For the past few years, I have refrained from writing about my older daughter’s addiction to opiates. That is partially because it has taken most of my facilities to deal with the varying stages of “recovery” but mostly because I believed, for most of this time, that is was her story to tell; not mine.
So what has changed you ask? This morning I did what any self-respecting adult would do. I had thrashing hissy fit in the bathroom – complete with smashing and throwing – in response to some disrespectful, uppity, self-satisfying comments she made to me on her way out the door. All that my fit managed to do was scare my younger kids and show that, after two years of seemingly much worse circumstances, I was at my post traumatic breaking point. I smashed up the bathroom so I wouldn't smash her. Her response? She snidely told her little sister to call someone to deal with “her” because she didn't “have the time for this” – or something to that effect – then she flounced out the door – sanctimoniously accrediting my behavior to menopause. I am not proud – but this was most certainly not hormone induced. It was born of pure anger and frustration. I own it.
So let’s start at the beginning. By the beginning I mean – from the time she first told me of her heroin addiction. I now know, from that exact point, it was not just her story – it was mine too. I will admit that parts of this story may not be chronologically accurate as much of it is a blur and other parts my mind has chosen to scramble. So be it. The active and emotional content is authentic.
|As Cossette in Les Mis|
To say that I thought I knew my daughter so well that this was all a huge surprise - would be a lie. When she came to me in July of 2011 and told me that she couldn't stay for her little sister’s 13th birthday party because she was trying to kick a two year long heroin habit was a shock but not something I berated myself for not “seeing”. My daughter had been raised by her father since she was five years old. (That was the result of a two year long custody battle and is a long story for another time.) Her father and I sent her off to college with all of the normal expectations. Well, maybe more than normal expectations as she was such a smart, vivacious, talented and happy girl. She always acted in school and community plays, was a National Honor Society inductee, popular and active with her good group of friends, took voice lessons and performed beautifully in recitals and loved spending time with her little sister and brother. Some would say she was a bit of a drama queen and relished the limelight and they would be right. Her father used to claim – to anyone that would listen – that this was the kid who could be tossed out onto the streets and successfully make a life for herself. Basically, she had the brains, looks, personality and confidence to accomplish almost anything. She had also recently met the guy who would become her first serious boyfriend.
The second year of college passed and I did begin to notice small things like a certain lack of hygiene and some weight loss. Again, being a college student in Vermont requires a certain unkempt look and devout vegetarians will often lose some weight when they rely on available college cuisine and/or don’t cook. I registered these things as choices rather that symptoms.
The third year of college came down with a crash. The communication with my daughter was sporadic and the photos of her on Facebook were beginning to disturb me. Her demeanor was manic at times yet lethargic at others. In my defense, not many parents would see this in their 19-20 year old and think “heroin”. So I didn't.
That summer, between her junior and senior year, she told me about her drug use and addiction. Actually, both she and her boyfriend were addicted. They were trying to stop and the side effects were horrendous. That’s why she felt that she couldn't stay home and participate in her sister’s birthday party. They were trying to get clean before an upcoming WWOOFING trip to Hawaii. (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Basically, they were going to Hawaii to work at a bed and breakfast to get out of their college town and away from the drug culture they had become ensconced in.
They went off to Hawaii and I went off into a world of information gathering about things that I never thought I would have to know. Even armed with the knowledge of “typical” withdrawal and “other” people’s stories, I was not prepared for what was to come and how watching it happen to my own beautiful child would affect me – and all of us.
They went to Hawaii armed with some amount of Suboxone; a drug used for the treatment of opioid dependence. They returned and, I later learned, used again as soon as they landed. My daughter started her senior year still addicted to opiates – in any form she could get them.
I am not sure what to say about her father’s part in this. He had moved to upstate NY and had recently remarried, in secret, the day our daughter left for Hawaii. I know that he was as sad and as terrified as I was and was also willing to throw any amount of money into her recovery as needed. So while he fully financed sessions at a yoga recovery center, an energy healer and eventually a drug rehab center attempt, he was more focused on his new wife and her need to be the center of his attention. It was very clear that the emotional and physical load was all on me. You don’t know it when you are carrying it but it is kinda heavy.
