February 15, 2018.  Five years.  FIVE YEARS.  It’s been five years today since the first arrest and I gained two small children.

I was by no means prepared mentally, emotionally, or physically.  I was anemic and sick, and devastated by the nightmare we were facing as a family.  I was terrified by the possibilities, and five years later, I still am.

The next three years were a blur of court dates, both for my daughter’s ongoing drug charges, and for the legal ramifications of eventually adopting her children.  All the while I believed that the nightmare would be over long before now.  She’s so smart, so sweet, so beautiful, she HAS to straighten out quickly, right??

Well, addiction doesn’t care.  I’ve learned that and I’ve learned a few other things as well.

“I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.”  This quote is so true.  I’ve spent countless nights searching for the answer to what I did wrong.  The answer is everything and nothing, and none of it matters.  I, like moms everywhere, did my best.  It’s been so agonizing that I’m glad I didn’t think it would continue for five years.  I don’t think I could have taken it.

Having an addicted child is a different kind of grief.  It’s the grief of the anticipated and the unknown.  It’s having a panic attack because the phone woke me up, then being unable to go back to sleep.  It’s seeing a blonde girl with a hoodie and a sloppy bun, and for a split second, thinking it’s her, then feeling the crushing realization roll in.  It’s finally getting to see her and hug her, then crying all the way home because I don’t know when or if I will again.  It’s checking my Messenger app to see when she was last active so I know she’s alive.  It’s unanswered texts and calls.  It’s people asking how she is and not knowing what to say.  It’s getting mad at her, then hating myself for getting mad at her because what if something happened to her and I was mad at her at the time?  It’s having the cops show up at my house looking for her and bursting into tears because I think they’re coming to give me bad news about her.  It’s fretting that while I’m warm and comfortable she’s out there somewhere probably cold and hungry and all I want to do is trade her places.  It’s hearing certain songs and bursting into tears.  And the worst part is not knowing when the grief will ever end, or when things will unexpectedly get worse.  This is the new normal.  Any addict’s mom can vouch for this.

With raising her children, a new dimension is added.  It’s a balancing act to make sure they have accurate, yet age-appropriate information about her.  I want them to grow up strong, and not feel abandoned.  I want them to know who she really is, not some caricature of her former self, but the loving, witty, smart sweet person she really is.  At the same time, I’m petrified that someday, maybe tomorrow, maybe in ten years, I will have to deliver horrifying news to them.

I have learned that these are probably the good old days.  I can think of so many times in my life that I have wasted good times longing for former times.  I think I’ve done a lot of that over the last five years, and I’m trying to change that.  Not so much for me, because I’ll never be the same again, but for the sake of the kids, who don’t deserve to grow up in the shadow of my sadness.  These might be sad times for me but I have a responsibility to seek happiness for them.  This is their only childhood. Sometimes now I get through a whole day without crying.

I’ve learned that love won’t make any difference.  It might make me feel better to try to remind her how much I love her, but she already knows.  I can’t love her clean.

All I can do is to do the one thing I don’t want to do.  Let her go.  I am gradually learning.  I hate the word “detach” with a passion.  It flies in the face of everything I am about as a parent.  Detachment sounds aloof and uncaring, when all I want to do is wrap her up in my heart and love her better until she is healed.  Ain’t gonna happen as long as she isn’t ready.  I won’t detach.  So instead I am backing off and letting her contact me.  I have quit sending endless messages about being worried because all it means to her is pressure to witness my pain.  It sends her the opposite way.

I’ve learned that there’s no way to prevent this.  I remember kids that were friends with my kids.  Some of them had no supervision at home, or serious abuse or neglect.  While I was by no means a perfect parent, I tried hard to set an example.  There was no alcohol or drugs in my home, except for a very occasional wine cooler or a beer in the fridge.  I had all the right talks with the kids about addiction.  I tried to be a mom figure to those kids who I felt were at risk, and I was grateful every day that my kids would never go down that road.  I thought our family as somehow inoculated against addiction because I raised kids who were opposed to it.  Well, I have news.  It doesn’t matter what you do, because addiction doesn’t care.

I’ve learned that addiction is for the long haul, and there’s not a damn thing we can do to change that.

I’ve learned that people are ugly and say horrible things about addicts, things they wouldn’t dream of saying about someone with any other disease.  I’ve developed a short fuse in this area, and sometimes I have to remove or unfollow people on my social media feed for the sake of my sanity.  I am too grief-stricken to deal with their ignorance and rudeness in using hateful language to describe, or laughing at, people in addiction.  That’s my baby they are hating on, and frankly, it’s hard not to hate them back.

