When you are expecting a child, you dream of all the things they will experience as they grow.
All the milestones, first steps, first words, first birthday. You think about what their personality will be like, their first day of school.
You know as a parent there will be ups and downs, laughter and tears, fights and making up. But never do you imagine that even during the worst of times, you will find yourself being the mother of children with an addiction.
I was blessed to be the mother of three beautiful children, a boy, then a girl, and finally another boy. I have wonderful memories of all of them from their childhood –such as our family vacations and sleepovers with cousins.
Their teen years were, of course, a new challenge at times, but also had great times such as watching them excel in school and endless achievements in sports. We were so proud as each of them graduated from high school and went on to pursue their own goals in college.
As any motherhood journey does, mine included plenty of worries and struggles. Some I could easily fix with a simple Band-Aid or a little TLC.
Others were more difficult to maneuver. Out of nowhere, the “firsts” turned from times of celebration to times of sadness and frustration. I experienced many of these “firsts” with both of my sons.
The first time your child steals from you, the first time your child tells you he is on drugs, the first time your child is arrested. These were followed by multiple rehab stays and endless attempts to stay clean.
Those attempts to stay clean ended a little more than three years ago for my oldest son when we lost him to an overdose. My youngest son has eight years clean and continues in active recovery. I came to realize not all of our children’s struggles can be fixed with a Band-Aid and TLC.
Watching your children in pain and not being able to take it away is terrible. This, for me, has been the hardest part of living with adult children who struggle with addiction.
The grief I have endured, and still do, is almost unbearable at times. It has even been made harder in that I don’t have my husband by my side through it all. We lost him suddenly eight years ago this June. He was there through one son’s struggles, but not with us as another walked the path of addiction.
While the pain of these losses is almost impossible to put into words, it has made three things clear to me.
First, I would not be able to get through any of it without my faith. Trusting in God and his plan for us is not always easy, but is at the cornerstone of my ability to get through each day.
Second, I have to see that through the grief, there is still joy. I have learned that finding good in the bad is necessary to survive any loss in life.
I have three wonderful grandchildren from my oldest son, Kris, and an amazing daughter-in-law, who is simply the best mother I could ever ask for and a true example of strength.
My daughter, Suzette, is a blessing and been by my side through it all. My youngest son, Keith is now a father to two beautiful little girls. My family and my grandchildren are blessings that I am thankful for every day. The good times with all of them and getting to watch all their firsts are my reasons for going on.
Third and finally, addiction is real, very real, and can happen to anyone at any time. No one ever plans to become an individual with a substance use disorder. Behind every individual in active addiction is a family who loves them endlessly, prays for their recovery and just wants their loved one back.
Recovery is attainable, but just like the grief, the process never really goes away. The road to recovery is lifelong. Keith has been able to turn his struggles into a career helping of others.
Through his involvement in the Cambria County Drug Coalition and other community programs, I am learning that this is a problem in our community we must all face together.
There are no guarantees when you decide to become a mother that all the dreams you have for your children will come true.
However, even with all that I have experienced, I would do it all again.
I cannot imagine my life without being a mother.
Melissa (Thomas) Elders, a Carrolltown native, is one of 12 siblings from a very close-knit family. She is a 64-year-old mother of three, grandmother of five, and friend to many. She has both endured significant loss at the hands of addiction and experienced the joys of recovery.