Part One: The end of the beginning
We were told only to dress warmly. The guides provided Brawny Man snow boots and gloves. They gathered the eight anxious and emotionally worn families, assured us that we would have “fun” and we headed out.
In knee-deep snow, I quickly found a cadence that allowed myself to navigate the loose powder like a gazelle, prancing over a billowy blanket. The scenery can only be described as Mother Nature at her finest meets…..Fargo.
Ahead of us, the pristine, untouched snow represented the hope and dreams of every person on that trip. By simply looking behind us, our footsteps and the wrecked, demolition of nature in our wake represented why we were on this adventure, in the first place.
For fifteen minutes we trudged, Jordan and Larkin at my sides, we were already giggling. “Where are they taking us?” Joshua walked ahead with his new friends. I thought to myself, “He’s only know these guys for 30 days and they know everything about each other.” Then, I realized, “Hell, I’ve just met these other parents 4 days ago and I will remember them forever.” Let’s just say, you really get to know folks pretty quickly in a “group” setting.
What a week. Starting the New Year, 2013, in Montana. At a young men’s rehab facility. What was it, that Dr. Seuss said? Ah, yes…”Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
Larkin and I were not blind sighted by our son’s addiction to prescription pills. Addiction runs loyal and deep on the male side of our family. Hello? Remember my brother-in-law’s book? (And yes, he is named after his uncle.)
Still, you’re really never prepared to watch your child pour out his heart, declare his failures and share his darkest secrets in a big circle of strangers under fluorescent lighting.
I had never been to any kind of group therapy/meeting. I had always said my last name when I met new people and I most certainly had never heard my name echoed right back to me, by a room full of people who looked exactly how I felt. Heartbroken, terrified and clueless.
We were all shell-shocked families gathering in a warm cabin, remarkably sharing the same story. We were all the same. Sure, different backgrounds, different settings. But, we all had the same questions burned into our eyes, written all over our faces…will THIS work? Is this nightmare over?
On that last morning of Family Week, a year ago today, we trudged into the woods for our “Family Course Challenge”. The counselors asked our sons, ages 14-22, to blindfold their families and asked us to be silent. (Ha!) Joshua tightened the bandana around my head and I quickly realized I didn’t have my bearings as to where Jordan and Larkin had ended up. Our sons gently maneuvered us into a line and we were told to grab the rope to our right.
Where? What rope? Where? Oh, whew, okay I got it, I got it. No talking! Ssshhh. Silence, please!
The guide announced that we would be taking a hike. Blindfolded. In silence. In three feet of snow. Led by a bunch of addicts.
Our chain gang began the hike gingerly, each of us trying to step accurately without falling. It was made difficult by each of the 16 people blindly tugging and pulling on the same rope. We must all look drunk right now. It took us all a few minutes to steady ourselves, but we developed a rhythm quite quick.
After awhile, I found myself in the groove; even daydreaming about the sound of the quiet. I was really taking in the sounds; my boots crunching in the snow, the group’s collective breathing, a lonely bird cawing overhead. Probably a vulture biding his time, I thought, surely one of us is going down.
The crisp, fresh air felt like an astringent on my face. Funny, I wasn’t even cold. I was just in the moment.
Then, up ahead, the path became rocky and one of the moms bobbled. The rope started to lurch forward and I immediately felt a panic mixed with vulnerability and competitiveness. “There is no way I’m falling!”
Oh, no…I can’t yell and I’m starting…to… to fall…wait, no…oh!
In one superhero-like flash, two powerful hands grabbed my shoulders from behind me, caught me before I could fall, straightened me right up and whispered in my ear:
I got you, mama.
My breath stopped. It was so quiet that I felt my beautiful baby boy’s whisper echo right through me, into the trees and out into the morning air. “I got you, mama.” I hadn’t even realized that Joshua was near me, watching me struggle blindly. Literally.
That gesture, him catching me; taking care of me, overwhelmed me in an instant. I recognized the cold that very moment, as those first hot tears spilled down my face in silence. My son saved me from falling.
Just like we were trying to save him.
Every time I recall this story, my throat catches. It is hands down, one of the top five most precious moments of my life. That hike, that day, that whole week, actually. The love, strength and honesty we shared with each other, with total strangers, was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.
If you would’ve told me that one of my best New Year’s ever would be “Family Week” at a substance rehabilitation facility, in the mountains of Montana, I would’ve simply replied: “You must be high.”
I gave myself a full year, before I shared our story. I am more than proud that Joshua chose help and committed to this path, made even more challenging as he is a college student. As hard as it was, I can honestly say, that 2013 was a great year for our son.
If you have a loved one in your life that has a substance addiction, please do not feel alone. Get to an Al-Anon meeting, find a trusted friend or get in touch with me. Keeping it to yourself only adds to the fear. I promise you, it is more common than you think. You are not alone.