A while back, I received an email from a concerned mother describing her son’s addiction. The mother spoke about several experiences that were similar to my own. She told me about the different things she had tried to do to help, and expressed her fear that she was going to lose her son.
She then asked me a simple question: What do you wish you had done differently?
It was a tricky question. Some may even say it was a trick question. Looking for the silver bullet has been the quest of every parent who I have ever spoken to. In fact, it was even my quest for several years.
After I read her email, the woman’s question remained in the back of my mind for days. It caused me great anxiety because I simply didn’t have an adequate answer.
What do I wish I had done differently? At first, I thought of all of the little mistakes I had made. If added up, would they would have made a difference? Maybe some of the small changes might even have prevented this nightmare…or maybe not. Yet, this response did not satisfy me. After a few weeks of deliberation, I finally discovered a better answer.
I would have learned to listen.
First, I would have learned to listen to my son. Some may ask, What does a person with addiction have to say that is worth listening to? But all along, through his words and actions, my son was telling me that there was nothing I could do to “fix” him. But as a parent, I felt it was my job to fix my son. (That’s what parents do, right? We fix things.) I spent years trying to do so, despite the fact that he was telling me not to.
I would have also learned to listen to counselors and parents. Listening is very different from searching for answers. Getting answers to questions assumes that there is a single answer or methodology that will awaken not only you, but also your loved one, from this nightmare.
I would have learned to listen to my own internal struggles about what I am told. What have I heard, what do I feel, and why am I scared? My emotional reactions were the result of unresolved internal struggles.
Finally, I would have learned to listen to my heart and my head. Most of the time, one or the other wins. My heart reminds me that where there is life, there is hope. It allows me to love someone that, by all accounts, seems to be unlovable. Yet, my head reminds me of the reality of addiction. Heart versus head is not a win/lose struggle. Your heart and your head should work together. It is possible for your heart to accept that your son may die. It is also possible for your head to understand that there may not be an answer for addiction. Loving for just today is all you may get.
Listening is hard. After all, nobody will ever love your child the way you do. You fed him, changed him, raised him and provided for his every need. Listening to your child is hard when loving and caring for him has always been instinct.
What do I wish I had done differently? I wish I had learned to listen sooner.