Why I Am Committed to Living R.E.AL. ~ My Journey with Our Son Alex ~Bev Pomering
Why I have a passion to live Relational, Empathetic, Authentic and Loving.
I think we all have heard "hindsight is 20/20". You look back on events of your life and wish you had done things differently to change the outcome you are in now. Usually it relates to a minor decision of this or that, whether you went to college or not, what career you chose, what relationships you had, etc... Unfortunately, there are some of us where this becomes a painful statement that changes you to the core.
My hindsight is wishing I had not been more forthcoming with my kids. I wish I had related with them as people and not just my kids. Wishing I had spent more time listening, really listening to what they believe in, what they feel, what they hope for, what they fear, what & who they love, what they hate, what they question and what they know. I wish my husband and I were on the same page when it came to parenting and didn't make excuses when things got tough. We both are guilty of minimizing the connection of events and the severity of risk they held. I also believe that our society does the same thing. I understand that we want to give kids the benefit of the doubt but when single events start looking like a pattern we need to take a step back and take a hard look at what is really going on. This is a piece of our son Alex's story from my perspective.
Alex was our first son, born 17 months before his younger brother arrived in 2001. Alex was hooked on adrenaline from the start. As a toddler, he would run through the house full speed ahead just to ram into the wall, fall down, laugh and do it all over again. We knew we were going to have our hands full; never did we guess to what extent.
By the time Alex was a teenager he had begun getting in trouble. It started with visits to the principal's office. They would tell us each time, "He's a good kid. I don't see anything that would concern me.". Then we started getting knocks on the door from the local police officers. One time it was, "Mrs. Pomering, your son was caught throwing rocks at vehicles on the highway with a group of other boys. He doesn't have a record and seems to be remorseful so we will not press charges." Then it was a call from the high school principal, "Mrs. Pomering, your son was in an altercation during lunch today and has been arrested. They have taken him down to the county juvenile detention office to book him with battery charges." We were told, "He's a good kid. It is his first minor offense; he is not in any danger of delinquency." We talked ourselves into believing that he was wrongly charged. After endless conversations as a family throughout the years it seemed to me to fall on deaf ears. Things would get better and then back to the trenches we went. Don't get me wrong, I know Alex and all of us learned things from these experiences, these conversations and relations with others. Even though, I also believe that the delusion of "It won't happen to me" and the sense of being invincible is real. We continue with bad habits because they are comfortable. I have my own history of living in generational cycles, enabling, codependent relationships, mental illness and drug use. We live what we know. It takes vulnerability, tenacity and a village to overcome and change history.
When Alex started driving so began the tickets; reckless driving, following too close to avoid an accident, going too fast for conditions and a couple talking on the cell phone while driving. Meanwhile, his grades are slipping, his attitude on life plummets and his anger increases. We spent months in individual and family counseling but Alex fights against all opportunities to better his life's trajectory, but we don't press all that hard because we convince ourselves that he is just doing normal teenager things. Like these events are a right of passage? We were so wrong!
The next year it was "Mrs. Pomering, your son has been arrested for criminal damage to state owned property for doing donuts in the parking lot of the elementary school with a group of kids. We are taking them all down to book them in the county jail. You will be able to pick him up there." We buckle down and take away the vehicle, events, extras but as usual we lighten up over time. By the skin of his teeth he graduates high school, rejects the thought of college and goes straight into the blue-collar field. OK, that's respectable. He worked hard, was liked by his employer and the customers. We tell ourselves he can't be in that bad of trouble because he is keeping his job and still working hard. We say these things even after we find evidence of alcohol, marijuana, vaping and dabing. As I type these statements, I think to myself "How stupid of me!". Why didn't I fight harder? Why didn't I stand up for what I knew in my gut to be true?" The answers are all the same. My husband and I made the best decisions we could at the time with the information we had and in the circumstances we were in. At the same time we were dealing with Alex and his struggles, my father (whom I helped care for) was diagnosed with progressive dementia and then stage 4 lung cancer, our other son was struggling with his own life circumstances, all while we tried holding down our own jobs, the house and let's not forget our marriage. There were times that I just didn't think I was going to survive.
My husband and I were hanging on by a thread. Each time Alex was in trouble with the law there were battles of "What the hell do we do now?" and "Well, he's an adult now, he will have to pay his own consequences."... so we thought. In late December 2017, Alex was out with friends that were home from college for winter break. It wasn't unusual to get a late night text from Alex saying he was going to stay at a friend's house, this was one of those nights. I thought it was strange because it was a weeknight and he had to work the next day but he said that he had a change of clothes in his truck. Being half asleep I just shrugged it off but looking back, he didn't even have his truck with him. His friends had picked him up.
