I check in with her every day. I need to make sure she is still alive, mostly for my own peace of mind. My daughter is an addict.
I tried to reach her Sunday. She didn’t respond until Monday. She was wheezing and sounded terrible. My heart hurt.
Her lungs are destroyed from smoking heroin. She will probably be on oxygen by the time she is thirty.
She wanted “help,” so I told her I would take her to the hospital or treatment center. That wasn’t the “help” she wanted.
At 2:30 a.m., my phone pinged, signaling a cascade of texts from her begging for cash, “help” so she can get “well.” I told her no again, offered hospital or treatment.
I didn’t sleep. I had a doctor’s appointment at 9 that morning. She kept messaging me, non-stop pings. When that didn’t work, she asked me to take her to a “friend’s” house, so she could get “well.” I told her no again. At 11 a.m., she asked me to pick her up from her “friend’s” house.
I did. I needed to see her.
I pulled up. She and another girl were sitting on the curb. They both looked like hell. I was terrified, my fear masked by an angry face. I know I need to work on that.
I took her “friend” somewhere she needed to go. I took my daughter to the place she was staying. But first, I asked her to talk to a counselor on the phone. I talked to her about going to treatment again. As I listened, watching her began to break me. She was nodding off, her tone slurred and drawn out. It wasn’t the worst I have seen her, but close to it.
When she got off the phone, we talked. She was angry with me for not giving her money. I explained that I would not give her cash.
“It will not be because of me that you overdose or die, or both,” I said.
“Ten fucking dollars isn’t enough to overdose!” she hissed at me, pissed.
“I don’t know how all that crap works, but I will not support active addiction.” I said, my angry face covering the trembling inside. I told her we could go to a store and I would buy her necessities.
She started to cry, said she was sorry. She loves me. She doesn’t want that, it’s just when she is “sick” she hurts so bad, and is so mean.
I know, I told her.
She was thinking of going to treatment again, she said. I explained how I couldn’t do this very much longer. Every time I see her, I told her, my angry face dissolving, it breaks me. I slowly recover and then break again. Over and over.
She overdosed in February. She had to be shot up with Narcan, an opiate antidote. She was the worst her father and I had seen her and it happened shortly after we cut off all contact when she wouldn’t go to treatment or help herself. Many more things have happened between then and now.
She came to us a few weeks ago and asked us not to stop supporting her. She needs our nagging in her ear, she says, needs to hear our voices, and the reminder of what she doesn’t have. We agreed.
But I don’t think I can much longer. She was once a stunning, beautiful girl. Smarter than hell. She is just a shell of herself now, so thin and bony. Her stretch pants hang on her.
I dropped her off and drove away. Once I’d gone a little way, I pulled over because I couldn’t see beyond the tears. I was angry, ruined. I hit the steering wheel, kicked my feet. I just wanted to break something, hurt something. Then the despair.
Drained and empty, the angry mask that covers my pain shattered.
How did this happen. I know I can’t change it, I know I can’t fix it. I know I need to let go and let God. But damn it, she is mine. She is my daughter! She came from me. She is a part of me. She is mine!
Then the despair again. I have failed my child.
This is a disease, I’ve been told. I can’t control it, can’t cure my daughter of this illness, any more than if it were cancer. I can pray and hope. I can choose faith and love.
I will always feel a little broken. Intellectually, I know her disease is “not my fault.” But I’m her mother. I will always partially feel the blame. It does not matter what I read, what anyone tells me. I will always, at least in part, blame myself.
But I will not allow this to destroy me.
Mother’s Day. I woke up feeling hopeful, like it was going to be the best Mother’s Day ever: My daughter had reached out for help.
I had blocked her from reaching me, blocked social media, text, phone. But instead of my daughter, it was a treatment coordinator who contacted me. My daughter had reached out to her for help, wanting to change her life, to get clean and healthy.
As happy as I was to hear this, I was also reluctant to help. But I caved, went and got her. I helped set everything up. She was to leave for treatment the following day.
