IN DEFENSE OF SARAH’S MOM

TemplepillsLisa Ling

Elizabeth Willis Barrett…………Oct 14, 2014

The other day I watched “This is Life with Lisa Ling: Inside Utah’s Struggle with Drug Abuse.”  She showed that even though Mormons have a strict health guide, they are still falling in high numbers to the addiction of pain pills.  I felt that she was very compassionate in her interviews.  She attended a Mormon Addiction Recovery Program meeting, spoke with a Mormon Bishop and in addition to others, met with a very candid girl named Sarah.

I didn’t learn about the danger of prescription pills until my son was in high school.  He went to a friend of mine who worked in the school’s bookstore and asked her for one of her pain pills.   Very responsibly, this friend called me before giving him one.  She told me that Jeffrey had come to her saying that his back really hurt.  As a football player, Jeffrey had many reasons to have a hurting back.  I told her it was OK to give him one of her pills.  Unbelievable, I know.  Looking back, I am astounded at my naiveté.  I had no idea that I had just given my consent to an addiction that would become so full blown that we wouldn’t see the end of it for fifteen years.  I knew nothing about addictions and, of course, nothing about the role pills play in dependency.

Drugs were so out of my realm of consciousness.  I had five nearly perfect children.  It was very interesting to watch the Ling program because it stressed the obsession we as Mormons tend to have with perfection.  We don’t want anyone to know that our family might be having problems, so disasters like drug addiction can be swept under the rug of denial for years.  Although that’s probably not solely a Mormon dilemma.

Lisa showed how easy it is to get addicted.  Many start innocently with prescription pills given by a well-meaning doctor.  When pills get too scarce or expensive many turn to heroin and other illegal drugs.  Addicts need their next hit just like everyone needs their next breath of oxygen and they’ll do about anything to get it.

When Lisa Ling was interviewing Sarah—a full blown heroin addict—she asked her if she wanted to quit.  “More than you’ll know,” said Sarah.  Lisa also asked Sarah what she wanted.  Sarah’s answer was that she just wanted a hug from her Mom.

Sarah’s Mom, who was never named, might have sounded like an unfeeling woman, one who wouldn’t even hug her daughter.  But not to me.  I have been that mom to some degree and I praise her for her courage.  It takes a lot of courage to divorce your addicted child and let her determine on her own that she is ready to pay the price for sobriety.  I would guess that Sarah’s Mom has already spent years hugging and encouraging and saving Sarah from the consequences of her disastrous choices.  After all, she is raising Sarah’s child which is a difficult thing to do after raising your own children.  I would also assume that Sarah’s Mom has been lied to and stolen from because that is what addicts do—they lie and they steal.  Enough is enough.

Brad and I have had many couples sitting in our living room trying to absorb any advice we can give them about dealing with their own addicted children.  We tell them all the same thing that a recovered addict told us:  “There is nothing you as a parent can do or say that will change your child.  They are the ones who have to decide when they are really ready to walk the difficult path of recovery.”  We also tell them of helps that are available to parents and meetings that would strengthen their resolve.  Most parents don’t like our advice.

I am assuming that Sarah’s Mom finally arrived at the point we all must come to: we are not helping our children by enabling them.  We are not helping our children by giving them a nice place to live and driving them places and paying for their needs.  They will never recover until it is harder to be an addict than it is to be sober.  When we make life easy for them,  addicted children continue farther down that destructive path and there is no retrieving them.  Our son wasn’t willing to get ultimate help until he had been homeless for about a year—living behind dumpsters and on the canal bank in a bush, panhandling for money to get more drugs.  We couldn’t coddle him anymore.  We couldn’t bring him home.  We had to go on with our lives and let him go on with his even though his path might lead to death.

So to Sarah’s Mom I would say that there are many imperfect Mormon Moms who are behind you right now, wishing you the best and saying, “Hang in there, Sarah’s Mom.  You are doing the right thing.  The only right thing!”

I wish I could tell Sarah that although she wants to be clean she didn’t sound like she was quite ready to throw herself into a program where she’d have to give her all into getting well.  With the nation watching, I imagine that many would step up to help her into a rehab if she had said that she was ready and willing to go right now.  But when she is done, truly done with her addiction, there is help for her.

