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A Morning Walk

A Morning Walk

In July I let my gym membership lapse.   My husband and I would be traveling most of the month so it seemed a waste to pay dues.

Instead, on a sultry Saturday morning, I chose to walk through the grounds of the United States Naval Academy.  We live three blocks away and “the Yard” – as it is called – is a frequent exercise route.

Mostly, I like to walk alone.  This is my time.  I get decisions made, letters written and sometimes even a blog or two planned.  I’m dressed for it, too.  Faded, cropped exercise pants, a gray NPR tee shirt, hair frizzed by humidity, no make-up, dark sunglasses (regardless of sunshine), I’m totally incognito.  Or so I like to think.

On this day as I rounded a far corner along the Academy sea wall, I spotted three people playing with two black labs along the Severn River’s edge.  They were calling the pups out of the surf.

“No, Mommy, “I jested, mimicking the dog’s response to his master, “I’m having too much fun to leave now.”

The woman standing nearest me suddenly spun around: “Lisa Hillman?  I just read your book!”  She threw her arms around me and wouldn’t let me go. How in the world had she recognized me?

“Because I’ve been staring at that picture of you with your son on the back of the book.”

She introduced herself and without waiting for a response said, “My friend lost her son

last year from addiction.  From an overdose.”

Encounters like this should no longer surprise me.  Since Secret No More came out in May, strangers, as well as people I know, stop me on the street, in the grocery store, at the gym.  They tell me stories about addicted sons, nephews, a friend of a friend.  Always, I listen.  It’s all I can do, and it‘s what they seem to need most.  Just someone to talk to, who will step aside in that grocery line, or let go of the pulley in the weight room and stand in front of them, letting my tears well up with theirs, sharing those intense few seconds of sorrow and helplessness and loss.

I receive emails from mothers whose sons or daughters have followed my son’s path.  Many are still in active addiction.  I “listen” to these moms, too.  Maybe just absorbing some of the pain will ease theirs.

When Jake was using, I cried a lot.  At Al Anon meetings, I often sat in a back row, head down, listening to the other parents who were “ahead” of me in their recovery, wondering if I’d ever be where they were.  I desperately wanted Jake to stop using, to give it all up, to return to the son I once had and thought I deserved.  But the words to make that happen never were spoken.  Nor could they be.  I couldn’t get Jake to “stop” using.  Only he could do that.

With the publication of Secret No More I am drawn into a community of despair, anguish, obsession and fear.  But there’s also courage, determination, camaraderie and hope.

And if it means I listen to the heartache of another mom, or a dad, or anyone who loves an addict, I can do that.  Perhaps together we can find some comfort.

I am listening.

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