For all parents of children who are struggling with addiction: This is for you.
I have wanted to write this for quite some time to reach out to parents who have a son or daughter struggling with addiction. As the title indicates, I am a mother of a young-adult daughter who is in recovery. Life is so much better now for her and for our family.
Trusting is a “decision” I make every day, but it’s hard to trust that the pain won’t creep back in. I am “waiting to exhale.” Over the years when I thought the worst was over, something would happen, and chaos would erupt all around me. I would feel every muscle in my body tighten as if I were holding my breath. It has been very painful, and I hope my words will help other parents going through the same thing.
My daughter’s addiction to alcohol and drugs started some time in high school. My world came crashing down the first week of March 2009. I received a couple of phone calls and emails from some friends of my daughter who were concerned about her. She had dropped out of spring semester and was living in the town where she had attended college and seeing a therapist a couple of times a week. The friends had told me they were worried because they thought she was using drugs and hanging out with some people who also used drugs. I spoke with her, and she assured me that if she needed help, she would ask for it. The one thing I always trusted was that she would ask for help, but her friends insisted something was wrong. Her dad and I traveled to see her, and I saw before me a person who was pale and gaunt with wild-colored hair. We argued, screamed and left. I remember thinking to myself, “Who was that person? And where was my little girl?”
Her local therapist helped us stage an intervention, and our journey began. I naively thought that 42 days in treatment would be enough, and she would be okay again. She went to another facility for 90 more days, and during this time I called a friend who had discovered a long-term residential program in her hometown. After that first summer, we toured this place and other sober living options. I cried often and saw places that I knew would not support her sobriety. (When you see people still sleeping at noon, no structure and acceptance of relapse, it is not a good place.)
My daughter chose a sober-living place and within a month had relapsed. If I had forced her to go to my first choice, I know she would have sabotaged herself. Now I had some leverage. I also had the guidance of two young women who were addicts and in recovery. They went through this long-term residential program, and one in particular gave me the courage to stand my ground and insist my daughter go or be on her own. This young woman helped me find my voice.
My daughter had to commit to a minimum stay of 12 months, miss the upcoming holidays and only have minimum phone contact with us. It was a six-hour car journey to this place where my daughter began the slow, painful process of recovery. She stayed for 25 months, and now I have my daughter back. She learned a great deal about herself and her pain. Secrets and poor coping skills have been replaced with a solid recovery program that includes daily 12-step meetings, a sponsor and a supportive network of sober friends.
My journey began as well. I started going to meetings for friends and family of addicts. I was angry and resentful about being there. I also sought help privately with a therapist. Though I knew it would be awhile before my daughter could finish her education, learning and knowing about supportive programs on campus was comforting since college is full of daily triggers for students in recovery. I discovered that there was no local campus recovery program, and so with the help of an existing program and a friend, I was able to set up a meeting about starting one. I am grateful for this opportunity to promote and grow a new recovery community at the local university. They are the first to offer support to students in recovery and happy that other schools are joining the cause.
I was asked to start networking with treatment centers and specialists in addiction to get the word out about the program, and in the past one and a half years, I have met many people and learned a great deal about addiction, treatment options and recovery. My best teacher is my daughter. I learn from her every day. I am grateful to so many people along the way: the friends who initially called me with concerns, her therapist and all those involved in her treatment and subsequent recovery. These individuals saved my daughter’s life and helped her build a healthy relationship with me.
If you are a parent, trust your gut, stop the madness and reach out for help for your child and for yourself. If I can be a source of help, reach out to me through this site.
Waiting to exhale is getting better, one day at a time.
My daughter continues her recovery and has over four years and four months sober. She is in the final year of her undergraduate work in sociology, and she is planning to pursue a master’s degree in social work with a concentration in substance abuse. I continue to work part time at our local university to spread the word about recovery. I am proud to have grown the recovery program to 12 students. It’s been interesting to experience similar issues with a few of the students as I did with my daughter. Being aware of some of my triggers has been an eye-opener for me and underscores the importance of still working on my own growth. Someone called me codependent when I knew the exact amount of time my daughter had in recovery, but when the fifteenth of last month passed, I realized a week later that I hadn’t called or texted her. It simply slipped my mind. Maybe I’m exhaling a little more each day.