There is no single path take to help someone you love when they are battling addiction. There are many. Before I begin, be advised, that the road is long and the chances of success are slim. It is essential, for your own mental health and for the support of the support system, to prepare yourself for many false starts, many false promises, many failed attempts, and much heartache. If you have put yourself in a space where you can accept failure, you improve your own chances for surviving the process.
I have grit. I have determination. I can push wet spaghetti across the floor and make lemonade out of lemons. All of these skills are in my wheelhouse. Nothing in my life could prepare me for the recovery journey we have been on for the past 16 years.
Someone else’s addiction is not your fault
Sixteen years ago, my daughter took her first drink at her best friend’s house during a sleepover. She was 13 years old. Seemingly harmless fun and definitely added to her “street cred” as she navigated a fairly “normal” upbringing. Normal as far as a child of a very contentious divorce can be. From 13 to 22, Bridgid’s path was a slow downhill roll to destruction. Drinking to smoking pot to abusing pain medication from knee surgery... stealing pain medication from every family member’s medicine cabinet, drinking and smoking pot on the reg... using every possible excuse why things weren’t working out... Things were either “Never her fault” to “Always her fault” and the bi-polar, passive-aggressive mind-fuck games ratcheted up as her addiction got worse.
In 2011, Bridgid’s sophomore year in college ended. It was clear that she was on a really bad path. My business partner and I, under the guise of taking her to lunch in Vermont, brought her to a rehab facility where she spent three hours talking about the possibility of getting her life back in order. Sadly, it took another year before she would actually go.
Be Prepared to Suffer Many Losses
Bridgid exhausted every one of us, physically, emotionally and financially. In May of 2012, she was asked to not return to college and take some time off. It had been three years of college with only about 18 credits to show for. She tried working at four different jobs in two months and was let go from each one. Finally, in July of 2013 she called asking for help.
We brought her to the rehab facility we visited the year before. She spent 30 days fighting the process, but got some well needed rest and exposure to the start of recovery. Just under 30 days in, she was “ready to come home”. Released by the rehab, she stayed sober long enough to have lunch and shop for shoes. Less than one hour from returning home, she was back out on the street using.
Everyone has to find their “bottom”
It took 25 more days before we were willing to make a last attempt to try to help her. Desperate, gut-wrenching days. Unsure if she would be alive from one day to the next. Angry days thinking awful thoughts. Tearful days trying to reconcile with all possible outcomes.
On a Thursday night in September, we went to look for Bridgid. We found her at the dealer’s house and proceeded to give one final ultimatum. Either she would come with us and return to rehab or there would be no more support, no more family to ever return to. Whether it was the first time she realized her family was willing to get killed to save her – the dealer was armed and willing to shoot us – or maybe she was just tired of fighting everyone and everything. We can’t be certain. But the next day, she left with my business partner to return to rehab.
We thought are hardest times were behind us. Yet we were sadly mistaken.
Having hope does not mean having them home
As we approached the end of her second stay in rehab, the fear of her return was paralyzing. There was no way to imaging how she could return home. Insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We were fortunate her counselor in treatment found a sober house in Maine that had a program that seemed to solve our concerns. The owner of the home was in recovery for more than seven years, she had an understanding that addicts needed to learn how to live in the world sober, and she was demanding of compliance – unwavering to the pleas and plights that a parent can easily succumb to.
The sober house was possibly the single best decision we ever made. There was a safe place for my daughter to try to figure out how she was going to live. She hated the rules. She hated the other women living in the house. She hated the owner. She hated the entire experience. She spent her first Christmas away from home at the sober house with a schedule of meetings to attend. It was so hard to have her gone. But she had no place else to go. Even when she cried and begged to come home, the answer was “no”.
Learn to Listen
My daughter’s addiction and recovery seemed all consuming. As she grew in her recovery, her language and feelings expanded. There were so many conversations, almost like a child learning about life again. There were many really hard conversations, even accusations, and a realization that her recovery and her support system was comprised of people who were not me. We didn’t speak the same language.
But when I learned to just be still and listen to her, listen to her friends and others in recovery, I found that understanding it all was not my job. My job was to listen and find a way to be open to her journey. It’s hard to sit quietly and just listen. Listen to someone who has hurt you. Listen to someone who has broken your trust, broken you heart. Yet the most valuable tool you can have in your tool belt is the ability to listen with an open heart.
Know Recovery is a Journey, Not a Destination
Seven years this year my amazing daughter has been sober. I can’t tell you exactly what day or what year I stopped thinking that every time she was upset about something that it was the trigger that was going to send her back out. I don’t remember when our conversations became about things other than recovery. I do remember when it felt like it was time for her to try to come home. March 2019. Five and a half years of living away. Five and a half years of her recovery journey and her new life. She found her groove in Maine. She had a sense of community and responsibility in a way that I never thought she could. Welcoming her back home presented a whole host of other challenges, but those are for another time. She was ready to try and so were we.
Today I can reflect on where we’ve been and where we are and truly appreciate the journey with all its flaws. Living in my seven years ago self, there was fear that it would never be over... until jail or death or some other life-changing permanence. And it’s really never over. There are lingering doubts and unnerving thoughts that remain; remnants of the fear that brutally consumed us. We live our todays in gratitude for what we have, what’s been achieved and knowing that sometimes it only takes one day to make a difference. Breathe. One day at a time...