Parents, can you remember the first time your child told you what they wanted to be when they grow up? “Mommy, when I get big, I want to be an astronaut!” Maybe a doctor, maybe a fireman? How many parents can recall their child’s dream of being a drug addict? No one? Right! Because no one, not one person, ever dreams or hopes that this is where their life could ever take them.
In 2016, the CDC noted that 719 Philadelphia’s died of an overdose. The following year, it was reported that 70, 200 people in the United States died of an overdose. That is more than Lincoln Financial Stadium holds! This numbers worsens each year. And, sadly, no one has any ‘real’ plan on how to combat this epidemic. Sure, there are task forces, but if we are all being honest, their efforts are falling short. Everyone believes it is the other person, other agencies, someone else’s responsibility. But there is not one single way that is working. Our loved ones continue to die, and that count is climbing. So, what do we do? I say let’s fight!
In writing my blogs, I try to be very careful not to tell anyone else’s stories, but to tell you the perspective of how certain topics effected MY life. Addiction was this horrible asshole that lived in my home since my earliest memory. I come from a very large family where the age span is vast. I had a brother 10 years older than me, so by 5-6 years old, I was introduced to the harsh reality of serious drug addiction and the bizarre drugs of the 70’s. People tell stories about my oldest brother being a really great guy who would do anything for anyone. Unfortunately, I had never met that version of him. My earliest memory of him was a time, when all my mind could comprehend was that he was mean and horrible. Imagine being in the first or second grade and asking your brother to pass a knife and he throws the knife across the table with such force it cuts your ear. I am sure it was just a minor flesh wound, but at that age I thought he cut my ear off! My next memory was not too soon after. In our home, the girl’s bedroom had 2 sets of bunk beds with trundle beds next to them that you could pop down and push underneath the bottom bunk. I recall my brother storming into the room for no reason and coming for me as I sat on the top bunk. Unprovoked, he yanked me by my arm and I free fell onto the unelevated trundle bed. Immediately I could feel that all of the oxygen was sucked out of my body. I remember him continuing to pull me up by my arm screaming “GET THE FUCK UP” while my knees were curled into my stomach and I gasped for air. Although I felt like I was dying, however, it was simply my first experience of having the wind knocked out of me. I never really cared for him after that point. And I believe that was the first time I began to develop an intolerance for addiction.
I would like to tell you a story that goes on to say that my brother got help and we all lived happily ever after. I would like to tell you that I changed my opinion of my brother and we are now very close, but that is not the truth either. My brothers’ drug and alcohol use coupled with his nastiness continued to escalate. There were days of complete chaos. There were days of my mom crying and my dad screaming. Remarkably, no one ever “talked” about it. It was a ghost that just existed. I would also like to tell you that the other 9 siblings had learned a valuable lesson from this experience and steered clear of drugs and alcohol abuse, but that was not our reality either. Addiction effected more of my siblings which created a whirlwind of stress and disappointment for my parents, and a feeling of deep resentment from me. I became so bitter that I said horrible, damaging things to my siblings while they were in crisis. I didn’t mean any of those things. I just hated the impact addiction made on a life, that I was already struggling with, seem so much worse.
Just as a child never dreams of growing up to be an addict, parents never dream their child will be part of that dark world either. But, sadly, it happens. It happens to the rich, the poor, the popular, unpopular, the beautiful, the ugly, the prom queen, the dork, the child,the parent. Addiction does not discriminate! As the epidemic has worse addiction as a disease, but not everyone feels that is the RIGHT label. There is a stigma that surrounds addiction. There are many parents that do not feel addiction and medical illness should be in the same category. I have heard, “My child had a brain tumor, they didn’t have a choice” and/ or “an addict CHOOSES to do drugs.” That last statement is true; children are making bad CHOICES, but I would never dream they are choosing the addiction. That is the disease…where the brain and the body develop a constant need. At the end of the day, parents who have lost a child to a medical illness, as well as, an addiction are left devastated and empty. Don’t think you feel or see a difference in how society perceives this? Think about it. Have you heard it in the voice of others? “How did he die…cancer…ugh, that’s horrible!” “How did she die…an overdose…Oh.” That prejudice is there. No one wants to say it out loud, but it exists, and we need to do a better job as a society to change that. The reality is they are both a loss of a life, and THAT fact alone is horrible!