Our son finally got the help he needed in a 24 month program that changed his thinking and his life.  It is called the John Volken Academy . It was started by a wonderful philanthropist and costs next to nothing. Two years seems like a very long time to be in a program, but the many expensive thirty day and three month programs worked only for a little while and then the addiction returned.  When you are deep into addiction, a few months isn’t going to pull you out. Thanks to John Volken we have our son back—our wonderful son.

And one day, Sarah, if you are willing to make recovery your first and only priority, your Mom will get you back .  And, I promise, the hugs won’t stop.

ORCHESTRATING CHRISTMAS

conductor 2

Elizabeth Willis Barrett………January 2014

Enjoying Christmas with twenty-one family members takes a bit of orchestration.  And that means that someone has to be the conductor.  I look around for volunteers but there are none.  So, I stand upon the podium, baton in hand and raise my arms for the down beat.  Ah, I see that not everyone is ready.  I tap the music stand to get their attention.  I tap again.

“Ready?” I ask.  There are no dissenters.  Down come my arms and from the first notes, I realize with dismay that we are not all playing the same song.  Some are attempting a waltz, others a dirge and still others are tooting away at what must be a new Miley Cyrus original.

“Wait, wait, wait.” I whack the baton and take precious time to see that we are all playing the same piece–a happy, march-like tune that if Sousa didn’t write, he should have.

Another down beat and the improvement is palpable.  It helps to be on the same song on the same page.  Hope glimmers.   Several measures have promise.  Then….

“Cellos, [the young fathers of our family who seem to be constantly riveted on football] I think I’m only hearing one note from you.  Could you look a little more closely?  I think you have other notes besides B [which stands for ball, which usually means football] in your score.”

And…

“Flutes, [the little girls] I really appreciate your ability to dance all over the music, but we have to make everything fit together.  Keep with the rhythm, OK?”

And…

“Trombones, [the teenage boys] this is a happy part.”  I whack the baton against the stand a few times until the trombones look at me with a “What?” lurking in their faces.  It’s a good thing I like myself well enough or I just might crumble under one or two of these looks.  “Play it with joy,”  I say.  “Yes.  Yes you can,” I add to their objections.   This job is exhausting.

“Come on, you guys.  Now we have to start all over.  OK, once again.  All eyes on me.  Good.”

I hear a slight improvement.  Things are looking up.

“Oh, oh.  Everyone pause for just a minute.  Piccolo [the baby] is screeching.  Now, now.  It’s going to be all right, little Piccolo.  No one lose your place.  Hang on.  We just need to guide Piccolo over a few rough measures.”

“Violins, [the young moms] I know you have more notes to negotiate than anyone else, but you’re so capable, so dependable, so lovely.”

“Bass, [my other half, the Grandfather] we haven’t heard from you in awhile.  Oh, I see why.  Wake up!  Wake up, Bass!  We need you.  Your deep tones are our foundation.  I heard that, Bass.  Absolutely no grumbling.”

“Ok, once more from the top.  A one, a two a…….”

“No, Snares, not yet.  Bells, hold it.  Cymbal…..The whole percussion section [the little boys] is trying to race us through to the next century.  Patience.  Read your notes.  You don’t come in yet.”

“A little loud there, Trumpets [the middle boys].  I know you have lots to say.  Blend, just blend.  This is not a trumpet solo.  Every part is as important as the next.”

“I think we’re all a little keyed up at the moment.  Let’s just pause,  slow down,  catch our breaths.  Let’s work on this march, but if it ain’t “baroque” we won’t need to fix it.  Ha, Ha.  Just a little humor.  Thought we could use it.  Never mind.  You will all have a chance for solos, but right now we are trying to create a masterpiece together.  A musical harmonious masterpiece.”

We play and we play.  Intermittently the baton comes down–whack, whack, whack.   They’ve heard that sound so often that they don’t pay attention anymore and I let them continue–stray notes intersecting at the corner of Common Time and 3/4, pianissimo always succumbing to forte.  We are into the music.  And though we miss some notes and sour others, there are times, many times, when the music we create is superb.  Soul reaching.  Beautiful.

After we have performed and regrouped and performed again–made mistakes and repented of sorts–we look back on our orchestration of Christmas.  There are no words but “Bravo! Bravo!” and “Encore! Encore!”  With all our imperfections we have outdone ourselves.