Shortly after the beginning of her senior year, my daughter was convinced to allow me communicate with the physician’s assistant, associated with the university, that was her primary caregiver. Most of our conversations centered on various medications that would ease her withdrawal symptoms but her continuing drug use made those moot. I finally received a call from a councilor at the university who stated, point blank, that my daughter needed in-patient treatment and needed to leave school – immediately. He had found a bed for her at a Vermont facility but that a bed wouldn’t be available for at least a week – but that she needed to leave school now or, based on her usage and mental status, we risked death by overdose.
The weeks that followed should have been the worst. I thought they were at the time. The trip to retrieve her from Vermont was filled with so many emotions. My gut reaction was to take care of her. That’s what most mothers default to.
Nothing I read could have prepared me for what was to come. I wasn't prepared for my daughter to beg me to stop so she could score just a little bit and then scream at me when I refused. I learned how to park in unnoticeable spots so that she could smoke weed to help alleviate withdrawal pain. I learned that the passenger air bag compartment on a Toyota Corolla won’t explode no matter how hard it is kicked in frustration. I learned that I could, at the same time, both love and hate a child of mine.
Having someone in the home that is withdrawing from heroin while awaiting a rehab bed will change you and everyone else who witnesses it. My younger kids were mostly relegated to their bedrooms or friend’s houses if possible. Their sister’s erratic behavior was terrifying. She would sit starring at the television for long spells than suddenly throw herself to the ground screaming, crying and moaning. In the past, the kids would have fallen over each other to hug and comfort her but they were now afraid of her. They, at least, held on to the hope that once she went to the hospital, she would be “better” and be “back” to being her. They believed that because I told them that.
I am trying to think of a way to describe her at this point and the best I can come up with is – she was a shell of who she had been before. She was still her. I know this because I could not let her out of my sight except for brief naps when she slept. Her older brother helped by following her when the intense restlessness would take control and she needed to walk and I couldn't go with her. Her moods would swing wildly as the week went on. One minute she would be cheerful and hungry – so I would make her food. The next minute she would be frantically texting to find Suboxone, weed or alcohol and the food would be forgotten. The keeping track of the over-the-counter and prescription drugs - Clonidine, Trazodone , Zoloft, Imodium, Tums, Ibuprofen … made me feel like a pharmacist at times.
We got through the waiting and sprinted to the Vermont rehab center when the call came. It was with such hope that I drove away from that facility. Granted, they were a cold bunch and the reception was not so warm and fuzzy but they were professionals right? Here’s another thing I learned: Atheists don’t do well in 12 step based rehab programs. After leaving the medical unit of the rehab center, she lasted less than one week before she was calling both her father and me, begging to be taken out. When we gently refused, she walked away from the facility. She was found lying in a street later that night and was taken to the hospital via ambulance. She left there the next day a returned to her boyfriend and their apartment. Both tried to resume their studies and plan for the upcoming holidays. Both claimed to be clean.
Thanksgiving came and the kids and I cooked a turkey and planned a mostly vegetarian meal that my daughter was due home to share with us after a visit with her boyfriend’s family in New Hampshire. My older son was visiting his father and relatives in Virginia. That afternoon brought a phone call from the boyfriend’s mother. She felt the need to bring my daughter to the ER due to near constant vomiting through the night. We waited. The ER doctors determined that my daughter had attempted to abruptly quit opiates (heroin) and suffered what is called rapid detox syndrome. Had she not been brought to the hospital, she most likely would have died. She returned to us a few days later, leaving Vermont and school for good.
This is when the story should turn to one of perseverance with some ups and downs but with a realistically modified happy ending. I wish. Much of this time was spent with her telling me more about the height of her drug life in Vermont. That she now needs to dress to hide her track marks should have made many of these stories not so shocking to me – but they still were. Some of the situations she willingly entered into and people she counted as friends could have been straight out of a Law & Order episode. Maybe that was how I had to think of it to handle it. Now I wonder how it was that she survived at all.