Growing up living and loathing addiction, I was never ever going to let my children do drugs. I was in their shit all day every day. Nothing was sacred or private. I have talked about in an earlier blog of how I eavesdropped and followed my kids to make sure that they would never do drugs. My private, prep school children had no opportunity to experiment with drugs because I kept them involved in sports and other extracurricular activities. And I was too mindful of a parent, too strict, too involved to ever let addiction rears its ugly head in my family. I did everything the media and books said to do. I was on my high horse, feeling so sorry for and praying for friends’ children. I had my head so far up my own ass that I never saw that addiction snuck into my home in the middle of the night and stole MY baby.
My daughter was not a discipline problem. She was not breaking curfew, talking back, nor stealing or lying. I did not see the stereotyped warning signs. She was an athlete, an honor student at a private academy, National Honor Society officer, she was taking 12 college credits in high school while working 2 jobs. She was the role model daughter with a secret $3000+ a month drug habit. How and why my daughter made the decision to use drugs is not my story to tell, how we as a family chose to handle it is.
During my daughter’s final months of her senior year of high school, her drug use was brought to light. And honestly, I was not the one to see it. Another parent, a stranger knocked at my door to tell me that she was going to lose her daughter to addiction, and she didn’t want it to happen to another parent. This stranger told me my daughter was using drugs! I was floored. My daughter denied the problem, saying she had a fight with the woman’s daughter, and this was all a lie. Not long after this, she was off to living away at college. My daughter spent one year leaving in the dorms before she returned to living with me. I finally started to see signs of trouble on my own. In the tradition of an addict’s behaviors, she denied my allegations, lied, and initiated a deflecting strategy to throw me off. At times she was successful and at times, although I didn’t really believe her, I desperately wanted to. DENIAL! She was the recipient of a President’s scholarship at Drexel University with a 4.0 GPA and working 2 jobs so what I suspected and what I saw were out of balance with each other. It was out of balance until her car was repossessed, TWICE. The first time I believed her story of being busy, falling behind on sending the payments, etc. By the second time, I was armed with drug test. POSITIVE…POSITIVE FOR A SLUE OF THINGS!!
Unsure of where to even begin, I reached out to people who have been living decades clean and helping others. Once I told them what was going on, they sprang into action. A facility for detox was set up for my daughter and my brother allowed her to live with him to help her daily. She didn’t initially return to living with me because, honestly, I could not and did not want to handle it. It was the coward’s way out and just another way to not have to face it. Given how I felt about addiction, it was like being severely burnt by a fire and then suddenly, a flame was in front of me and I was horrified. After a few weeks, she was doing what she was supposed to be doing on the road to recovery, so she returned to living with me. I found myself telling family and friends she was doing well over time, but my heart knew otherwise. Now that my eyes were open to it, I could sense her deceit every time she spoke. I would ride her over my suspicions and, as a result, she became more withdrawn from spending any time with me.
When my sister first entered recovery, I remember her identifying the dysfunctional family members that supported her addiction. Some play the Enabler. I thought I recalled my sister saying I was a Saboteur, but that is someone who is jealous of all the attention the addict gets and that was clearly not me. If anything, I tended to be Apathetic, the person who didn’t see the addiction as their problem and didn’t want to help. Not that any of these roles are good, I resented the stress and chaos addiction created and I just wanted to be free of it. Perhaps if my first experience with addiction as a 5-year-old wasn’t so damaging and fearful to me, I would have been able to show more empathy and support for my other siblings and others. It’s not a good excuse, I know. I can only assume I developed it as a protective mechanism as a child and it morphed into an intolerant and avoidant behavior as an adult. And here I was, in my 40’s playing the same role. But this time it was different. I had to fight for someone I loved more than myself, so I needed to change immediately and quickly. I became desperate!
One Saturday afternoon, my daughter left the house to run errands. I went out as well. When I returned, there was a letter on my vanity that said, “Mom, I am so sorry for what I have put you through. I hate myself.” I almost died. All I could think of was that she was going to kill herself. I have been there myself and sensed the despair in those words. I kept calling her phone until she finally answered, and she sobbed explaining what transpired that day. After being exhausted from days of no sleep from drug use, she fell asleep driving and went head on with another driver. Thankfully, she was traveling at a very low speed on a side street and no one was injured. As the officer pulled up to the scene, she broke down. She handed him the pills she had and explained she had an addiction. That was it. Jail, loss of job, never being able to get a student loan to finish college, ruined! But, shockingly, that was not what happened. This police officer told her that everyone gets a second chance at life and that day was hers. I was furious. I wanted her arrested, I wanted her off the streets. I was losing the battle. She clearly liked drugs more than me. I had no leverage, no knowledge of how to get her back, no hope she would ever live through this. I urged her to come home to talk to me right away. Immediately after I hung up, I talked to my husband who was just back from a year’s deployment in Afghanistan and asked him if he would help me do something. I explained that I knew I was asking a lot and I was ok to leave if he couldn’t do this with me. She was not his daughter and he was reentering civilian life after returning from a war zone. He didn’t need the stress. But he agreed. This sweet loving man agreed. So, we waited for her to come home.
