Predisposed

When I was nine years old both of my parents remarried. The summer before fifth grade my brother, my mom, myself and my stepdad all moved to Virginia from Colorado.  My brother and I left behind our father with his wife and her two children.  It was a hard move on everyone.

The beginning of fifth grade is the first time I remember consciously lying to my mom. What had happened prior to that is I had started to break rules I didn’t know were rules. Like, leaving the refrigerator door open for too long. Or closing the garage door too hard. Or putting my feet up on the couch. These were all new things brought in with my stepfather. Rules that I didn’t know  were rules until I got in trouble. So, at one point when I was asked if I had done something I generally would just lie because I didn’t know if I had broken a rule or not. This behavior kept me safe from confrontation or getting in to trouble that was lurking behind every step that I made. When I would go to my dad’s house I had to do the same thing. You see, what was absolutely not acceptable at one house was absolutely fine at another house. Or vice versa.  Adjusting to new parents and what made them tick- in addition to completely different lifestyles within each home- it was…difficult, to say the least. I walked on eggshells until I learned if I just lied when I was asked about things I could make my ground a little more solid.

I used to journal A LOT. I found one from fifth grade that had a map of my moms house in it. Every room was labelled and I had written a suicide note right behind the map, along with where they could find my body. That girl who wrote the note-she had started to control me. When nobody was looking I was often crying. I started self-harming in sixth grade (I was pulling chunks of my hair out or burning myself with candle wax) and I didn’t tell anyone. Not a friend or a parent or a teacher. I wasn’t sure if I would get in to trouble and it helped me feel in control. I eventually moved on to cutting and even asphyxiation. Yes, asphyxiation. I would try to strangle myself with plastic bags. I often woke up passed out and covered in sweat-one time vomit.

At some point I started doing things I KNEW were wrong and had become skilled at lying. I broke rules and acted out to feel…something…anything other than the anxiety and depression that had moved in to my heart.  By freshman year of high school I attempted to kill myself the first time (which has been discussed in a previous post).  By the end of my sophomore year of high school I went to my first mental hospital.

Sixteen years old and in a psych ward. And for the first time in YEARS I felt like I belonged. There were other girls there just like me. So, naturally, I assumed that was exactly where I belonged-locked up with other crazy people. When I was released only one of my friends knew where I had been. I didn’t dare tell anyone else. I was so confused and ashamed and I had already been bullied at that high school…can you imagine what kids would say??   Kara-if you’re reading this-thank you!  Thank you for NEVER judging me-to this day-and keeping such a big secret.  One of many, ha!  You have been one of my best friends in this life and people like you are so rare.  Your friendship saved my life! Arnie loves you.

Although I was put on antidepressants after the hospital (and numerous times the last twenty years), my thinking didn’t change. I still felt alone and scared and anxious.

Around my junior year is when I started drinking or smoking pot somewhat consistently. I had found that I didn’t feel like I wanted to die when I was drunk or high. Drugs and alcohol saved my life. No doubt. They kept me from killing myself.

The thing is, my brother grew up in the same exact environment. He didn’t become a liar. He didn’t cope with things by getting high. He certainly didn’t want to kill himself. This, I believe, is the predisposition.  Because I have the most incredible family and I didn’t go through much more than any other child of divorce.  So, why am I like this?

I don’t think like other people!  We addicts have a processing problem that gets solved by drinking or using. The problem is that the drugs cease to work and eventually we end up with the same terrible thoughts (but amplified by about a thousand) along with the obsession that eventually the drugs will work again.

At this point in my life I have been locked in a psychiatric ward twice. The last one being only eighteen months ago. WARNING: If you have any inclination that you’re an addict/alcoholic or have depression DO NOT TAKE BIRTH CONTROL without extensive research and consultation. The possibility of a full mental breakdown is greatly increased.

My parents didn’t make me like this. My thoughts did. I do believe that many events triggered my addiction-losing Brett being the main one. But, nothing made me like this. I don’t think so. I think I was born a bit more sensitive than most. I think I am painfully aware of everything around me and have had to find a way to live life without letting the negativity drown me.

Even writing these posts my brain is yelling at me. It says,”STOP! They’re all going to see you now!”  And the other part of me wants to go deeper and tell you everything. Down to the details of how those hospitals smell and all the stories of the people I met. I want to take you into the corners of every dark part of my life and put light on to them. But I am scared. As an addict my whole life has been a secret, in one form or another.

So, you if you have an addict in your life, please, I beg you, try to understand that they have a monster living in their head. It tells them they’re worthless and stupid and a failure. It tells them to be ashamed of all their thoughts and the monster never goes to sleep. He is awake even when we’re not-doing pushups in our brain-gearing up.  The meanest things I’ve ever been called are the ones that come from the beast inside my head.  And I used go to any length to kill him.

 

addicts humansAshley is thinking about writing of having a predisposition to addiction.  This is something I have thought quite a bit about over the years.  I think like many parents of addicts I spent many nights and days consumed with wondering if I could have prevented any of this.  I questioned my parenting, decisions I made, and what signs did I miss.  It is not unusual for a parent to begin blaming themselves for a child’s addiction.

