Saturday, March 23, 2013
That title (besides being the title of one of the best rock and roll songs ever written and performed) pretty much sums up the past couple of weeks of my life. As many of my Sparkfriends know, my husband and I took in our youngest child as a baby. He is now 9 years old. He began life as our nephew, the child of my husband's "baby" brother and his then wife. Addiction took hold of the birthparents, took them to awful places, and they simply could not take care of a child. We took P. in and have raised him as our own for most of his life. He knows about his birthparents but has had limited contact with them over the years, due to the nature of the beast of addiction. He has, at times, experienced deep sadness and longing for his first parents. There are also other children involved - three older siblings that his mother had when she met my brother-in-law, and a child born to her and my brother-in-law two years ago. The oldest three are with a relative of the birthmother, the 2 year old girl is with a lovely adoptive family who initially took her in as a temporary foster care placement, and, of course, we have our wonderful P. It took a lot of wading through foster care requirements and a big dose of serendipity, but we have been fortunate to be able to connect all five birth siblings. Last weekend, I picked up the three oldest (12 year old boy/girl twins and a 13 year old girl) and they joined P. and I as we drove an hour south to celebrate the 2nd birthday of the youngest sibling. For the first time in their lives, all five siblings were reunited. It was very sweet. My sweet boy spent too much time worrying about his siblings - where were they? were they okay? when would he ever see them? To be able to give him time with them, so he can see that they, too, are in loving homes and being cared for, to give him peace of mind, has been priceless. We had had visits with the youngest, or with the older siblings, and that had been joyous, but circumstances always conspired to prevent everyone from being together at the same time. So, it was a sweet success to gather them all together for a celebration.
The very next day, we had another reunion. It was set in motion earlier in the week when I picked up the phone and called my b.i.l. We had heard he was clean and sober but I was skeptical, as was my husband. We had so hoped he would find his way back but he had gone down so far, for so long, that we had given up hope. We would get occasional updates about him, and, slowly, I found my skepticism receding, my hope growing bit by tiny bit. In a truly welcome, God-given development, my resentment and anger towards him and his former wife dissipated. When I made the decision to call him, I did so with my mind and heart as open as I could allow them to be. He was nervous, I was nervous, but we began to talk. We made a date for he and I and my husband to meet for lunch. As soon as my husband and I saw him, we embraced him. We could tell by looking at him, that he was back. There are no guarantees with being and staying clean and sober. I have been in recovery for 27 years and I know that I could lose it all with one decision to drink. As we spoke, J's humility and gratitude and honesty were apparent. These are all essential components for having any chance at staying away from booze and drugs. We spoke about a lot of things and of course we spoke about the precious little boy we all have in common. We bragged about P. which is easy to do, he is a remarkable kid. At one point, I told J. that P. is an anxious kid and that we spend time helping him sort through his fears so that they don't dictate his life and hold him back from life. My b.i.l. got a look on his face and told me, "what you just said about P., that is me - I have felt that as long as I can remember". Trust me, this would not be your first thought if you met my b.i.l. He is 6'5", 250 lbs, strong and athletic (thankfully, his addiction did not destroy his body and health though it came very close to doing so). I am currently reading a fascinating book "The End of My Addiction" by Dr. Olivier Amiesen where he hypothesizes that the root of addiction, rather than just being a genetic defect, is more often self treatment of anxiety and other mood disorders. He includes compulsive over-eating in his list of addictions that troubled minds/souls use to quiet their anxiety. I had a sense of compassion that, I am not proud to admit, had been missing from my feelings about my b.i.l. and his wife. I had spent so much time being angry and upset with them for the lifestyle they were leading, that it overwhelmed the compassion and empathy I did sometimes feel for them. When I met my b.i.l. he was a little boy of 10 years old. I was immediately taken with him. He was such a sweet little boy. It broke my heart when he took such an ugly path. It broke a lot of people's hearts, including his own. I don't