I reverently put down the baton, wipe away a joyful tear and vow to make someone else do at least some of the conducting in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIME OUT

 

Time Out 2

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

The other day our namesake grandson pushed his sister making her cry.  I’m afraid Bapa’s and my voices were a little harsh because Barrett ran off and we couldn’t find him for a while.  After a bit of searching in back bedrooms and closets, we found him sitting dejectedly on the stair.  He had put himself in “Time Out.”

A few days later, Barrett threw a football in the family room which his Bapa didn’t catch.  He’d been told not to throw the ball in the house (it definitely wasn’t Bapa who gave the command since, as always, Bapa was very much in the game) but Barrett threw it anyway, knocking down a lamp with the in-completed pass.  “I’m going to Time Out,” he said and promptly put himself back on the stairs.  This action sounded very much like, “You can’t fire me, I quit!”

We all sometimes need a Time Out and it’s better if we recognize and acknowledge it ourselves rather than waiting for someone else to suggest it.   Time Out allows us time to think things over, reevaluate what it is we want to do, make plans for a new direction, breathe.

One of our daughters puts herself in Time Out often.  Her kids think she’s punishing herself but Jana is delighted to go to her room, shut the door and be alone for a while.

When all my kids were little, I used to dream of a long Time Out, preferably at my Aunt Blanche’s in Rexburg, Idaho.  I could’t think of a better place to catch my breath and be well cared for at the same time.  It never happened, of course.  Getting to Rexburg from Gilbert, Arizona, isn’t a very convenient trip.  But I thought about it and what it might feel like to get away from constant requests and unlimited deadlines.

Some of my best Time Outs were Time Ins.  I’d stay home and catch up while Brad took the kids away.  When they returned, I was ready to resume our game plan.

Now that the kids are grown, I still have to put myself in Time Out.  Getting on my bike and driving around the canal while I listen to a good book, working through a Cryptogram puzzle, going to lunch with friends, singing with my daughters–those work.  A favorite Time Out is to get in the car with Brad and drive to the cabin. That makes a good get-away from decision making and demands since there isn’t a whole lot you can do while riding in a car except sip on a 44 ouncer, eat pepper chips and keep the driver awake.

And if family meets us at the cabin, it is the best Time Out of all!

 

 

 

LIZ’S LAWS

IMG_5338 - Version 2 - 2011-07-04 at 11-18-53

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

The other day I gave a suggestion to one of my sons-in-law as he was wiping up a kid’s spill.  I wasn’t trying to be bossy, but maybe it came out that way.  We don’t always see our own faults as well as we see the faults of others.  You know, the “mote and the beam.” (Luke 6:42)

His exasperated response was, “Liz, why don’t you just write up a list of Liz’s Laws, so we’ll know what you want.

Whoa!  What a proposal! What an opportunity!  Why hadn’t I thought of it myself and a long time ago?

So here it is——-Liz’s Laws.  The listings are in random order and not prioritized.  They are not meant to be pointed at anyone in particular.  They apply to everyone generally.  This list is not intended to be all inclusive because I’m sure I’ve forgotten some very major points and I leave myself room to add an addendum at any time.

1.  If you are going to change a diaper, especially on the new carpet in the family room, please put a towel under the baby.

2.  If the diaper is a very smelly one as many are, please change him on a towel on the washer in the laundry room.  That way the smell doesn’t have to linger forever where everyone’s noses are.  But to be truthful, I am so impressed with the men in our family who are willing to be real fathers and change their delightful children, that if this law is overlooked once in a while, I will avert my eyes and nose.

3.  Please do not put cups or glasses or anything containing liquid on a wood surface.  The container will often sweat and leave an unredeemable ring on the wood.  That is what coasters are for–to place those cups on.   Unfortunately, I don’t have any coasters, but you can make do with a magazine or a piece of mail that is sitting around or……….  Never mind–I’ll buy some coasters, if you’ll promise to use them.

4.  Don’t wipe up the floor with a dishtowel.  I know it’s hard to tell the dishtowels from the rags, sometimes, since I use old dishtowels as rags.  But if a cloth is just sitting on the counter it most likely is a dishtowel.  The rags are above the dryer in the laundry room which is in proximity to the kitchen.  And I would rather you use those rags instead of paper towels, too, since they are washable and I don’t have to go out and replace them.

