A while back, I received an e-mail from a concerned mother. In it, she described her son’s addiction. She spoke about several experiences that were similar to my own. She told me about how she had done this and that trying to help. She was scared she was going to lose her son.
She then asked me a simple question: “What do you wish you had done differently?”
It was a tricky question. Some may even say it was a trick question. Looking for the silver bullet has been the quest of every parent who I’ve spoken to. In fact, it was even my quest for several years.
For a while after she wrote, the woman’s question remained in the back of my mind. It caused me great anxiety. I simply didn’t have an adequate answer.
What do I wish I had done differently? At first, I thought of all of the little mistakes I made. Perhaps, if added up, they would have made a difference. Maybe some of the small changes might even have prevented this nightmare…or maybe not. Yet, this response did not satisfy me. After a few weeks of deliberation, I finally discovered a better answer.
I would have learned to listen.
First, I would have learned to listen to my son. What does an addicted person really have to say worth listening too? All along through his words and actions he told me there was nothing I could do to fix him. But as a parent, I knew that it was my job to fix my son. That’s what parents do, we fix things. I spent years of trying to fix him, despite the fact that he was telling me not to.
I would have also learned to listen to counselors and parents. Listening is very different than searching for answers. Getting answers to questions or “what to do” solutions assume that there is a single answer or methodology that will awaken not just you but also your addicted loved one from this nightmare.
I would have learned to listen to my own internal struggles about what I am told. What have I heard, what do I feel and why am I scared? My emotional reactions were a result of unresolved internal struggles.
Finally, I would have learned to listen to my heart and my head. Most of the time one or the other wins. My heart reminds me that where there is life, there is hope. It allows me to love someone that by all accounts seems to be unlovable. Yet my head reminds me of the reality of addiction. Heart verses head is not a win/lose struggle. Your heart and your head should work together. It is possible for your heart to accept that your son may die. It is also possible for your head to understand that there may not be an answer for addiction and loving for just today is all you get.
Listening is hard. After all, nobody will ever love your child the way you do. You fed him, changed him, raised him and provided for his every need. Listening to your child is hard when loving and caring for him has always been instinct.
What do I wish I had done differently? I wish I had learned how to listen sooner.