By Wesley C. Davidson and Joseph A. Shrand, M.D.
In this blog, author Wesley Davidson relays her trajectory of losing a child to drug abuse. Her story is empirically based and is the yin of Dr. Shrand’s yang. Dr. Shrand’s observations in “Dr. Joe’s Shrink Think” stem from his long career in counseling children, adolescents and adults, particularly in the field of addiction, his authorship of four books, his innovative approach to treatment and prevention with Drug Story Theater, and his knowledge of current research he incorporates into his practice and teaching position as an adjunct faculty member at Boston Childrens Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Unfortunately, Ms. Davidson’s story is played out all across the United States. In 2017, the year after Ms. Davidson’s son overdosed, over 70,000 U.S. citizens died similar deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. As Wesley fully knows, losing a child to drugs is every parent’s nightmare. It leaves the mourner with many issues.
One of the legacies is guilt. Parents are supposed to be able to control their children, right? From the time they’re born, parents believe their job is to protect their children, not let them veer into harm’s way, resulting in death.
When your child predeceases you, you wonder where you went wrong. Guilt has a way of reminding us what happened. The “what ifs” and the “if onlys” plague you. They can seep in when you’re driving, playing a game of tennis or seeing a friend’s son whom you know had drug issues and is now sober. You feel guilty about what could have been. A bright, good-looking, charming son should have had a better future!
Where did I go wrong? Was I too forgiving? Did I let my son, starting at a young age, off the hook by hiring lawyers to reduce his traffic tickets or later, felonies reduced to misdemeanors? Was I, in effect, an accomplice? Did I establish a pattern for my son not taking responsibility? And did my son suffer the consequences for my perhaps misguided attempts? Mea culpa, I think.
I feel guilty because the outcome wasn’t what I wanted. How did I allow myself to be beaten down and give in to an individual who was manipulative? Lying and stealing, he ruled the house. The drugs caused him to shed his former self.
Chaos ruled the house, everything was topsy-turvy: late-night calls from the user or the cops, credit card fraud, uncontrolled anger that accuses you of being wrong. I was always wrong and told I am “co-dependent.”
As a parent, have you ever felt at peace when your child is sent to jail or rehab? There are no arguments, thefts or sleepless nights during this holiday. Now you can have some “me” time! I know I felt that way.
But this so-called vacation is a mixed blessing because it makes you feel guilty that you’re enjoying yourself. You’re not being bothered and you wish your child would stay away longer. You find relief in his absence, just as you find solace in the fact that you and your husband are no longer fighting about how to handle a difficult kid who doesn’t resemble his former identity.
Even with a child’s death from a life hideously afflicted with substance abuse disorder, there is a certain sense of calming within your soul, that your child is finally at peace. It’s just too bad that it takes a death to achieve that peace. Your home, too, is not infested with the toxic effects of drug usage, but incongruently, it dredges up other considerations such as anger and loss.
After the service for our son and the condolence letters were sent to us, it seemed as if the attention and empathy, for the most part, stopped. We are seldom asked “how are we doing?” I wonder sometimes if I’m being judged. If I were an effective parent, could I have swayed our son to “snap out” of his lifestyle? Are they thinking this? Guilty again? Is it a parent’s fault if they can’t control their adult children?
Dr. Joe’s Shrink Think:
Addiction is not about morality, it is about mortality. It is the way our brains are designed. Some people can come from the best and most supportive families, go to a party, and be offered a mind-altering substance. For some people this first time may lead to no further use. But for some, this first use can start like an ambling and exciting path through the woods but end up as a super highway with very few exits.
Wesley would not feel guilty if she did not care. Guilt is a wish to have some influence, some control, over an event that leaves a person feeling powerless. It was the temporary escape from that powerlessness that gave this mother a sense of relief when her son was in a jail or in a program. But then her son overdosed and could not be revived.
That is a very different type of powerlessness. From which there is no true relief. There will always be the “what ifs.” Wesley, or any parent, who has lost a child, will never get over it. But they will have to come to terms with it or it will consume them.
So that is what these blogs are for. They are Wesley’s effort to come to terms with the death of her son, and to try and help those millions of parents who are struggling with that same fear out there, that same powerlessness, that same guilt.
It is this fear of being judged that also inhibits many parents from coming out of the shadows to seek help. To parents who may be reading this: you are not at fault.
I repeat that addiction is not about morality, it is about mortality. Please, please come out of the shadows and ask for help. You need not be judged!
If you have any thoughts or comments, please share them here. Let’s come together to help each other when the opioid crisis hits home.