Facing the Truth of Today

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by Gretchen Burns Bergman

My unique, adorable and cherished son lives in a sweet hallowed spot in my memory. He isn’t gone, but he is lost. I know that he is somewhere inside of the stranger that I see today, but it is easier to close my eyes to find him.

I remember my sunny, funny, frecklefaced boy who met the world with impish delight and exuberant glee. He was athletic and agile, throwing physical caution to the wind, leaping down flights of stairs, skateboarding, surfing, and doing flips off the high-dive. He could swim before he could walk.

His quirky talents entertained us all.

With focused patience and attention he could catch flies and fish with his own bare hands, and he learned to tie cherry stems into knots with his tongue. He was a creative musician who taught himself to play a mean blues harmonica. Although he played naughty pranks, he had a solid sense of fair play. In his youth my beautiful blue eyed boy was a loving, affectionate and exuberant little elf.

How can I accept the truth of today: a life interrupted and stuck for decades. I’m sure that his loss of self further frustrates and angers him, allowing him to continue to lose himself further into depression and drugs.

What do we do with our older children who have had so many opportunities at treatment, but can’t find or sustain recovery? What can we do when the pain of loss has beaten us down and the answers keep slipping away? What can we say when the world has thrown up their hands in frustration, declaring them to be unlikable, untreatable misfits?

Parents who can’t accept living with the gnawing image of their child out on the streets, lying in a gutter or living like an animal in a cage meant for criminals are declared co-dependent. How utterly dispassionate, unfair and cruel, especially knowing the very real danger of accidental overdose.

Some days I look down at my blouse, imagining that the blood that I sense leaking from my heart will soak through while I’m in denial of the devastation and busy trying to live my life. Well-meaning people advise us to detach with love. It is a nice concept, but how does it work in the real world when our adult children have failed to launch and instead have morphed into someone unrecognizable?

To all of the people who reach out to the PATH office for help, I want to assure you that we hear you and we are also frustrated with the lack of answers that we can offer you. My son’s plight, although extreme, is not unique. After years of the criminal justice system wrestling with the healthcare system over the handling of people with addictive illness, and parents being bounced back and forth through this maze, willing to mortgage their homes and do anything to save their children, we are still in a very bleak place, with little support or acceptable answers as to what to do with these damaged but cherished loved ones.

We continue to be committed to finding a humane way to handle this problem and keep hope alive. Together we must find acceptable and positive ways to free trapped loved ones from the strangle-hold of addictive illness.