You can learn more about guest blogger Linda and her daughter Tiffany in the Emmy award-winning documentary Collision Course.
I am often asked, “What do you wish you knew earlier about your daughter’s addiction?” by parents I meet at treatment centers in my community. I think back to how naïve I was and how little I knew about addiction. First off, I was surprised that the pills prescribed to Tiffany were so addictive. The labels on the sides of the bottles warned of the possibility of respiratory failure or liver damage if not using the proper dose. They said not to drink alcohol with this medication or take other drugs with acetaminophen because there could be liver damage. But I thought surely her doctors would monitor her closely, and because I was home with her, I made sure she didn’t take more than she was prescribed. The two pages enclosed with the prescription never mentioned the word “addicted” – only “habit-forming.” I take an aspirin a day and this is habit-forming for me but not addictive. Tiffany was taking pain meds for the pain from her broken neck. I didn’t see this as an addiction – not yet anyway. I didn’t really notice what was happening until she moved out of the house. She was still on Paxil for her panic attacks, and Ambien to help her sleep – both addictive drugs prescribed by her doctors.
I could understand the reasons for Tiffany’s medications at first because breaking her neck in the car accident was both painful and traumatic. Many more prescriptions continued from that point on. My husband and I were clueless at first. Tiffany couldn’t just stop taking her pain medication without going through terrible withdrawals. I wished I was more educated. At first I thought this was the only way she could stop. I didn’t know what detox was or what an interventionist or intervention was all about. When we first came to the ER because Tiffany had overdosed, I thought they would keep her overnight and help her get well. They never gave us places to call or a list of places they recommended for us to go get help. We didn’t know where to look except on the Internet, which offered a multitude of listings. How can you tell the good treatment centers from the bad?
Summing it up, I wish I knew more about addiction – that it is an illness –that Tiffany couldn’t just stop. I had seen addiction in my family tree, but I didn’t see it as an illness. I saw it as making bad choices. I remember thinking – I wished there was someone or somewhere I could go that would teach me about what’s going on in my daughter’s life.
I wish I knew who to turn to for help. Seems like even the family doctor doesn’t really understand addiction. I once went to an addiction specialist who decided she was going to handle Tiffany’s pills and give her 1 pill every 4 hours so that Tiffany didn’t take too many. Even I knew by then how crazy that sounded!
I wish there was a way to find out if you have a predisposition to addiction. Did Tiffany have this OR does addiction just happen if you continue to take addictive drugs like Vicodin over a long period of time? The answer to that question is too late for my beautiful Tiffany, but it may save other children.
During the turmoil of living with a loved one struggling with addiction a lot of hurtful things are done and said. This is not only true of the addict and their behaviors, but also for those of us in the relationships and families surrounding the addict. We often put our focus on the addict and how we need to come to terms with forgiving him or her. It is very healthy for everyone when we can forgive. I believe we all know that forgiveness lends itself to a sense of freedom from a heavy burden. When we forgive it is like a large, collective sigh, a chance to breathe deep and know you have opened your heart.
We often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I know that I have a lot of guilt and regret from so many aspects related to my daughters’ addiction. I can easily list a number of things that I would do different now that I know what I know. I can also reflect on how I’ve handled various situations and how it would nice to have a chance to do it different. Yet, we cannot go back, we can only go forward. Part of going forward for me was to forgive myself and to know that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I can also know that I will do whatever I can to help others in the hope that in some small way, I can make a difference. And I can start by forgiving myself.
ACT 1: THE EXPECTATION
June brings memories. Traditional high school graduation activity returns me back momentarily to a time that was fraught with emotions: elation as well as disappointments and regrets.
I desperately believed that when and if my first born child finished high school, everything would be better. Finish high school meant participating in the main event: the graduation ceremony. But the years, months and weeks prior to graduation were filled with doubt, anxiety and worry. His graduating was definitely important to me; I had a lot of expectations around it. Imagine the difficulty in “pre-orders” for announcements…invitations, gown & cap, to name a few – what if he didn’t make the grade? How do you plan a graduation reception with relatives and friends if you are not even sure? I was certain I was the only parent with this kind of worry. Graduation is an expensive ordeal– not just the ceremony but all the school events and merchandising around it. My worry about the investment and fanfare for naught was a driving force in my obsessive behavior to make this happen and if it did not happen, I would be very resentful.
He did graduate and I’ll never forget how proud I was and how much I had banked on that event being the solution to all my problems with him. Life lessons have shown me otherwise.
Addiction is a progressive disease. As my beloved child struggled into adulthood, he had many accomplishments all shadowed with the dark & negative impact of drug addiction. The tug of the drug would be his driver and I had no control over it. A few years of recovery would reveal that graduation from high school should have been the furthest concern for this loving parent. With a new perspective, what seems important just isn’t! Turns out, expectations breed resentments!
She reached out in desperation – “my son’s been arrested and may go to prison!” When I met up with her I recognized the anguish and sleepless, ringed-worried-eyes, once worn myself. This is the look of a parent whose love for their drug addict child and powerlessness leaves them broken.
