Author: Kassi Buscher.
Before my son overdosed, his life was my best kept secret. No one, not even my husband, knew the depth of his addiction. On the surface, he didn’t look like an addict, he didn’t talk like an addict and he certainly didn’t act like an addict (unless he was in his comfort zone with other addicts).
Many days and weeks he was able to “control” his addictive behavior and transform into a mainstream upper middle class young adult. When he just couldn’t bear “it” anymore, however, he would seek refuge with the one thing that made him feel adequate. When things would get to the point that he became worried that his life would end or would never begin, we would start the recovery process. This was our cycle for many years.
I was very ashamed, for him and by him. I spent the past 8 years or so wondering what I did to cause this. I was torn between an undying hope that he would see the light and a deep sadness that there was no light to see. My mantra was “no expectations”, which would help me through all of those times that he never quite became what I knew he could be.
When my friends would tell me about their children’s AP classes, prom dates or college acceptance letters, I would smile and tell them how great their lives must be. When or if they would ask about my son, I would say he is doing great, traveling around, a student of the university of life. Only a carefully selected few would ever know that he was an addict, that it started right here in Howard County, in a blue ribbon school for that matter. I am now pretty sure that deep down most people knew what my family was going through, but to save face, decided not to inquire.
At home we never spoke of it, unless we were signing papers and shuffling money for another rehab. We would agree that this was the final chance, this is the “one”, and he will have to do this on his own. We CHOSE to tuck it away and only speak of “it” if it was an absolute emergency.
As I look back now I can clearly see what this was: fear. I was so afraid to be honest because I was afraid my honesty would condemn him to a stigma of the worst kind – that of a junkie, who has zero importance on this earth. Because, if I am being honest, isn’t that what we all think of anyone who is an addict? I was so afraid that with one word to the wrong person, I would erase any “good” quality that others saw in him. I was afraid that he would never be trusted, loved or understood by any other human other than me. So I kept my mouth shut and continued to send him away to rid him of an addiction that was probably caused by feeling like I was sending him away in the first place.
We have been taught by our own society that addicts and alcoholics are worthless, in other words, not worth the time. Unless you make a conscious decision to understand this life, you most likely have allowed society to just decide for you. Addicts make us uncomfortable. They make us nervous. Especially addicts that are just like you and me in every other way. It is socially unacceptable, so most people spend their adult lives walking the tightrope between social user and pathetic loser. Most people probably know deep down that they fell off this rope on the wrong side a long time ago, but their middle class lives will not allow them to admit it. So instead, to hide the fear and to make ourselves feel comfortable, we pretend that “we” don’t have a problem and the few that do must be the exception to the rule. We JUST SAY NO: to therapeutic treatments, to recovery centers, to opening our eyes.
It may sound that I am attempting to demean my own county, I am not. I have lived here since 1979, it is all I have ever really known. Howard County is no different than 95% of the suburban counties in America. We, the citizens, are just doing what we thought was right based on the knowledge we were given. Addiction is on the bottom of the list of priorities because there is so much else to do – pave roads, create jobs, build more schools. And unlike saving addicts, those other things are way more attractive and sexy.
So, this very long post actually has no answers. But I am hoping that it will help you see that behind all of those who are making your pursuit difficult and challenging, lies the addicts (and those who love them) who so desperately need help and a sense of belonging, but who are too ashamed, too afraid to admit it. The ones who are shunning you and throwing you out are the ones who are most afraid that they, deep down, are inadequate and not enough. They have covered it up with layers of ignorance, fear and the feeling that they are superior.
The only thing that we really have is hope. Hope that someday those who face addiction will be embraced and understood by their fellow human beings. And the only way this can happen is if we keep fighting, keep talking and keep trying to make it happen together.