5.  Please don’t scrunch up the couch show pillows and put your head–however clean–on them.  All heads are oily and the scrunch won’t recover if the pillows are used in this manner too often.  These pillows are not replaceable until I buy new couches that come with new pillows.  That will not happen for years.  There are many old pillows in the cupboards in my bathroom and I will be happy to get you one or two upon request.

6.  Please put down the toilet seats–both lids.  This is good Feng Shui.  Also, probably next to impossible.

7.  Don’t put wet towels on beds or hang them over furniture.  They will get everything they touch wet.

8.  If you’re going to wipe off the wood table, which is very much appreciated, by the way, please then wipe it down with a dry cloth.

9.  Do not eat straight out of a pan or bowl that others will be serving themselves from.  I haven’t seen this happen in our family, but it doesn’t hurt to list it just in case someone is tempted to do so.

10.  I know we all wipe our hands on the hanging around dishtowel.  It would be better to use paper towels for that purpose but sometimes the dishtowel is more convenient although much less sanitary. But do you have to wipe your face with it?  Come on!  (And if you are being very good and using paper towels to dry your hands, it only takes one, not five!)

(Oh, oh, I’m feeling myself get a little too paranoid and anxious about these laws.  Maybe I shouldn’t have started.  But there’s more!)

11.  Do not let the kids eat on the carpet or couches.

12.  Do not let the kids touch the pianos, computers, Ipads, or phones.

13.  When wiping off a counter, don’t let the dishcloth drip across the floor.

14.  If kids are going to drink pop, don’t leave 1/2 drunk cans all over.

15.  If you know that your child just might wet the bed, please protect the beds.  I didn’t obey this rule when I was in your position, so I probably don’t have the right to impose this law, but it would save a lot of grief.

16.  When dishing up your kids food, don’t give them more than you know they can eat.  My rule is eat a little, then eat a little, then eat a little.  Wasting food doesn’t go over very well at my house.  See my essay Waste Not Want Not.

17.  Don’t wash kids off with a dishcloth.  Yuck.  Poor kid!  I have lots of clean cloths that would be more appropriate to use.  See #4.

18.  Before laying a sleeping child on the couch, put down a quilt first.  Who doesn’t slobber when they sleep?

So there you have it–Liz’s Laws.  In reading back over them, I see that many have something to do with moisture.  Interesting.

Mostly, however, I realize that they sound very petty and unimportant when what really matters is that you come.  My family is everything to me–all 28 members.  My joy is full when my home is full of you!

.

First Oleander on the Right

Elizabeth Willis Barrett

(I am reposting this from my old blog so that tomorrow’s post will have more meaning!)

I drive up Bunker and just past Lionel make a left turn onto the canal bank where I shouldn’t turn at all.  I don’t think cars are very welcomed on the canal roads.  But this is where he lives and I have come for another visit.   I pull up to the first oleander and get out with my feet feeling like they are trudging through deep, dark mud and with my heart slogging along above them.

“Jeffrey?” I call.

“Hey, Mom,” comes his voice from the middle of the bush.

At least he’s alive–a good sign, I think.  I walk up to the large overhanging oleander, and part the branches.  There he is like he was the night before, wrapped in his sleeping bag and several blankets and looking very comfortable.  I almost want to join him.  Almost.

“How are you?”  I ask.

“Good.  Except for my hip.  I think it’s broken.”

The first story is that he had jumped over a wall and landed on his hip.  The next story is that he had hitchhiked and as he was getting out of the Good Samaritan’s truck, he caught the heel of his boot and fell hard on his backside.  Truth has lost its way in his muddled head and doesn’t know how to get to his mouth anymore.  Honesty used to be a valiant companion of this beautiful son.  But she was so neglected that she left long ago.  We have missed her.

Jeffrey is already dealing with a broken elbow that he acquired when his scooter failed to turn a corner.  Scooters don’t miss garbage cans on their own.  They need a sober driver and this one didn’t have one.  Lack of sobriety was most likely the cause of Jeffrey’s hurt hip as well.

I never planned on any of my children becoming homeless.  Homelessness is for people with no families, no opportunities and no one left to care about them.  We have lots of room in a very nice home and plenty of food and love to share.  We could easily keep Jeffrey for another 27 years.  But the fact is, our keeping him was doing him harm, not good. We had enabled him too long or rather dis-abled him.

