This is a guest post by Cathy Taughinbaugh of Treatment Talk.org.
I am a parent of an addict. I would say looking back, that I was naive and in denial about the drug use in my home. The last two years of high school for my daughter were challenging. One day of her senior year, I found what looked like drugs in her back pack. We were divorced, but I showed them to her father who decided to take them to the police station to find out what they were. When we were told the drugs were crystal meth, we were both shocked and frightened. Two nephews of my daughter’s dad had become addicted to crystal meth. One is now serving a long term sentence in a California prison and the other was killed, so as you can imagine he was concerned about this drug use in particular. We came together, sat our daughter down and she told us she didn’t use drugs, but was carrying them for a friend. She said she knew that it was wrong to be doing that for someone else, burst into tears, and yes, we believed her. Looking back I realize how much in denial we really were.
She went away to college in Colorado. We sent her off, and she went away with the best of intentions. Her grades that freshman year were abysmal. She was on probation her first semester, flunked out the second semester and then went to summer school at the local junior college. She managed to get herself back in for the fall of her sophomore year. Things did not improve, and her grades went from bad to worse. She decided to quit school for the next semester and work. Her dad and I needed to let go of the college dream because we finally realized she was wasting our money, and wasting her life. She did find a part time job at a local pet store, but it seemed her hours were getting less and less. For some reason she had trouble getting to work, and finally could not keep her job. By June we were emotionally exhausted. We agreed to one more month’s rent. We sent it, but both of us felt, that this was the last bit of help we could give her. Yet, I still wasn’t clear what the problem was.
The idea of having my 19 year old daughter living on the streets, was terrorizing. I went back in late June to see what I could do and to find out more. In addition, to not having a job or any obvious means of support, to my surprise, she had bought a Rottweiler puppy, named Bella. We decided one day during my visit to take the dog on a walk in the hills on a hot 80+ degree day. She had on a long sleeve t-shirt which surprised me for such a hot day and during the walk, I made several comments about how hot she must be.
Finally, walking behind her, it became clear to me that she was deliberately covering her arms. I began to panic. I went up to her, touched her arm, and said, “You should at least pull your sleeves up.” She sharply pulled her arm away and I knew. I was really numb for quite awhile as we continued down the hill, I didn’t know what to say, and prayed that this was some kind of mistake. Finally, I confronted her in the parking lot. She would not show me her arms, and we both just burst into tears. I began naming off drugs. Of course starting with heroin, but when I mentioned crystal meth, she nodded. I could not believe my daughter who had been a girl scout, and a member of the high school water polo team among other things, was shooting up crystal meth.
I told her I was not going to leave her in Colorado, and she said the only way she would come home was if we brought her dog, Bella. So we did. Luckily, for all of us, she was willing to get into drug treatment. She went to an outdoor wilderness program in Utah for five weeks and then on to Safe Harbor Residential Drug Treatment Center for Women in Costa Mesa for three months. She lived for about six months in a Safe Harbor Sober Living home. Her dad found a loving home for her dog. Bella.
We have been very lucky with our daughter, because she finally did decide to make some good choices. Her recovery has not been perfect, but I have been forever grateful that she did not have the dramatic relapses that so many addicts and parents have had to go through.
After six years, she continues to do well, earning her college degree in southern California in June of 2009, and now works at a job in her field that she enjoys. She has moved on with her life, but what she has learned, in treatment is still close to her heart. She is indeed a changed person, and would not be the person she is today, had addiction not entered her life.
What I have learned is this. Addiction comes into your life for a reason. I was most likely living in a fog until drug addiction entered my life, and it was the wake up call I needed to pay attention, look at my life choices and seek inner peace and serenity. There is no finish line for addiction, not for the addict nor for the addict’s parents. We both continue on, the addict hopefully managing their disease and their parents hoping that their child manages their disease.
The greatest gift I have learned from this whole experience is that addiction does not discriminate as well as the importance of letting go. Addiction can enter any family, regardless of their race, economic situation or upbringing. Letting go does not mean I lose interest in my child or their struggles. Letting go means I love and respect my child, but I let them follow their path and find their own way to recovery if that is their choice. I will offer them resources if I am able, but I will let go of trying to control their disease.
For most of us parents, that is the hardest lesson, that lesson of letting go. We want to fix our children’s problems and make everything better. It breaks our hearts, and goes against what the word “parent” stands for. It is however necessary, not only when our child is an addict, but when any of our children reach adulthood and are ready to spread their wings. We need to let go and let our children fly alone.