One of my favorite blog readers, Nora, who also has a blog of her own, Works Aside, recently left this message regarding her sister, Hannah, who is a heroin addict:
Last night, my family and I found out that Hannah is in a bad place. Despite telling us all she has been clean since she left rehab in April she actually been using heroin since then. Her ex-boyfriend Dave rang my mum to tell her she had just been to his house to ask for money. We are back where we started. The shock. The turmoil. The pain. The fear. Even though this isn’t the first time we’ve had news like this, it slaps you right between the eyes.
Your last post, Waiting For Bill, was incredibly poignant to read because last night my parents asked me what they should do. Everyone says “do nothing” – but how can they? Is there anything you can suggest we do? We don’t know where she is what state she is in, etc. Should we at least try and find her?
That, of course, is always the $64,000 question and the family’s painful dilemma. There’s a lot of debate around what to do and not do – and, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘right’ or simple answer. So, in response to Nora’s burning questions and passionate plea for help, I can only recount my own daughter’s road to recovery and hope there will be some relevance to her/your own situation. This is just one ‘case study’, one story of recovery. Please take what you want and leave the rest.
A year ago at this time, I was as desperate as Nora. My college-educated, 31 year old daughter, Hayley, had been living in a crack house for about seven months, using heroin, crack cocaine, and anything else she could get her hands on. I knew where she was, but had little contact with her. After she walked out of medical de-tox AMA (against medical advice) in August 2009 and returned to her abusive, sordid drug addict lifestyle, we, as a family, decided to take the “hands-off” approach. We had gone to extreme lengths to get her to a medical detox facility a couple of hundred miles away (there are none where we live) in response to her call for help. After de-toxing, the plan was for her to go to a reputable women’s treatment center near by. But after 4 days in the de-tox facility, she ran, and talked a cab driver in to driving her 175 miles back to her old life.
We were stunned. It hadn’t occurred to us that after courageously extricating herself from the crack house and deciding to get clean, she would give up, part way through detox. After that failed attempt to get Hayley in to recovery, we/I had virtually no contact with her for five long months. I nearly drove myself nuts thinking about and envisioning how she was living, what she was doing to herself, and what she might be capable of in order to procure her drugs. I was a wreck, valiantly trying to just hang on to my own life and sanity. Al-Anon meetings helped, I saw a therapist, and started writing this blog. Still, I felt devastated and hopeless, and found myself thinking more about preparing myself for my daughter’s funeral, rather than her recovery.
I must say, that after a few months, it became easier to compartmentalize and detach. This was mostly a coping mechanism, based on fear and complete despair. The logistics of trying to do a formal intervention and ‘rescue’ seemed impossible. Plus, most family members had been so badly ‘burned’ by Hayley walking away from de-tox, they were not especially interested in having any further contact with her. “Let her find her own way to recovery”, was the unified front we all adopted.
Around January, after Brian, Hayley’s younger brother, had not been able to reach her by text, my ‘mother lion’ instinct kicked in. I realized that I needed to do something. Was she even alive? Although a professional drug counselor had advised me to cut off all contact with Hayley so she could feel the full consequences of her choices, I had reached my saturation point – my bottom. I needed to hear from and see my daughter. The scale had tipped – one tiny atom had changed valence and upset the ‘balance’.
In early March, the ‘perfect storm’ began to gather and gain force. On March 4th, I was headed to Seattle to hear David Sheff, author of beautiful boy, and his recovering addict son, Nic Sheff, speak. In re-reading my notes from beautiful boy, I was inspired to try to call my daughter and “break the ice” of her shame/guilt-driven isolation. That, combined with a serendipitous series of events and Hayley’s pending 31st birthday in April, pushed me to action. I was determined to be with my daughter on her birthday, to remind her of who she still was and how much we all loved her. My daughter was going to die if I didn’t intervene in some way. She had never been through drug rehab and I felt strongly that she deserved a chance to get sober. I knew she couldn’t do it on her own – and that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to help her.
Some of you may be familiar with blogger, Dawn (DHAM). A while ago, Dawn sent me this excerpt from a recovering addict’s blog:
I was zombie like–running on automatic. Addicts don’t desire financial ruin, loss of self respect, ruining good relationships with family or friends, or spending time in jail/prison. Those are all just consequences of being an addict. People w/o addictions generally make their decisions based on their conscious motivations. An example, normal people get jobs so they can pay bills and support their families. For me as an addict, my decisions were made based on an impulsive, physiological drive for drugs. Every decision I made in life was centered around my drug addiction. The only reason I got a job was so I could pay for my drugs. If it was a choice between paying bills and copping a bag, the bag would always win. If I had a choice between eating a meal and drugs—-drugs.
