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.
My intimate knowledge of the underbelly of the high-profit industry of addiction means that I have the grim task of translating the nightmarish reality. “Because great health insurance makes my son a commodity. Unscrupulous treatment centers promise cash bonuses to those who can lure addicts.” My friends’ reactions vary from utter disbelief—“How do you function?—to outright horror—“You need to just let him go!”. I am incapable of explaining how my love remains unconditional or why it is impossible to stop fighting for him.
Over the last five years, I’ve cultivated emotional armor that allows me to survive experiences that leave my friends and family distraught. And to reduce their angst, I have informally adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” protocol.
Since addiction entered our lives, there are progressively fewer extracurricular activities that rival curling up on my well-worn couch, with my dogs snoring beside me and downloading my deepest thoughts through a keyboard. When my eleven-year-old daughter began turning down offers to dine at her favorite restaurant or walk on the beach, I knew I had to address the issue of our increasingly reclusive lifestyle. “Here is the thing, kid,” I began, “We need to venture out more.” My explanation of the word reclusive and my analysis of the pitfalls of isolation earned me a shrug. “Let’s work on it,” I said, but silently, I acknowledged I was terrible role model with the majority of my interactions ending in a French good-bye
A Facebook post on the California page of The Addict’s Mom caught my eye. Kathleen Cochran described the “Women’s Warrior Retreat” that would soon be held in the St. Ynez Mountains. I replied with interest but privately remained noncommittal.
It was the lenient cancellation policy detailed in Kathleen’s follow-up mail that eventually sold me. As the general manager of Alisal Ranch, she had the flexibility to offer that option—and as an addict’s mom, she understood the necessity of a generous “out clause.”
I arrived to the welcome dinner late, the room was alive with whoops and laughter from the twenty women in attendance. All were all strangers, except for a mom I hadn’t seen in more than ten years, back when our boys played Pop Warner football together.
Introductions revealed that we represented nearly every county in the state and that our children were in various stages of addiction. When Kathleen recommended we send a little energy to the three moms whose children were currently “blowing in the wind,” the momentary recollection of my son’s repeated homelessness gave me a sickening shiver. Everyone murmured their earnest support and offered their utmost strength.
The evening continued with dessert, wine, and s’mores by the fire. Although only a few of my conversations that night were related to addiction, I felt an immediate and unspoken kinship with everyone in the group. We bonded as warrior women—mamas who speak the same language, who refuse to feel any shame for our circumstances, who have no need to explain how our kids “used to be” or offer any apologies for the horrors we know. When we look into one another’s eyes, we understand the sleepless nights, the gut-churning decisions, and the fear of losing our children to a disease that shows no mercy.
I approached the next morning’s hayride with hesitation, concerned that the activity would distract me from usual routine of checking my texts and preparing for pending disasters. As we drove into the lush green hills, I reassured myself I was still accessible. I admired the horses and the magical old sycamore trees while I keeping my hand on my phone in my jacket pocket. We ate breakfast in a clearing, and I polished off a second homemade biscuit with gravy as an acoustic guitar player sang, “Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right.” For the first time in a long time, I experienced a moment of peace.
The day continued with a mom leading us in Sattva Yoga. We moved energy and engaged in simple meditation techniques to release stress and regain our strength. At dinner, one mama revealed that a family friend had blamed her for her son’s addiction and swiftly ended their twenty-year relationship. I felt the abandonment and tasted the disappointment she experienced, just as I had in my own life. But instead of commiserating with her on the loss, we simply agreed that life was too short for fake friends or fake cheese and moved on to enjoy line dancing. After a hysterical, impromptu re-creation of the final scene in Dirty Dancing, I realized it was after 10:00 p.m. and I hadn’t even considered ducking out early.
Sunday breakfast conversations were interlaced with the retelling of late-night adventures, as well as discussions about alternative resources like Ibogaine and doctors who were providing legitimate Medicine Assisted Treatment. When it was time to say good-bye, I realized that I was going to miss this—and I struggled for the word—Community.
I delayed my departure with a detour to the spa. I told the massage therapist to ignore the angry red cupping marks and Kinesiology tape across my shoulders, the places where my body succumbed to the physical manifestations of stress. During the last minutes of my treatment, she whispered, “Just let the world go, you deserve this. You are allowed to take a break.” Ironic, I thought, I remain on guard even when I am determined to relax. “Remember you are a gift to this world, you are precious,” she added. I exhaled to keep from bawling.
As I headed south, I mentally honored the precious women I met that weekend—the engines who remain functional while the roller coaster of addiction whips around unexpected hairpin turns, plummets into the depths of hell, and slowly clicks back up the next steep incline.
Back at home, a friend cautiously inquired, “How did the weekend go?” She was visibly shocked by my enthusiastic response. “Wow, I was worried,” she confessed, “doing something like that was so unlike you.” I smiled: finding my tribe was an epiphany. We weren’t just addicts’ moms—we were warrior women, aligned against the same adversary, sharing our strength, and exchanging resources in order to survive one of the most powerful epidemics this country has ever seen.
We are, and will forever be, connected by our battle.