March 30, 2018
Somewhere in one of Joseph Campbell’s books referencing our individual life journeys, I came across his observation that in our communication with God we should be encouraged not to dialogue from the place of “Father, forgive me for I have sinned” but rather “Father, look at all the good I have done.” And though a protestant would not say ‘Father I have sinned’ to a priest as a Roman Catholic has been taught to do, as a Protestant I was also taught to come at my religion from the position of a sinner. I orient more quickly to ‘Father I have sinned’ than ‘Hey Father, look at the good I have done’. And when it comes to banishing my son from my home before he was 18, I find it almost impossible to accept the comfort some have offered by trying to reassure me that I am a good mother.
Several times in any given month I screen several movie shorts set on a loop in my brain. In one, I am standing outside a classroom talking with a colleague about a student who has been kicked out of his home. The colleague wonders aloud how she would be able to cope if she ever did that to her daughter. My response: I deal with that every day. She is silent. What can she say when she doesn’t know if I have done the right thing or not.
In the other, I play and replay the night we decided to deny Yasik further access to our home, in less civilized terms—kicked him out. We are standing at the window in his bedroom. He is outside in the dark with nothing but the clothes on his back. We tell him he can’t come in. There is some back and forth. In frustration he sits down on the front step. Inside, I slide to the floor, slumped and overwhelmed with tears while the back and forth continues between Yasik and Dave.
We sat down with him after he returned from a juvenile pretrial treatment center stay to make clear that if he wanted to go forward with us as a family, we could not continue dealing with drugs and theft. Return to school or get a job was a must. After a couple of incidents with theft and drugs and absence from school, we had decided that if he took any more money from either of us, he would have to go. We barred him entrance that night because the story he told us about his plans for the evening turned out to be untrue and $3.00 was missing from my wallet. I have never carried much change in my wallet. We carried out the refusal to allow him in even as he pleaded he wanted at least a belt for his pants because we were uncertain whether we could handle him once he got in the house and we didn’t want him taking more of the stuff he had ready for a pawn shop. Yasik walked back into town that night to stay with a friend. I probably called in for a family day from work. In the morning we took our client to his day program, stopped at Macdonald’s to pick up some breakfast and went knocking on doors looking for Yasik to see if we could work something out. When we found him, he resisted our overtures for help. We tried to step inside the apartment we found him in so that we could talk more privately. He called us rude for trying to step unasked inside the apartment of his friend. He refused the breakfast we offered. He has always had a strong sense of justice. We were the wrong doers and needed to be put in our place. We had tried to reconnect, felt somewhat justified, ate the breakfast and went back to our home and daily responsibilities. He once made reference to our kicking him out for taking $3.00 dollars from my wallet, and I stopped him quickly by saying we found him the next morning and he refused to reconnect with us. He did not remember that, he said. Our kicking him out over $3.00 was also the story he told his probation officer. As we assured her, there was more to the story than some wallet change.
But we have never dusted off our hands, shrugged and moved on.
Our son has not lived with us other than a few short term stays since that day when he was not yet 18. At first he couch-surfed, then lived for a few years in a homeless shelter and spent one winter in a tent city. But he remained angry and resistant to offers of help for many of the first half of these past eight years.
There was nothing beautiful about that night. It was awful enough to still bring me to tears as I write. Does it trivialize the night to say it was the worst of my relatively serene and comfortable life? And what do I say to it? “Father I have sinned” or “Father, look at the good I have done”. I have not been able to let go of all the “what if”s and “maybe”s. I do try to work the mindfulness meditation idea that while we cannot control the thoughts that intrude, we can try to keep them at an observational arm’s length. And it’s true, most thoughts pass through even the most well-worn pathways in our brains in about 90 seconds. But are they resolved or just helplessly brushed aside?
Of course wisdom tells us that if we refuse to engage with or are able to let go of the guilt ridden thoughts about our relationship and interactions with our addicted loved one, we may be freer to move forward to more helpful thoughts. Outside of seeking to daily practice a conscious thought of letting go, I do not understand how ‘letting go’ operates.
However, one of the first points made in the Coping Kit prepared and made available to the families of addicts by the association, From Grief to Action, www.fgta.ca is the following:
Don’t blame yourself. Guilt is not a useful emotion.
Other people’s actions generally do not cause alcohol/drug dependency.
Admit it when you’ve blown it, apologize, and move on.
Focus on what you can do, and let go of what you can’t.
I agree that guilt is not useful. I have acknowledged failure a fair few times to Yasik, though to be honest I don’t know exactly what I did wrong. That is, of course, why I am reading and writing, seeking to understand and also perhaps find ways to more effectively support him in hopes that he will be able to return to wholeness.
But “don’t blame yourself….let go of what you can’t.” Some days I am still praying,“Father, forgive me for I have sinned.” Some days I am looking at what might be done to turn things around.