My first thoughts were going back to when I remarried and moved my children to Virginia from Colorado.  Their dad was in Colorado and at the time was having his own struggles.  While I knew the move away from friends who had become family, their dad, and the life we had created there, I had never expected it to be as difficult as it was.  I will just say it was a very rough ride.  Through those years I wondered if I had made the right decision and if the difficulty of those years contributed in any way to her addiction. Ashley acted out in ways I had never seen before and did things I could not believe, some of which I found out much later.

Ash will write more about how she feels she has a predisposition to addiction and it has taken me some time to come to understand it.  My time at Family Week at the Betty Ford Clinic (now  Hazelden Betty Ford) was where my education really began. Before that, I was experiencing a lot of guilt, shame, and felt lost. My son and I were there about three weeks into Ashley’s first stint at rehab.  The message was that we did not cause this and we could not control it.  We had to learn the difference between enabling and disabling.  Out of that whole week, there is one moment I remember the best.  I wish I had written the exact exchange down but I was so stunned and shocked by what had happened, I don’t think I remembered it that well at the time.  But I do know the main gist of it.

A little background is necessary.  When Ashley was in the ICU after the fire, it was a few days before we knew she would live.  We were never asked if she should be taken off any of the life support she was on.  After months in the hospital and rehabilitation, there were so many issues with which we had to deal.  There was not only the pain management and physical rehab, there was the loss of Brett.

I had moved to Charlottesville for over a year to help Ash get back on her feet, literally.  There was one night in particular when she had been out with friends and had too much to drink on top of her medication.  She was still in a wheelchair at this point.  During the evening there had been a very unpleasant encounter with a guy she had known in Northern Virginia which set her off.  I was woken by her friend, who had brought her home, and rushed outside to find her splayed on the ground crying and screaming to let her go…she wanted to be with Brett.  It was awful.  I never would have thought to see my child in so much pain and to this day, it is so distressing to remember the horror and pain in her screams and on her face.  Somehow we got her into the apartment, her friends left, and she ranted and screamed throughout the apartment for three hours starting at around 1:00AM.  I followed her around as she threw things, including herself,   on the floor. Repeatedly.  This was especially scary because she still could barely walk and I cannot even find the words to describe the vision of her throwing herself down, or into a wall, and the attempts to get back on her feet.   All she wanted was to be with Brett.  Finally, I told her she had to stop or I would have to call 911.  After all that time and all that pain just spilling out of her, she stopped, looked at me, and said, “Can we do wound care now?”

Fast forward to being in a one on one meeting with our addict at Betty Ford.  There was a small group of us sitting in a circle comprised of family member and addict.  Each of us was to sit in the middle of the circle facing our addict and express our feelings.  No one outside the circle was to talk.  Ashley proceeded to tell me how angry she was with me for allowing her to live.  She was so angry that I felt as though she hated me.  Why didn’t I allow them to let her die?  My daughter did not want to be here.

This was not the daughter I knew.  Ashley had rarely ever raised her voice to me.  The night before she, her brother, and I had been out to dinner and had a fun evening.  I never expected to see and hear the things she was saying.  Absolutely shocked.  I was sobbing.  I heard someone in the group say, “Poor Kathy.”

All I remember after that is my crying, telling Ashley how much I loved her and that letting her go had never even come up as an option.  I was so sick.  When everyone left the room, the counselor asked me to stay.  He knew how difficult (that is actually an understatement) that had been. He also reminded me that every day she was here, there was hope.  I have clung to his statement since that day.

I know I have gone off track here but that’s how it is when trying to write from the heart and just let the thoughts come.

I would encourage any parent of an addict to attend a Family Week if your loved one is in rehab.  This is just one of the events that week that changed my life, led me to taking better care of myself physically and mentally, which made me better able to support Ashley.  Yes, there were times when I enabled.  Yes, there were instances where I made excuses for her because of my ignorance. And yes, I became depressed and at a loss as to where to find answers.

I am learning so much and have a long way to go.  Two nights ago, I attended a talk by Sam Quinones who authored the book, Dreamland, about the beginnings of the opiate epidemic in America.  It was quite interesting how pharmaceutical companies marketed opiate painkillers as nonaddictive and how a Nayarit, a small town in Mexico, developed a system of retailing heroin like a pizza delivery service.

There is a class I am taking about the science of addiction and what happens in the addict’s brains as well as an article in National Geographic on the science of addiction.  These are such a small portion of the materials out there available to us to become more educated and I have read many others.  Memoirs.  Biographies.  Autobiographies.  Studies.  News reports.

This all makes for some interesting discussions with Ash.  She just sent me an article from the LA Times on over the counter painkillers treating painful injuries just as well as opioids.  I am sure there will be those who disagree but the more we discover, the more we educate ourselves, the better we can help our loved ones.

I apologize for going off track.  Hopefully, I have written something that helps someone.

This mom loves her recovering addict.