The other day I was thinking about our son and his struggles with drugs and alcohol and all that we know and understand now compared to what we knew and understood in the early 2000’s right up until his death in 2014. I saw myself, as if I were standing out in an open field, turning, looking back over my shoulder. That’s what I do when something unexpected or disturbing happens. I look back and try to figure out what I missed, what I could have done differently.
My next thought was: Why couldn’t my husband and I see the handwriting on the wall? Why didn’t we realize how dire the situation was at every new juncture with our son as the years went by? But, I realized that it wasn’t that we couldn’t see the handwriting on the wall. It was that we didn’t understand what it meant.
Then I remembered Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon*, and the determinant event in his life when he was hosting a drunken feast for 1,000 of his nobles and suddenly a disembodied hand appeared and began writing on the plaster wall. Dread filled him as neither he, nor any of his wise men, could interpret the inscription. Daniel was brought to his attention as a man filled with an extraordinary spirit with knowledge and insight. Daniel came and interpreted the writing – a warning of the imminent invasion by the Medes and Persians that very night.
And the thought came to me: Maybe people like us, who are too close to a person or situation, need someone like Daniel to interpret the handwriting on the wall for us? There is no “maybe” about it. We did. And we had a few of them, like the counselors at the recovery programs and books about Codependency by Melody Beattie. Yet in those early years of the onslaught of drugs on our young people – when parents and the public at large had no clue of what was being offered to our kids at middle and high school, or at the dentist and doctor offices – much of the advice was less direct than it could have been. And there was little community recognition and support for families dealing with this cancer of addictions. We were in a “community” that was full of shame and stigma and very hidden in the shadows.
Today, thanks to the writing and speaking from many different spheres of experience, there is more clarity and understanding of the problems and options for solutions to substance use disorder and addiction – and, most importantly, prevention. Every story written, every forum held, every person sharing their experience in person and via social media, will help turn the tide and hopefully prevent parents and loved ones having to turn and look back over their shoulders and wonder about the handwriting on the wall.
*In 1854, Sir Henry Rawlinson discovered ancient Babylonian records reporting that Nabonidus (556-538 BC), the last king of Babylon, entrusted the kingship to his son, Belsharusus (Belshazzar), while he retired to Arabia. Rawlinson deciphered the Old Persian portion of the trilingual cuneiform inscription of Darius I the Great at Bīsitūn, Iran. His success provided the key to the deciphering of Mesopotamian cuneiform script, a feat that greatly expanded knowledge of the ancient Middle East. Read more: