Let me preface this post, by telling you that the things I’m about to say are in NO WAY a marketing ploy, or a plea for attention. I’ve thought a long time about when to share this, IF EVER, and I’ve come to the decision that I want to try to use my situation for good, if I possibly can. This is not a secret I want to keep anymore. I’m going to step into the light, and you’re going to see my scars.
Several years ago, I wrote my break-out book, IF YOU STAY. It’s the story of a broken man, plagued with drug use and issues. Pax Tate’s story had a happy ending, and many of you fell in love with him. Many of you asked me who he was based upon… and I have never felt like I should share.
Loving someone with an addiction is a heavy burden to carry. At times, you feel alone, as though no one else could possibly understand. And most of the time, no one can, unless they’ve walked this particular path themselves.
My twenty-one year old son, my first-born, Gunner, was a cheerful little boy, his smile like sunshine, his charm enough to talk himself in and out of mostly everything. He was bright, he was bursting with potential, and he was beautiful. He was rambunctious, he was all boy, playing with lizards and turtles and snakes from the yard. His favorite show was The Land Before Time, and he wanted to be a zoologist when he grew up.
Then, as a teenager, he changed. He became a shell of his former self, his mood mercurial. He lied to himself, and to us, told us that nothing was wrong, that his disinterest in school was because he was bored. That was a lie.
The truth came out soon enough.
He started out huffing aerosol cans in secret, and that branched out to other things, like methamphetamine and heroin, and pretty much anything he could get his hands on. The Addiction hooked into him with sharp talons. I address it in capital letters, like it is a thing, because it is. Addiction is a palpable monster. It grabbed my son, and it wouldn’t let go, and he didn’t want to let it.
It dragged him down, and we all went with him.
Loving someone with an addiction is like being on a terrible roller coaster than you can never get off of. He calls me in the middle of the night, he calls me crying, he calls me saying he wants to die.
Then the next day, once the drug wears off, he calls and acts fine. He’ll insist he doesn’t have a problem, and that he doesn’t need help. Then the cycle begins again the day after.
He rages. He cries. He soars, he crashes.
People on the outside looking in think that I should be able to fix it. That if I FORCE him into getting help, he’ll beat the addiction.
That’s not the way it works. I’ve put him in rehab multiple times. It didn’t take. Because he wasn’t ready. He’s not a minor anymore- he’s over eighteen. So I can’t MAKE him do anything, not even when he’s killing himself with this dangerous cycle.
This has been on ongoing struggle for several years now. We try to make him get help, he resists at every turn. The addiction makes him someone he’s not, someone who says hateful awful things, someone who tries to hurt those who love him.
A while back, at two a.m, he called me. I could tell he’d been high, that he’d crashed. He was very, very low. His speech was jumbled, incoherent. Eventually, he said, “Mom, what time is it?”
I pulled the phone away from my ear to look at it.
“Two-thirty,” I told him.
He didn’t answer.
He didn’t answer.
Still no answer. I could hear some sort of ragged, gurgly sound in the background, and I knew it was coming from his throat. I hung up, and tried to call him back.
So I did the only thing I could do. I called for an ambulance. I didn’t know if he was dying, I only knew, in my mother’s heart, that time was of the essence. I waited by my phone, barely breathing myself, until I heard back.
He had overdosed, and the police had found drugs in his house. He was lucky though. He lived.
He was treated, and arrested, and he was put into jail. He was eventually released, and placed on a list for rehab. Finally, after several weeks, he’s now in rehab. Again. All we can do is hope that this time it takes. That this is the time he’ll want to get better and we can all get off this roller-coaster ride from hell. He tells me he wants to get better, but he’s in for the fight of his life. He wakes up in the night, in cold sweats and craving needles. The cravings are stronger than he is, he thinks. But I don’t think so. I think if he concentrates, he is strong enough.
Gunner is now twenty-one. He’s got a sweet fiancee, and a beautiful infant son. He’s got a lot to live for, if only he’s strong enough to see that.
This is my baby boy now. Do you see the dark look in his eyes? The lines on his face? The hardened expression? The skinny arms and bony shoulders? That’s what drugs do. They take and take and take, until there’s nothing left.
This can’t be the end of my son’s story. He’s got so much left to give.
If you are a praying person, would you mind saying a prayer for him? Because I believe that the more people who whisper the same prayer, the louder the words are to God’s ear. And Gunner needs God’s help to beat this.
I am a normal person. My family is normal. We live normal lives, and this has happened to us. Once upon a time, I thought that drug addiction was something that happened to OTHER people. People who weren’t like me.
That was not true.
Drug addiction can happen to ANYONE.
You can teach your kids right from wrong, and bad things can still happen. Hug your kids tight. They will make their own choices, and you can’t control that.
As an author, that’s a tough pill to swallow, because I’m accustomed to creating worlds. I control what happens in those worlds, and I control the choices my characters make. I control everything with keystrokes from my keyboard, or a red pen on a white page.
Real life isn’t like that. My son is killing himself, and I can’t do a thing to stop it. So, to deal with it, I do what I do best.
I’m writing another book based on Pax Tate. I first created his character because of my son Gunner. And because real life has shown me that stories evolve, I feel as though Pax’s story has to continue, to show that sometimes, happy endings must be worked for, with blood and tears. But if you work hard enough, and pray and hope and HANG ON FOR DEAR LIFE, a happy ending can be had. I have to believe that.
Writing is my therapy. I write to live. I’m going to write more of Gunner’s struggles through Pax, and I’m going to give Pax the ending that I want Gunner to have.
If God is willing, it will be so.