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The Mothers of Addiction

The Mothers of Addiction

The Mothers of Addiction

When my son was a toddler, a resourceful mother bird built a nest in the tree outside his bedroom window. It was stressful for both of us to watch. The sparrows built their nest during a Florida wind storm. And because they took up residence in our tree, we felt responsible. We’d sit on the floor of Jonathan’s room and supervise like unqualified nannies. Knocking on the window if our cat came too close to the tree. Fending off a marauding osprey as it cast a shadow on the speckled eggs.


Even with all our knocking and peeking (and yes, touching the nest), life happened. And when the fledglings tried out their wings, I was horrified to see that they dropped like stones. Or careened into bushes and walls while they learned the un-easy task of flying through the air.


And the mother-bird, exhausted as any single parent with sextuplets, spent all the live-long day feeding her charges a steady diet of regurgitated grubs and worms. The daddy-bird was like the father in Angela’s Ashes – rolling in late on a work-night, the food money spent. Perching on a branch with a detached look on his little bird face.


And here’s the thing – birds don’t leave the nest until they are bigger than their mother. Crammed into their crib and bellowing for MORE GRUBS till my son and I were mouthing through his window, “Oh, come on. It’s time to fly away already.”


When they did finally leave, I dismantled the nest… but the lesson was learned.


Parenting in the best of times …

My son was visiting from Florida last week.  And it reminded me of that mother bird. My son is almost 26, but I feel exactly the same toward him as I did when he was a child. The same pride at his many accomplishments. The same punch in the gut when I feel with his hurts or disappointments. I still think he is one of the funniest people I have ever met… the most engaging…


Luckily, Jonathan is going through a “good phase”. He is happy, healthy and just got a promotion. And it’s not like I wait around for the other Vans slip-on to drop, but I am ready for the phase where I might have to step in again. After all, parenting doesn’t stop at 18. For a mother, her children never leave the nest.


And the worst…

Last week the Director of Admissions at Sanford House was out for a couple of days, and I answered phones on her behalf. About half of the many calls I took were from those who needed help themselves. Or from professional referrals. But, the other half were the calls that rung me out. Those were the calls from the loved ones of the person who was suffering from a substance use disorder.


And I don’t mean to diminish the concern of sisters and brothers and children and fathers and spouses, but the voices of the mothers have a particular, tragic ring…


At Sanford House we say that addiction is a “family disease.”  It impacts every member of the family system. But, I am thinking right now about a mother who called last week (in fact I can’t stop thinking of her). We talked for a while about her daughter – the bad crowd she was running with, the likelihood she would not listen to reason, the drugs that were killing her. At some point the mother said, “What do you think I should do?”


Wow. That is when I know I am doing good work.  Important work. And that my answer – mother to mother – will validate her – exonerate her. And just might give her hope.


Sin eating, nest building…

I spend a fair amount of time listening. To folks who write to me on this blog, to the women at Sanford House who elect to go on morning “Walks with Mare,” at various meetings and support groups… Answering phones…


It’s a bit like sin-eating. Last night I attended a Families Against Narcotics meeting and watched while family members lit candles on behalf of loved ones. For those who had died and for those who had survived and were in recovery.


And I don’t mean to diminish the pain of sisters and brothers and children and fathers and spouses, but the faces of the mothers had a particular, poignant look…


As good mothers, we do our best to nurture our young.

Certainly mistakes are made. But the bottom line is that we never leave the nest, never really watch our children fly away. And in that shaking voice on the phone, the tremulous chin as we stand with our candle, there is the unspoken question. Did I do enough?


I listen more than I give advice. I think that’s a good policy in my line of work. But I will say this – sometimes, even with the best of intentions, bad things happen. What should you do? Love, hope, build community and know that motherhood brings with it a sort of exquisite malaise.




Today I’m not drinking, because I am a mother…



How come you’re not drinking?

E2E – Did we do enough?

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Comments (6)

  1. Avatar
    Dec 6, 2017

    How come you're not drinking?
    I'm not drinking because soon I'll be a Grandmother.
    I could not agree more, and if we could, we would jump beneath our baby birds to break their every fall.

  2. Avatar
    Dec 6, 2017

    Beautiful and such a poignant truth! Thank you… And we did( do enough). Faith has shown me this and faith will keep me ready at any time to be there. Love knows no distance or boundaries and God is still working his plan. No doubt.
    ❤️ From here to MI to Fl and…. The skies.

  3. Avatar
    Nicole Clarke
    Dec 6, 2017

    How come you're not drinking?
    Sober me is a BETTER me.
    Love this.. We are the mother hens who love our baby chicks.

  4. Avatar
    Dec 9, 2017

    I’m not drinking because, if and when they need me to be there, I will be. Entirely.

  5. Avatar
    Dec 10, 2017

    I drank last night
    And I was sick as well. Not worth it
    I was supposed to put up the tree today for my kids and now I am too tired.
    The good news is these situation have become less frequent and I am on the slow phase out and my days without a drink are greater in number than my days with which is not how it was. Thanks for being here as a reminder that there is another way

    • Marilyn
      Dec 13, 2017

      All that is good. I knew I had to quit at Christmastime, but it took me another 7 months to accomplish it. The good news is that you are thinking about it and logging more sober days than drinking days… Happy holidays to you and there IS another way.

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