Granted, to the best of my knowledge, the heroin is gone from her life but it has been replaced alcohol abuse and a near nightly weed haze. At her father’s suggestion, we “tapered down” her alcohol consumption by me allowing her only one beer per hour. That worked – until she left the house – which became the norm. One late night brought a call from a local hospital. My daughter had been found in her parked car in a nearby town by an AAA driver coming to repair her flat tire. The driver called police who called an ambulance as she was unresponsive. Police had to break a window to get her out. She became responsive, jumped from the back of the ambulance at one point and was nearly tazed before they could catch her. This was all told to me by the hospital nurse as my daughter was still too drunk to be allowed to leave on her own. I drove to collect her from the hospital late at night only to have her bolt from my car as soon as we got home. A call from our town police informed me that they had found her passed out at the local McDonald’s and could either bring her home or take her back to the hospital - my choice. They brought her home. It took us a day or so to figure out where the car was. She was angry at the world that night - but mostly me. She wasn't charged with anything as she wasn't actually driving.
Reality tried to set in over the next few days. When she heard about the happenings of that night, she decided to try rehab again – this time for alcohol. We did some research and made some phone calls. We even packed for and went to her chosen center only to leave when she realized that her father would never agree to pay the $3000 co-pay for a 30 day stay. She didn’t attempt to call him based on his assertion that he would not pay for any more “hocus pocus” counseling after the last rehab stint.
She found a series of part-time jobs that would bolster her sense of self for brief periods but they ultimately meant one thing – more money to drink. She has been fired from most of them. Before moving to Minnesota for a job, her dad came back during one of her “up” phases and bought her a car. “It will give her something to take pride in, take care of….” (Yes – please. Question the wisdom of spending $10k+ on a car but not $3k on wanted rehab. I certainly did.) He has not seen her since. It took less than a month before I got a 2 a.m. hospital call from her. She was very drunk. The nurse on the phone said that she crossed lanes and crashed the car into some mailboxes while returning from a pool hall in a nearby town. Police found her unresponsive so an ambulance was called. The nurse said that if I was going to come get her, I should bring clothes as hers had been cut off her in the ambulance. No one told me what hospital so I went to the closest one only to discover that she was at a different one forty minutes away. It was now 4 a.m. I got home in time to get the kids to school. She took a cab home the next morning. It took us a few more days to find her car. She had earned a D.U.I and a 6 month license suspension this time.
So today, right now, she has a new part time job and a new boyfriend. That means she is on top of the world and everyone one else is stupid, wrong, jealous or just plain beneath her. So it begins…again. Are the days of waiting up for a drunken daughter to be dumped off at the house and then gather her passed out self from in front of the garage and get her at least to the sofa so she doesn't get rained on or burn down the house with a forgotten lit cigarette over? I can only hope. She just texted her sister saying that she was at a friend’s house and would be back tomorrow. (Um – suspended license – remember?) She said that she just needed a break from Mom. It makes me wonder what might have happened if I had said that at any time over the past few years?
This probably could have been a two part entry but the urge to get it all out was intense. I am not such a martyr that I can’t be very angry with her behavior. (She is certainly going to be pissed at me when/if she reads this!) At this point it feels never ending. I am worried that while dealing with my daughter’s addiction, I have not been the mother that my younger kids deserved. Depression and despair have too often taken control. Most days I can’t even remember who I used to be – before all of this. There have been many casualties in this story. I mourn for my daughter’s possible future as I once saw it. I miss the faith that I once had in her ability to make wise choices. I worry that she will never again believe in herself. I am sad that she has lost the respect and affection of her younger siblings. It’s sadder still that she doesn't quite realize that yet. I hope she gets it back some day. Mostly I hope that she discovers why she feels the need to punish herself – and stops.
To my fellow parents - feel no pity please. This has happened to many other parents of many other kids. Lots have much worse outcomes than this. Horrifying outcomes. Just know this - getting them into college doesn't mean that they are launched. I remember sitting in a college orientation lecture for parents and the speaker warned us of the perils of being a “helicopter” parent. Screw that. With my younger kids – I will hover as much as I want.