see him as a victim - he did a lot of awful things that he will have to atone for. My husband and I, however, were in agreement after spending time with him, that we would be willing to risk a reunion between J. and P. We did not make this decision lightly, at all. When I expressed concerns to sweet P. about the risk to his heart of us letting J. back into his life, he said "Momma, I am not a little daisy - my heart can handle this." He is certainly not a little daisy. He definitely takes after his birthdaddy. At the age of 9, he is nearly as tall as me (I am 5'3"), he wears a man's size 10 shoes, and can throw a baseball or a football so hard that it makes coaches eyes light up. But, he is a sensitive boy and I have devoted lots of time to protecting him from harm so that is my first instinct. My husband and I and our 20 year old son and P. all met up with J. at a baseball facility with batting cages which turned out to be a brilliant place to meet. P. was a little shy but so excited to see J. J. greeted our 20 year old son, first, with a big hug and then he turned and saw P. He wrapped him up with a warm hug and P was beaming. J. told me, with a wink, "he's a little beast!" Once they got situated and started hitting baseballs, P. turned to me with huge eyes and said "look how hard he hits the ball, Momma". It was a joy to see J. being athletic again, looking strong and healthy, after so long of fearing he would kill himself with drugs. As all "my boys" were hitting baseballs, it did my heart good. I love them, I love baseball, and we were all together, enjoying one another's company. I know it won't be smooth sailing from here on out, that we are in a honeymoon period, but it does not diminish the miracle. P. had a great perspective. After spending the afternoon with his birthdaddy, he told me "we just need to build a bridge made out of trust" (I LOVE this kid, this wise little 9 year old). Just the fact that J. expressed so much gratitude towards us, is a blessing. At one point he told me that he will feel indebted to me for the rest of his life. After years of he and others in the family resenting me for what they thought was my unreasonable stance about protecting P from what I considered harmful situations, it was nice to hear some gratitude, believe me. My b.i.l. and I have been exchanging text messages and one of his, to me, was how blessed he feels to have family again because "it has been a long and lonely ten years".
We are pursuing a legal adoption which is complicated because P's birthmama is a member of a tribe and the tribe only allows for adoption if both birthparents sign away their parental rights. I told J. that we want to go the formal adoption route because, to me, the difference between having third party custody, and formal adoption, is like the difference between being married and living together. I want P. to know we were never looking for an exit, that we are committed. He will retain his birthdad's last name (they also share a middle name) and we are hoping to encourage a warm relationship between them but we wish to finish the job we started. J. agrees, as painful as it is, and volunteered to broach the subject with his ex-wife. She told him she wanted to speak to me. We had not spoken for years and the last conversation was not pleasant. I had some trepidation, but I called her. She has been quite ill and she told me that has softened her perspective on allowing adoption. I reminded her, at one point, that we were never protecting P from HER, but from her addiction. She said she understood that. I couldn't help but think she would love to be protected from her addiction. It has cost her nearly everything. Again, she has made horrible choice after horrible choice but, because I know a lot about addiction and I know a bit about her life and how awful it has been from the outset, I do have some empathy. I am guarded, but I am not indifferent to her situation.
Our story is not over. It may get worse before it gets better. It may get sadder. It may turn ugly once again. But, right here and right now, there is hope and there is compassion where there once was a great shortage of both. In the book I referenced earlier, the author is hopeful about a new drug being studied to address the very real biological component of the addictive brain. In my experience, one of the most powerful spiritual antidotes to addiction is love. Love is one of the few forces that holds any sway over addiction - I have seen it many times, in my life and others. Love may not be the cure-all, but without it, there is no hope for freedom from addiction. My family history, and my husband's, is shot through with addiction and alcoholism and other forms of compulsions. There are days that I feel nothing but exhaustion and some hopelessness when I think about it. These past days, however, exhaustion has been replaced by hope and compassion and a whole lotta love.