Self control was non existent for me. My probation officer told me if I failed another piss test at one point I’d go to prison for five years. So for two weeks I’d quit using 3 days before I saw my probation officer. Then the lack of self-control took over me. During my 3 days of not using, I’d continually obsess over the drug, and despite the potential consequences of 5 years in prison, the drug would win.
The drug came before everything in my life. The high was more important than my family, my friends, money, food, water, my health, my future, my own life. Consequences never even crossed my mind like they do for ‘normal’ people. I needed it. I lived it. I breathed it. It became me…
And, my now recovering daughter, would add: . . . it got to the point where I wasn’t using heroin to get high – I needed it in order to not become violently ill . . . to “stay well’.
Back to the story. I had an advantage at that point. I had seen on the news that the crack house had been busted by federal agents and Hayley’s drug-dealer boyfriend was arrested. As a consequence, her ‘easy’ drug supply had been seriously interrupted. I received a text from her after the crack house raid that she was ‘ok’, still at the crack house, (now boarded up with no power), and living with Paula, the tough, ‘professional’ junkie and crack house ‘operations manager’, whose fierce competition with Hayley for drug dealer Bill’s attention and favor, often led to violence. Hayley had no money for food, let alone drugs. I was afraid of what she might do in order to “stay well”. I knew that Paula shoplifted at Wal-Mart regularly, and who knew what else, to generate cash flow. Hayley was most likely desperate enough to overcome her shame and guilt and agree to see me on her birthday to perhaps ‘score’ some merchandise that could be sold for drugs. In fact, that is exactly what happened. Soon after the crack house bust, I received a text from Hayley asking if I could meet her to deliver her quarterly stock dividend check (a couple of hundred dollars). I jumped at the invitation and told her we’d meet on her birthday, a week later. That would give me time to investigate some treatment centers, develop a plan, and gather her Birthday Gifts.
After that first meeting with Hayley in months (Yes, She’s Still in There . . .), I continued to stay in contact with her. I took her grocery shopping and on a few other errands. Each time we were together, it was easier and not so awkward. She began to talk more and revealed disturbing details of her life. We laughed about silly, mundane things. I brought her some make-up samples, shampoo, and underwear – and was gradually able to introduce the possibility of treatment, the facilities I had researched, how/when it could all happen. She was interested yet, at the same time, terrified – especially of the de-toxing process. On one of our visits together, I called “Lloyd”, the security guard and groundsman I had been in contact with at the small, all women’s 6 bed detox house we were considering. Lloyd reassured Hayley – his voice was gentle, and confident, and full of hope for her. He, too, had been where she was – and spoke her language.
But after each visit with her over the course of a few weeks, I would drop her back off at the abandoned crack house and just pray that we could get her to treatment before she OD’ed. That month of contact (combined with other serendipitous events and phone calls from other family members and a couple of random ‘normie’ friends) built a foundation that seemed to be the tipping point.
These words, from Mr. SponsorPants, are particularly insightful:
Sometimes I think there is but a molecule’s difference between helping and enabling . . . between hope and expectation . . . between faith and fantasy . . . and further more, sometimes all the clever slogans in the world can’t help you discern when one slips into the other.
Hayley has now been clean and sober since last May 9th. It’s a bloody miracle. Our family’s journey through hell and out the other side is just one story – and it’s not the end of the story. We all know that Hayley’s sobriety is one day at a time. How/why Hayley embraced recovery at that particular time, when the option was offered to her, is still not completely clear. Ultimately, it is the addict that needs to want to change his/her life – I know that. Yet, it’s not always that simple. The addict is often incapable of taking steps towards change on their own – even if they fiercely want to. In my mind, the clock was ticking – it was a “dice-throw” as to whether or not Hayley could get herself out of her drug addict lifestyle before it killed her.
