Tonight is not the first time I have asked myself that question. Although observers tell me I display a calm, cool affect most of the time, it is not because my internal being feels all that in control or free of anxiety. But I'm asking that question one more time tonight because once again I am choosing to hope that our soon-to-be-eighteen-year-old son (who is currently in a chemical dependency program) could change his ways.
And when I say I'm choosing to hope you need to know that this comes from a place not of my own making; it is surely from a deep, spiritual place that only the Creator offers. Because, from all outward appearances there is little in which to place hope. As Claudia and I pointed out to the counselors we met with today in Mike's program, his behaviors pre-date any chemical usage on his part. The challenging behaviors Mike displays today are the same that have been a part of his life since the day we met him over nine years ago. The difference is that as he has grown chronologically he has grown in his sophistication level.
At the root of his issues is his FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) diagnosis, which he received only at the age of 13. This, coupled with other diagnoses (including Reactive Attachment Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder) paints a pretty bleak picture.
Our conversation with Mike today was basically one-sided. It was one of those "intervention" conversations in which those who have been "hurt" by the addict's behavior tell him or her how it has affected themselves and their family. The challenge, of course, for someone like our son is that an intervention strategy relies upon the premise that the addict cares about those in question. I'm not sure how impactful an intervention is for someone who attachment is disordered, limited, or non-existent.
But, we went through the motions. We expressed to Mike our concerns for his well-being, our frustrations for the lies, the thievery, the manipulation of his siblings, the drug use, the disappearing for days at a time, the breaking and entering, the disrespecting of our family's boundaries. We went through the litany one more time. And, true to his designated role, Mike listened in silence to what we had to say. He was instructed not to respond to our words. His peers in the group supported what we had to say and reminded Mike that he has parents who love him and who care about him. They reinforced that he needs to really consider that we are his best option for any kind of future success.
Enough data, as you can see, for even the most positive person to nurse cynicism. Sadly, I am not the most positive person in the world, so nurturing cynicism is second nature to me.
But tonight I have decided once again that I will be hopeful on Mike's behalf. I wrote him a letter (handwritten, which is really a sacrifice for one who is so keyboard- and computer-oriented as myself), in which I offered Mike once again my love and support. And then I went on to say: "I'm coming to realize that there might not be a lot Mom and I can do for you except to continue to love you and let you know that we're not going to abandon you. Now you, of course, may decide to leave us behind -- which I hope you don't do -- but you will always be our son." I then go on to remind him that he is days away from the age of majority and that we hope his early adult years will be more positive than his late teen years have been.
"But, Mike, in order for that to happen you're going to need some adult or adults whom you will allow to guide you. You cannot do this alone -- none of us can; even the smartest people in the world need others to guide and support us. I've wished, hoped and prayed for nine years that Mom and I or even one of us could be that person for you. For whatever reasons this doesn't seem to have worked. Instead of seeing us as a resource to help you, you have convinced yourself that somehow we are not trustworthy or on your side. Please know this: I will never give up on you, even if you never trust me or believe I can be a guide for you. I will not reject you or leave you behind, but I cannot choose what you will do."
I go on to tell our son that it doesn't have to be his parents he decides to look to for guidance, but that it needs to be someone, and that he needs to choose, for his own sake, whom he will allow into his life for guidance and support.
And so, as I consider my time with Mike today and the words that I have written to him, I have to ask: what is wrong with me? The writing is on the wall ... his early years of life were traumatic, abusive and neglectful ... his diagnoses are significant ... his placement history and his rapidly growing legal entanglements will dog him for years ... he expresses no connection to us whatsoever. There are no external signs of hopefulness.
But, alas, it is for Christian people the season of Lent, a time of spiritual investigation, questing and self-denial. I will take to heart the words that I spoke to numerous individuals last night as I imposed ashes upon their foreheads: "Repent, and believe the gospel." Lord, help me leave behind cynicism and allow room for your hope to grow.