By Aaron Emerson
The year was 2012. Sometime in January, to be exact.
I had just got done serving a year in jail. I was 20 years old. A whole year of my life spent inside a cell, living amongst criminals. I had already started using heroin again. I knew I was gonna go back to it as soon as I was released. I felt hopeless and just knew that my life was over. I was the lowest of the low. The two cops who did my discharge paperwork mockingly made a bet on how long it would take for me to be back. The over/under was two months. I’d accepted what I was and didn’t see any hope to change it.
My Dad, knowing that I was already back to using, told me one of the saddest things I have ever heard in my life.
“Do you know how much your mom loves you?” he asked. “She missed you so much when you were gone.”
I could feel. Emotions, pain, anger, hurt, sadness. Contrary to what many believe, heroin doesn’t take away the ability to feel. The euphoric rush it provides when you first inject it takes the pain away, but it always comes back. The worst part about addiction is living with regret but feeling that there’s no way out, no way to stop the hurt you are doing to yourself and others.
“Yes, I know she does,” I replied back.
My Dad kept going. “On your birthday, she missed you so much that she drove up to the jail and sat on the bench outside the lobby.”
“No she didn’t,” I simply said back, knowing what he was getting at, but not wanting to deal with the conversation when I was in the process of trying to scrounge up money for a fix.
“Yeah, she did. Even though she couldn’t come visit you that day, she just wanted to feel close to you, so she got as close as she could by sitting outside the jail.”
That was all I needed to hear to kick my search for a couple packs of heroin into full gear. The physical withdrawal is nothing compared to the mental torture I heard in that conversation with my Dad. I needed to escape as much as I could, and I did. I went out and bought as much dope as I could to try to numb my thoughts, even though it was impossible that day.
That conversation still sticks with me to this day. My Dad was not in the wrong whatsoever. He was scared of losing his son. He was trying to say anything to get my attention. I’m sure he had hope that doing a year in jail would be a wake up call for me and that I would seek help and get sober.
But I didn’t. So there we all were, back in the chaos of addiction. A tight-knit, close family from the small town of Mason, Michigan, ravaged by heroin. Through no fault of their own, my parents and siblings were thrown into the middle of a nightmare.
Nobody was affected more than my mom, though. Not to minimize how much my addiction affected anyone else in my family, or to say her pain was greater than my Dad’s, because I don’t think it was. But a mom feels different about her son than anyone. The bond is different.
Throughout the decade I dealt with drug and alcohol addiction, my mom was the only one who never truly got mad at me. She never yelled unprovoked, never called me a mean name, never stopped answering my calls in jail or rehab, never failed to defend me. She just simply never gave up. It just wasn’t in her nature. That’s not to say she never got upset with me or made me leave her home when I was using, but if I called her needing help, she was always there, even if I had just stolen from her the day before.
Today, I am sober. My life isn’t perfect, but I have escaped active addiction, work a full time job and participate in a plan of recovery. I have my ups and downs, but my mom is still right by my side. I can’t pretend that I don’t ever take her for granted, because I do. But my appreciation for her love and devotion to her kids has reached a height I never could have imagined.
As happy as I am to have established a healthy relationship with my mom, it also breaks my heart to think about the mothers who have not been as fortunate as mine. You know, the moms who have lost their sons or daughters to addiction.
Earlier this year, one of my best friends died of an overdose. I was a pallbearer at his funeral, and the image of his mom crying as she watched his casket get lowered into the ground is sketched into my mind forever. When I see her, I can’t even imagine what she must feel everyday. My mom had to go sit outside a grimy jail to feel close to me on my birthday as I was inside, locked away in a cage. But I was alive. Andrew isn’t, and his mom has to visit his gravesite to feel close to him.
As a male, I will never understand what it feels like to birth a child, take care of it and raise it. But I can appreciate the love and bond a mother feels towards her child when I think back to that conversation I had with my Dad in my kitchen as I was frantically searching for drug money.
To any mother who is dealing with an addicted son or daughter, or, even worse, the grief of losing their child to drugs, you are amazing. You are appreciated, even if you haven’t been told. Thank you for being you.