A Mother's Journey through Bi-polar Disorder and Addiction

Last spring, I wrote a piece chronicling the journey of my daughter's illness with POTS. After it was published, my son lightheartedly commented, "Now it is time to write about our journey." I cringed because there was nothing lighthearted about our journey. I uttered the truth from within my heart, "I am not sure I can." While I knew I could write something, I was keenly aware of the deep trauma still tucked right below the surface. I was emotionally raw and drained from the events of the past year. If I was not careful, I was keenly aware that a volcanic disaster of pain, remorse, and regret would come spewing out, and no one would be capable of halting the explosion. 

I wrestled with the uncertainty of where my writing would take us. Unsure if we were ready to jointly revisit the past scars, knowing I would open fresh wounds and possibly old ones as well. Was Brady was prepared to read my thoughts? If he was...how would he feel when I was done? As difficult as the past twelve months were, through writing, I would come to realize the past year was merely the cap of a sizable iceberg—an iceberg, which had been growing for over twenty years.

People can tell you something a hundred times, and in your head, you know it to be true...though it is not until you live through the experience that you believe the truth in your heart. It is common knowledge Bipolar Disorder, and addiction is not contagious diseases. Yet they are. Every individual who loves the person afflicted with these diseases is affected. Only a family who has endured a battle with addiction can testify to this truth. This is the story of our reality...

It was a typical Monday afternoon, or as typical as any Monday can be six days before Christmas. I was ahead of the game this year. Unlike so many years before, I made sure to keep up with the wrapping as I did my shopping. I was pretty proud of myself and feeling relaxed. All that remained was to prepare our home for the family, who would fill it on Christmas day and finally bake a few batches of my oatmeal raisin cookies. I placed all the ingredients for my cookies on the counter when my cell phone began to ring. I knew it was my son, Brady, because of the Simple Man ringtone. He is not fond of the song, but it embodies everything I ever hoped, wanted, and dreamed for him. When I was pregnant with him, I was convinced I was having a girl until the sonogram tech informed me otherwise. During the drive home from my sonogram appointment, the first song to come on the radio was Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I listened to the words of a song I had heard hundreds of times before, but this time the lyrics held an entirely new meaning.

Brady's phone call had me yearning to travel back twenty-four years to when I was eating for two, craving warm turtle brownies with vanilla ice cream, and finding new meaning in old songs. So I hung up the phone, not giving a damn about oatmeal raisin cookies, presents, Christmas, or anything...unless it had to do with a solution for the well-being of my son.

A year has passed since that fateful phone call, along with the events which forced me to open my eyes. Events that prompted me to take a long hard look at life as I knew it. This experience forced me to re-examine how I view mental health. It also changed how I viewed addiction, the world around me, and the people who inhabit it. I wish I could tell you the change was for the better, though it was not necessarily for the worse either. Still, change is change.

“My greatest wish for you and your life is that you are happy and healthy.” From an early age, this is the sentiment I have shared with both my children. But what if your child is not happy? What if they are not healthy? No one is happy one-hundred percent of the time, right? But what if the reason they are not satisfied stems from an illness they have little or no control over? We teach our children to be strong and self-reliant, yet we would do or give almost anything to vanquish our children’s pain as parents. Do anything to ensure they are truly happy and healthy, regardless of their age or their circumstances. Yet, sometimes there is simply nothing we can do but sit back and observe as they experience what they must...hoping they can reach the proverbial “other side.”

I was twenty-two when I gave birth to Brady. I can still recall the terrible anxiety I experienced in my last trimester. I was already having a challenging time carrying the weight of my pregnancy. The last thing my body or baby needed was the overwhelming weight of anxiety. I desperately wanted to find the metaphorical parent’s manual I had previously heard discussed among parents. Worries swirled through my mind. How will I know what to do? Will I know how to be a good mother? How will I know what my child needs? Then, I had a dream several weeks before Brady’s birth. In my dream, I saw myself holding and singing to a red-haired baby boy. When I awoke, my anxiety was gone; in its place was a deep sense of inner peace. Magical was the only way to describe the immediate feeling of weightlessness I experienced.

The day Brady was born, the love and joy filling every part of my being were more intense than anything I had ever experienced...I thought my heart would explode. But, then, not long after his birth, a friend inquired, “What does it feel like to be a mom?” The answer I promptly gave is still the same today as it was over twenty-four years ago, “It is as if my heart is living and breathing outside of my body.”