We spent Saturday night together, washing all her clothes, talking. Her boyfriend’s mom kept blowing up my phone, threatening me, telling me to “put on my big girl panties, because the big girls were going to come out to play.” She was going to “rip off my head and shit down my throat.” All because I refused to let her talk to my daughter. The boyfriend was in jail and, according to his mother, it was my daughter’s fault.
I couldn’t believe a grown woman, a mother, would talk and behave this way. Then I had to remind myself: she is a meth addict. Another addict I am dealing with.
On the way to the airport, my partner called me. He told me to pull over and call him back. It’s an emergency, he said, and didn’t want to tell me while I was driving.
While I drove, trying to find a place to pull over, all the crap and emotions were running through my head. My daughter’s younger brother, my son, hadn’t been well. Although only eleven years old, his blood pressure was all whacked out. I was thinking the worst. Is that why my partner was calling? Had my son passed out? Had his heart quit? I was so close to tears, ready to panic.
I was not at all prepared for what my partner had to tell me.
Our daughter had left her text app open on her dad’s phone (my partner). She and her boyfriend’s mom were making arrangements by text on his phone. When I dropped her off at airport, the plan went, her boyfriend’s mom was going to pick her up.
At first I didn’t have any emotion. I was shocked. I handed the phone to my daughter, but I could still hear his voice through the receiver as he bawled her out. Her dad, the one person she thought she couldn’t lose through her addiction. He told her he was done. He couldn’t believe she played everybody through this. That this was Mother’s Day. How could she do that to her mom? He was cursing up a storm—something he never does.
She showed no emotion through all this, which scared me even more.
We pulled into a rest area. I told her she better start talking. At the next exit I was dropping her off and leaving her there. I was done playing her games.
I called the treatment coordinator, explained the situation to her. She talked to my daughter for over an hour. Again my daughter showed no emotion. Nothing registered, nothing hit home. She screwed over everyone. The coordinator explained to her that her options were running out and, because she did what she did, she lost her opportunity for help with the treatment facility.
While they were talking, I texted the boyfriend’s mom. “You and my daughter really duped me. Free ride stops here. I refuse to feed into either of your addictions. You will now have to drive the extra hour past the airport to get her. Sad that you are a mom and, rather than encouraging my daughter to go to treatment, you gave her a way out to live in hell. Happy Mother’s Day.”
As I drove away, leaving my daughter on the curb with all her stuff, I couldn’t get the picture out of my head. I cried and cried. My partner told me to pull over and calm down. I did.
I was thinking about going back and getting my daughter. Then I saw the worst of it: She left her Facebook and texting app open on my phone, where she and her boyfriend’s mom posted attacks on me. I cried harder, all those old thoughts coming back.
How did this happen? Why are we here? What did I do wrong? Why wasn’t I a good enough mom?
My partner called again. I cried harder.
“Baby, we have done everything. More than what most people would have done. We are broke and sick. We need to heal now. She made her choices. We can’t make her do anything anymore. Baby, come home, we want you, we love you, we will make the day better.” He said what I needed to hear.
As anyone who knows my man knows, these were not words I would normally hear from him. In that moment, he understood how much I needed him.
I cried all the way home. I couldn’t get the image out of my head: her standing there, on the curb, with all her stuff.
What have I done? How could I leave my baby there? What kind of mother am I?!
Still, I kept driving.
I was exhausted when I got home. My son ran to me with a huge hug, wishing me a happy Mother’s Day, and wrapped me in his arms.
Then it hit me: I could have brought her back. But, if I had brought her back, she would have been in a blind rage, hurting her brother the most. I did the right thing. Then it hit me deeper: I don’t have a daughter anymore. The thought splintered my heart. I hid and cried, not wanting my son to see the blinding pain.
As the night wore on, I went back to the phone to see if there were any signs of what had happened to my daughter. From her posts, I learned that her boyfriend’s mom didn’t pick her up until almost six hours later.
