I have a disease called Multiple Sclerosis, MS. It's an auto-immune disease which means the body attacks itself. In MS, the myelin sheathing around nerves is attacked by anti-bodies that think they are protecting me from an outside infection. When I was diagnosed, the prognosis was anything from very few exacerbations to a constantly worsening that would leave me in a wheelchair. Twenty years in, I am happy that the course of the disease is only moderately disabling for me. I did have to retire early from teaching, but I will walk a 5K next week with my grandchildren with few difficulties. Summer is wretched because of the heat, which makes all former symptoms come back for a curtain call and I am more tired than I was even in the first trimesters of pregnancy, but all in all I have been very lucky. As diseases go, I'll take MS.
My parents both died of cancer, so obviously, that particular disease scares me, but in true Scarlett O'Hara fashion, I choose to not think about it.
There is one disease that I am incredibly grateful is not likely to visit me--addiction. Aside from a sweet tooth that has plagued me, I have had no affinity to addictive substances. I never started drinking, so I don't know if I could have stopped. Likewise for cigarettes, which I watched my father struggle with his entire life. The few pain killers I took as needed left me pain free, but not addicted, but that may be because of the short duration I took them. I guess I'll never know if I could have been an addict, but I love someone very much who is one.
My oldest son started smoking when he was 14 or 15. It was during the time that my then husband and I separated and eventually divorced, and drinking alcohol followed soon thereafter for this teenager who felt confused and betrayed. Illegal drugs came next and while he tried several, the only one that held on was marijuana. Only about 8% of people who smoke pot become addicted, but Cody is one of them. By the time he was 18, he was stealing things out of cars to pay for the substance abuse that was quickly stealing his future. He was caught, pleaded guilty and I was the mother of a felon.
Two disclaimers here. The universe has convinced me that I am an enabler and that Cody and I are co-dependent. Guilty as charged. All I knew for years was that I loved this boy more than words can express and he was in 97 kinds of pain and trouble. I tried to protect him. I tried to save him. It didn't work so I tried harder. I nagged. I begged. I tried to be perfect in the false belief that any blessing due me could be transferred to him. I prayed and prayed and prayed.
The second disclaimer? I absolutely positively believe that addiction/alcoholism is a disease. I didn't always believe that. At first, I fell in line with the attitude that Cody just needed to make better choices. He did. But the bottom line is that he needed treatment. His addictions are accompanied by ADHD, depression and anxiety. He's never been to rehab, but he's been in jail--a poor person's rehab to be blunt.
Two of the groups that inspire little to no compassion are addicts and felons. Cody is in jail right now for drinking and smoking pot--both parole violations. Of the poor choices he has made while on this journey through hell, I am happy to say violence has never been a road he has taken. Unfortunately, theft has, and since stealing is a definite 'no' in the 10 commandments, I'm left with little credibility to defend him. And frankly, I'm learning not to defend him. I get treatment for my MS; my parents sought and received medical treatment for cancer. Cody has not always been compliant when offered treatment. In fact, he has rarely been compliant.
I visited Cody today in prison. He is very depressed. I don't mean he feels crummy. I mean he is clinically, severely depressed. He started taking anti-depressants again, but on the second day, the guard said something snarky so he didn't go back the third day. I encouraged him to reconsider, trying hard not to enable or be co-dependent. (I truly hate those terms.) He said he can't find any hope, any purpose. The only thought that brings any happiness is his nieces and nephews, but then he crashes into despair thinking he has ruined any future relationship with them.
And so, I look across the table and see a still handsome 37 year old who has a disease. I will try not to be too sad as he continues to struggle with his choices and his lack of choices. I will try not to be too frustrated with a system that gives little care or hope to those similarly afflicted. And I will pray for a cure.