Saying NO to the Addict I Love

By Karen Hunt 11/01/16

I love my son with a pain that is deeper and harder to bear than any I have ever known. It never ends, that pain, even when I laugh or smile, or wake up to a beautiful brand new day.

A woman standing with crossed arms in front of a chalkboard with muscular arms drawn on it.
Saying no is the only hope for me.

I try to make plans because that’s how I am: responsible. I try to get it all figured out because I am intelligent and optimistic and because I have always believed that whatever I set my mind to, I can achieve; that no matter what challenges I am going through right now, it will be okay, somewhere down the line, like tomorrow maybe. Yes, tomorrow, it will be better. Tomorrow it will all work out. I am a strong woman, after all. I live a healthy life. I work hard. I set a good example. I’m a martial artist. I teach in a boxing gym. I can kick anyone’s ass.

So why can’t I kick this?

Just because the person I love is an addict doesn’t mean I stop loving him. He is my son. I do everything I can to make it better, to fix it, to enable, yes, enable him to make the right choices. I listen to his excuses with desperation, I eagerly lap up his apologies and hand out the money, even though I know in my heart where it will go. I make adjustments to my life, stop seeing my friends because I can never be sure what will be going on in our house and I don’t want my friends to know. I give up on having a romantic relationship. Who would want to be involved with my horrible situation? I alienate family members or draw them into my efforts. I create what I think is a more conducive environment so that nothing will trigger the addict I love. I wash his clothes, pay his bills, bail him out of jail, watch over him when he says he is detoxing, when actually he is using me to take a shower and rest up and get a few meals and some cash, until I am drowning in caring for him and not myself. I go through a nightmare of endless hallways and doors that lead nowhere, doors in fact that are punched through, drawers that I open, pockets that I search—throwing away the evidence as if by making it all disappear, I can magically make it never reappear.

I tell myself that I will set down boundaries and this time I will stick to them. Never again will my loved one grab my purse out of my hands and empty my wallet. Never again will he threaten to tear my face off, never again will he come home with credit cards and rings and necklaces or even a child’s jewelry box. Never again will I get up in the morning and find a baseball bat by the front door and have to throw it away quickly while my loved one is asleep. Never again will I spend night after sleepless night wondering where he has gone when the front door slams, or when he will come back, and as the hours and days go by, if he is dead or alive.

I try to take action. I will take down that drug house that mocks me and every other mother who has driven by and stared at the forbidding façade, or even had the courage to bang on its door and drag a teenager out of it. Where are the fathers? Where are the fathers? I could scream and stomp and gnash my teeth, and I do, but it just exhausts me even more. Instead of letting self-pity overcome me, I go to the police station and make a report about that drug house. I tell the police the address, I tell them how it has destroyed the lives of the ones I love, how I know with certainty that beautiful young people have had their souls stolen in that house, how I know of deaths directly related to drugs obtained in that house. I describe how the basement is partitioned off with dirty sheets, underage girls having sex on stained mattresses, shooting up, the place has a dirt floor and smells of urine and feces, the walls are covered in graffiti of clowns and demons. This house has eaten my loved one and his friends alive. Can’t something be done about it, please?

Oh, yes, I know that house, the policeman says when I show him a picture. He tells me with some pride that they raided that house not too long ago and nothing was found. In fact, he himself was on that raid and he is an expert, trained specifically in finding drugs. He shakes his head and scribbles his report on a piece of paper. It’s frustrating, he admits. They are doing their best. I go away feeling defeated and stupid. What made me think I could initiate a miracle by the sheer force of my determination, by the power of my words? I follow up with phone calls to the narcotics department and my calls are never returned. I give up this possibility as I have given up all others, my efforts falling into a black hole of nothingness.

This ugly, terrifying and demeaning existence might go on for years—for some people it never ends. While I pray and cry and worry, while I stave off a stroke or heart attack a little bit longer—grabbing onto every ray of hope and pouring myself with even more dedication into saving the addict I love, my handsome and talented son who is now no longer a teenager and whose eyes are haunted by dreams that have turned into nightmares. My apartment becomes a haven for his friends, all with the same broken dreams, all running from their fears. They sleep on the floor, they throw up on my sofa, they eat my food, they argue, they come and go and scare my neighbors, and I have to move again and again. I lose my deposits, scramble to pay another first and last month’s rent in a new place, praying that this time it will be different and the neighbors won’t complain. But the madness only gets worse and I am so far into this cycle of hope and despair that I don’t know how to stop it.

Yes, this can take years, this process, until I have nothing left, no more money for lawyers and doctors, no more heart. I am ready to die, so strung out with fatigue and the inability to think straight, that I finally collapse and say NO. I don’t say it because I have intellectually reached a conclusion that makes sense. I say it because I have lost the ability to say yes. Because nothing is left to say yes about.

No more choices. No more actions. No more rationalizations. I have nothing more to give. I am an empty shell.

The addict that I love might go on living or they might die. It is no longer something that I can fool myself into thinking I have control over. They might well find someone else to bleed because they have bled me dry. And I will have to let them do it. I will have to let them go. It is time to save myself.

And then what happens? How does life carry on? How do I pick myself up from the ashes? It is impossible to know. It is like jumping off the cliff and believing that wings will sprout and I will fly. Everything about saying no goes against my instinct to save the one I love. But the truth has finally taken me to the end of that long hallway and pinned me against the wall, and I am forced to see that I will never save him from his hunger and obsession; that what was once perhaps a choice for him stopped being a choice and became a necessity a long time ago, and the only way for him to find freedom is through his own journey. Yes, I still want to bring down that drug house and I even started developing more concrete plans about how to do it. In the meantime, I must accept that the one I love went into that house willingly and came out as something that I never thought possible: a predator, a vampire, a consumer of any light around them. And he has consumed me. I love my son with a pain that is deeper and harder to bear than any I have ever known. It never ends, that pain, even when I laugh or smile, or wake up to a beautiful brand new day. I must learn to breathe when the panic strikes, when I feel the impotence of my situation and know I can do nothing. Nothing.

Saying no means I accept that saying yes has only succeeded in making both of us sicker. Saying no is the only hope for me. I cannot say what hope there is for my son. I leave that for him to find out. 

For every person who loves an addict, that journey towards realization is different. But if we are to heal ourselves, we must somehow reach the point where we admit that our good deeds have been a part of the problem instead of a part of the solution. When that happened for me, saying no became the most positive and empowering gift that I could ever give to the addict I love.


Karen Hunt aka KH Mezek is the author and/or illustrator of nineteen children’s books. She is the co-founder of InsideOUT Writers, a creative writing program for incarcerated youth, and the founder of the MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas through art and writing. She is a 2nd degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, a first degree brown belt in Eskrima, and a boxing and kickboxing trainer. For the past year, Karen has been traveling the world having adventures while writing her new YA Urban Fantasy series, NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES. 

Twitter: @karenalainehunt

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