My daughter is an addict. I remember when I first put those words in black and white. It was Daily Writing Assignment #16 for English at college. I found that paper just a few months ago and reread what I had written that day. It was written soon after her May phone call telling us that she had a problem and was going to rehab. She had started with pills and then turned to heroin. It all began in high school and continued into college. My daughter who hated needles had met a phlebotomist. I thought how lucky that must have been for her. But then I knew that her addiction allowed her to overcome all fear of needles anyway. Addiction allows people to overcome their fears and indulge in risky and often immoral behaviors.
I remembered the family session that day we went to visit her first rehab with her boyfriend at the time. The educators were addicts also in recovery. There were other parents and spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends there that day. The one that scared me the most was the 75-year-old woman there to support her 43-year-old son. She had been there before, too many times. Her son had been the high school football star who had been a husband and a father. Now he was an addict estranged from his family. This woman’s family was in conflict with her. They wanted nothing to do with this addict, but he was her son.
That day I told my daughter I could not do this again. We all talked about trust. She promised that we would never do it again. She broke up with the boyfriend who continued to drink and smoke weed. Her promise of never returning was not one she could keep to us. She entered a half-way house after rehab and relapsed shortly after. That second time she disappeared for several days. We could not reach her on the cellphone that I continued to pay for. I did not take the advice to shut off that phone, because it was our lifeline to her. I owned the phone and checked the calls on the bills after days of unanswered calls. I texted to the unknown person with the number that appeared most often on the bill.
“Do you know where Cary is?”, I begged to know.
I imagined her dead. I imagined jail. I imagined worse. The unknown is more frightening than knowing the truth. That young man texted back apologizing for giving me the news that Cary had gone to rehab. I was grateful for that news. The imagined alternatives were so much worse. Cary called soon after, explaining that her old boyfriend had said he would call us. We attended another family education session. There were new stories. The mother who was a nurse and found her overdosed son on his bedroom floor shared how she felt at the emergency room. She felt that the staff thought her son was just another addict who was disposable. There was the man about the age of my husband and I who said he was an alcoholic who had been married to another alcoholic. This man called his own story a “once and done.” He had recognized his problem early in his life and attended AA. He never relapsed. When their son began drinking with his friends in high school, he tried to warn him that it might not be as easy to stop for him as it would be for his friends. He had a family history that might rush him down the same path as his parents. His son ignored his warnings, and now here they were in this place. There was the girl who had been adopted and did not know if she had a family history of addiction. She was in recovery and worked at this rehab. Her story began as a very young soccer player hanging out with the older teammates who introduced her to alcohol. She seemed in a good place then and determined. My daughter told me later that she had relapsed.
You are told that relapse is a part of recovery, but I wanted to believe that “once and done” man. I wanted to believe that Cary would be “twice and done”. Cary was clean for much longer after this second visit to rehab. She lived in a recovery house and worked part-time. She had a new boyfriend and moved into an apartment with him. Then we got another call. She was back in rehab where she learned she was pregnant. She was determined this time and focused on motherhood. Her relationship seemed happy. We began to relax as my grandson was born. We visited often and delighted in the growth of our family. She continued to work part-time. She re-enrolled in college, but then her relationship with her boyfriend ended. She finished her semester at college and then moved back home. There were stressors at home, and possibly the biggest one was returning to the town where it had all begun years earlier. She finished her next semester at a new college. She was on the dean’s list and had only one more year to her degree. She got another job that seemed ideal for her schedule and son. There were some signs that things might not be quite right. I asked, but accepted her explanations. You think you will never be fooled again, but I was. Eventually the truth became clear, and we confronted her. She had started using pills again. This time we had a front row seat to withdrawal. She tried treatment in an outpatient program, but eventually entered rehab again. Will this be the last time? I have hope; that really is all you have. Our family is in conflict as was the family of that 75-year-old woman.
When I went to the family education session this last time, I listened not to people’s stories as much as the educator who explained how his viewpoint of addiction had changed. He had been a teacher who became involved in research. As a young man, he did not understand why his friends could not quit drinking or drugs. He had partied with them and easily could separate partying from his life. Some of those friends, though, could not separate; the party was their life. Eventually the party was not fun anymore though. This man still did not understand why they could not just stop and get it together. His view of addiction changed as he studied the brain scans of addicts. He saw differences in the scans of addicts as opposed to non-addicts. He joked that morning with us that if I told you I had high blood pressure, you would give me lovin’ and be concerned for my health. You would urge me to take care of myself, take medication, and change my diet. But if I told you I was an addict, you would turn away from me and avoid me.
What did I share this time in story-telling? I know relapse is part of addiction, but relapse seems so much worse than that first time when you learn the truth. Cary was clean for months that turned into a year and was approaching the two-year mark. We had relaxed and breathed easier thinking she had beaten this thing. Now she and we were forced to start all over again. Starting over is never easy, and I wonder how many new starts I have in me.