Ashley 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.