Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Mission of the Addict’s Mom: To “Share Without Shame”

Written by Sherry Schlenke, the mother of a child with the disease of addiction

The Addict’s Mom provides a forum to “Share Without Shame” for the mothers of the children suffering from the deadly disease of addiction. The importance of this mission cannot be over-stated. A loving mother will pass through several stages upon learning of her ...child’s addiction. First, she experiences shock and denial, then she experiences feelings of guilt and self-recrimination. As she begins to explore ways to help her child heal, she will be surprised to learn that relatives, friends, co-workers, and even experts in the field of substance abuse will contribute to her feelings of self-blame and shame.

She will be questioned about her child’s medical, social, and academic history. She will be asked to recall developmental milestones, toilet training, thumb-sucking, whether she fed her baby breast milk or bottled formula, diet, allergies, surgeries, illnesses, broken limbs, and vaccinations. She will be asked how much time she spent away from her home, how diligent she was in setting rules, boundaries, and expectations.

She will be asked about her child’s emotional well-being, moods, sleep patterns, and peer inter-actions. Then she will be asked the really difficult questions: why did you not notice that he..., how did it not occur to you that she...why did you not seek professional help for this child before we reached a crisis point? This mother will be overwhelmed by both the questions and the answers. Her child is an addict!!! He/she goes to dangerous neighborhoods, buys illegal drugs, commits crimes to finance the habit, and steals from friends and family. He is homeless, a bum in the gutter, immoral, and a common criminal.

In her mind, she will replay over and over her new mantra: I failed as a mother. My actions or inactions are the reason that my child is slowly dying. I am being punished, as is my child for my failures as a mother. The shame becomes part of her very being; the shame intrudes in her thoughts day and night. She has night terrors, and she wakes up screaming, dripping in sweat. She compartmentalizes her life so as to hide the truth from others. Friends do not call, drop by, or socialize with her. She becomes lonely, depressed, ill, insecure, secretive, guarded, anxious, fearful, pessimistic, suspicious; she isolates herself. She loses her close and open relationships with her family, perhaps even with her spouse. Most devastatingly, she begins to lose her very self.

Her Mother’s Heart is broken and crushed; she cannot find a way to help her beloved child or to cope with the loss of the child she once knew as only a mother can. He may be breathing, but he is not the child that she rocked, hugged, loved, nurtured, and worshipped. He is but a pitiful shadow of the child that she knew. She observes other families celebrating life’s milestones: a graduation, a wedding, a birth, an award, a new career. She commits her life to “saving” her child.

She visits her child in dreadful, frightful, places: the prison, the rehab center, the homeless shelter, the hospital emergency room, the Psychiatric Unit, or inescapably, the morgue. She wants to go to the beach, to the mountains, on a picnic, to a concert, to a ballgame, or on a family vacation with her child! She talks tirelessly and endlessly to experts in the field; she learns the dreadful statistics for a positive outcome. She feels hopeless when she realizes that the odds for recovery are not in her child’s favor. She learns about topics and details that are taboo, shunned, horrifying. Now she grows angry, bitter, and envious. She removes her rose-colored glasses, for she is desperate in body and soul. She struggles to climb out of her bed in the morning, and to perform the rituals of daily life. Perhaps she has other children, whose physical, emotional, and social needs must be met. How can she turn away from those children? She tries to smile, but she wears a mask, a disguise. She attempts to be cheerful for others; the strain on her is enormous.

Often, the troubled child dies. The mother must meet with the coroner, the police, the funeral home director, the pastor, priest, or the rabbi. She signs official papers, visits his bedroom, looks upon his books and clothing; these are the reminders that he once existed. She must make decisions as to the disposal of these material goods, not only the goods from his adult life, but what shall she do with his baby album where she painstakingly recorded his early years? She holds the clay plate with his little hand imprint, the finger-painted Mother’s Day card, and most heart-wrenching, she looks upon the family photo albums. Difficult decisions must be made. Why does she have to make them? A mother should not bury her child!

These mothers of children suffering from addiction, whether in active struggle, in recovery, or dead, are shell-shocked, even battle-scarred. TAM is the only forum where these world-weary mothers, both those who are engaged in an active struggle for the very life of her child, and those for whom the struggle is over, can share their experiences. The stories are tragically the same, for only the names are different. The mothers of TAM are connected by a shared, but horrible bond. We remind each other that addiction does not discriminate; addiction destroys people of all social, cultural, age, gender, economic, educational, religious and racial groups. Addiction can and does devastate families.

TAM moms understand, they feel compassion, they listen, and they do not judge as others do. TAM allows mothers to be frank, honest, and forthcoming. We can open our Pandora’s box and reveal the most intimate details about our lives, our children, our friends, our families and our struggles.

Who are we to judge, to scold, to blame? We each live in our personal glass house. We shall not throw a stone upon a grieving mother, for

each and every one of us is a grieving mother. We will complain, whine, and rant. We will offer comfort, support, suggestions, and advice. We will learn from each other. We will call, post a message online, send an email, send a text message, or even visit our new “TAM mom friends”. TAM will and does save our very souls. The Addict’s Mom allows us to truly “Share Without Shame”.

We moms of TAM are connected for life.

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