Kristi Wesbrooks Tinin-Hodge is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.
Answering “That Question” About An Addicted Loved One
One thing I think most of us do as parents, especially mothers, is take any and every opportunity we can to share and brag about our children. Our children are our biggest feat in life. A great source of joy, lessons, and yes – pain.
Since my son was born, I have taken every chance I could to boast about him.
Short of whipping out a PowerPoint, I could give you the Cliff Notes version of his life from birth to 16 and not even take a breath. He’s always been a great conversation starter. When in new situations or meeting new people if I felt out of step, I’d just approach someone and talk about my son. When all else fails, children are a common thread that unite us as humans.
Now that my son is battling addiction, those conversations have changed.
I still want to talk about him to people, especially those who know and love him, but I find I am hesitant. Not because I am ashamed of him, but because this disease has stripped yet another joy and drenched it with sorrow and awkward silence. There is sorrow when sharing news of my son with those who love him because it causes them concern if they news is not pretty. As a mother, I want to shield my son from the anxiety of others. I don’t know how to do this; and, like a lot of mothering, I don’t know if that is the right thing to do.
Then, there is the awkward silence from others.
I have realized that I am not the only person who used her child as an ice breaker. Inevitably, when meeting someone new or speaking to someone who knows you have a child that you haven’t talked with in a while, that question will come about, “How’s your son?”
Inevitably, that question will come about: “How’s your son?”
The first time I was posed this question after acknowledging my son’s addiction, it was from clients where I work. These sweet people always inquired about my son since their first visit and having noticed the picture on my desk of me with a handsome, red-haired young man. In the past, I would almost float with anticipation to share the latest of how well he was doing in school, or that he had his first job. Not this time. I didn’t want to lie to these people and tell them he was doing fine, because he wasn’t.
I pondered saying, “He’s alive” – because that is what I was most grateful for that day.
All these things ran through my mind – what will they think?; Will the fact my son is an addict affect the way they view me as a professional in a work environment?; Should I even care? Of course, I should… I could go on with all the racing thoughts; but, instead, I took a deep breath and said, “He isn’t at his best right now. Thank you for always asking about him. I appreciate that so much.”
I said it with as much light as I could muster and hoping it would appease their genuine, caring question. It did not. They then posed that question, “What is wrong?” So, I quickly asked God silently to help me answer, and He did. When I opened my mouth to respond, the truth came out, “He is currently battling a drug addiction.” I was not met with awkward silence. I was met with a hug, comforting words, and a request to pray with me and for my son. It was one of many humbling experiences I have had in relation to my son’s addiction.
Not all of those questions when answered are met with such warmth. Many are met with that awkward silence I mentioned. Many are met with more questions or a laundry list of things I should and shouldn’t do. Yet, not once, at least to my face, has the answer to that question brought me more grief. It is almost a freeing experience. It is our truth. It brings to awareness to addiction and the real people who are tragically affected.
Since the first time that question was asked, I always answer honestly, “He is currently battling a drug addiction.” I have faith that one day I can answer that question with, “He is a recovering addict.”
Kristi Wesbrooks Tinin-Hodge. Like my name, my life is complicated…. I’m a 40-something-year-old mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend who has had personal experience in loving someone and dealing with addicts and their addiction. Currently, my struggle is learning to cope with my 19-year-old son’s battle with addiction. Through God, family, friends, counseling, Prozac, and humor, I will find a way to survive.