There are some things, I think, that seemed to help Hayley walk away from drug addiction and get on the long and winding road to sobriety. More importantly, these things helped me stay sane and take charge of my own recovery – the only real control I have. (Thanks to Guinevere Gets Sober for her words: “. . . be present and have low expectations . . .”) I hope you can find something here that brings you a molecule of hope and possibility:
•Be Present: stay in contact with the addict – but not excessively. It will help narrow the gap between the ‘normal’/real world and the addict’s crazy, dangerous drug life. Today, Hayley says that it was easier to compartmentalize and ‘forget’ about family and ‘normal’ life than it was to stay in contact and connected. In her case, the less contact we had with her, the further down she spiraled, in to the deep, dark abyss of addiction. The shame, guilt, and fear of her situation were overwhelming to her – and paralyzing. In order to cope, she isolated. Her drug user ‘friends’ and ‘roommates’ became her family – one that didn’t judge her and accepted her for who she was – right at that moment. Even though they stole from one another and often couldn’t trust each other, they also shared what they had (food, drugs, fringe-y lifestyle) and ‘covered’ for each other. They all had a lot in common, and lived for the moment.
After Hayley walked out of medical detox in August 2009, our family essentially washed our hands of her. This was her first experience in medical detox, and she was then scheduled to go to a woman’s treatment center in Seattle. I just learned that after almost 5 days of de-toxing, with the worst behind her as far as physical withdrawal symptoms, she was ‘sober’ enough to actually feel her own anxiety and fear. She just couldn’t face going to treatment. That unknown seemed too overwhelming to her, whereas going back to using heroin and its accompanying life style, was something she knew, was familiar with, in a ‘community’, of sorts. She had earned a place there. A sense of belonging is a very seductive reason to re-join and/or become a part of any group, as evidenced by the abundance of gangs in our society. The ‘disenfranchised’ are welcomed.
Kristina Wandzilak, in her blog, The Kristina Chronicles, had this to say regarding “Fear and the Addict”:
How much is fear responsible for a person’s descent into addiction and inability to retrieve him or herself from it? Addicts, in general, are fear-based individuals. I’m not sure that fear has a lot to do with the manifestation of the disease, per se, but once we’re in it, fear keeps us from getting better.
We’re afraid of what will happen to us. We’re afraid of success, of failure, of living and of dying. We’re afraid to try to get better. It can feel easier to be resigned to a life of addiction than to live a different, sober life. Sobriety changes everything.
Through some of Hayley’s ‘friends of friends’ and acquaintances, I became ‘educated’ about the underbelly of our ‘fair’ city. I salvaged and saved every scrap of paper with a phone number or name on it that I found in her apartment when she was evicted. I spoke with drug counselors, our two community hospitals’ social workers and ER staffs, and found a ‘mole’ within the drug community who was willing to give me periodic reports on Hayley’s condition. I found out where all the crack houses were and dropped off letters to her – and, a Christmas present from her grandmother. I discovered that texting was a more non-threatening and reliable way to reach Hayley and get a response. (However, usually her own cell phone was out of minutes or not charged -so she was dependent on her ‘friends” phones, who often exercised their power over her by refusing to pass on messages, etc.) When I did hear from Hayley, I noted the phone number and kept it on file. The bottom line was that Hayley always knew how to reach me and other family members. But, she seldom initiated the contact herself. When I increased contact with her in March and April (2010), it helped break through that barrier of shame and guilt on Hayley’s part, and of helplessness on mine. Being with her reminded her of some things – that she had choices, that she was loved, that it wasn’t too late to change her life.
One caveat: if you’ve tried to ‘help’ your addict multiple times and it just hasn’t worked, you may need to step back and let him/her come to you – in their own time and on their own terms. You do need to protect yourself from the roller coaster of the addiction drama – it can suck you in and eventually use you up.
•Have a Plan (but not an outcome): Do some legwork and research in to possible treatment facilities and options. What type of treatment center would be best – short (28 days) or long term (90 days or longer)? all female or co-ed? 12 step based program? post treatment options? medical detoxing prior to treatment – and if so, how and where?, etc. Hayley was very fearful of the detoxing process. It was a huge barrier for her. During the last few months of her drug use, she was constantly dope sick. She didn’t have the money/means to reliably maintain her habit. Being dope sick was so unpleasant and withdrawal so horrible, that she would have never agreed to detox without medical supervision and palliative drugs to get her through the worst of it.
And, I guess, consider an intervention. The kind and degree of intervention can be tailored to your situation. We used a professional interventionist, Kristina Wandzilak, as a consultant rather than as an actual interventionist. She advised us regarding good long-term treatment centers of which she had personal knowledge. She served as a non-biased facilitator/mediator during two conference calls involving our entire family, as we expressed our individual concerns and fears. We all had our own diverse opinions about what we should do or not do and Kristina skillfully acknowledged and managed them all. And, there are so many treatment centers out there, it’s difficult to know which ones are truly effective. They all look good on the internet and sound great on the phone. The recovery industry has become huge, and is ‘big business’, with little regulation. It helps to get professional expertise and experience in choosing a reputable program. Getting Kristina involved was the best $450 we ever spent.