The next day while at work I received a phone call from a mother of one of the other boys. She asked if I had heard from Alex and if I knew where the boys were? "No, I haven't heard from Alex since last night when he texted that he was staying the night at a friends house. Why?", I said. She was very brief and vague in her answers, and I hung up knowing nothing more than I did when I answered the call. I started calling around asking questions and came up with a bunch of dead ends. At the same time, my husband is doing the same thing and receives a call from his brother. My brother-in-law was good friends with Alex's employer. He had received a call from his friend stating that he was really concerned about Alex because that morning he had received a message from Alex stating that he was in trouble, that he made a big mistake and wouldn't be in to work. My husband's brother didn't know any details but called to question if we knew any. We go the rest of our workday worrying and wondering what in the world is going on. We get home that night to Alex confessing that he had spent the night in jail on a felony drug charge of possession of a controlled substance. That substance was a single prescription pill he had been given from this friend that was visiting on college break. That boy had brought a baggie containing hundreds of these pills, another one filled with marijuana, and they were caught smoking pot and taking pills in a car on the side a country road. As Alex is telling us this story, he is crying and telling us that he was ashamed of his actions. It becomes a long night of tears and discussions on what this means for Alex and how it will affect him living at home. We decided, out of fear, to allow him to stay in the home, scrap together every cent we had in savings and credit cards to pay for an attorney to help Alex get through this. We now have a son who is facing a felony drug charge. This brings a whole new level of parenting guilt, fears and questions that we were not prepared for.
Winter turns to Spring, Spring turns to Summer and we are just numb over the thought of how in the world did we get here. Very few people know about Alex's troubles because living authentic is just too shameful at this point. We don't even share it with family. We leave it up to Alex to tell who he wants to know so it became a secret we kept to ourselves as long as we could. I believe we live in a society that puts you in categories. You are either good or bad, respectable or unworthy, smart or stupid, trustworthy or irresponsible... telling people the reality of what was going on in our household would be "airing our dirty laundry" therefore we kept it to ourselves.
I just kept thinking that surely Alex will clean up his act now that he is facing a felony. The problem was that I just didn't know (or couldn't accept) how deep Alex's addictions were. We didn't know how to get him to be honest with us. Shoot! We didn't even know how to be honest with ourselves. The cycles just kept turning and we got another phone call in the middle of the night. "Is this Mrs. Pomering?" "Yes." "This is Officer ..., I have your son Alex here in the McDonald's parking lot. He has been drinking. He was sitting behind the wheel of his car while two of his friends were causing a disturbance throughout the business. We are charging them all with minor drinking and driving them home. I don't want to charge your son with a DUI because he is showing remorse and I believe he can learn from this incident. Is it okay if I bring him home and leave his vehicle here in the parking lot?" "Sure, bring him home", I say with such a painful broken heart. My brain is spinning at this point wondering why on earth is Alex continuing to put himself in these predicaments, why is everyone so willing to trust his charming wit, how much longer is he going to skate by with little consequences, does Alex really not care about what it means to break probation rules? The courts decide that they could give Alex a break because they "never educated him on how to stop drinking" which meant they were requiring him to do a drug & alcohol education weekend retreat.
Time goes by with the same roller coaster of emotions for me. I feel completely helpless on how to help my son. We have tried tough love, effective discipline (whatever that means), giving grace, on & on with the types of responses out there and nothing is helping. We are now into 2019 and my father is in his last months of life. Alex was really close to my parents. We had lost my Mom in a tragic accident 9 years prior and now we were losing my Dad. I was so wrapped into caring for my Dad while trying to keep my marriage from falling apart that I didn't see that my kids were paying the price. I didn't see how bad Alex was hurting. I didn't understand what it meant to Alex to lose one of his idols. My Dad passed away at 12:03 a.m., June 4.
While I was busy in the scurry of closing up the affairs of my dad's life, Alex was drowning right in front of my eyes. I didn't see it. I think there is truth to the theory that you can't see the forest through the trees. When you are so deep in a situation you often can't step back far enough to see the complete problem. My husband and I were ignorant to some signals and signs of the depth of Alex's addictions. We had no idea that Alex had upped the drug use to include cocaine and heroin. That is, until we received a knock on the door at 10:59 p.m. on the night of August 27, 2019.