Brady was a year and a half when his father and I separated. It was traumatic for all of us, but no one more than Brady. As he grew and could better articulate his emotions, I became concerned. By the age of four, he would throw tantrums. But these were not your typical I am not getting my way, unruly behavior, or overtired tantrums. It seemed anytime I would try to leave or was occupied with something that required Brady not receiving my complete attention, he would go into a rage. Ignoring his tantrums was not an option; my indifference only worsened the situation. To ensure he did not hurt himself or others, I would wrap my arms around him and hold him tightly until he calmed down. His pediatrician told me he was experiencing separation anxiety; his diagnosis made sense given the custody arrangement. His pediatrician instructed me to continue what I was doing. I did, and eventually, the tantrums subsided. 

When Brady began elementary school, I became involved in the PTO, volunteering in his classroom. He had a fantastic first-grade teacher. She understood him and could read his signs. She would call or email me when she noticed he was struggling. My presence in his classroom seemed to make a difference. I was grateful my presence seemed to further ease his anxiety. Calmness finally began reign. I exhaled a deep sigh of relief as life proceeded, watching as my baby boy grew into a brilliant little man.

For a few years, his teachers had noticed he was “bored, not being challenged.” At the age of nine, his school tested his IQ; shortly after that, he was placed in the gifted program. I would sit and watch him read a book, absorbing everything the same way I imagine a vast sponge would soak up the ocean. A few years after his testing, he began going through many changes. Even to this first-time mother, these changes did not make sense; his mood swings went beyond your typical pre-teen and teenage angst. Though it was different, it was reminiscent of the separation anxiety phase.

Like most mothers, I want to believe the best where my children are concerned. Regardless of how angelic they may seem to this mother’s heart, I am always aware they are human, subscribing to the ideology, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” I had no idea how much this ideology was about to be put to the test. I often wondered if firstborn children were uniquely created as a parental test for future children. I am the firstborn, and I was known to make life interesting, and my husband definitely filled my in-law’s life with adventure. Maybe there is something to the birth order theory. Then again, perhaps it is nothing more than a group of psychiatrists feigning knowledge on a topic they know little about.

Middle school was difficult. Brady struggled. In turn, we all struggled. It was no longer about him being bored or not being challenged...he had lost his ability to focus. His intelligence increasingly became more of a disability than an ability. His teachers labeled his mental health and his increasing inability to focus as “lazy, does not pay attention.” I was told, “We know he is intelligent. He just doesn’t pay attention or want to do the work.” How do you respond to those comments when your child has morphed into someone you do not recognize? How do you explain your child’s behavior when you cannot comprehend what your son barely exists through? Every night was some sort of struggle over homework and school. It was the same discussion and arguments every evening. I felt like Brady, and I could record our questions and answers, then play them back nightly for each other. It would have been less stressful for everyone, with the outcome still being the same...us getting nowhere. If we were not butting heads over homework, it seemed most nights Brady would find something...anything...to throw our home into a state of chaos. I quickly became exhausted, yet I knew my exhaustion was insignificant to my son's turmoil in his mind and body. 

As Brady aged, it was blatantly obvious nothing was getting better. Time only seemed to worsen his illness. After much discussion, Brady was finally amenable to seeking help. My son was fifteen, a sophomore in high school when he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Thus, giving our “roller-coaster” a name. We rose to the challenge, believing we were obtaining the best care possible...do the best to face the daily struggles of mental illness head-on. Unfortunately, placing Brady on the proper medications, along with the correct dosage, became a horrifying nightmare. The many side effects of these medications were distressing and dangerous. Some triggered ticks or tremors. Others caused seizures. Several of these side effects had the potential to become permanent. Meaning, the instant these side effects reared their head, we needed to cease all medications and begin a new regimen once again. This process was repeated four times before medication was found that did not initiate these unsettling side effects. Each occurrence was more frightening than the last. If his Psychiatrist told me one more time, “I understand your frustration, we just need to find the correct medication and dosage,” I was going to need medication.

I watched as my witty, loving, brilliant son faded before my eyes. His light was dimming, replaced by frightening darkness. This darkness had a name…depression. His depression would leave him bedridden, his mind trapped in the dark, and his body searing in pain. When he escaped the haze of depression, I would savor the days I could see my son and the brief twinkle in his eyes. When the mania set in, I would take advantage of the ball of energy he turned into; knowing it was only a matter of time before the darkness consumed him and he was once again lost to me. Besides his mental health, his physical health begun taking a turn for the worse. Who knew Bipolar affected more than the mental health of an afflicted individual? Certainly not me. Having little familiarity with Bipolar Disorder, I was at a complete loss. It would be years before I fully comprehended the physical toll mental illness wreaks on an individual’s body. The doctors we turned to for help were anything but helpful. I read tons of books and articles; they were insightful but did not contain the answers I desperately sought. What may help one person will not necessarily help another. Watching Bipolar Disorder devour my son's heart, mind, and soul was heartbreaking. Beneath the mental illness, I knew my brilliant son was still in there…even if I had no idea how to reach him.

Though his outbursts, over time, became spaced further apart, I continuously felt I could never catch my breath. From my son's mental illness, the roller-coaster lifestyle was beginning to take a toll on my own emotional and mental health. With each bout of irrational rage, I became less adept at handling the situation.

Brady and I frequently debated inpatient treatment. I should say, I discussed, and he listened. Knowing his fear of confinement, the topic was a sensitive subject. His instant and straightforward response chilled me to my core, “Mom, I cannot do it. If you put me in one of those places, the only way I am leaving is in a body bag.” You never forget some incidents in life or how the incident made you feel...this was one of those incidents. I was not brave enough to call his bluff.

Fast forward two years to the spring of 2011, Brady was now a Senior in high school. After many medication changes and countless mental breakdowns…we arrived at the day my husband and I found marijuana in his bedroom. Being a stay-at-home mom, the responsibility of this hit me hard. I had recently undergone two major surgeries; the recovery was long and stressful for all of us. Still, how could I have not noticed or smelled this one right under my nose? I believe that something as easy to grow in a garden as tomatoes and cucumbers should not be illegal because pharmaceutical corporations are afraid of losing money. Still, Brady knew our stance on marijuana…if it is illegal, it is not permitted in our home.

Finding marijuana in his room was not shocking to his dad or me, but I realized I needed to deal with this situation head-on. He would turn eighteen in a few short months. All the usual thoughts screamed through my head. Where did I go wrong? How can I stop this? The answer to that last question was simple, I could not. He was a young man with his own mind who needed to be responsible for his own decisions. A few friends suggested we give him a healthy dose of reality and kick him out of our house. While I knew he needed to be accountable for his actions, their ideas angered me. The thought of abandoning my child was inconceivable. I remember asking, “How is abandoning Brady going to help him when he needs help the most?” I realized it was easy for someone to sit in judgment, doling out advice to me regarding my son...all the while, they were not living our lives and had no personal stake in the outcome. I began to shut off this part of me to most of our friends. It just seemed more manageable than the frustration of the alternative.

School continued to be a struggle. I remember looking over graduation announcements, wondering if they would be necessary. The most significant blow came when Brady's guidance counselor said, "Don't bother wasting your time or your parent’s money on college applications because no one is going to accept you." I sat numbed and shocked as I listened to those words uttered from her lips, vigorously fighting the intense urge to shout obscenities in reply to her acerbic statement. I looked over at Brady and could see he was completely deflated. While Brady had difficulties with school, he viewed college as a chance to get it right. He envisioned college as his opportunity to study subjects of interest to him, not canned textbooks and lesson plans predetermined by our school district. Brady's self-esteem and worth were almost non-existent, another of the many casualties of Bipolar Disorder. Now this woman, whom I trusted, had literally taken a sledgehammer to the few hopes and dreams my son still clung to. Reflecting on those words still elicits a host of emotions for several reasons. For all the struggles we endured during Brady's school years, his GPA did not earn him Valedictorian; however, he was also not at the bottom of his class. Furthermore, what little confidence he had in himself flew right out the window with his guidance counselor's comment. The end result was Brady giving up all hope of attending college. No amount of encouragement and guidance from me, or anyone, made a difference…the damage had been done.  

