I walk into a corporate office every day a white-washed version of myself. I compartmentalize, isolating the humbling and embarrassing pieces of my life. My career in human resources offers the perfect cloak of anonymity. A job where I focus on others and solving problems suits me; I am passionate about having answers. My creative and analytical nature has designated me as a “high performer.” I walk the halls in my beloved Calvin Klein dresses, having earned trust and respect, but little is known about me.
As the mother of three beautiful children living in “America’s Finest City” (San Diego), I awake to sunshine and 70 degree weather almost daily. However charmed my world may seem, my personal life is dominated by chaos. My oldest child and only son is a heroin addict.
My three children (Photo: Allyson Aabram)
I wish it were a tale of incremental stressors but my indoctrination to addiction was as outrageous as an ’80s action movie. Over the last three years, my family has been ravaged. I couch surfed with my daughters for eight weeks until we could move 30 miles away from our home that had been compromised by a drug dealer who left his gun behind.
Despite great medical insurance I’ve lived juggling the expenses of rehab, sober living and the prescription opiate blocker Suboxone. Calls from random phone numbers cause panic. An unknown number on my cell on a Saturday night after enjoying sushi with friends relayed he had overdosed.
Months later, a nondescript number informed me he was an inmate an Arizona jail. Police sirens make my mind race. I learned that addicts who overdose are charged with possession as their body is considered a vessel. A few days before Christmas, I stood in a line of families sending presents so I could overnight a car title as collateral to bail my son out of jail.
I walk on a tightrope of avoiding enabling my son’s addiction and alleviating the guilt of watching him suffer. I feared his drug-addicted friends, kids I had known since Little League, in the backyard while my 8-year-old daughter slept upstairs in her room. I kicked him out on his 20th birthday because he showed up high on heroin at a local restaurant where he had kept us waiting 90 minutes.
While he was homeless, I would bring him beef jerky, almonds and water so I could relax enough to fall asleep. The toughest part of all is to do nothing. I learned that in order to expedite the addict climbing back to normalcy, I must let life happen without interference and without fixing.
Me and my son (Photo: Allyson Aabram)
Despite the tumultuousness, I have maintained a perfect façade. When co-workers ask about my former three-sport athlete son, I say he is finding himself rather than explain he has been to five rehabs in three years.
I spent four hours a night for four months writing a 100-page screenplay. Although I recognized it was cathartic, I was motivated by creating an authentic representation of being the mother of an addict. Once the script was complete, I felt empowered. This was my opportunity to be transparent.
When I began pitching Yoga and a Cigarette, I hedged, only telling the B storyline. It was horrifying to realize I was still so deeply ashamed. I created a character to represent my life but then was afraid of questions or judgment on the raw topic. I realized I liked and needed the façade; it kept me perfect, safe and separate from the ugliness.
I would like to come clean. If we are all honest, then many of us are slaves to image. Women especially are vulnerable to wanting to be perfect, but our whitewashed images prevent us from being connected and supported. I am a grieving mother who is ready to admit I am without answers.
Every day, I wish and pray this chapter of our life will pass. But I cannot control when the page turns. I can at least put the secrecy behind me. My hope is that I may inspire someone to share a secret and experience some relief from living authentically. I believe our power cannot be usurped by things outside of our control. However, shame can immobilizes us when we hold it close.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.