This past weekend, my husband and I attended his 30-year college reunion. We were in the beautiful North Georgia mountains with old friends reminiscing about good memories. We talked about the past but also about the present, inquiring about each other’s families. So, enters the big dilemma. What do we say?
Friend, “My son is a doctor in the Peace Corps.”
Me, “That’s great!”
Friend, “Now, you have two sons, right?”
Me, “Yes, our youngest is here.” (at the college)
Friend, “So, what is your other son doing?”
Dilemma Alert! Now I have two options:
Option #1: “He is an addict, killed someone while DUI, and is now serving 14 years in prison.”
Option #2: “”He is in Texas, trying to find himself.”
“The best gift we can give our addicted love ones is to talk about addiction. To bring it out into the light, to foster understanding and change.” Sandy Swenson
For a long time, I never went anywhere that would put me in that situation, because I did not know how to address that question. Christmas cards with family pictures were also not sent because there would always be a missing piece, and I did not want to explain where our oldest son was.
Option #1 holds a couple of challenges, and there are usually one of two responses. The first, is the “Oh my gosh! I am so sorry I asked” response. Then, comes the awkward uncertainty of what they should say next. Do they ask questions or just apologize and move on? The second response is the “How are you here? Why are you not lying in the fetal position in a dark room crying hysterically?” The fact that I am not an emotional basket case confuses some people. Sometimes are better than others, but when you deal with this day in and day out you must toughen up to survive.
Initially, the situation was too hard to talk about without breaking down. As time went on, I became good at compartmentalization, keeping each part of my life in a neat separate little box. This worked if one world did not collide with another. Embarrassment of being the parent of an addict became my next motivation. Who wanted to talk about being a failure as a parent? Now, I do not want the other person to feel awkward and embarrassed. If, I am unsure, I will usually go with option #2. It saves time and explanation.
I am more than happy to share our story especially if it will help someone else, but not everyone is ready to hear it yet.