I’ve learned quite a few techniques to guard my health, which has been compromised greatly by anxiety.  I’ve learned quite a bit about panic attacks and insomnia.  I’ve learned that when my heart starts palpitating, it’s not a heart attack, it’s my anxiety.  I’m still learning how to deal with the constant fear that something will happen to me and her kids will lose their main caregiver AGAIN.

So I’m writing this because it’s been five years today and my heart is more broken than ever, she’s further away from me than ever, and all of my sadness and grief has not helped in any way.  In spite of feeling hopelessly alone, I know that there are many other moms and dads and family members who are dealing with this.  For five years, I’ve been very careful about talking about her addiction on social media.  However, she doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of, and neither do I.  I’m the mother of a beautiful, funny, wonderful person who is suffering from addiction.  I can’t fix it, and I’m stuck here, but I offer my support and love to others in this situation.

You aren’t alone.  You aren’t the only one hurting. Of course you are devastated because that’s your baby and you’re witnessing a terrible ravaging disease.  I’ve spent a lot of time looking through old photos this past week or so, and every picture of her is a stab in my heart.  I find myself looking for clues in her face where it all went wrong.  I have my theories but they aren’t a comfort.

I’m the mother of an addict and I’m not ashamed of her.  I’m sad for her disease, but she does not deserve to be stigmatized.  I’m proud of the times she’s tried to get clean.  I’m proud of her big generous heart, and her love for her kids.  Our kids are dropping like flies from the outcomes of addiction and all I wish for is understanding and healing, not blame and shame.  She doesn’t treat others that way and doesn’t deserve it either.  Don’t try to tell me that addiction isn’t a disease or I may well go off on you, if I have the energy to try to bother to educate you.  Don’t try to blame parenting for addiction; it just showcases your ignorance, and your smug arrogance that it couldn’t possibly happen to you. 

I refuse to be shamed or allow anyone to shame my girl.  I will fight like hell against cuts in services for people in addiction.  I will fight like hell to keep Medicaid and other services that keep people alive.  It increases the odds that she and so many others won’t succumb to the disease.  I will fight like hell to keep people in addiction from criminalized or mistreated.  I will speak out on behalf of efforts like drug courts and rehabilitation.  I will speak out when I see mean-spirited videos of people who are high and out of their heads, and call people out for laughing at them.  It’s damn cruel.  I see the face of my daughter on every addict, every homeless person, every hopeless person.  How could I possibly turn away?

In my community, I know countless people who are in recovery and leading lives that far outshine those who would put them down.  They are my heroes and they know who they are.  They pay forward kindnesses and mentor those who are still struggling.  They have fought the battle and keep fighting daily for a better life for themselves and those around them.  And they don’t forget where they came from, so they don’t judge.  They just help.  Compassion is a beautiful thing and it creates healing miracles.

I won’t change the world today.  To everyone else it’s another day, but to me, today is five years.  I don’t know how long the marathon is going to last, and I try not to think about it because I become weary.  All I know is that for five years, I’ve been busy healing my beautiful grandbabies, who are safe and warm and getting the chance they deserve for happiness.  The trick is to channel my grief into something useful, and that’s my something useful.  My little reminders of her.  It would be great if next year at this time I were writing a whole new post, about healing and redemption, but if not, it won’t be for lack of effort.

Even if I can’t personally fix my daughter’s illness I can at least do those things.  It’s letting go of what won’t help and focusing on what will.  I invite other parents of addicts to reach out to me so we can support each other.  And hopefully as a society we can agree that access to treatment is going to be more effective than disdain and ridicule.  Most addiction is linked along the line to some sort of trauma, so it stands to reason that traumatizing and demeaning someone in addiction isn’t going to make the world a better place.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this, but I guess it’s to commemorate that for this day I’m still here and kicking, and I have two small humans depending on me to do so.  I’ve spent plenty of time in that place where you don’t think you can go on another day.  And I know what it’s like to not be able to talk about it because only other parents of addicts will understand.  To all you other moms out there hurting, I am sending you a big hug.  I’ve made it in one piece for five years now when I didn’t think I could.  I’m a little sadder, and a lot older but I’m still here, and I still dare to hope.  Human beings are remarkably resilient and can heal in time.  No matter who you are, you have people who love you too.  You are needed. 

If your kids are all healthy, be grateful today.  Light a candle, give them an extra hug, whatever makes sense for you to celebrate.  And when you see that homeless person, that person who is hurting, or living in the pain that is drugs, remember that they are someone’s kid too.  Someone out there is probably worried sick about them and doesn’t know where they are because they are too ashamed of themselves to stay in touch.  Please be kind.