Go to this blog post to read about our family’s debate/discussion regarding an intervention with Hayley. Another post, Al-Anon vs Intervention, also discusses this controversial topic.
Hayley said that knowing there was a treatment plan in place was an incentive and helped make it become a real possibility. She would get immediately overwhelmed at the thought of needing to initiate the process herself. Just filling out the necessary paperwork required to receive treatment through the state seemed impossible. She was so ashamed – and was such a prisoner of her addiction cycle and physiological dependence on the drugs, that she could really only think a couple of hours ahead – and that focus was always on how to get her next fix.
•Timing is Everything: and often something over which you have no control. Hayley was a college graduate and started using heroin at age 30. Addiction is a progressive disease – and Hayley began with seemingly innocuous pot smoking and some alcohol use in high school/college. In 2002, having graduated the year before from a small liberal arts college, she was diagnosed with a serious eating disorder (bulimia). As a result of her ED, she developed some chronic dental issues and irritable bowel syndrome that lead to legitimate prescription pain killer use and, of course, eventual abuse. And, it all compounded to the point of moving through and using cocaine, methadone, smoking crack and ultimately, shooting heroin. After almost a year of living in a crack house, going to the ER multiple times to treat abscesses and GI problems, having her unemployment checks discontinued resulting in no source of legitimate income, getting beat up and abused, being dope sick almost every day, there were few options left. However, she told me recently, that she had resigned herself to being a junkie for the rest of her life, and dying a junkie. She couldn’t see any way out. And then, Bill, her drug dealer/boyfriend, started ‘messing with’ her blankie, which she has always had since she was a baby. Bill started hiding it and threatening to burn it to sadistically tease and control Hayley. That was the final straw, Hayley later recalled – but all of these factors collided with each other and accumulated into a critical mass that ultimately resulted in Hayley walking away from her life as a drug addict. And, at age 31, she was finally realizing that she didn’t have time to f*ck around.
•Keep Expectations Low (but keep trying): one small step can shift the balance; one atom moving into a different orbit may make the difference for bigger changes down the road. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and failure. We have no way of knowing when an addict is ready to recover – or what small things can have a significant impact in shifting an addict’s desire/ability to get and/or receive help. Just don’t ever give up.
•Get Support and Work a Recovery Program For Yourself: I started going to the anonymous fellowship of Al-Anon over 8 years ago when Hayley’s eating disorder was first diagnosed. I am still learning how to shift the focus from Hayley to myself and be happy in spite of what Hayley is doing or not doing. To have such a safe place to find help – – – and hope, has been crucial in traveling down this road of drug addiction with my daughter that I didn’t choose, or know how to navigate. I’ve learned that if I apply the Traditions and Principles of Al-Anon to my life and relationships, serenity is possible (I’ve gotten a glimpse of it) and there are no hopeless situations. I invite you to Take a Seat.
Seek out true friends who don’t judge and want to listen – who rarely offer advice, and only when asked. I have discovered some Unlikely Friends and Neighbors whose compassion and support have been so incredibly comforting – and often, a pleasant surprise. Journaling, blogging, reading Al-Anon and addiction literature and good recovery blogs, all add to your body of knowledge about addiction. They can calm your mind, ease some frustration and guilt, and give you hope. All these resources helped me feel not so alone, for which I am grateful. See my BlogRoll and Recovery Blogs in the far right column, for reference. And, a Gratitude Journal helps to regularly think about, remember, and write down the things and people in your life you are thankful for. It’s a bit of a diversion tactic that helps to get your self out of your own misery for a while – and focus on what is good and positive in your life.
And finally, try to be of service to someone else who is in pain due to or struggling with addiction. This may be as simple as setting up chairs at an Al-Anon meeting, reading and commenting on blog posts, calling a friend who needs support and encouragement, giving someone your full attention and truly listening to them.
•Luck, Serendipity, a Higher Power, God: they all play a part that is impossible to predict or control. I don’t discount any of these and try to remain open to their presence. I will say that as of May 9, 2010, I do believe in miracles. And, I’ve learned that it helps to let go and turn some of the burden of worry and despair, over to a higher power. I’m still working on this.
So, Nora – I know this has gone on far too long and that I’ve left some things out. I don’t pretend to know what to tell you to do regarding Hannah. But, I do know that there is always hope, that YOU can find serenity, and that miracles do happen. One tiny molecule can make all the difference in the world.
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