My daughter arrived home and was given 2 choices. “You need to choose now. You need to choose to get clean under my conditions and live by every one of them, or we need to say our goodbyes today because you will die from this, and I want to say goodbye now while I can.” They were the hardest sentences I ever uttered. The words came out like razor blades. I could feel my heart breaking. As she cried, she said “Ok”. I said, “Ok what?” She said, “I will go where you want me to go.”
The last rehab she was in for detox was disappointing to me. I know that belief will cause some controversy, but she went in with an addiction to certain opioids and was introduced to different ones. Those drugs kept her right in the game in my opinion. No, this time, there would be no rehab to “ease” her out of this. She was going to be owned by my husband and me. She was going to detox cold turkey at home under our supervision. I was going to withdraw her from Drexel University and she had to attend her college classes on line at Temple University under our supervision. I was going to inform her employer of what was going on to protect her under their Human Resource policy, but also to open their eyes to watch her when she was not under my direct supervision. Her phone was to be turned over to me immediately and I was changing the number, wiping out all contacts and disabling all of her social media accounts. We were opening a joint bank account and I was going to monitor every cent in and out to make sure all was accounted for. She was not permitted to have any cash. I would buy her cigarettes each week and gift cards for 1 Dunkin Donut Coffee each day. She had 20 Minutes to get to work and she had to call me from an office phone the second she got there. She had to call me at the time she walked out the door from the same office phone and had 20 minutes to get back home. She was going to be drug tested randomly for months. The only time she was allowed out of my presence was to go to work or go to meetings. That was it. And I would release all of these restrictions if and when I felt she was ready, not the other way around. I was floored that she still said yes, so we put our plan in motion.
The first week was brutal as she detoxed. She was so sick. She vomited, had the chills, leg pains, insomnia, sweats. I had to keep calling people to make sure she was not going to die during this. We googled and found natural remedies to get through all the withdraw symptoms, things like Magnesium oil for the leg cramps. By week number 3, she was physically able to get up and return to work. People have said to me over the years that WE were so amazing for doing this for HER. That is a completely inaccurate statement of what happened. My husband and I held our ground, sure. But she did the work. She was ready. SHE did this for HERSELF. I needed to get her to the other side; past the withdraw to remember what her life was like. I felt confident that if she remembered what it was like, that she would want to stay there, and she did. During her recovery, she said that any time she thought of doing drugs again, which was often in the beginning, she remembered how sick she was during the withdraw and that fear kept her from relapsing. My daughter has been on this side of her addiction for 6 years, 2 months and counting. Her rationale to addiction, road traveled, and mountain climbed is hers to share at her meetings. But nothing in life seems too hard to me anymore after watching her battle through and continue to win, one day at a time.
What worked for us is not for everyone and could very well be carried out the same exact way and still not work for someone else. We had no idea what we were doing, but I had no choice to fight as hard as I could for her in order to not lose her. She was ready and we were lucky. The first and most important step for me was that I had to accept the problem and come at it head on, despite the roles I played in addiction with my sibling in the past. Whether you play the role of the Guilty Party, Redeemer, Inside person, Denier, Saboteur, Enabler, Clueless, or Apathetic it is never too late to change. Be the Acknowledger, Be the Fighter, Be the Advocate!!!! Drug control alone is not working, police enforcement alone is not working, rehabilitation centers alone are not working, family and friend intervention alone is not working. None of these are working for every addict by themselves, but if we work together, use the best of all systems, fight for our kids and loved ones, then maybe one day it will work for everyone. And I feel strongly that our country needs to look at non chemical ways to handle rehabilitation. Drugs of any sort are damaging to the addictive personality. We need to advocate for change and collaboration. Don’t give up! Persevere Bitches!