“Are you exhausted trying to set healthy boundaries with your troubled adult child? Has drug addiction and emotional and/or mental illness turned your loved-one into a stranger? As a troubled adult child serving time in a state prison, I understand your pain. And if you’re up to it, I’d like to share some of my story with you on this, my mother’s blog.” ~ CJ Smith
The Bondage of Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD
I get asked the same question over and over, “Why do you continue to make choices that lead you back behind prison walls?” That’s a hard question for me to answer because it means I have to admit how confused and broken I really am. This isn’t easy to say, but the truth is, prison is not that difficult for me. It’s living on the outside that’s hard.
On the outside, it’s depression, anxiety, and PTSD that rules my life. And although I managed to kick a long-term IV heroin addiction, the damage I did to my physical, emotional, and mental health is something I can’t kick. Additionally, several motorcycle accidents have left me with metal pins, rods, and plates in my leg, hand, and jaw. I fight an almost constant battle with chronic pain. Combine all these issues with debilitating negative thoughts and painful memories, and it’s like living in a perfect storm.
The sad truth is that it’s easier for me to live behind these walls than outside of them.
Here’s what I face when I’m not incarcerated… in the eyes of employers, I’m a violent ex-con (even though I’m not a violent person) and not even McDonalds will hire me. My only source of income is Social Security Disability, an amount that barely covers the essentials. I can’t rent an apartment (or even a room) because of my prison record. So, I usually end up rotating between living on the streets, in homeless shelters, squatting on a friend’s couch, staying with my mom, living with a girlfriend, or renting a place I can’t afford. That’s why, in my messed-up brain, I justified selling drugs in order to survive.
This is my first drug conviction, and I really don’t want to live this way, but I’m not sure how to stay off what my mom calls the “vicious gerbil-wheel of insanity.” There’s just so much crazy stuff going on in my brain.
Poor Choices Are Not Intentional
When I’m in the free world and faced with a life choice that could result in a prison sentence, the lack of fear and the reward for the decision outweigh the consequences of my actions. How sad is that? I don’t intentionally set out to make poor (and sometimes dangerous) choices that land me back in jail or prison, yet here I am again. I can’t help but think that maybe this is where I’m supposed to be? (Another very sad thought.) However, in here I know what’s going on around me, what’s expected from me, and what I need to do to survive in a sometimes hostile yet always predictable environment.
It hurts to say this, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to successfully live as a free man on the outside. It’s not that I don’t want to, but at 47 years old, maybe I really am what they call, “institutionalized” and “desensitized.” I just don’t know any more.
A Very Grateful Heart
What I do know is that I’m blessed to have the support of a mother who has never given up on me—no matter how much I screw up. We have both made some bad decisions in the past regarding our challenging relationship, but we always stand together in the end. I thank her (and God) so much for the unconditional love she has for me—even though I’m once again facing years of incarceration.
However, although we’ve been down this road before, something feels different this time. This time Mom doesn’t sound as stressed when I call. This time we’re not just talking, we’re actually connecting. This time I’m aware that it’s not just about me—an epiphany that’s been a long time coming. Maybe it’s because we’re both getting older and wiser, maybe it’s that our perspectives have changed. Or maybe it’s because she really has learned effective strategies to deal with me—her seriously troubled adult child. After all, she’s been at it for a very long time.
How it Began
It was ten years ago when Mom wrote Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children – Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents. A book that would become a bestseller and introduce readers to the Six Steps to SANITY. I was in prison when that book was published.
This month my mom’s newest book released and here I am again—in prison. How to Connect with Your Troubled Adult Children – Effective Strategies for Families in Pain is another book she felt called to write. I have yet to read this one, but I’m sure writing it helped her to process living it.
My Mom processes her painful past through writing. Actually, she processes her entire life—good and bad—past, present, and future, through her writing. She writes books (a lot of books), and she also writes blogs, newsletters, articles, columns, and oodles of Facebook and Twitter posts.
I’ve received many letters over the years from my mom’s readers, many who are parents struggling with a self-destructive loved one like me. When possible, I try to write back and tell them not to give up hope and not to give up on their troubled adult child. Over the years my mom has had to set new (and sometimes painful) boundaries with me, she has struggled to learn how to respond rationally and not emotionally during times of crisis, and she has managed to survive some pretty tough times in her own life. Yet through it all, she has never given up on me.
So, when Mom asked me to consider writing an update to her readers, I didn’t hesitate. Even if it meant thinking about things I’d rather forget. My anxiety and depression take me to some pretty dark places, and it’s not easy to admit that I’m dealing with a lot of emotional, mental, and physical disabilities. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and that’s when Mom reminds me that God will always make a way when there seems to be no way.
I know He’s making a way for me right now, and He’s using my mom to do it.
A Life-Changing Connection
Mom has prayed a lot about what she feels called to do for me during this season. Understanding how hard it is for anyone in prison to stay on top of vital communications with the outside world, she willingly offered to be my Inmate Advocate, a significant role I do not take lightly. She also deposits some money into my commissary account every month for coffee, toiletries, stamps, envelopes, and phone cards. And she has budgeted $20 every month to receive collect phone calls from me. Knowing I can reach someone dependable on the outside when I have important questions or concerns makes a world of difference for someone like me who struggles with anxiety and PTSD. And being able to call for encouragement, prayers, and a word of hope means more than you can imagine.
Instead of my constant worrying about basic necessities and feeling isolated from everyone on the outside, she is making it possible for me to focus on education, Bible study, and figuring out what I can do to address the emotional, mental, and physical health issues that keep me in bondage. In this season, her actions are not enabling—they are life-changing.
And just to be clear, she hasn’t always felt called to offer this kind of support during my frequent seasons of incarceration. Far from it. There have been times when we didn’t speak for months, times she felt strongly about setting firm financial boundaries, and times when her anger, frustration, and disappointment made it impossible for us to communicate. And I get that.
I’ve put my mother through so much pain and stress over the years; I don’t deserve another chance in what has been a long line of chances, yet here we are. My mom has provided me a lifeline connection, a way to hang on to some semblance of humanity in an environment that can often be inhumane. I thank her every chance I get for not giving up on me, and for extending her hand–and heart–to help pull me up.
Parents, please don’t give up on us!
I pray for parents with troubled adult children who are out there making disastrous life-changing decisions. I pray that instead of harsh words of judgement and condemnation you can speak words of hope and love into their lives—even when they’re being unlovable. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t close the door entirely either.
Like Mom says, just apply the “S” Step in SANITY and STOP long enough to pray for wisdom and discernment about the role God is calling you to be in your child’s life, and then rest securely in that place–wherever it may be.
And remember moms and dads, don’t ever give up hope. Hope is contagious…and we all need it.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:11-13
Thanks for letting me ramble on. I won’t lie, writing down what I’m feeling hasn’t been easy, much less thinking about what it will be like on the outside as a 50-year-old ex-con. Frankly, I don’t know what the future holds—but I have several years to ponder and pray about this, so maybe time will help.
Maybe this time I’ll get it right.
God bless you,