Pinch Me and Pink Clouds
A little over a month ago, I was certain my daughter would be dead or in jail very soon. And today, she is thriving in a drug treatment program in southern California.
I glanced through my journal from a year ago, and was quickly transported back to the nightmare I’ve been living for the past 12 months. It was in early June 2009 that I first learned that Hayley was living in a “crack house” and was, essentially, a full-fledged, hard-core drug addict. I immediately donned my Superwoman/mom cape and spun in to action. I was certain that I could save my daughter – just get her out of that environment and in to a drug treatment program. After hours and days of super-sleuthing, I was able to locate the drug house where she was living and trace down phone numbers that could potentially provide access to her. And after countless “drive-bys”, trying to get a glimpse of her, and phone calls to all the phone numbers she had left scattered around her apartment, I was finally able to speak to her. Her message was, “Mom – stop. You’re putting too much focus on this place. These guys don’t like it. You’re going to get me in trouble.” And, actually, I think that was why she came home for those few days. The crack house kicked her out because they were feeling too much ‘heat’.
During those two weeks in June a year ago, when Hayley came home from the crack house for a night or two, she seemed sincere in wanting to get help and go to our local drug/alcohol treatment facility. However, the treatment center’s admissions requirements proved to be huge barriers – primarily, the TB skin test that needed to be administered at a medical clinic, read after 24 hours, then a narrow admission ‘window’ in to the treatment facility within the next 24 – 36 hours. Hayley was never able to meet and follow through with those time-sensitive deadlines. I thought the process was insane.
At that time, Hayley was “just” using cocaine and smoking crack. She soon ‘graduated’ to heroin. How could it all have come down to this – my beautiful, talented, college-graduate daughter, a heroin addict? It all seemed so surreal. I was numb.
I discovered that on June 1st, 2009, an eviction notice had been posted on Hayley’s apartment – and I began negotiations with the landlord to be allowed access in to the apartment that Hayley had abandoned. After paying two months of back rent and June’s rent, I was able to enter, sort through, clean out and salvage some personal belongings from Hayley’s chaotic life over the past five years. That beautiful polar bear Cowichan sweater I knit for her in high school, family photos, her photos and awards from high school and college, her beloved Cuisinart – - – I just couldn’t bear to see her entire life, up to this point, hauled off to the dump. She deserved some personal history so she could start over some day, didn’t she? However, this salvage mission was a very traumatic experience. Witnessing Hayley’s inability to function as a ‘normal’ adult was a disturbing and definitive indication of not only drug addiction, but possibly a serious mental illness. I felt as if I had been in a war zone.
And after one more unsuccessful attempt last August to get Hayley into medical detox and a treatment facility, we went for about 7 months with virtually no contact with her. That was the “let-her-really-hit-bottom-and-find-her-own-way-to-treatment” period. She not only hit bottom, but kept on digging. She was in such a deep, dark hole, I just knew she could never get out on her own. After seeing her on her birthday April 6th, I decided that she needed a hand up. The drama leading up to Hayley leaving for treatment on May 8th was harrowing. (And She’s Off and . . . Running) But the bottom line is that Hayley has now been at Safe Harbor Treatment Center For Women for a little more than three weeks, was in medical detox for almost 2 weeks prior to that, so has now been clean and sober for 36 days . This is where the “Pinch Me” comes in.
Within the last ten days, I’ve received two notes from Hayley and a couple of lengthy phone calls. She sounds so good – so strong, so committed to her recovery program. She genuinely seems to be embracing the 12-step program at Safe Harbor and finding comfort and support in the staff and all that is involved with the recovery process. Her voice is strong and joyful and full of promise. Here are some snippets from our phone conversations:
Mom – I’m showing up for everything, even if I don’t feel like it.
You have to attend an AA/NA meeting every day. If you don’t, it’s a slippery slope to relapse.
I’ve been making myself go to the gym everyday – my body is so damaged. I don’t have time to fxxk around.
Dave, the cook, wants me to be permanently assigned to the kitchen. He thinks I do the best job of cleaning up. The food is good – we had mahi mahi last night with mango salsa and coconut rice.
I can’t believe I’m here.
And these excerpts from letters: We are kept so busy here, time just flies. I had to get my blood drawn this AM – it was a huge trigger for me. I got real emotional. Am also scared for the results. I have no power over the outcome at this point though, and have to just deal with the results when they come. I love you so much and miss you. Am staying strong, healthy, and hopeful.
