At first, I was in denial, and then I was confused, and felt alone in what to do. I was sure she would grow out of this phase. Then, the lies, the sneaking out, the calls from school made it undeniable and the emotional roller coaster ride began. What I knew was that my daughter was in trouble, and I did not know how to help her best or which way to turn. My husband and I were bewildered and conflicted as to what to do. Also, in truth, I believed that her behaviors must be my fault; that I failed her somehow and I tried to make up for whatever she felt she was lacking. This was not true; however, I did not know that at the time. The emotional dynamic is so complex and it took the entire family into a tailspin. My daughter was going astray from her true self and I could not figure out how to save her. It was frustrating and overwhelming. She was spiraling into a full-blown addiction. My husband and I felt like our child was sand sifting through our fingers. How could my daughter, so precious, and so beautiful see herself as so unworthy?
My husband and I came the realization that we were parents of an addict and decided to take action. She rejected any approach we made– good cop/bad cop, tough love, indulging, restricting. We just couldn’t get it right. She knew how to play our emotions and get what she wanted. We were not on the same page as to what to do and it showed in our inconsistency. Where there was once an easy loving interaction, there was now constant fighting. Where were we to turn? We had to overcome our embarrassment about not having control and we started seeking help for parents of an addict.
My daughter, Hillary, began displaying self-destructive behaviors at the tender age of 12. We saw there were changes in her demeanor and behaviors so we had her in-and-out of outpatient counseling for many years, hopeful this would help. She learned to manipulate the counselors and tell them stories that served her desire to rebel. When she was in high school, things spiraled out of control. The more she pushed away – trying to regain her own control, I would impose more control. I did not listen to my gut; I did not hold my ground. I listened to her and allowed her to get what she wanted out of me. She fought me tooth-and-nail, and she knew how to do it best.
I kept thinking she is addicted to belligerence. Was her rebellion my fault? What was she rebelling against? She seemed to have it all. We provided a nice safe home, a loving and supportive family, opportunity for growth. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I did not have control of my child’s behaviors. With prayer, reaching out to professionals who were kind, but firm, I was guided towards a course that worked for us, difficult as it was. It helped to have someone involved who was unattached to the high emotions in the home. All we did was react and we were exhausted. We began to learn real tools and apply them. These kind people encouraged me by telling me to stick with the plan and that tough love will work. I was reminded that we could not let ourselves get lost in the battle and that we were all worthy of a whole and happy life. Through the mechanics of tough love, we could set boundaries for ourselves, our home, for our relationship, and allow her to find her own way. Do not get me wrong, it was hard. At one point, we told her if she did not abide by our rules and standards that she would have to leave the house. Sure, enough, she did not and she was told to get out and figure it out on her own. It nearly broke my heart. I spent my life as a mother protecting my child, making sure she was clothed, fed, and cared for. Now she had to face the consequences of her choices. Nevertheless, it turned out to be the best thing for her at the time.
Setting boundaries in a healthy way included putting her out of the house, which displaced her from the neighborhood and her friends. We had to let her go. Our marriage was falling apart. Our other children were angry and wrapped up in the household turmoil. Our daughter was spiraling into addiction, and we were losing our minds.
We sent her to a residential drug and alcohol rehab, and we kept her there for five months. That time helped us heal as a family. She was safe and beginning a path to a healthy life. They had strict daily routines, direction, and imposed restrictions. Hillary grew up at the beach and the program was in town. She had nowhere to go even if she decided to run away.
It was during her time in gender responsive treatment that her focus improved. The fog of alcohol, drugs, and boys lifted and she gained self-confidence through academics. The old distractions were not there. It was very encouraging to watch her do well in school. The treatment center showed her a new way and we did see improvement. When we thought she was ready to leave the treatment center, and we took her home, she began attending 12 Step meetings right away. She asked us politely, not to drink in front of her for a few weeks, and we had no problem with that.