His father and I finally reached a decisive intersection where we stood together as adoring yet formidable parents. Although we had been at this juncture a hundred times before, this time we irrevocably meant it when we took a turn to the right and declared, “YOU CAN NOT LIVE WITH US ANYMORE!”

I used to wonder how people ended up being homeless.  When I’ve encountered panhandlers on the edge of the freeway, I’ve questioned why they didn’t go get a job and pay for shelter.  I’ve seen many “help wanted” signs.  Surely those on the street have seen them, too, and could “inquire within.”  But I understand now.  They have “inquired within”–within themselves– and the answer was, “Drugs. I need drugs.”  Jobs cannot be sustained by those who need drugs.  And standing on a corner with an outstretched hand can bring in as much as $25 an hour.  That beats the wages for dunking French fries into oil at McDonalds.  Since they don’t have any ambitions nipping at their heels, why not stand on a corner and beg?

On one occasion, a very kind and well-meaning gentleman gave Jeffrey $100 when he heard that he was homeless.  That $100 nearly bought Jeffrey a permanent shelter measuring eighty-four inches long, twenty-eight inches wide, twenty-three inches tall and six feet under, since the entire amount was used to buy drugs.

When I had to take Jeffrey to TASC one day to get a court ordered pee test–more formally called a UA for Urine Analysis–to check for drugs in his system, we joined some rather questionable characters congregating for the same purpose.

“Do you want to be like these people?” I nearly shouted at him.  I mean, who would?  They all looked frightening and frightened, aimless and aimed at.

“No, Mom,” he said.  “I wouldn’t be like these people.  When I do drugs, I always know I have a home and a bed to come back to.”

I have to remember these words when I falter and want to gather him up and bring him home.  In his case, home has kept him from growth and made using drugs way too easy.

So, I have allowed him to be a homeless beggar, choking back my motherly compulsions and desire to keep his natural consequences at bay.   I don’t want him to be cold.  I don’t want him to be hungry.  I don’t want him to be alone.

As I leave him in his makeshift camp in the bush, I have become a beggar myself.  I am begging that a change of heart will come, that truth will conquer, that the need for drugs will diminish.  I am begging that another of the many people who love him will be able to influence him in a positive direction since his family no longer can.    And I am begging that Jeffrey will finally be able to sustain a home much stronger and more stable than the first oleander on the right.

Audio-First Oleander on the Right: Read by the Author

Angel Mother

I used to squirm on Mother’s Day when I heard the rather sentimental speaker speak of her Angel Mother.  Angel Mother!  That term will never be given to me, I thought.

It is highly unlikely that I’ll hear those words in reference to myself, but I have come to realize that time has a way of smoothing the edges of existence.  It is as though we live life in full glaring sunlight without any sunglasses; but we look back on life with the help of protective eyewear that softens the blaze of reality.

When I was growing up, I don’t remember my own mom speaking of her mother as an “Angel Mother.”  But as Mom grew older, she’d say things like, “I wish you had known my mother. She was an angel!”

I actually did know my Grandma Erikson.  But by the time I came around she was harried by dementia and would stand behind doors to scare us or drink from the syrup bottle or walk out the front door to visit her sister, Louie, who had been dead for 60 years.  I didn’t think of Grandma Erikson as an angel.

“She never raised her voice,” Mom continued.  “She had such a beautiful garden and kept the house so clean.  She was an angel,” she repeated.

While I was growing up, I wouldn’t have referred to my mom as an Angel Mother.  In fact, I stored every one of her slips of the tongue or, as I viewed, grievous actions against me in a private place in my soul.  I would pull them out often and nourish them with angry thoughts.  But now that I am older, I am amazed at what a wonderful mother she was.  Her glowing attributes considerably outweigh any faults I may have perceived.  I was blessed beyond deserving to have such a great woman be my mother.  And it is easy to say, “I wish you had known my mother.  She was an angel.”

Perhaps time will soften the memories of my children.  I hope they will someday be able to empty their own jars of injustices they felt I hurled at them and refill those jars with sweet remembrances.  And maybe they will be able to say in some distant age, “I wish you had known my mother.  She was an angel!”

Angel Mother : Audio Read by the Author