I haven’t posted for over a year now, but have intended to many times. I started a new job in February 2012 that requires a lot of writing – not a great excuse, but I guess I’ll try it. An even better one is that my almost 96 yo mother is at the end of her life and on Hospice. Whatever the reasons for my absence here, thanks to those of you who are still hang’in with me. I do still have a lot to learn, work out, and explore. If you’re new to this blog, I invite you to look back at where my drug addict daughter and our family were 4 years ago at this time – and how far we’ve come.
Initially, this blog was a place for me to vent and share my despair as the mother of a heroin addict. I felt “Helplessly hopeless” and overwhelmed. I was numb with disbelief, anxiety, and crazy worry over my brilliant, beautiful, well-educated 30 year-old daughter’s life choices. Don’t most parents breathe a sigh of relief when their child successfully graduates from college and begins her own adult life?
Hayley’s drug addiction was a slow erosion that occurred over a period of about 10 years after college. It happened so insidiously, it was almost imperceptible – like the constant flow of water smoothing stones over the course of time, or a river gradually changing course after a millennium of steadily wearing away the riverbank.
My daughter Hayley, a 34-year old former heroin/crack/everything addict, has been in recovery now for over 3 years. If there ever was evidence of a miracle, she is it. It’s not all smooth sailing – and she’s still fairly early in her recovery. However, I am so grateful to be able to share her story of experience, strength, and hope.
Today, Hayley works at a wonderful treatment center in southern California and recently referred one of her ‘clients’/patients and her mother to this blog for comfort and support.
“Mom”, she began. “Why haven’t you updated your blog for so long?” Of course, this fact has haunted me for over 14 months now, and has become one of those nagging, burdensome undone tasks over which I constantly beat myself up.
And then she continued, breaking in to a sob:
“Ya know, Mom – I’ve never really read your blog. But after suggesting to my client’s family that they might benefit from reading it, I thought I better check it out more carefully. After work yesterday, I stayed up almost all night reading through the nightmare of my addicted life. I had no idea that I was that screwed up and caused you and the family so much worry and pain. I knew it on a somewhat suppressed, in-the-past-foggy level; but to actually read your words detailing the particulars of my frightening, dangerous, and sordid life 4 years ago, made it all so visceral. I’m not sure I was ready to read about it and resurrect those horrible images until now. Can you ever forgive me? Will I ever be able to fully repair my relationship with Jake? (her older brother)”
Both Hayley and I are in recovery from her addiction. I’ve been at it longer than she. We both actively work a ‘program’ – she goes to AA, has a sponsor, and now even sponsors others who are new to recovery. I go to Al-Anon and limp along at a snail’s pace, learning how to take one day at a time, live in the present, let go, and maintain healthier relationships. We both have a lot of work to do – and will, for the rest of our lives. There is no end point to recovery, no diploma. It’s an ongoing commitment and winding path full of triggers that tempt relapse. You have to work every day to stay ‘sober’ – which in my case, means staying inside my own hula hoop, and getting ‘clean’ from my addiction to worry.
Yes, it’s very painful and almost surreal to read those early posts – particularly from September 2009, when I started this blog, to May 8, 2010, when Hayley ‘walked away’ from her life of addiction. The months, weeks, days, and even hours leading up to that event were harrowing. It’s a miracle she didn’t die. Writing about it helped me get through it – – – I couldn’t have written a more horrifying screenplay.
I heard this Pearl at Al-Anon today: For true healing to occur, we must abandon all hope of a better past. We’ll never forget the past, but we cannot change it. We acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on.
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She was euphoric when she called. The treatment center where she works full time was finally offering her health insurance. She was feeling a huge sense of relief and accomplishment – that she could now pull herself back from teetering on that precarious cliff edge of no healthcare coverage – where any medical emergency, let alone the preventative and routine healthcare visits she needs, could plunge her down in to an abyss of lifetime debt – and yet another deep, dark hole to climb out of. Making just $11.00/hr is really not enough to fully support herself – although, she has been making a valiant effort to do so. And, for some reason, up to now, her employer hadn’t either been pressed to offer health insurance – or Hayley didn’t qualify in some way.
Mom, would you please send my birth certificate? I’ll send it right back to you.
This important piece of paper has been in my safe for her entire life, and I felt a bit nervous letting go of it. Yes, my 32 yo daughter, who has been in recovery from heroin addiction for ~ 18 months, should probably have this personal legal document in her possession – – – and keep track of it. But her track record regarding these kinds of things, is abysmal. (Come to think of it, I also have my two adult sons’ birth certificates in my safe. Is this just something that mothers do?)
