I was listening to this interview, thinking as I’m sure many others did, ‘why doesn’t she just stop paying and let her son face the consequences of his habit?’
But a part of me understands; she loves him and she cannot bare to see him suffer. She’s trapped in this bind of feeling responsible, probably in ways that even she hasn’t had an opportunity to figure out, explore and fully understand. And even if she could look back to the roots of this I’m not sure how easily she could simply stop her part in it. At one point she said that it just happens and she pays the men off, there’s no apparent end. Where there’s no end, desperation takes hold, which further traps us into seeing no hope or alternative.
I’m not judging this women, in her position I’d probably do the same. I know about the compulsion to see our children well, to see them thrive or at least to survive. This innate drive, within parents is likely what nurtures the dynamic of reassurance seeking. Like the mother paying her son’s drug debts, the parent engaging in compulsive reassurances isn’t doing this for their own satisfaction. No, it’s about feeling responsible for our child, for their suffering and it’s about wanting to make things as right as they can be. Sometimes it’s about not wanting to make things worse or not wanting another battle. Worn into submission from fear we say again and again whatever it is that our loved one wants us to say. Actually we say what we think they want us to say or need us to say. We know there’s no easy get out, just as the mother in this story will suffer , so do those caught in reassurance giving.
It reminds me of some horrible sink hole that opens up and drags us in. From the outside , to others, it looks insane that we even go near the edge. But imagine for a moment a hole in the ground opening up and your child falling into it. Could you step away? Could you step away even if your child had jumped into the hole wilfully?
To step back and I’m not advocating this or for that matter any course of action, but to step back and let your child fall into the sink hole of addiction and to suffer unknown punishments at the hands of those in prison, to step back and allow your child to starve herself to death, to step back and allow your child to self harm, to shut themselves away or worse because this is the ultimate existential threat, to take their own life in one desperate attempt to relieve their own suffering, is nigh on impossible.
As reassurance seekers we need to find ways to be kind to ourselves. I’m not sure of a solution for the woman in this story, whose son is at such risk in prison. Eventually she will have no money left to pay off the suppliers and then her son will be punished.
Ultimately, with reassurance seeking we run out of resources, our patience, compassion and practically, time runs out, at least in the short term. And then we are forced to stop paying the debt of self-blame, responsibility, fear and shame. For a time (maybe only minutes) we take back control, forced by fatigue or other demands on our time and we say no.
In my case this ‘no’ usually came as a result of extreme fatigue and was at the point where I began to doubt for my own sanity and survival. Like the worst kind of sleep deprivation. But I always regrouped, reenergised and carried on.
Responsibility and reassurance seeking I think need to be turned around. A parent cannot be held responsible for her drive to keep her child safe. So the responsibility element can perhaps be seen as a mutual process.
If this woman’s son is compelled to use drugs she in turn will be desperate to pay off his debts so that he doesn’t suffer, she will be destitute and so he will be, or feeling responsible for his mother’s suffering, he may suffer shame and guilt. There are no certainties here though. His drug habit may have obliterated that part of his capacity.
If I feel responsible for my child’s suffering and then she demands that I reassure her I will do so. I will continue to do so, like an automaton. Regardless of what professionals and others tell me to do or not to do. I’m in survival mode here and I would attempt to shift a mountain to stave off my child’s suffering, not that she knows it. Round about now I may not be acting rationally. I can’t hear the steady voices of others who say, in their blissful ignorance, ‘Just don’t engage with it.’ It’s likely I’m not doing so well myself; psychologically I may be falling apart whilst attempting to put on a capable front. The unspoken thought is a silent scream, ‘My child may die of this!’
As we continue with responding to our child’s anxiety we will, unwittingly exacerbate the problem for us both, the perceived ‘problem’ will become our primary focus. And this is a really unhealthy focus, this is the crack in the ground that opens into a sink hole.
Steps around the crack, a reflection on parenting and a celebration of life and love.
It’s been dry here for weeks now. This long hot summer has dried our gardens and fields. In some places the ground has opened into wide cracks, so wide in places that you can slide your hand into them. My neighbour’s house is cracking, alarming jagged lines in the plaster which they are monitoring as the nearby trees continue to suck every drop of precious water from the London Clay sub soil. We wait and wait and then the wind blows, honey bees hurry home with a crazed kind of determination, flying in ways that they only do when storms are impending, everything goes still, the quiet before the storm. Then the wind blows, and the temperature drops. This is just what happened on the day my mother died. I recall being in town when I received the call, it was a hot Sunday morning, early still, but the weather changed as I rushed home to her with my daughter, we were shocked and raw that day. And then the storm came as we sat and mourned for her parting.
This day however there was no death, the storm came and it rained like a monsoon for fifteen minutes. The deluge barely soaked the surface. The cracks remained unchanged. Days passed and eventually it rained again for half a day.
People speak of the cracks, how long before they close they wonder. The shrubs and trees look refreshed their dull and greying flaccid leaves are now refilled, but the cracks, they barely change. They will need to be watered much more before the soil’s surface changes.
So what of these cracks? Just like the first cracks in the lives of our beloved children, we may mistakenly ignore the signs, hoping that things will be okay. Or we may stamp around, getting all shouty about their arising ‘difficult’ behaviour. We don’t understand at this point that our child suffers. This suffering is not wilfulness or a scheme set out to distress or manipulate us. It’s a desperate cry for care, understanding, security and love. We forget to water their small cracks, with positivity, patience, kindness, and the much needed love and compassion. We don’t see how our actions fuel cracks and how sometimes dramatic drastic action may be necessary to prevent the cracks from spreading.
Small cracks left unwatered will grow into larger cracks, which my just open into a sink hole, the proportions and impact of which are unfathomable. A sink hole takes much more than a downpour to fill, it’s an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of problem and some of the hands, some of the people who could help, will not be able or willing to do so. It may be down to you alone and this is a mighty weight to carry.
Act now, water with positivity, learn how you may stop the soil from drying out, learn how to care for yourself and release the historic wounds which have led you and your family towards where you are right now.