And this from her most recent, artfully decorated note: This is a gratitude card. I am sooo grateful to be here at Safe Harbor. I do not take this opportunity for granted and know that I have been given the greatest gift that anyone could ever give me. Thank you, Mom, from the bottom of my heart. I am so peaceful and happy. My future is full of endless possibilities, at last! I love you, Mom.
WOW! I know that some of this is the euphoria of early sobriety. Becky, the program director, calls it the “Pink Cloud”. Becky also warned me that often, at 3 – 4 weeks of treatment, the client will fall off a bit from working the program – emotionally relapse some, I guess you could call it. However, she also assured me that they are prepared for this, and watch for it. They coach and mentor the patient through this, if necessary. Just for today – - – I’m with Hayley – in the pink cloud.
Hayley said that she met the founder/owner of Safe Harbor this week – “Velvet” – who runs a very ‘tight ship’ there. They are all required to do daily chores, work hard, and contribute to the good of the whole. This discipline has been very good for Hayley, and she seems to have responded to it. She said that she takes pride in doing even the most menial tasks well, which is a newly acquired attitude/skill. She said that it makes her feel good to follow through and do these chores well. Truly – she was sincere and genuine when she told me this.
I think that Hayley has always preferred to live with other people – and that as perverse as the crack house was, it provided a certain sense of community for her. Thank god that she is now able to experience this phenomenon in a clean and sober living environment. I do think that her age (31 yo) has been an advantage – that she not only relates well to the staff – as a peer, really – but that she also has a level of life experience and maturity that has made her realize that this is, indeed, a crucial turning point in her life. And because she’s often the oldest client there, she also may be doing some mentoring herself, to younger clients.
She got her hair highlighted (she talked her dad in to paying for this) – has been on walks/jogs/yoga classes to get her body back in shape – and seems to have a greater appreciation for the short time we all have here on earth. She’s truly engaged in all her group sessions, and reached a revelation with her therapist last week. For whatever reason, she’s always felt very pressured to excel in a high-powered career – which fed in to her anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. In reality, it was quite paralyzing for her. With her therapist, she realized that she just needs to be successful at life – at living a happy, healthy, responsible existence – that this is truly enough. Everything else is gravy, and may or may not happen. Often, once you achieve this goal, other things come.
I asked her what was different about Safe Harbor vs La Montagne, the eating disorder treatment facility she was in, back in 2002. She said that there was no comparison. First of all, she acknowledged that she is older and more ready to really listen and learn. And also, the many daily group sessions at Safe Harbor, provide more opportunity to connect and build a sense of community. And, because the staff members are all recovering addicts/alcoholics around her age, she relates to them in a very personal way. Also – a huge factor, is that Safe Harbor is in a residential setting, smack dab in the middle of the real world. Every evening, they all go out in to the community to attend an AA or NA meeting. Hayley felt that this interaction with the real world was very helpful and motivating. At La Montagne, they were in a remote/country setting with little/no interaction with the real world.
I heard gratitude and respect for life in Hayley’s voice and talk. Honestly – she sounds transformed. I think she was ready for this program and changing her life. I have tried to keep a certain distance from becoming totally invested in Hayley’s recovery. I know what the statistics are for recovering heroin addicts. They aren’t good. But, hearing Hayley talk and reading her words of gratitude, I can’t help but think that she has a very good chance of beating the odds. We’ll see. The fact that there is a huge community of clean and sober young people where she is, is promising. I think that she feels that she can make a life for herself there, with the support she needs to stay in recovery.
Hayley said that last week was rough. Her roommate relapsed, as did two of the other ‘girls’. My gosh – how does one relapse in a treatment facility? I hadn’t even considered this possibility. Hayley said that these girls brought in alcohol. She commented that this really pissed her off, because it put everyone in jeopardy. “Mom – alcohol is not my drug of choice. Had it been heroin that was brought in, I’m not sure what I would have done.” At least she’s being honest.
Hayley has received quite a bit of mail – and she has felt a great sense of accomplishment by responding to each of those letters. Writing, addressing/stamping notes of her own and getting them in to the mail was a very big deal to her. The notes I received were very genuine and sincere.
I have to believe that if Hayley does not ultimately recover from her addictions, at least her struggle will somehow be a transforming experience to those around her. And – just for today . . . I will float in the “Pink Cloud”, along side my daughter.