Me and Mary

He spoke softly at the gratitude service at the Roswell Presbyterian Church – “Today,” he said with a wry smile, “we thank God for all the ‘A’s on our kids’ report cards.”

Long, long pause.

The reality is, most of us are here because we are thankful our children are still alive. In the middle of the gymnasium sits a Mongol Horde – a loud, boisterous ball of dysfunctional energy; more than 70 teens who have admitted they are addicts. Many of these kids have overdosed on booze and pills, others have contemplated suicide, some still bear the scars of trying.

Mine, hard to distinguish from the pack, sits in the middle – happier than he’s been in years. The whole point of this program is to make sure the moment a young adult decides to be sober, that he has a new, sober peer group – and that they do activities Every Single Day that show that life can still be a helluva good time without drugs. It also teaches them how to catch up and mature – because at the point they started drugs, their emotional growth stopped.

For Ian, I’ve learned, the magic number was 12.

He has been sober for 57 days. He wears a leather knot that marks his time. I wear a leather necklace with a wooden heart to mark my forced march in this journey.

I am so happy for Ian, but I am not happy. I do not want to be here at this gratitude service, I don’t want to be part of this club. Instead, I’m going through the stages of grief – mostly stuck in anger and bargaining, with daily car conversations going something like this:

“I hate you, God. I hate you so much.”

I’m afraid. While Ian knows he’s getting better, I still am reeling from the information I’ve learned. Twice in the past year, he’s told me, he overdosed in his bed. So it was not beyond the possibility that I could have brought up his morning tea only to have found a dead son.

I don’t understand – this is my blond blue-eyed firstborn who took piano lessons, was on the track team, blew the top off the PSAT. We have always been – and still are – ridiculously close. And yet, like so many parents, I misinterpreted the signs. When the rumblings began – my hubby, Richard, was first to point it out – I thought everyone was wrong. I fought viciously with Richard. Poor Ian was struggling with panic attacks and depression.

Um, no. He was struggling with prescription pills – sold cheap at Walton High School, awash in affluenza – and anything else he could get his hands on.

Any confidence I had as a parent has been swept away. As Jerry Maguire says in the movie with the same title,”I have become a cautionary tale.” Mothers, while patting my arm, try to find loopholes in my story that will reassure them that their own children are safe.

One mom of a 15-year-old asked me if we went to church regularly. Being honest, I said, “Not really. We’re really more of the C&E variety of Christian.” She nodded, and said, “We go to church regularly.”

“Oh so did we, every single Sunday,” a mom in my parents group said, laughing, after hearing this story. “And he’d get high right after service.”

And that’s the rub. I’m divorced (loophole) and remarried. But there are plenty of very-marrieds in the group, with my favorite couple being the ones who pass their one pair of reading glasses to each other to recite the 12 Steps.

Like many parents in the meeting, I don’t drink (except girly drinks on rarefied occasions) or smoke. I didn’t even realize our liqueur cabinet had been drained, because neither Richard nor I had been in it for more than five years.

Most of these kids come from middle and upper class neighborhoods (rehab ain’t cheap) where they went to Gymboree, got bedtime stories at night, and helped decorate the 9-foot Christmas tree.

These are beloved children – with parents who have stood by them in the centers, the jails, the hospitals.

These are also sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who have blown the all-American family narrative of peace and harmony to hell.

But miracles upon miracles, these young adults are doing one of the hardest things for humans to do: change. One day at a time. And many of them are succeeding.

And us parents – as we come along – change too. The focus shifts: It becomes less about the scrapbooks and What Was – and more about the relationship Right Now. And most importantly, we’re learned that perhaps this is not where we want to be, but it’s where we need to be.

Christmas is coming. This year, we’ll be lucky if we see our son for a few hours. Because he needed to be away from his old East Cobb crew, he’s living in Alpharetta, near the rehab center. He comes home about once a week, receiving regular infusions of groceries and baked goods from me. He tells me that his roommates are impressed he knows how to wash dishes and occasionally vacuum.

It’s the first time in 17 years he wasn’t photographed for our Christmas card.

It was not what I had envisioned.

But this entire year has not been what I envisioned. And I can’t help but occasionally cry when I hear the carols that highlight Mary’s bittersweet experience (“Mary, Do You Know” comes to mind).

None of us, as we caress that newborn in our arms, really knows what we will face as parents. What trials and horrors we might endure – all for the love of our child.

Maybe it’s better not to know.

The path recently has been hard. But I know, this Christmas, as the pews grow still in candlelight, I will be grateful for merely the blessing of life. It’s still the greatest gift we all have – and cherish.

One day at a time.

Love you, son.
Happy holidays, everyone.


About digital gal
consultant for a national health care company, president of my own digital media company, mother of three, two dogs, one guinea pig, one parrot and recently, one snake.

5 Responses to Me and Mary

  1. L'Tanya Joyner says:

    Diane, As I write this I’m still in awe and shock. Please know my heart and prayers and love are with you, Ian, Richard, David and Emmy. You will get through this. Your story is inspiring and the most heartfelt piece of journalism and most of all the best example of a mother’s love. You’ve always been a no-holds-barred person who opens her heart and soul and that’s the biggest part of your journey.

  2. John Doe says:

    He says nothing of your struggles? That is my problem with organized religion. They say little and expect so much. If they had a shred of realistic compassion, there would have been no problems in address the near deaths (as you said yourself) of so many young people. What does the church offer …you. Ask yourself this, all those who care to read this: Do you offer your faith to an institution so frightened to tell the truth?

  3. Dorie Griggs says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey here, Diane. I went through a similar situation with our now 21 year old son. It is still a one day at a time process. From my experience I know the grief and anguish that goes along with parenting a child who wrestles with addiction, and in our case mental health issues. For the past 10 years since graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary I’ve developed a model of chaplaincy, or a ministry of presence, for journalists of all faiths or none at all. It sounds like you have a variety of people around you to help you see you are not alone. I hope you will draw on the many friends you do have to help you through this tie. (We are members of Roswell Presbyterian Church.)

  4. lynn says:

    One would think that prescription drugs are for adults only, although 36 years of nursing has proved this idea false. Prescription drugs are just a phone call away to your private physician. Law makers of this great country need to focus on limiting pain medicine to those that need it and not the ones that abuse it. God give you strength by the day and peace so you may rest for your soul.

  5. Carol Farrington says:

    My heart aches for you. If he’s already hit bottom–so young–good sign that he can change his life…. Love you.

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