However, I sent it – certified mail, so it could be tracked. My confidence in the US Postal Service is sketchy, at best. And due to increased national security and immigration politics/issues, the process for replacing an original birth certificate these days is a herculean task that requires a lot of time, documentation, and persistence. There was a deadline pending for Hayley to choose a specific health care plan and get all the application paperwork in – and nothing could be processed without the birth certificate.
I did a somewhat restrained/succinct version of encouraging her to carefully research the coverage and details of the insurance plans – and was proud of myself for not offering to do it for her! I figured that since she called to ‘chat’ about the pending health insurance, she was looking for my input, right?
After a week to ten days had passed, and she still hadn’t received the birth certificate, I settled in to a funk. I bounced between anger and panic – mad at the inept/bureaucratic government and postal service, at Hayley for not allowing enough time for snafus, and anxious that this delay would result in Hayley not being able to get the health insurance she so desperately needs. To top it off, I had misplaced the certified mail receipt, so had no way of tracking the envelope. Now, I was also mad at myself.
A couple of days ago, Hayley called to say:
The good news is, I finally received the envelope with my birth certificate. Thanks, Mom. And the bad news is, (I held my breath!!!!!) I guess my place of employment isn’t offering health insurance. After I turned in all my paper work, they announced that there weren’t enough employees interested in participating (?) at our small facility – but that maybe I could apply for a job at one of the other, larger treatment houses in the complex where they do offer health insurance.
In the discussion that followed, there were glimpses of Hayley’s all too familiar indignant and entitled attitudes from years past: They can’t do that! I listened and tried to be as encouraging and supportive as I could. But, I also couldn’t help myself from giving her a dose of reality:
Make a case for yourself, Hayley. Ask for what you want/deserve – in writing. Remind them what a valuable employee you are and what skills you bring to their treatment center and program. And do a little research about California State Law and what small businesses are required to provide to their employees.
I don’t have time for all of that, Mom, she whined.
And I responded with:
Join the club, Honey – and real life. Most working people have a myriad of responsibilities they need to tend to on their days/time off. It’s hard, I know. But your health is at stake and it looks like it will take some homework to follow up on this. And be careful how you approach your employer. Document all your requests, comments, and questions. If you threaten them in any way, that they aren’t following the law regarding health insurance for employees, they could decide to terminate you based on some subjective ‘poor job performance’ evaluation. And the reality is, there are probably 20 other young women standing in line to take your job.
She didn’t like hearing this. She truly has no idea how much time and follow-up it takes to check billing statements, call and talk to health insurance companies about benefits, monitor and track all the details of life that crop up on a daily business.
I know I probably said too much in our phone conversation. The boundary between being a parent/ adviser and supporting recovery is fuzzy – for me, at least. I try to ration the amount and frequency of some basic ‘independent adult living’ knowledge that I dispense, which I don’t think Hayley ever acquired. You know what they say – that a drug addict’s emotional/social/cognitive development is essentially arrested back to when they started using and abusing substances. For Hayley, I figure that is 10 to 15 years ago. Plus, her brain chemistry has been changed – maybe forever – and who knows in what ways?
I’m trying to not be so afraid to speak the truth to Hayley – fearing that it could trigger a relapse. She’s had a history of being overwhelmed by life – and then numbing herself in order to cope – or push aside – or not deal with things. I want to nurture some confidence in herself – that she can handle these ups and downs, challenges, surprises of life; that it takes some work and follow-through to make things happen; and that it’s ok to feel frustrated and/or not know exactly what to do.
The truth is, I’m struggling with recovery, too – maybe even as much as Hayley. My drug of choice is worry – obsession with things over which I really have no control. I come by it honestly. My 94 year old mother is still actively ‘using’ worry to frame every conversation and choice she makes. Worry is at the center of who and how she defines herself. Is that what kind of life I want? Allowing obsessive worrying to rob me of the joy of today – and all the things I have to be grateful for?
I heard at an Al-Anon meeting last night that “Worry” is, in reality, a prayer to make something you don’t want, happen. Huh? After thinking about this for a long time, I got it. If I constantly worry about what could happen or the ‘worst-case scenario’, I am expending so much energy and thought towards that negative outcome, who knows – could I unintentionally tip the balance in that direction? My younger son, Brian, is convinced that what we send out in to the universe – our positive and negative thoughts, have power and a determining effect on what actually happens.
