Addiction and Death

The majority of the children we foster have parents that are in active addiction.  We began our journey with addiction in 2005 when we brought home an infant who was born to a young girl in jail who still had 10 months left on her sentence. I wrote about this in an earlier post in case you’re interested, but the short story is that I knew that this girl was suffering in jail not knowing who had her newborn baby.  One day I was holding this precious baby and I felt a wave of emotion flood over me as if I were returning to jail empty.  I felt how it would feel to be her, to be alone in a jail cell feeling so isolated and empty, separated from a child that she had carried for so many months.  I determined in my heart to love her even before we had met.  This led to a journey that we could never have imagined in our wildest dreams, and exposed us to a world that few know about.  I learned to spot things that would go unnoticed to most, I learned to recognize everything about addiction and could walk into Wendy’s and tell you who was high and who was needing a fix.  It really is a dark and desperate lifestyle.  The temporary high is followed by a life of drama, chaos, loss, betrayal, lies, incarceration, and separation. When you love an addict, you lose a part of yourself.  There is no way around it, and it is soul crushing.  But we loved her and we loved her baby girl, and she became one of us along the way.

What we do is difficult enough, raising other people’s children. They come with their own individual challenges and personalities, and unless they are infants, they have already become accustomed to the chaos of life with an unstable parent.  We have to be exceptionally patient with the new ones, and incredibly diplomatic with our regular children who are adjusting to new kids. No easy task.

The bottom line is that these kids love their parent. So do we!  That’s why it is hard to say no to an addict when they are suffering so much, it is hard to get that call at 3am to get out of bed and go pick them up off a street corner, it is hard to love a woman who doesn’t love herself and wants to take out all of life’s pain on the people trying to help her. It. Is. HARD.
It isn’t glamorous, it isn’t sexy, it’s not mingling at wine tastings and benefit auctions while rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful.  It’s holding someone’s hair back while they vomit from withdrawals, sitting with them at the hospital after an overdose, and explaining to their kids why they didn’t show up when they said they would.  It is checking the law enforcement website every hour to see if they’ve been arrested because you don’t know where they are and then feeling relieved to know they ARE in jail because they can’t harm themselves.  It is late night or early morning drives to pick them up when they are released from jail and they have nowhere to go.  Literally, nowhere to go.  They can’t go back to the drug house where they were and stay sober. They can’t come to our house because Child Protective Services won’t allow it because we have foster kids.  There is only one shelter in this entire community and it serves 3,000+ homeless.  They have no real friends, only acquaintances. Their own family can’t help them or won’t help them.  It’s just us, and a smattering of local non profit ministries trying to help keep them off the streets.  Loving an addict  is rubbing your knees raw from kneeling in prayer and calling out for God’s mercy and protection to keep someone from suicide or a drug overdose and then that late night phone call late in December from a Deputy confirming that your worst fear had actually happened.  

Fostering children born to  drug addicts means that you may have to sit across from a wide eyed child and deliver the news that the one who gave birth to them has died.  It is holding them while they sob and wail with sounds that pierce your gut.  It is months and years of depression and counseling and bouts of acting out because they are children, and their hope of ever being reunited with their parent has also died.  We have been face to face with this situation more than once.  It depletes you on a level that you never knew existed because the dynamics are anything but typical.  People don’t mourn the loss of an addict like they would if they died in a car accident or from cancer.  It is somehow a death that was deserved or inevitable and although sympathy is there, it is awkward.  Then there is the guilt felt by all of us- did we do enough, did we do the wrong things, what could we have done to stop it, on and on times infinity. We tried for 12 years to rehabilitate and love our daughters birth mom into stability.  A journey that was tender, frightening, traumatizing, and filled with love.  Things that aren’t supposed to coexist, but they do when you love an addict.

There are times that I blame myself for trying to forge a relationship with our daughter and her birth mom. I truly believed that she would choose a life with her beautiful little girl, and never look back. I insisted on it, I made it easy for her with all my planning and activities and photo moments- all she had to do was show up and take the credit.  But there were too many times she didn’t show up.  Too many times our little girl had to ask why her other mommy didn’t come, or why she didn’t call, or why she came but didn’t stay more than 5 minutes.  So many disappointments mixed in with small moments of great joy.  I look back now and see how difficult it was on all of us, including our daughter, to navigate the emotions and the turmoil and the costly love… and it makes me question if I did the right thing.  I still don’t know the answer to that question but this I do know- she knew that we loved her, she knew that God loved her, and because of our relationship with her she gave her heart to the Lord, and that means everything to me.  Even though she made a bad decision that took her life, she knew God and is with him now.

Thanks for listening.

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