An AA sponsor came into her life and helped her to stay close to the principles of the program. Going to AA, she watched the other people, and saw how they set their lives up for failure, and how their lives were severely limited. She said she did not want that for herself. Even so, it was a slippery slope for her. It seemed to me at the time, she made friends with all the wrong people in all the wrong places. We had hope, and then it slipped through our fingers again.
However, upon talking to Hillary now, she realizes she lacked the maturity and life experience (at the age of 16) to really believe that she really did not want to go down that path. More than anything, she wanted to have her own crazy story and to live life on the edge. Although we watched her try to calm that burning desire, she was battling all the while and eventually gave in.
So, all that, and it still was not enough. She went back to the same school, and even though she had to make new friends, there were still the same people, same pressures, and she slipped back into her old patterns. She still wanted the same things – to be “cool” and “popular,” to bust-loose, and not be told what to do.
There were some periods of sobriety though. Joining the lacrosse team was a tremendous shift because she stayed clean for her new goal – to win. She wanted to be popular on the team, which meant training, staying positive, fit, and focused.
So this went on for some time, until Hillary dated a young man who enjoyed partying harder than she did. Initially, she was attracted to the fun she thought she was having. She turned her back on her sponsor and walked away. We began to fight again, arguing, and struggling. My husband and I could not live with the chaos and we told her she had to move out of our house. It was awful because I was so scared she would end up sleeping behind a dumpster. I stayed up all night resisting the urge to go out and find her, but I did not go, I could not let myself lose anymore sleep. Again, I had to let go.
She stayed at a friend’s house where the parents were untrustworthy, drank heavily, and were erratic at best. She saw quickly how counter this new “home-life” was and was not interested in staying there much longer. It was during that time that she realized she could not stop at “just one drink,” and she admitted she was alcoholic. Her boyfriend at this time was drinking too much for her and she broke up with him. Again, she tried to stay clear from his scene, but, tempted by the parties and the “fun,” she slipped back. This young man slipped into a coma and passed away from an overdose of drugs very shortly thereafter.
We allowed her to come home, but only if she went to a residential school. We found some massage programs and yoga schools, and that sparked a light in her eye we had not seen in years. We were happy to see her take interest in her own life. Together, we decided on yoga school. We paid her way and she was still a bit of a brat and having trouble staying clean, but there were longer periods in between binges where she was clean. The school was an hour away in another city, so she had fewer temptations from old friends. We praised, we prayed, and we encouraged healing.
With time, she found a new group to which she could belong. The good people at the yoga school suggested she go back to AA. She started seeing a doctor who also suggested the 12 Step program. She made it back!
Upon going back to AA, she met some young people who were also practicing sobriety. The young people’s groups were a safe place to have fun, make friends, and become her natural self again. As she emerged from the darkness and into the light, she was excited about life again, and it was beautiful to watch.
We sought programs that worked, we allowed people to help us, and from there ideas and opportunities began to unfold. Many of our friends admitted they had similar problems with their children and offered ideas, programs, and services. Admittedly, we had to ask for places that offered scholarships or assistance because very few programs are free. It was important to ask. We began to speak publicly with my daughter about what it was like to come out on the other side of addiction.
It has been over three years since Hillary’s last drink. That means something like three or four years of calm after the storm. I am so proud of her now. She went from rock bottom, to providing insight and encouragement to families who found themselves in a hard way. She inspires everyone through her strength and reliance. She taught me to value the AA principles myself.
I admire people who attend AA meetings and participate. They are aware that we are all learning, and we all have things we are not proud of in our history. The meetings focus on the awareness that our Higher Power is always available to us. She learned to embrace this love and to accept that she is worthy of a whole and good life. Now, through it all, when I hear her speak, she is expressing wisdom, strength, and unconditional love.
There is hope for the one you love. Continue to love and listen to your heart. Hillary is the dear one I always knew her to be. She continues to amaze and delight all who meet her, and I could not be more proud.
Overall, I was in denial that my daughter needed help. When I realized I needed help, I had to have the courage to ask for it. Then, there is the willingness for me to recover, to heal, and forgive. Ultimately, we move on with our lives – never turning back. Life is not scary anymore, and I can see her for who she truly is.
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