“The energy in the courtroom was kinetic. A pass-through door that divided the space swung constantly, allowing attorneys and translators to access clients and their family members. Amid a dozen hushed conversations, I practiced boxed breathing, inhaling and exhaling to an even count. My focus was on the deputy; he was the first indication of the next case. I studied his mouth as it formed another name into his radio, summoning the next defendant from the holding tank.
If you saw my son in Prescott, Arizona– or Orange County, California, or somewhere in south Florida– he looked like an ordinary twenty-something riding in a nondescript, however telltale, white cargo van. His mainstream appearance must have provoked speculation about the path that led another addict to take up temporary residence in the community.
Except for a toxic diet of fentanyl, heroin, and benzos, my son hadn’t eaten in the last week, nor had he changed his clothes. And because he’d lost his cell phone, I felt compelled answer the call that came in from an unknown number that evening. His voice was calm and clear when he announced, “I am ready to go to detox tonight.” The declaration sparked a glimmer of hope in me that I hadn’t experienced since his relapse months earlier, but years of his opiate addiction kept me grounded. Detox is only the first of many steps.
In the final seconds of our video visitation my son commented, “Thank you for talking to me, Mom. So many parents cut their kids off. They think addiction is a moral issue.” I glanced at the countdown clock in the corner of the screen and quickly called out, “I LOVE you!” As I stared at his face frozen on the screen, I reflected on the journey that had brought us here.
While I was waiting for the elevator, I read a five-word text that tore apart my heart and left my stomach in knots. The elevator ride provided under a minute of privacy to process my 20 year old son’s message. As I re-embraced the professional environment, the words, “I will be dead soon” reverberated. My usual mantra, “Please keep him safe” was futile. I begin my presentation with a smile and further deepened my disconnection with the “normal world”.
My son’s opiate addiction creates an undercurrent of pandemonium in my life that is isolating. My friends are often blindsided by some, unimaginable trauma when my circumstances expose them to unfamiliar topics from the realm of addiction. Most recently, patient brokering. My explanation that a “junkie hunter” kept my son drugged for days in a seedy hotel room while a rehab center processed approval for treatment was incomprehensible. Describing this reality is akin to explaining an underground dog-fighting ring to a child cuddling a puppy.