe next time. How to retrieve his fast dwindling boxes of worldly possessions was always first on my list of 'enabling actions'. In this moment of a zombie-like existence, while entering back into the real world, when only a moment ago deep into hell, he would have let someone saw off any leg of choice, truly believing he did not deserve this added aid to re-enter the world of 'normal'. I knew starting over again required some semblance of material possessions to function at least with a little dignity and being able to have some personal moments to weave the days together. He would sleep on my davenport and go to the mall to sit and wait for me to get out of work. He was not allowed in my house anymore when I was not there. After a failure, it could be a fast or slow slide into some kind of pit that endangered his life. He was completely drained of everything. It literally would take months of dedicated good 'effort' just to regain an existence that would not be a danger to himself or anyone else. All this was a daily reminder to Todd and me, that he was a crack-head still. And I did remind him of this, when it fit easily into our conversations. When he became angry at his bleak life, I reminded him that this was the life of a crack-head. When he sighed that he could not walk through another Michigan winter, I again reminded him this is the walk of a crack-head. I said these without bitterness, and without anger or judgment, just a quiet reminder of the sad facts. I wished I could make it not so. But I did not know how. Only Todd could figure out how for himself.
There would be rides to find another scum flophouse for him. Occasional rides to yet another interview for a bottom of the heap job. And there would eventually be rides to look for another junk car. Fixed and imprinted on my mind forever are those businesses that are a dumping ground for the drug addict's in-between binges. These companies are supplying America with cardboard boxes, hinges, and pieces of plastic and cheap hamburgers!
And he was started again.
Some would consider this enabling. This is a word that became part of my vocabulary three months after I was assaulted with Todd's crack-crap. This I feel is because they do not understand anything about crack-heads. They think it is the same as alcoholism. It's not. They both are devastating substances, but that is the only thing they have in common. Overeating can be devastating, yet no one has suggested that we send crack-heads to weight watchers as another quick fix for society's mounting endangerment from crack cocaine. There is a very fine line as to this being enabling. One can only follow their heart. Each case is different. There are no experts regarding crack-heads. There are no rules written in stone. Not yet, anyway.
My program was my program. I believed in it when I was doing it. My program was an attempt to keep my son linked to the edges of the normal, to keep him in touch with real life. Crack-heads have lost every link to normal life. They live in the underworld of the criminal, the hopeless, the ignored, the forgotten, and the lepers of our society. I searched for a link, any link to the warmth of human beings living a normal life, something to keep the memory alive. I welcomed every small and seemingly insignificant opportunity to bring him out of this black hole of life he lived in a as a crack-head and bring him into a brief moment of fresh air.
I never did give him money. Some in the family did at first, but not later. We all believed there were easy answers. I did not bail him out of jail after the first time. I did not, nor did anyone buy him necessities of life. What little he had came at gift times. However, I must confess, we all over gave to him. And each gift was drenched with tears for a love we had so little opportunity to express.
And it went on for years. Would he make it this time? Next time? He was always with us at holidays. On those brief occasions we all put out of our minds that he was a crack-head. Still, he was Todd. He was OK. He was a human being, there but for the grace of GOD, go I, Todd, son, brother, grandchild, brother in-law, uncle. He was OK, even when he filled the room with his pain.
After Todd's many grueling years of being a crack-head, the family would always ask me 'the big question' (like I had the answer) will he make it this time? Because it was I who said I was sure he'd make it one of these times. It was I who said he's starting over again, trying once again, or he's failed again.
I would always answer the same, "I do not know"! And I would count off the good things on my finger for them, like a magic potion. He's going to school part time, he's never done that before. He's working every day; he has a place to live. He's saving his money for an old car so he will not have to walk again all winter. You could get him some long winter underwear for Christmas, or gloves, maybe a warm hat. Just in case his car breaks down.
Eventually there was an aurora of peace and belief in something only I could see. The family bounced off it with their own negative, hopeless feelings, but always came back to the hope, wanting me to convince them to believe he will get it one of these days. Never realizing they were not around on those heart pounding 3 AM jump up and think he is dead kind of things.
Driving to his place, seeing his car there, a light on, was not a testimony to his being alive. I took this crumb home with me, not knowing that I really had been holding my breath until someone called who had seen him since that night and I'd let the air out.
Pulling together my own private program was the only way I could go on. Because I wanted to go out in the streets and lay down and pound the pavement, screaming for an answer. I wanted to buy a gun and search out those responsible, threaten those who went on with their lives in the face of such a massive epidemic of hopeless despair, my son being just one tiny fragment of it.
My despair reached such proportions at times, people advised me to forget my son and run for my life to the nearest counselor. Instead I turned to learning. I filled my notebooks with bits and pieces of information, I collected these fragmented shreds, and the next time Todd failed I would share them with him. He was vulnerable at those times. He'd listen to anything. I became a student of counseling a crack-head. I could not make anything be his answer. I had this huge need to let him in on everything I could find on the subject of being a crack-head, just in case something clicked with him. Most of the time I was just there, another human being across from him who was flawed, difference being I do not have crack cocaine contamination or possession. We are different. Not less, not more, just different.
And so I searched for answers. Against all the experts' simplistic answers, such as AA's program that had been put through three washes and it came out the other end as a quick and easy simple comfortable solution for crack-heads, something to soothe society back to sleep with. Here's the program. And a drug is a drug is a drug. And addiction is addiction is addiction. If it does not work, it is because the crack-head doesn't want it to work.
The more I learned, the more "suspect" I became. If AA's program was the only answer, how come it was not and does not work for true crack-heads? Not just for my son, but for all the others too. Would I have to wait for a program to be invented? Would he be alive by then? Would he be too old to start again?
On my lunch hour one day while leafing through a book written for drug counselors at the library, I almost hyperventilated over a paragraph in front of me. Guess what? That's what! I wanted to stop everyone in the library and tell them, alcoholics are always alcoholics, never an ex-alcoholic. Crack-heads could be ex-crack-heads. It seems someone discovered that when a crack-head had a relapse, it was a lapse. They did not loose all their progress. Whatever strength, resolve, and knowledge they had hopefully accumulated while being off crack the last time did not disappear. In fact it stayed right there with them. Starting again for a crack-head meant not starting all over again. But starting form the point they left off. Whatever personal bits and pieces of ammunition that had hopefully been gathered over however many years was still there.
I also found a definition for drug addiction. It is a learned response. The learning process starts as a user. Like with alcohol, not everyone goes beyond this step. For many, they easily slip into abuser before the user even notices. After that, 10% of the millions of users will slip quickly across that line into addiction where they are completely out of control.
At the next failure, I added this to my mantra of trying again, and a belief that he would make it. You have not lost whatever skills you had to quit the last time, and the time before. I told my son they were still there to use. And this time you will add some more, and one more time might just do it.
Did he cling to this as much as I did? Was this single piece of flotsam in an empty ocean of the War on Drugs Gobblety Goop enough to 'do it'? I do not know. But I clung to it. It was my life raft. And I guess I picked him up and put him in it, no matter how many times he fell off.