Voices on Addiction: Advice

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So a friend’s daughter is using drugs. Do I know anything? What can she do? What I know has taken a long time to learn, and even longer to accept.

There is nothing she can do. There was nothing I could do, although I tried, as she will. It was only when my grandson OD’ed that there was a line beyond which everything had to change. He knew it, and I knew it. But we were lucky; he wanted to stop. He wanted a life, an ordinary life. If my friend is lucky there will be a moment when everything for her son shifts, but there’s no way to force it. Nobody gets better until they want to. Her child, like my grandson, is an adult, but any adult offspring is forever a child, and nothing is worse for a parent than to be helpless.

I don’t want to tell her that sometimes a person doesn’t want to stop. That sometimes a person can’t imagine a good ordinary life. That if you call when you know your daughter is drinking, and leave a message saying please don’t do this to yourself, she calls back screaming abuse. That when she is finally too terrified to live alone, when she can no longer blame her drinking on someone else, when she sees what she does to herself by herself, you ask her to please come home. And she comes, grateful, weeping with relief.

And for a month all goes smoothly; she goes to meetings, sometimes three in a day. She seems well, better than well. She helps in the house; she cooks the best beef stew you’ve ever eaten; you and she laugh your asses off together. And then one day she drinks, and the anger comes and the screaming starts and doesn’t let up for two days. The third morning she disappears before anyone is up; her suitcase is gone, she is gone, and you have no idea where she is or how she got there. She does not answer her phone. Days go by. No word at all. Where is she? The house is quiet now, sane, and you would feel relief if you weren’t frantic with worry. You don’t know if she’s eating, where she is getting food. You don’t know where her money comes from.

Then one night in answer to a text you have asked your son-in-law to send, where are you, we are worried, she sends back a message: 59 3, 59 3. Is that 59th and 3rd? Is she wandering around drunk and vulnerable at 59th and 3rd, being abused by some guy she’s picked up, or sleeping against a building in the cold? Is there a bar on one of those four corners? 59th and 3rd. What should we do? Then another message:777777.  And another: TQTQTTTQ. It’s obvious now that she’s drinking, but you’re still trying to figure out some coded message, where she is, how to save her.

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Rumpus original art by Lizz Ehrenpreis.


Abigail Thomas has four grown children, twelve grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. At the moment, all is well. She is the author of six previous books, including the memoir A Three Dog Life, which was named one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. She teaches writing and lives in Woodstock. More from this author →