I awoke to the dogs barking at the door. My first thought is "Oh, Alex is home. Good." The dogs continued to furiously bark at the door, so I stumbled through the dark and found a Sheriff Sergeant at the door shining his light through the window. My first thought is "Damn it! What did he do now?" I put the dogs up, yell for my husband to get up because there is another officer at the door. I open the door and hear, "Are you Mrs. Pomering?" "Yes." "Is your son Alex Pomering?" "Yes." "I regret to inform you that your son has had a heroin overdose. He is currently at the hospital, and you should go immediately because I don't know what condition he is in." WHAT?!!!! This can't be happening! Not Alex! He has to be wrong! We stand there in disbelief asking questions to confirm he is truly talking about our son Alex. He tells us that he arrived to the scene and found Alex unconscious with no pulse and 3 other young men who had called 9-1-1. He takes over CPR that one of them had been doing. The deputy gives Alex not 1 but 3 Narcan doses and finally gets the faintest heartbeat of 9 beats per minute. The ambulance arrives and the paramedics are able to get his heart going to a regular rate after 3 doses of epinephrine.
A frenzy ensues. My husband wakes our youngest. I run in circles trying to make sense of what in the world am I doing? The simple task of getting dressed seems to be too difficult.
We arrive in the ER, and I rush to the desk, "Hi, my son Alex Pomering was brought here via ambulance from a heroin overdose." The technician at the desk gets this look of despair on his face and steps through the doorway behind him and tells the nurse standing there that the parents of the overdose are here. A nurse comes out and says "come with me". We round the corner and I realize that he is not taking us back to see Alex. He is walking us to "the room". That small room that every ER has. It is where a family is told that their loved one has or is not going to survive. I stop in my tracks and start yelling "NO!, I'm not going in that room. I know what that room means. I don't want to go in there!" The nurse finally gets us three in the room and says he will be right back with the doctor and she will explain Alex's condition. What seemed like hours, a few minutes later a doctor and that nurse returned. They sit down in front of us and explain that they have Alex hooked up on life support, done a CT and found that he was without oxygen for too long. Alex's brain would not be able to sustain life, he cannot breathe on his own and once taken off life support, he will expire. She explains that they are moving Alex to the ICU and up there is where we will meet with another doctor who can explain his condition in more detail and give us our options.
We arrive in the ICU numb and confused about reality. A doctor and nurse come out to the waiting room and repeat what the doctor in the ER had explained. The doctor tells us that what made Alex a person is gone and all that remains is his body. He asks us if we want to remove life support or keep it going and talk with the organ donation team. We chose to speak with the donation team and then were led down the long hallway to his room to see Alex. I can assure you there is no amount of preparation available to equip you for what you are about to see. My son whom I gave birth to, whom I held as an infant with his tiny toes and fingers is, now 20 years later, laying on a hospital bed hooked to tubes and wires that are keeping him "alive". Alex's brain and body could not communicate anymore. It was causing him to have seizures every 30 seconds or less, he couldn't control any of his bodily functions or movements. He laid there looking alive because he was sweating, his eyes tearing, his muscles spasming, his eyes opening and closing. It was pure agony!
In hopes that in this tragedy someone else would be able to be blessed with continued life from one of Alex's organs or tissues we were stuck watching our son in this condition for the next 18 hours. In a paradox, our gentle giant's heart had been revived and was beating so strong, he did not expire within the allotted 90 minutes for the organs to be considered viable. My husband and I sat there with our arms around our son as he took his final shallow breath. The machines alarmed, the nurse came in and shut them all off. It was over. Our son was gone. We will never see him smile or hear him laugh ever again while on this earth. That is a reality that brings the deepest pain I think a parent can ever feel.
Over the next few days, we learned a lot about our son. We learned that he had tried to stop using drugs but kept going back. We learned that the justice system failed him by telling him when his drug tests would be "because he was considered a low risk". We learned that he was afraid of failing us by telling us he was struggling with mental health illnesses and drug addiction. Literally hundreds of people confirmed to us that our son was loving, caring, authentic, empathetic and the best friend they ever met. He lived R.E.A.L. to everyone but his family. Why to everyone but us? I believe it was because there is a deeper level of expectations between parents and children. A deeper level of not wanting to disappoint your loved one. A deeper need to feel proud. What Alex didn't understand and believe is that because of those deeper feelings, there is nothing that can break it. No amount of disappointment or sorrow can break the bond of love between a parent and their children.
I have told you this story and created this foundation in hopes of bringing awareness to breaking the stigma of needing help. The human race is so stubborn. We have such a hard time admitting that we can't do things on our own. We so easily give up on ourselves. We convince ourselves that we don't matter to those around us. Would you join me in breaking this cycle? Will you commit to striving to make deeper relationships with those around you? Will you be Relational with even the people you don't know? Will you risk being vulnerable to step along someone where they are at and show some Empathy in their situation? Will you share your Authentic story with others to show them that they are not alone? Will you do all of this in a Loving manner? Can we all commit to Living R.E.A.L.?