Recalling one of our blunt discussions the summer after graduation, Brady told me he tried alcohol at a party; he hated it and the way it made him feel. Knowing alcohol and bipolar disorder do not mix, I was grateful. During a later conversation, he explained he had been smoking for medicinal purposes. Brady and I had researched this option, but it was not legal in our state. I stopped my research while, unbeknownst to me, he continued his. He was always reading, still absorbing his material like a sponge, but this time the subject was not Harry Potter or computer coding. It was the different strains of THC and their effects on Bipolar patients. I knew my son’s mental state had improved. I was grateful for the improvement; yet, never fully comprehending why. The breakdowns were less, the mania was not as severe, and the deep dark lulls of depression were evening out. The frequent struggle we seemed to continually repeat, where Brady begged me to allow him to give in to his mental illness, became infrequent. I desperately wanted to believe his medications were finally working, so desperate, in fact, that I did not stop to consider an outside source was the reason for the calm in our home. We rarely discussed the details of his psychologist and psychiatrist appointments; the tiny amount of information he would offer was generic. The more I pried, the more he retreated into his shell. Because of his age, I was not privy to his discussions with his mental health team; I began to feel as though my hands were bound and tied.

I waited up every night until he arrived home; I did the smell check, the eye check…he always passed. I did not consider myself too old and out of touch with reality. Still, I was missing the bigger picture. He was never one to cry for help, at least not in the literal sense. I had no concept of how in over his head he was until a December night, nine days before Christmas, when he did not arrive home at his scheduled time. I attempted calling him several times, but his phone went straight to voicemail, and my text messages were not delivered; this was uncharacteristic for him, I began thinking the worst. Several hours later, instead of my son calling me or walking through our front door, I received a phone call from the county lockup. Brady had stayed at a friend’s house for the weekend; while he was driving home, he was pulled over for an out-of-date inspection on his car. As the officer approached the vehicle, he smelled marijuana; shortly after his stop, my son was arrested. I would later find out he was fortunate that the charges primarily pertained to only marijuana.

There was no denying what had happened; the ramifications of his drug use were smacking me in the face. My mind became cluttered and fuzzy as I flew into crisis mode, which also entailed being nauseous, not eating, or sleeping. The night of his arrest seemed like the longest night of my life; there was nothing or no one capable of consoling me. I spent the night wondering and worrying about what effect lock-up would have on his mental state. I was consumed by one question…when am I allowed to pick up my nineteen-year-old son from prison? Not a task any mother ever imagines herself aspiring to. I was not allowed inside the prison gates. I sat in my car, waiting in the parking lot for him to exit. My palms were sweaty, and my heart was racing as I waited in anticipation to see him emerge past the guards. My son was not a hardened criminal. He was self-medicating to numb the chaos afflicting his mind and body. I sat in our living room eight days later, lit by the soft glow of our Christmas tree, watching Brady and his sister open their presents. It was a surreal moment as snow gently fell from the sky. I looked at my husband with tears in my eyes and whispered, “This is all I wanted.” Nine days prior, I had no idea if this was even a possibility. Now it was as close to perfection as possible, even if it would be short-lived.

The next several months would test the phrase, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” Brady was now without his crutch. I watched as the roller-coaster of mental illness kicked into high gear once again. As his mother, it was agonizing to witness. I found there was not much I would not have given to soothe his inner demons. His depression grew darker. Every time he left the house, I wondered if I would ever see him again and, if I did would he be alive. The new year brought us meetings with his attorney and court hearings. I was fortunate to have my sister by my side for several of the appointments and court dates. While I was Brady’s rock, she was mine. I had previously read stories of individuals spending years in prison for simple drug charges while murderers and rapists roamed our streets after spending considerably less time incarcerated. I was determined that would not be my son’s story. I found the best attorney I could, someone who could aptly guide us through the uncharted waters of drug charges. Thankfully, because my son was a first-time offender, he spent the next eighteen months doing community service and taking classes; afterward, his record was expunged. There were many moments during those eighteen months I was acutely aware my son desired nothing more than to give up and give in to his addiction. His craving to soothe his internal turmoil was palpable. It was a long, frightening road, but he persevered. I believed Brady’s arrest was his wake-up call and our days of drug use and addiction were far behind us…until a year ago when I received a phone call on the afternoon of December 19.

