Sunday, September 17, 2006

Heroin and Being a Man

This is a nice story. It's more than nice because it teaches us the flip side of co-dependency.

Usually we think of a co-dependent as a person who is doing WAY too much for a dependent, someone who is clearly reaping the benefits of the relationship.

Hey, kids do that all the time, but we don't mind taking care of our children. Good parents, however, make their children take on more and more responsibilities for themselves, and the sooner the better. So we're not talking about our children here. Take care of your children. That's your job.

This is about adult-adult relationships.

The story goes that for every heroin addict there's a mom who lets him into the house, all strung out, late at night. She provides the shower, the food, the bed.

She's not supposed to.

That mom is supposed to say, No, dear. You can't come in. Go sleep out in the park in the rain. Learn what being addicted really means.

When the addict wakes up with the rain in his face there's at least some chance he might think, "Hmm, time for me to change. Maybe I should stop using heroin."

This story I'm going to tell is different. Instead of the care-taking parent (we call them enablers) booting the child, the child "boots" the parent. It's not what you think. Here's what happened.

I am fictionalizing this account beyond the recognizable truth.

There was this lovely Asian patient, a widow, who nervously step into my office many years ago. Let's call her Myrna. She told me how she hated her job and was completely burnt out, how she had supported her son, his girlfriend (mother of two of his children), and her two sisters. She couldn't think straight, couldn't sleep, had lost weight.

Yet everyone took it for granted that she would always be there to pay the bills. Here she was, suffering emotional and physical exhaustion, (I spared most of the details, but trust me, it was bad).

So for me it didn't take much thinking. I signed the family leave papers. She had to stop working.

But she wouldn't do that. She told me why. Everyone depended upon her and it was hard for her son to get a job because he had been busted for drugs, served time in prison, and no one would hire him. Plus she had to get out of the house because the family fights drove her crazy so working was a good place to go. She cried alone.

Oh and her son's girlfriend had recently broken all of her dishes and glassware, and smashed all of the windows of the car and hammered the body. "How could anyone be so ungrateful?" she asked me. Myrna was paying the girl's bills, along with providing her and her children food and shelter.

I hauled them all into family therapy without Myrna. (Heck, she needed a break). The sister, the son, the son's girlfriend, they all came. They caught on right away that Myrna couldn't handle it anymore but didn't have the heart to set them all loose.

They would have to leave voluntarily, and they did.

Things went swimmingly. Myrna got better. She did take about a month off of work to recover from her very serious depressive episode.

Then one day she came in and told me that her son got in trouble for something and was back to prison. She didn't seem upset, either. It wasn't drugs. He had been working a 12-Step program and was clean. What happened was that he got involved in a job to make money and the shop wasn't on the up and up.

I said, "He's in prison, but you don't seem upset. What's up?"

She said that as he left she had been nagging him about being safe and how he had to take care of himself, and how he had to watch his back, and how he had to stay clean, and he couldn't trust anyone in prison.

He turned to her, hugged her and said, "Momma, you don't have to worry about me. I'm okay."

She told me, "I looked at him like he was crazy and said, 'And how can that be, son? How can you be okay?'"

He said, "Because Momma, I'm a man. I'm grown up. I can do this. I'm a man."

She heard that and she let him go. Like I said, the sooner the better.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc