A mother’s love. They say there’s nothing like it and they’re right. A mother has a unique role when it comes to having a child with a substance use disorder. For my mother it was something she was used to dealing with, but not with a child. My mother has always been a caretaker. Of her siblings, her husband, her father, then her mom, and of course my sister and I. When I was in high school my mother and I fought a lot. We butted heads about pretty much everything. She didn’t like that I wanted to stay out late, drive my car around past 11:30pm (the curfew for underage drivers in Pennsylvania), fraternize with new groups of boys every other week, and be a generally rebellious teen.
Looking back I guess she had every right to worry. I was doing the things I’m sure she was attempting to prevent me from doing. I was smoking weed and just starting to dabble in alcohol. I was spending time with boys who would treat me like dirt. The seething fights we had would always just boil down to me not wanting to be told what to do. No one could control me. Not even my mom. It was part of the reason I was so excited to go off to college when I graduated high school. I would finally be free to do as I pleased without any adult supervision. And that’s exactly what I did.
There have been so many times in my life when I’ve called my mother in a panic it’s hard to pinpoint just one or two. As the years went on and drinking became an embedded pillar of my life I learned how to avoid contacting my mom until I had no other choice. I hated having to pick up the phone and try to act like I wasn’t a mess all while attempting to explain my latest debacle. But every time I did, I always ended up having a sweeping sense of relief. Lying to my mother, omitting details, trying to handle stressful situations without her help and guidance - these were all symptoms of my addiction. In retrospect it made my life so much more unmanageable than it already was.
There are a lot of rules and advice out there about how parents should act when their child is in peril. “Don’t enable!” “Don’t freely give them your resources!” “Detach with love!” “Cut them out of your life for your own sanity!” “Give them consequences!” “Let them hit rock bottom!” I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a parent with a child who has been consumed by addiction, but now that I’m sober I try to put myself in my mom’s shoes. What would I do? What would I say? Could I detach from my child completely?
My mother never let me forget that I was loved. Even while she consoled me when I was crying on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland while I was supposed to be working, but was really nursing a terrible hangover with a stuffy nose from taking cocaine the night before. Even when I was in Cancun on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea getting blackout drunk on my birthday, not answering her phone calls. Even when I ended up in the back of a cop car at my college during Homecoming in 2010. Even when I slept through family parties and ran out of holiday dinners to the bar. Even, or maybe especially, when I called her crying once again from a foreign airport asking her what was wrong with me.
Some people might say what my mom did was enable me. Yes, she gave me money during my addiction, yes she helped clean up my messes legally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. She encouraged me to go to therapy. She has told me I should leave abusive relationships and friendships. But she has never forced me to do anything. She never cut me off. She never suggested that she couldn’t see me or that I wasn’t welcome at home. The one thing I was sure of when I was deep in my suffering was this - my mother’s unconditional love. I knew that no matter what I could call her, go to her, and be with her, without judgement.
All the times I felt hopeless, helpless, and beaten down, one thing always encouraged me to keep going, my mother’s love. She could have been angry. She could have refused to be there for me. She could have gotten off the emotional roller coaster. But she didn’t. She gave me balance and grace by constantly reminding me that I am loved, that I am capable, that there’s nothing wrong with me. I truly do not think I would have been able to get sober without this deep knowing, without her love.
My mother is a lover, a woman who wanted 12 children, and only got 2, who is notorious for taking in our friends when they need a big hug and a warm meal. She moms everyone she meets. Food is her love language. She never stopped loving me or moming me, even when I thought she should, even when I felt like I didn’t deserve her or her love.
Today my mother turns 70 years old and I still feel her love just as deeply now as I did when I was 10 years old, 16, or 27. Only now I am sober, awake, alive, and present in the moment. I am grateful my mom somehow found the strength and drive to continue to support me and love me during the years I was drinking and using. I know that’s one big reason I am here today. She’ll say what she always does, “you don’t give yourself enough credit! You’re the one doing it!” (my sobriety).
A mother’s love can be transformational. I know it was for me.
Happy birthday to the best mom in the world, not a day goes by that I am not grateful you’re mine. Thanks for loving me.