As I stood at my kitchen counter, filled with the insignificant baking ingredients, absorbing the words of my conversation with Brady, I began to go numb. I was enveloped in a sense of déjà vu. The significant difference was this phone call was not about marijuana or some other illegal drug. It was about Brady’s prescription medications. Daniel, Brady’s boyfriend, being a nurse, explained my son was on a deadly dose of Klonopin, Adderall, and Vyvanse. Without the intervention of medical assistance, Brady’s medication could not be safely stopped. Together they explained Brady’s work had been stressful; in turn, he began taking more than his prescribed medication dosage to cope. It was not a reason. It was an excuse. Regardless of the reason/excuse, I was furious at my son's doctors for prescribing such a high dose of medication; they were nothing more than legal drug dealers in my eyes. We had been doing this dance for eight years, and I felt we were no better than when we began. One addiction had been traded for another.

Besides marijuana, Brady’s drug of choice was always stimulants; I should not have been surprised, yet a part of me was. As the denial wore off and reality set in, my heart sunk. The numb feeling was exchanged for that all too familiar sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. I hung up the phone and explained everything to my husband and daughter. The only word that aptly describes the next forty-eight hours was tumultuous. I did not want to believe this was happening, yet there was no other option. My son’s addiction was knocking on my doorstep, and for his sake, I had only one choice…answer the door and accept what was behind it.

I kept asking myself, how can I help him? I knew I would not find any of the answers I needed on the internet or in any self-help books…been there, done that…the truth I needed to accept was, I could not help him. This had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. Only Brady could choose to go to rehab. Only Brady could decide to help himself. No matter what help was extended to him, only he could do the work and make himself well. It would have been simple to take control of the situation and make this go away for him...but what purpose would that have served? The truth was: the help I would have extended to him would not help him at all…only enable him. I realized the only appropriate action in this situation was no action, except to be there when my son needed me and my support. I needed to sit in the backseat for this journey, trusting Brady would guide us safely to our destination. Ironically, I get car sick when I ride in the backseat; doing nothing left me feeling similar.

Brady called me later the next day. He had found a facility that was best suited for him and his mental health needs; the facility had an open bed, he needed to check in the following day. With the knowledge, our family would be unable to visit him over Christmas, I inquired if he wanted to wait a few days to check in to rehab. I reasoned we could drive him up the day after Christmas, his response, “No, I am ready now. I am afraid if I put it off, I will lose my nerve and will never go.” I had yet to fully grasp the severity of the situation, denial is funny like that, but my son had. My heart filled with pride at his determination. As frightened as he was, he dared to reach out and grab help with both hands. Two days later, Brady, my husband, and I made the two-hour drive to a Philadelphia suburb. At the end of the day’s journey, my husband and I drove home, leaving our son at a mental health and drug addiction rehabilitation facility.

When we arrived, the facility's aesthetics reminded me of a ski lodge; the grounds' landscaping was beautiful, even in winter. Though I quietly prayed, we would never have the opportunity to see this place in the spring or summer. I pushed the call button, informing the receptionist of the reason for our visit. The sound from the unlocking of the heavy glass-plate doors went through me. We were greeted by the pleasant receptionist. In my opinion, a little too friendly for the occasion. Still, she tried to be as helpful as possible. The expansive lobby was encompassed by stone-lined walls, and a beautiful mantle framed the vast fireplace, giving the room a deliberate warm and cozy first impression. The air of tranquility was palpable, which is precisely what we needed at that moment. A gentleman came out and introduced himself as “John.” He explained what would happen over the next hour, as well as the next twenty-eight days. I hung onto every word “John” spoke as my brain swirled with the vast information. I avoided eye contact with Brady during “John’s” speech, only glancing at him a few times, trying my best to keep my mind from going to those dark places. My husband and I were not permitted past the lobby. We waited patiently as “John” performed our son’s intake and verified our insurance coverage. 

During the drive to our destination, I was calm, knowing this was what I needed to do for my son; but now, a feeling of helplessness took over during this quiet time. Sitting in the chalet-like lobby, not being able to see past the hallway where my son had disappeared, was simply unnerving. A boisterous group of individuals filed into the lobby during our wait, each of them signing in, already familiar with the receptionist. Observing the group, they showed a camaraderie, which I found somewhat comforting. At that moment, I longed for a group of individuals who could understand what I was feeling and thinking.