First there was the guilt – she missed the phone call from him. She had decided to go to the class she signed up for and, then there was regret – she should have stayed home! Martydom mixed with obsessive spurts of energy focused on detective work; late night internet research for arrest records and prisons. Soon she self-consumed into fearful isolation – projecting the worst outcomes. Driven to fuel the fears, news articles: “Life in solitary, Inmates Hunger Strike; Violent, predatory offenders” to name a few. Undeniably a drug addict turned to criminal activity to support his disease, but NOT this and NOT THERE! He is her child, her son – my son, your child, and our hearts break open – we want to rescue. I know this well, I have the T-shirt.
How could I help? What could I do? My co-dependent nature is to rescue and smooth over the fear and sadness because I feel unease in these situations…I wanted to say “it will all be OK!” But that’s not the truth, it might not be OK, so instead, I listened. How does one go from helplessness to powerlessness, the latter being a state of surrender & acceptance, fueled by trust versus fear? Was she ready? Would I be of help or further complicate matters? For me, it took hard work in my 12-Step Program of Al-Anon.
I shared my own experience of being frightened for my sons’ fate. Like when I read about the prison riot which made front page news. I immediately went to that scary place visualizing my son’s vulnerability in what I conjured up. A mother’s worst nightmare – my imagination ran wild! How I then turned it over to my God Box, realizing no amount of worry or fret was going to influence the outcome of this! I later learned he missed the riot because he “skipped” breakfast – all validating why I have to let go and let God! This was a change in the way I reacted to fears about the future and I was given positive feedback – projecting would no longer serve me, reaching out would.
The Partnership at DrugFree.Org does an outstanding job promoting resources for parents through various campaigns and there is one in particular I heard on the radio that I just love. It completely represents how I acted with my sons in the beginning. When I first heard it, I thought YES! I had a bunch of awkward moments, feeling the intense desire to confront my sons and accuse! I just didn’t know what to call it back then and I did not know how else to “handle” grave concerns. Of course their own responses were fairly well represented in the ad. What’s astonishing is that the same rhetoric was heard in a business meeting I attended last week; all I have to do is change the names in the script.
I guess we humans have a universal way of not communicating how we really feel – especially when the topic is backed by fear, ignorance, or any strong emotional attachment based on…experience, beliefs, judgment.
There really is a better way to have a more productive conversation and it begins with me. Left to my own devices, I come out of the shoot with the finish line in sight and ultmately say something I’m going to regret – it sounds just like this:
Mom: “Awkward, confrontational accusation!”
Daughter: “automatic denial!”
Mom: “Angry irrational statement I’ll regret later…”
Daughter: “Fake, emotional whimper”
To see the “typical conversation” advertisement click here!
How many times in our life do we wish we could go back and do something over again? Whether it’s something major or minor, we all have those moments of ‘what if’s’ and ‘if I would have known…’ I’m no different; I have often ruminated about how the journey unfolded with my daughters spiral into alcohol and drug addiction. So many things that I am wise to now that I did not know when it all started 4 years ago. Just writing ‘4 years’ makes me cringe…not because life is still chaotic but because I think of all that has happened along the way. I did spend the first few years mired in guilt and regret over so many aspects of what transpired. I look back on how I didn’t realize the gravity of her substance abuse and how I thought that it was just a passing phase. I compared what she was doing to what I know occurred in my generation of high school and college and felt it would just blow over.
Well things are different for this generation, the drugs are different, the access is different and the internet makes anything and everything just a click away. I have ceased feeling guilty and regretful, I realize that life unfolded and there is no going back. I also realize that I am powerless over other people; maybe I could have affected the outcome, maybe not. We can only put so many controls on our children and while there are many steps we can take to reduce the risks, there is no magic formula. We are all parents who love our kids and are doing our best to raise them into responsible adults. I realize that part of that journey for me included a detour into my daughter’s addiction. We have both grown and become who we are now through the experience. I am grateful for the learning and growth; I chose to look at the positives amongst the heartache and the gifts of recovery.
During the turmoil of living with a loved one struggling with addiction a lot of hurtful things are done and said. This is not only true of the addict and their behaviors, but also for those of us in the relationships and families surrounding the addict. We often put our focus on the addict and how we need to come to terms with forgiving him or her. This is obviously a very healthy place to be when we can forgive. I believe we all know that forgiveness lends itself to a sense of freedom from a heavy burden. When we forgive it is like a very large collective sigh, a chance to breathe deep and know you have opened your heart.
But we often forget that we also need to forgive ourselves. I know that I have a lot of guilt and regret from so many aspects related to my daughters’ addiction. I can easily list a number of things that I would do different now that I know what I know. I can also reflect on how I’ve handled various situations and how it would be nice to have a chance to do it different. Yet, we cannot go back we can only go forward. Part of going forward for me was to forgive myself and to know that I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. I can also know that I will do whatever I can to help others in the hope that in some small way, I can make a difference. And I can start by forgiving myself.