And so, right now – and for as long as I can, just today, I am sending out strength – and hope – and love to whomever needs it and will let themselves feel it – along with all the other sh*t floating around. We’re all in this together.
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I haven’t posted now in almost two months. I’m not sure why I’ve been procrastinating. It seems I let almost any thing distract me from sitting down and putting words to ‘paper’. And now, it’s like a black cloud hovering over me. I seem to have hit some kind of wall. The longer I wait to write, the more I think about it and the harder it is to actually do it.
Yes, it’s true. I don’t feel as compelled to write as when I started this blog over two years ago. Then, we had cut off contact with our heroin addict daughter, Hayley, who was spiraling deeper and deeper in to the underworld of addiction and an escalating risky lifestyle. I was desperate – and felt hopeless. I used this blog as a forum to vent and share the emotional devastation that comes with a child’s addiction, learn more about opioid drugs and share information, give to and receive support from other parents in the same dubious ‘club’ that no one asked to be a member of, and essentially, record Hayley’s eventual demise.
Today, Hayley has been ‘clean’ and sober for ~ 18 months. I still consider it a miracle. I still hold my breath. I am in recovery myself from her addiction and have a long ways to go until I can ‘let go’ of certain triggers and the need to control outcomes . Al-Anon and meditation help. I’ve come to realize that I will be in recovery for the rest of my life.
Hayley is sober, working full time at her treatment center, and trying to make a new life for herself at age 32 – but, there is still plenty to write about. I’m constantly learning more about addiction, neuroscience and brain chemistry breakthroughs, reading books about compulsive/obsessive behavior, articles debating the “addiction-is-a-disease” issue, and important principles of long-lasting recovery. I read several blogs written by recovering addicts/alcoholics (guineveregetssober is a favorite), searching, I guess, for the ‘secret’ to life long sobriety. I’m sure these are all symptoms of my ingrained fear and continued need to ‘fix’ Hayley for good. I know.
This ongoing struggle to lovingly detach from my daughter’s life choices – yet support her recovery, is a challenge. She works full time in the treatment center community, but only earns $11.00/hr – not exactly a sustainable living wage, especially in southern California where the cost of living is high. She has no health/dental insurance, yet has ongoing health issues that need to be monitored as well as lots of restorative dental work to be done. Thus far, my 94 yo mother and I have been taking care of her dental bills, a couple hundred dollars a month. There is a prioritized schedule of what needs to be done when, if she wants to ‘save’ her teeth.
I started collecting social security a year ago – and also refinanced my house so that I have lower monthly mortgage payments. So, since last May, I’ve put a few hundred dollars into Hayley’s account every month to ‘help’. I’ve told her that this will not necessarily be a regular occurence – that she shouldn’t count on it. I don’t want her to spend it before she has it. I consider this money to be ‘extra’ in my budget, so it’s not really impacting my lifestyle. And if I want to ‘help’ another one of my children (as happened this month), then that ‘extra’ money will be diverted to their account. So – does this money, going in to Hayley’s account, constitute ‘enabling’? That’s a topic for future conversation. However, I do think there’s a difference between enabling addiction and supporting recovery. I believe I’m supporting Hayley’s recovery.
I have received so much heartfelt empathy and support from readers over the last two years, that I feel a certain obligation to ‘give back’ – and offer Hayley’s story as a pinpoint of hope – encouragement to parents and family members who felt the same way I did 2 years ago – desperate, and sick, and overwhelmed with grief, anger, bewilderment. As I mentioned, I’ve started several posts, but just haven’t gone back to finish them and pull the trigger.
And so, until I get a full-fledged post finished and ‘up’ for you to read, here are a few provocative tidbits from my stash that shouted out at me. Unfortunately, I don’t have a record of where they all came from:
•Drug use and high-risk drinking are self-imposed, but no one consciously decides when they’re young that they want to grow up to be a drug addict.
•Drug use seems, in my opinion, to be the symptom of something – and then becomes the disease.
•Sometimes we enable, and support, and intervene purely because it helps us to feel better – even though, in reality, it most often doesn’t do shit: I pray for those that are sick and suffering and ask that God hold them and give them hope. That is about all that I can do. from Pam’s blog Sobriety is Exhausting. It is a good statement about letting go and how powerless we are over what others do.