Brady reappeared from the hallway and sat down next to me, explaining what happened while he was gone. Brady and I are very intuitive to each other’s thoughts and emotions, sometimes too intuitive. I could sense a terrified little boy in front of me, though his exterior was eerily calm. I tried to remain stoic and conceal my varying emotions; the last thing I wanted my son to feel was guilt because his mother was an emotional wreck. I conscientiously tried to maintain my composure, yet a few tears slipped out and fell down my cheek. The look on his face conveyed all he could not or would not. I felt as though I had had let him down once again. “John” returned to the lobby, signaling it was time for Brady to once more disappear down the hallway, though this time he would not be returning. We each took our turn saying our goodbyes, hugging him, and telling him we loved him. I held on tightly, not wanting to let go as if I could somehow prolong the inevitable. I watched as my baby boy, in a grown man’s body, walked down the corridor and out of sight. My husband took my hand and walked me to our car. I was numb, dizzy, and on the verge of unending tears. My son had hit bottom, and all my love could not save him. I needed to allow him to pick himself up. The ride home was long. The wait for his first phone call was longer.

I can recall thinking I should be grateful my son hates needles during the drive home; at least I knew he was never shooting up. Residing in a middle-class suburb where heroin addiction is at an all-time high, overdoses stories have become a part of daily life. I clung to those thoughts as the silver lining in this otherwise dark cloud. I could not help but think, this is a horrible thing to be grateful for, considering many families are not as fortunate. Yet, that is the trade-off you make, so you can mentally and emotionally survive to help your child fight another day. Even though there are moments when fighting another day is the only thing you allow yourself to hope for, fully aware your child's future is filled with many uncertainties. Only a few things are more distressing than hearing your child tell you they wish for death to escape their mental turmoil. I tried to focus on the fact that we were not experiencing one of those distressing events, praying we would eventually make it through to the other side. Although, I was unsure how or when we were arriving there. In these moments, I came to understand sobriety is fleeting for an addict, accepting I should never allow myself to become too comfortable or complacent.

Christmas morning was somber. The idea we would soon have a house full of guests celebrating the holiday while Brady was away from everyone he loved was gnawing at my stomach. Four years had passed since his arrest; this year, I sat in our living room with different tears in my eyes. There was no snow gently falling outside our window, giving the world a beautiful glaze of perfection. Instead, the sky was dank and dark...matching how I felt internally.

As mothers, we are supposed to have it all together. But, when the little and big things of life fall apart, they eventually fall into our lap. I desperately longed for a pause button. The feeling of being mentally and emotionally exhausted, feeling your sanity worn thin, threadbare, and ready to tear at any moment, is difficult to disguise to those who know you…still, I tried my best, though I am confident I failed miserably.

Throughout this experience, I realized there are two types of people. The first are those who avoid tragedy and trauma as if it is contagious. The second are those who run in head first, regardless of the personal ramifications. A dear friend three states and eight hours away, experiencing her own crisis, made a point to check on my and Brady’s progress every few days and sometimes daily. Her kindness and empathy were lifelines, making it easier when people voiced identical reactions to our situation. It was almost as though they were reading from a script, “This must be difficult for you, with Brady being there over Christmas.” I know they were attempting to provide comfort; I think the best word to describe me was inconsolable.
In my mind, I was picturing my head ready to pop off as I internally shouted my response in frustration, “No! My son is in a rehab facility…fighting for his mental health and sobriety…that is why this situation is difficult…Christmas is just the added bonus!” However, I knew most people would not comprehend this outburst. Instead, I tried to be polite. I smiled and nodded or simply said, “Thank you.” How could they understand? The truth was they couldn’t unless they have raised a child who is Bipolar and an addict. How could they know what I was feeling? Again, they could not unless they watched their child disappear down a hallway, not knowing what was waiting for him at the other end. Over the years, I have said to friends or family in crisis countless times, “Call me if you need anything.” I sincerely meant those words, as I am sure the many who expressed those sentiments to me did. Though I did not call, I couldn’t. I began to fully grasp how difficult it is to ask for help when you feel like you are drowning in a sea of sorrow. I experienced a new level of empathy regarding Brady's mental health. I have tried to be mindful of not using that phrase any longer. Instead, I make a point to show up or personally reach out.