Then I saw a text message to me from her boyfriend’s mom. Again she threatened me, telling me I am a piece of shit mom. Asking, who leaves their daughter in the middle of nowhere? Don’t judge her, the texts raged. I need to look in the mirror. Whose fault is it that my daughter is an addict?
I saved all the messages. Something told me I would need them.
Still, I was not afraid of her. She couldn’t hurt me with the words I myself had already asked, repeatedly, in my own head.
The only thing that scared me was the thought of the day I would get the call to identify my daughter’s body, or to pick her body up. My child was lost to me.
I told the treatment coordinator and the staff who tried to help her, “I thank you a thousand times. I am so sorry she royally screwed you over, too.” I promised to pay back that plane ticket, so hopefully it would go to someone who really does want the help. To someone who wants to save their life.
Sadly, I realized, if my daughter had another coordinator or counselor call me again, I wouldn’t even believe them. As she knew the last time, it was the only way to reach me.
As for me, I wasn’t sure if this counted as a relapse. I had to get back to my own recovery, though it would take a little longer. My heart was decimated. The thought alone hurt so badly. I don’t have a daughter. An addict has stolen her from me.
I will get there. My recovery, as a family member affected by her addiction, was working. I will get there again.
Today, I am doing much better. I am still mourning what I can’t have, grieving over the realization that my daughter is completely bound by addiction.
I started reading my 12-step book from the beginning again. While reading, I saw I had missed a few things. I’ve decided to start 12-step meetings for family members of addicts in my own home because there are none available near me.
I read in the 12-step book about a person, like me, who didn’t have a meeting close by but realized that she could start her own and thus, not only help herself, but benefit other parents and families.
A couple of my daughter’s old friends—they grew up together—and a foster child I raised stopped by recently. We cried and talked, cried and talked some more. They were really bothered because I seemed “so broken.” I’d fought for these kids, as I had for my child, when the system and school tried to fail them also.
I brought out my book, and read a few things I had highlighted. They are beginning to understand that they also no longer have a friend/sister but an addict who has replaced her. Some of their anger dissipated with the discussion.
In their company, wrapped in their huge hugs, my son’s spirits were also lifted. Hearing it from his sister’s own friends that his sister’s actions were not his fault, that they were related to her addiction, gave him some relief and understanding. His blood pressure registered as normal last night for the first time in a week. We have to take his blood pressure three times a day since the scary incident in which we learned at the emergency room that the stress in the family had caused an eleven-year-old to manifest high blood pressure.
My daughter’s friends are going to my son’s school today to have lunch with him.
I found beauty in love in the last few weeks. In people and places where I least expected it.
I realized my daughter’s friends need support and recovery, because they also blame themselves, are angry, and hurting. They don’t understand the power of addiction. And my foster daughter needs it very much, as she was taken away from her family because of addiction.
It occurs to me that maybe I can help, that my struggle can benefit others.
My connection to my daughter does not end with the boundaries we set with her addiction. Addiction may take over her brain and body, but it can never completely own her. I know that no matter how rooted addiction is in my daughter, it can never own her heart and love. I know who she really is and I carry that knowing in my heart for her.
I send my love to her in a letter. I tell her that though she is hostage to heroin right now, she will always be my daughter. I will love her from a distance so that she can find her own way through without my well-intentioned interference. I tell her I will always be her mother and that I will love her no differently because she is an addict. But I am going to trust her and the universe now. I am letting go.
Rumpus original art by Mobius Design Studio.
Voices on Addiction is a column devoted to true personal narratives of addiction, curated by Kelly Thompson, and authored by the spectrum of individuals affected by this illness. Through these essays, we hope—in the words of Rebecca Solnit—to break the story by breaking the status quo of addiction: the shame, stigma, and hopelessness, and the lies and myths that surround it. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, adult children, extended family members, spouses, friends, employers or employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors, victims of crimes, and those who’ve committed crimes as addicts, and the personnel who often serve them, nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, prison guards, police officers, policy makers and, of course, addicts themselves: Voices on Addiction will feature your stories. Because the story of addiction impacts us all. It’s time we break it. Submit here.