I just spoke with my daughter, Hayley, who has been in recovery from heroin/crack/alcohol addiction since last May 9th. Tomorrow, April 6th, is her 32nd birthday. She called to tell me that she had just had a wonderful dinner with her older brother, Jake, and his wife, Megan, who were in southern California attending a business meeting. “It was so good seeing them,” she said – and “I really do miss my family so much.” She went on to say that she had also re-connected with her original AA sponsor, Brooke – which was a ‘big deal’ in a number of ways. Hayley had let this relationship slip over the past few months and, hence, hadn’t been actively working through the 12 steps of her recovery program. Having a good sponsor, with whom you relate, is a wonderful resource in recovery: for general advice, a cheerleader when you need comfort and/or support, someone to hold you accountable and check in with. Hayley realized that she needed to ‘make amends’ to Brooke – and re-establish this important sponsee-sponsor relationship. And apparently, she pushed aside her ego and called Brooke. They met yesterday, and Hayley said it felt really good – that she will try to do things differently this time.
All of this was very good news for me, on the eve of my daughter’s birthday. And, I couldn’t help but think back to a year ago at this time, when circumstances were very different, and I was getting ready to meet with my daughter for the first time in seven months. In June 2009, I had learned that Hayley had become a heroin/crack cocaine addict and was living in a crack house. A couple of months later (August 2009), she had reached out and asked for help – specifically, would I get her in to a medical detox facility? She had managed to get herself out of the crack house and had found a safe place to stay for a few days. She was dope sick, covered with abscesses, and desperate for help. Of course, I donned my ‘supermom cape’, and whirled in to action.
The logistics of quickly getting Hayley in to a medical detox facility were complicated, since there was no such facility here, in our small-ish city, and no available beds in the detox facilities 150 miles away. We needed to first get her on antibiotics to treat the abscesses, before any facility would take her (MRSA risk). And, I procured some hydrocodone for her, to try to keep her off the heroin and away from the crack house. After 72 hours of constant phone calls and involved paperwork, and buying food and clothes for my daughter, and checking in on her, and trying to keep her hopeful and moving forward, and not using heroin (this was my fantasy, as it turned out), a bed finally became available at midnight, and I drove Hayley three hours to the detox facility. The plan was, after detoxing for ~ 5 days, Hayley would go directly to a women’s treatment center 50 miles away. However, after 4 days in detox, Hayley walked out AMA (against medical advice) and talked a taxi drive in to driving her the 150 miles back to our town – and her drug life. One of the many ironies in this chain of events, was that the crack house wouldn’t take her back! Can you imagine? This is a whole story, in and of itself.
We decided as a family, at that point, to pull back and let Hayley really hit “bottom” – to let her feel the full impact of her life choices, hoping that this approach would jolt her in to seeking recovery on her own. She’s smart. She’s resourceful, and I truly believed that she knew where to go to get help for herself.
And so, for the next 7 – 8 months, we had little to no contact with her – just an occasional text, since the failed treatment attempt. During that time, I was desperate with fear and worry, and felt overwhelmed with helplessness. However, after about 5 months of not speaking to or seeing her, I had reached some kind of “tipping point”, and decided to try to contact her. It all started with a text, then a phone call, and then a few more, culminating in my determination to actually see my daughter on her birthday in April. We had re-established enough of a connection to build the foundation of trust and desire necessary for our eventual birthday meeting. I was convinced that Hayley’s life was at stake and time was running out – that I needed to make one last valiant attempt to help her get the help she needed to change her life. If I could appeal to her and tell her, face to face, how much I loved her – – – and that we, her family, would help her get the help she needed when she was ready, maybe it would make a difference. I had to try.
My reaching out to Hayley was influenced, in part, by Tom, a drug counselor at the Recovery Helpdesk blog, who made a good case for challenging the notion of Hitting Bottom– that ” . . . an opiate dependent person does not have full exercise of their free will. Their free will is compromised.” And, ” Opiate dependence is powerful enough and the opiate dependent person’s free will is compromised enough, that waiting for the person to “hit bottom” can mean the person goes on to experience HIV infection, Hepatitis C infection, unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, loss of child custody, loss of family relationships, risk of violence, or worse.”
It was uncomfortable to read this, because it challenged our family’s position that Hayley needed to feel enough pain before seeking help, which was what most professionals/groups/literature advocated. Leaving Hayley alone for 7 months hadn’t really had the effect we had hoped for – she just seemed to spiral further down in to the deep dark hole of addiction and become more entrenched in her risky lifestyle. And from what I could tell, she was getting more desperate – dope sick almost every day, no money for drugs, let alone food. I was driving myself crazy contemplating how my daughter might be getting her drugs.
My post, Birthday Gifts, gives you the details of my preparation for this crucial meeting with my heroin addict daughter. And Yes . . . She’s Still in There is the account of the actual meeting.
Thinking back to this time a year ago, is still very painful – and a frightening reminder of how close we came to losing our daughter completely. But, it also is a powerful testament to hope – and miracles – and how the most desperate circumstances can change.
There are so many variables that affect an addict’s recovery – timing being one of them. Apparently, for Hayley, the combination of our birthday meeting, followed by a crucial/random phone call from an acquaintance, subsequent phone calls and texts from family members, and other serendipity events – all came together in to a powerful vortex that started to draw her in – and remind her of the ‘normal’ world and life she had left; that there was a possibility of a different kind of life; and maybe she could accept help. Escalating physical abuse at the crack house was the final straw – and when her dope dealer ‘boyfriend’, Bill, confiscated her “blankie” and threatened to burn it, the switch flipped. Who knew, or could predict, that these somewhat arbitrary events could converge in to the powerful push my daughter needed to walk away from her life of addiction.
A phrase of drug counselor Tom’s, at Recovery Deskhelp, kept running through my head: that taking action to enable recovery is very different than enabling the addict’s drug use. I was convinced that my daughter was incapable of getting the help she wanted or needed – that navigating the complicated labyrinth of getting herself into a detox/treatment center, was too overwhelming – and I was right. I am grateful to Tom for articulating what I felt in my gut – and for his strong voice in advocating harm reduction and a wide range of recovery options for drug addicts.
Tom’s most recent post at Recoverydesk, Tough Love Delays Recovery For Heroin Addicts, is especially relevant to this discussion and his view that “enabling” and “tough love” are the two “black and white” extremes – both of which can be harmful to the drug addict’s recovery. There’s a lot of gray area in between that is sensible and reasonable and should be considered.
I ended my post, Open For Business, a little over a year ago, with this:
Hayley’s birthday is a little over a week away. She’ll be 31 years old. What do I get her for her birthday? What does one buy, wrap up, and deliver to their heroin-addicted child? I know, I know – love, encouragement, hope – – – and recovery, are what she needs most. At this point, I just don’t know how to give and get those gifts to her.
I guess my point in recounting all of this is, to never give up – that as long as ‘your’ drug addict is still alive, there is hope for recovery. My daughter is living proof of this miracle.
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