The weekend came for us to finally visit Brady. The three of us braved four hours in a snowstorm to see our son and brother; we were determined to be there. I think my white knuckles left permanent imprints on my door handle. Nevertheless, it did not matter. No ragging snowstorm was going to keep me from my son. His sister was excited to see her big brother, curious to know if he was all right. As much as we tried to shield her through the years, she had lived through his mental illness and addiction just as her father and I had. Although she tried to keep a poker face throughout most of the situation, Brady's admission to rehab profoundly affected her. The entire situation has given her empathy for mental illness, along with a disdain for drugs and addiction. This experience has also given her maturity and understanding no parent wishes for their sixteen-year-old child.

The moment I saw Brady, my insides felt identical to when he emerged from the prison gates four years prior. I could feel my body shaking. I was ecstatic and nervous all at the same time. He looked well. There was a discernible sense of peace about him. Our allotted two hours quickly flew by as the four of us carried on a candid conversation about Brady’s illness and his addiction. There were many things I did not know, many things I did not want to know, and many things I needed to come to terms with. Overall the visit went well, and the peace Brady felt transferred to me, making this ride home much more tolerable. This ride was acutely different from our last, everything was covered in white, and the sun shined high in the sky. Though any of this was far from over, our visit had lifted an enormous weight off my mind and heart. I felt as though someone had taken a needle and thread to my sanity, sleeping more soundly than I had in weeks.

Countless days and nights, I suspected and questioned my son’s choices and his health. Constantly asking, yet too frequently believing his answers. I assumed because of my life experiences when it came to my children, I would not be naïve; I did not think I was. One of the thoughts Brady has shared with me since returning home from recovery is, “An addict is a master at showing you what they want you to see, making you believe what you need to believe. The people who love them the most are always the last to see the truth.” With one profound statement from my son, I finally saw a much bigger picture and stopped beating myself up. I had seen precisely what Brady wanted me to see, believing exactly what he wanted me to believe. I knew I needed to gather the courage, forcibly tear off my blinders, and look past the surface. I recognized I needed to not second guess my instincts, no matter what or who is staring me in the face…even my “angelic” children. Just as the first step for an addict is admitting they are an addict, my first step was admitting my child is an addict. Brady recently told me, “You cannot say you are in recovery until you have been to recovery.” My son went to recovery…he took a piece of me along with him. Nothing will ever be the same...although that is not a bad thing.

I think back to the moments right before each of those two phone calls before our world briefly imploded. At the time, I did not recognize those moments were the calm before the storm. I was blissfully unaware of the chaos waiting to ensue. Bipolar disorder and addiction are horrible diseases; most days, they are unbearable to navigate. Sometimes life would be much simpler if we could remain blissfully unaware of the chaos around us…but I believe losing a piece of your heart to these diseases is a far worse fate.

Almost a year later, Brady is free of medications, practicing a healthy lifestyle and diet. He still deals with depression and anxiety, the keyword being "deals." He looks different, healthier than he has in quite some time. He is still in the process of getting “it” together; his struggles are far from over. Rehab does not cure you. It just gives you the tools to help you help yourself—something he will have to do for the rest of his life.

He has been confronted with some complex challenges over the past year. A few weeks ago, he lost his paternal grandmother; she was an anchor for him, filling a void left by his father. I wondered how he would navigate these bumps in the road and significant life changes. Worried, he will trade one addiction for another or rely on the familiar things. I do not believe those worries will ever wholly disappear; they are naturally a part of being a parent to a child who struggles with mental health and addiction. You learn to adjust to the new normal and take life, as the saying goes, “One day at a time,” then some days, sometimes it is one second, one minute, one hour at a time. The days I receive texts stating, “I am having a rough day,” do not worry me so much. It is the days where there is silence; these are the days I know he is struggling as his mental health spirals into the abyss of depression and anxiety.

Last Friday, I finally baked oatmeal raisin cookies, and Christmas is four days away. The only thing I want is to be surrounded by my family...with the knowledge, they are healthy and happy…the same thing I wish for the other three-hundred and sixty-four days of the year.

My son has Bipolar disorder, and he is an addict. It is not a life sentence…it is just life.

This piece was written with the encouragement of my son. No matter what life throws at us, I will always have your back, Bud.


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