“It really doesn’t matter sweet precious normies……do what you are comfortable with. Spend all your money trying to help or spend none of your money. Take their calls or don’t take their calls. Pay for their apartment or give them your home. Disown them or clutch them tight. All your pain is about you….saying this with love. Your fear of (just) wanting them to be healthy and happy and sane. Since none of this is within your power to give them, then do what makes you able to sleep at night, do what makes life bearable for you. Your addict/alcoholic is doing what makes life bearable for them……aren’t we all?” (sorry – don’t know where I got this although I believe it was from an addict’s blog)
I’m hoping this preliminary ‘toe-back-in-the-water’ is the nudge to jump back in again. Thanks, dear readers, for your patience.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 17 so far )
And the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round,
And the painted ponies go up and down.
We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came,
And go round and round and round in the circle game.
This Joanie Mitchell song, “The Circle Game” is a favorite of mine. I’ve listened to it since the early 70s. My daughter, Hayley, sang it for talent shows and various stage performances throughout high school. I wrote a poem about her beautiful, lilting voice and its eventual deafening silence called “Laryngitis”. You see – – – she lost her voice to drug addiction.
I live in a rich agricultural valley known as the “fruit bowl of the nation”. On both sides of my road are apple, pear, peach, and cherry orchards. From spring through fall, something is always in bloom, pollinating, growing, ripening, and/or being picked. Even winter’s hush and muffled silence are noticeable, as the bare trees rest and replenish themselves before warmer days invite them to begin again. The seasons come and go and shape my days. The cycle of life, so relentless and visible around me, continues on – with or without me.
I walk or run with my dog past this rich tapestry of change every day. It never fails to amaze and humble me – and today was no different. I was awestruck at how much the young green apples had grown and changed in color in just 24 hours. And, it occurred to me that this is the third crop of apples since my daughter became a heroin addict.
I quickly flashed back to August 2009, two years ago at this very time – on this same walk and route. Then, I was numb with the recent news that my beautiful, talented, well-educated thirty-year old daughter was injecting heroin in to her veins and living in a crack house. How was this possible? I felt desperate, and nauseous, and guilty. Why hadn’t I seen this coming? What could I have done to prevent such a horrific existence? What should I do? How could I rescue her? She was trapped, right – there against her will? She didn’t want to be a drug addict, did she? I could hardly feel my legs moving.
I started this blog in September of 2009, “helplessly hoping” to connect with other parents of heroin addicts. I needed some place/way to vent my deepest fears and anguish, share information, and get some emotional support – some experience, strength, and hope, in order to function – maybe even to survive this nightmare of my child’s addiction.
Those early posts are so raw and frightening, I have trouble reading them now.
Last year at this time, as I passed those very same apple trees, I felt a little lighter. I wasn’t holding myself so tightly. My breath came a little easier. The sky seemed bluer and the orchard scents slightly sweeter. My daughter was in recovery and had been drug free for a little over two months. The events leading up to May 9th, 2010 had been harrowing and had taken a huge toll on my family, my body, and my psyche. And yet, a year ago August, I allowed myself to feel a tiny shred of hope. I knew it was too soon to skip, and jump, and relax. But there was something to hang on to.
And now, just this morning, I ran past those very same trees. The apples look the same as in years past, but are different, of course. They aren’t the same apples as last year, or the year before. They will never be the same, and never will I. I have seen, and felt, and imagined things I never thought possible in the last two+ years.
Hayley was just home for 4 ½ days. She’s been clean and sober now for 15 months. We spent a long weekend at our summer lake cabin – a nostalgic gathering place for four generations of family members. My 94 year old mother was with us, as well as Hayley’s brother, Jake, and his family. Hayley hadn’t been there for many years. She was relaxed and engaged – and after three days, decided she needed a meeting. And on Sunday morning, she took herself to the closest AA meeting she could find. “You know how when you need a meeting”, she said, after returning home, “and you go and hear exactly what you needed to hear?” Well, yes, I do know about that. That has also been my experience with Al-Anon meetings.
I still hold my breath. I’ll never fully relax and feel confident about Hayley’s sobriety. But running past those orchards today, I felt some acceptance – and a healthier detachment from my daughter’s addiction and recovery.
And the seasons, they go ’round and ’round.
If you are a parent of a heroin addict, feeling helpless and hopeless, visit some of my earlier posts, particularly those leading up to my daughter walking away from the crack house and her desperate, dangerous drug addict lifestyle. As long as your ‘child’ is alive, there is hope:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )