Though I am well aware there is nothing anyone can say to change the behaviors of someone who is involved in active addiction, there is always something left unsaid when his or her rock bottom turns out to be six feet underground. Even if the lack of closure is simply due to a lack of awareness—like in the case of an accidental overdose in early addiction or during relapse – when the relationship is either not yet filled with dysfunction or has seemingly been recovering from it—there are still always words left unspoken.
In my case, the unspoken words were a result of years with very little contact with my mother due to her heroin addiction and alcoholism, the latter of which led to her premature death.
However, I can most gratefully say there wasn’t a lack of closure. In fact, I am thankful for that I was able to be with her in her last hours of life on this planet, and she did have the wherewithal to provide that for me; speaking her peace and making amends while expressing love and encouragement.
Still, I was a mere twenty-year-old at the time of her passing. I was nowhere near the level of self-awareness and understanding needed in order for me to say all I could’ve said. Though “I forgive you” and “I love you” were certainly enough for the end of her time here, there are still a few things I wish I’d said (or even knew to say) to her in her addiction.
If I can turn back time, here are things I would have told her.
1. “I love you, no matter what.”
There’s no better gift we can give anyone (including ourselves) than unconditional love. With regard to active addiction, however, there is always a fear of or caution against enabling.
But enabling isn’t love. It’s anti-love, as it is based in a selfish need to control or hold on, rather than a desire for someone else to be.
Unconditional love is loving the person, regardless of the destructive behaviors that come with the disease of addiction. Yet, it is also about loving oneself enough to do so from a distance that is safe for both parties and in ways that do not further progress the disease.
To pull unconditional love away is to remove hope or reason to contemplate change. And, when my mother couldn’t love herself and therefore was not capable of showing love to me, I only wish I’d known to say, “I love you anyway.”
2. “I understand and accept you.”
Throughout any struggle, we all need understanding and acceptance. Addiction is no exception. Though I’m aware it would not have changed the outcome for me to have said these words to my mother during her addiction, I do realize it is something she desperately needed and deserved to hear.
That level of compassion is the essence of love. And, again, it is not the same as enabling victimization; a common characteristic of active addiction. Conversely, offering understanding and acceptance provides an accurate reflection of the individual – the human being – who still exists underneath and is also victim to the disease. And, in that way, it stands to throw at least a short pause in the pain cycle, hopefully long enough to spur contemplation for change.
3. "You are enough."
I remember having a dream just a week after my mother passed away. I was at her funeral, sitting in the pews of a church listening to family members and friends speak about her with love and gratitude. As each individual stood up, they shared stories of how gifted my mother was and how much she was loved. They talked about her with such care, sharing all the beautiful qualities that defined her; never discussing the behaviors that accompanied the addiction that ultimately took her life.
I turned, in the dream, to the back of the church. I saw my mother standing there. She was witnessing her own funeral.
As I stared at her lovely face, I began to notice tears streaming from her eyes. She gently spoke words that stuck with me, even into the next day’s reality; “Why didn’t anyone say these things to me when I was alive.”
It was then I truly realized just how little my mother thought of herself and how she projected that low self-opinion onto everyone else. Honestly, given the ways in which tough love were improperly employed in my family, it is no wonder.
As such, I do wish I would’ve had the wherewithal to say, “Mom, you are enough.”
Thankfully, I am a spiritual person who believes we never lose the ability or opportunity to speak the words we need to say. Certainly, I have since let her know all of these things and more. And, to anyone out there who has lost someone to this disease (whether in life or in the grave), I encourage you to do the same.
It’s never too late for love, as it knows no time or space.