Tweaking the Pandemic
My adult middle son leaned against the kitchen counter and crossed his arms. “I’m not worried about getting it.” He raised his chin. “I’m immune.” He shrugged, but his cheeks were hollow and sharp, the way they get after he’s been on a binge.
I hesitated. He had to be tweaking—the part when the methamphetamine is wearing off and irritation and aggressive behavior surge for a period of hours to days. I’d learned to walk carefully around a tweak.
In the background, a television blared the latest on the coronavirus. All schools were closed and large events postponed or canceled. Slowly I let out my breath, a sort of anti-sigh. “I see. How are you immune?”
His features contorted; he practically spit the words. “If you don’t know, I’m not gonna tell you.” He called me a hateful name and stomped out the door.
I froze. No matter how often I experienced this behavior, it never got easier. I’d always maintained that it wasn’t my real son, that drugs were doing the talking. Still, I was never prepared to hear him curse the one person he knew he could always count on: his mom.
Outside in our garage, he ranted at his brother. His lighter had gone missing. “Where’d you put it, __-hole?” He growled more than spoke. “Cough it up, or I’ll beat your sorry __.” He let loose another string of expletives, needling his younger brother until he escaped the garage. My middle son slammed his way back inside, still yelling as he tromped down the hall.
Angry energy engulfed the whole house. The air vibrated with what some would call bad juju while the TV anchor announced that the pandemic threatened the whole world.
People walked on eggshells, afraid to tell a soul about their cough or cold. Everyone felt isolated, fearful of what new calamity awaited them. The novel coronavirus had halted American life, spreading anxiety, panic, and even death.
Then I realized: that’s my life anyway. We who love those with substance use disorder live this way almost all the time.
We never know when the next binge, the next disappearance, or the next eruption will hit. We’re always trying to outrun guilt, shame, jumbled emotions. We lock up our valuables, secure our prescriptions, build fences around our hearts. We know the subtle signs that our loved one has relapsed or that we’ve been lied to or manipulated.
We keep loving anyway. Our broken hearts limp around even when the insults go for the throat. And we don’t know how long all of this will last, if there will ever be enough treatment, if our loved one can get help if the worst happens.
For a mom like me, this coronavirus pandemic feels a whole lot like daily life.
By the next morning, my son was sober. His eyes were full of sleep as he tucked into his breakfast. He smiled in between big bites of Frosted Flakes.
I sipped my coffee. “Did you hear? They closed the schools. Coronavirus is spreading fast.”
“It’s pretty contagious—even actor Tom Hanks has it.”
He picked up his bowl and slurped the milk.
My fingers traced the cats on my Laurel Burch mug. “Why’d you say you’re immune to coronavirus?”
Irritation flickered in his eyes. “You really know how to start a bad mood, Mom.”
“It was an honest question.”
“Here’s my honest answer. Meth keeps me from getting that stuff.” His chair nearly tipped over as he stood and fled the room.
Later, I researched his claim. A 2012 United Kingdom in vitro study found that large quantities of meth might suppress some flu virus. There was no mention of coronavirus, and nothing about meth as a legitimate treatment for anything. I still don’t know why my son thought meth made him immune. But during this pandemic, many have misunderstood or skewed expert advice. In my son’s circle, had a rumor about that study gone . . . viral?
Meth can’t save us from coronavirus, of course. But moms like me have some good tips while we’re social distancing: You may feel alone but you are not alone. Keep your loved ones close. Take care of yourself; keep expectations realistic. Most of all, don’t ever give up hope.
If he hadn’t rushed off, I’d have hugged my son, hard. I’d have told him how much I love him. And I’d have reminded him to wash his hands.