Hello, I'm Carol, 57 and stage 4 breast cancer patient. My son, 28 is due to be released from jail in two weeks. He is there due to substance abuse. For ten years he has had a problem with alcohol and drugs. He had a job the last two years, but in December, after breaking up with a long-time girlfriend, he moved into an apartment on his own and his life went downhill, fast. He totalled the car I gave him, get arrested for drunk driving, began to associate with drug dealer/addicts, began using heroin, lost his job and was evicted from his apartment. All this in 4 months.
I spoke with him by phone sometimes three or more times daily, I did all I could think of to help him, including giving him money, being sure he got his meds and made doctor appointments, shadowing him. I called state funded mental health workers, trying to set a safety net because I had a terrible feeling something really bad was going to happen. Fortunately, he has decided to turn his life around. He is in a jail sponsored rehab that is very good. From there, we hope he will go into the Delancey Street program, a place where people like my son learn values, a work ethic, learn relationship skills and how to live clean and sober lives. The residents make a commitment to stay for two years, most stay for four. It is possible for a resident to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, and all residents receive training in numerous fields of work. It costs nothing- and is an amazing program.
For my part, I began reading and learning that 70% of the people in prisons come from a history of child abuse. I made many mistakes as a parent, but I always said, "At least I didn't abuse him." Not true. My understanding of abuse has grown- I came from a background of child abuse, as did my mother. I was raised in a "Christian" sect that offered me no opportunity to gain working skills for life in the world at large. At age 28, when I had my son, I was only out of that group for a few years. My son's father soundly rejected me and my son. It was devasting. I had severe post partum depression that morphed into full blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I carried my child in a womb poisoned by extreme sorrow, high stress and a sense of unreality. Those conditions enhance a child's likelihood for Aspergers, which my son has to a mild degree. I had dissociative episodes throughout his early childhood- he would observe me screaming, laying on the floor, banging my hands, tearing my clothing and breaking household objects. Once, when I was feeding him carrots, I went into a fit and wailing, threw the bowl of food against the wall near him. He would cry hysterically, and often I could not comfort him right away.
I had very little support as a parent. At times, I turned my rage on him- once, I ripped his favorite stuffed toy to shreds, because he had broken a favorite pair of my earrings. Although it didn't happen often, it was frequent enough to do great damage to him. After hospitalization for mantal illness, I realized some of what I'd done, so to compensate, I engaged in extreme permissiveness. I failed to set limits and boundaries with him, I made him my friend, rather than my child. I allowed him to watch adult movies, I exposed him to a series of uncaring men, one of whom was abusive to both of us. It took me a year to kick that man out of our home. In his young life, my child moved 13 times and saw me with 11 different partners. I failed to protect him from my lifestyle of constant upheaval. But, I always managed to provide him with nice toys and clothing, with art, music and tutoring lessons, took him to basketball, softball and karate, enrolled him in private school and took him to counselling, too. But it wasn't enough.
From age 18 to 28 he had three arrests. He sold drugs for extra income, as well. I thought we had a loving relationship, but I kept a wall between us, as I was overwhelmed by the depth of the dysfunction in his life. When he left his girlfriend, I decided to totally be there for him. It was a terrifying experience, as he shared the truths about his life. Since his incarceration, I have finally allowed myself to see and feel the extent of the damage I did to him. For days I cried, broken by pain almost too much to bear. In my suffering, I turned to my mother, who through years of hard-won personal effort has become a nurturing, healthy person. She, I knew, would understand my pain, as she has been through it herself. About the pain, she told me I will have to bear it, that it will never go completely away, but that I must learn to forgive myself and use the time I have left in ways that will bring joy and peace into my life. It will help my son, she said, for me to learn to do these things. I was so grateful for her comfort.
I wrote a letter to my son, not very long, but in it I owned all I had done. I humbly apologized, saying I will understand if he wants to build his life without me in it. I also said if he does want me in his life I am open to learning ways to be there that are healthy for both of us. I begged him not to carry the burden of pain I put on him any longer, but to see it as my burden- and free himself to learn who he is, and how to live differently. I believe Delancey Street will give him the skills and support he needs. And he is writing his letter of admission.
So, after all that, I am here to say it is not too late to change. It is not too late to identify as a parent your role in perpetuating- and ending- the cycle of child abuse. I am filled with joy as I write, and ready to learn all I can so that I might help myself and other parents out there who might be experiencing something similar.
Thank you for this opportunity to share. I won't ever again write such a long piece, but this is my story. I await your responses, and look forward to being a contributing member of this group.