She started out life with the look of an angel. Her hair was a honey blond, silken, a sheet of soft radiance that hung from pigtails perched high on her head. Her blue eyes were clear, shining with curiosity and joy. There was never an indication of what would come later, other than a strong-willed temperament and an inability to regulate her sleep patterns.
My mothering style was intense. She was my world for two years solid, while she and I were left alone for long days (and nights) during those field exercises and deployments her father was on. Sometimes we had fun, but sometimes she threw outrageous fits, screaming at me, kicking me, losing her little mind. More than once, I shut myself in my room and let her scream and kick at the closed door, spending all of that unreasonable energy before I tried again to redirect her toward something more pleasant like a book or a puzzle.
There were more good days than bad. We planted flowers in the beds next to the low slung military quad where we lived while I was expecting The Boy. She stayed with a friend while I worked long hours on my feet at a local fast food joint on base. In the evening, I would pick her up and we'd go home and cook together, enjoying a little bit of television before reading four or five books and going to bed.
Even later, when she was in grade school, she was described by a family friend as angelic. He said she was the type of person that you hoped the world never got hold of, that you hoped never fell into the jaws of evil that seem to be waiting for good morsels like her. How did he know? How is it that he somehow saw what might be waiting for her? Her dad and I tried like mad to protect her. Many hours of sleep were lost as I fretted over trying to be the best possible mother, the best possible protector. It didn't work.
It's normal to ask myself, "Where did we go wrong? How did we cause this to happen? Why her?" Al-Anon says that we didn't cause it, we can't control it, and we can't cure it -- but after all, something bad happened on our watch. All of our worrying and caution and overprotectiveness was for naught. She began to act out, steal, consume strange types and quantities of food. We went to doctors, therapists, shrinks, and made absolutely no progress. She clammed up and refused to talk about anything. She stole her brother's allergy pills, ate half of a chocolate cake (with her hands) in the middle of the night, ate packages of dry hot cocoa mix in the bathroom. We confronted her, asked how we could help, offered everything we could offer.
Life began to spiral down. Nothing we did worked. No amount of money, no amount of help did any good. She began cutting, piercing, and even branding herself (we found out much later) to quell the anxiety. My beautiful girl was slowly destroying herself. To this day we don't know exactly when the drug use or alcohol use began. We suspected it when she was twelve -- twelve! And yet it never seemed bad enough to send her to rehab. We didn't really understand what was going on right under our noses. She has always been an excellent liar, and our need to believe her may seem unreasonable in hindsight, but it was our intense love for her that kept us in the land of Denial.
What seemed the worst was the mental illness that was more apparent -- hearing voices, seeing things that weren't there. That's what we treated. She went to the best hospitals and therapists we could find. She hated them all, and she hated us for sending her.
For a time, she seemed to stabilize on a cocktail of medications, but keeping her compliant was nearly impossible. No matter how we begged, pleaded, threatened, cornered, or forced her, she found ways around it all. She embraced her problems and began to act, look, think, and speak as though she had been raised in a completely different family. We didn't recognize our little girl anymore.
There's so much more to tell, but it would take a book. It has all begun to churn up in my psyche again as I study Personality Theories in my grad school class on Thursday nights. We're talking heavily about addiction and denial, which seems to be the main focus of the class. What are the odds? Add to that, I am wrapping up a read of "Beautiful Boy" by David Sheff, a memoir about dealing with his son Nic's addiction. It has been a painful, gut-wrenching read because I have felt what he describes. In my humble opinion, he went way above and beyond what I could have or would have done. I lost track of how many times he bailed his son out and found him a program. He had more money to throw at the problem, though while our Girl was insured and under 18, we did everything we could to get her help.
Sheff lives with the knowledge that at any time his son could relapse, as these kids often do. His son is just two years older than our Girl, and for now, he is in control of his recovery and is vested in it. Our Girl is in deep denial. I couldn't have her here anymore, because I was just giving her a comfortable place in which to use...and I'm not even sure I know her drug of choice. Is it alcohol? That's certainly the one I know about, but there is another aspect to all of this. When she needs an IV during her many trips to the ER, they have trouble getting a vein and usually go for her foot, her neck, or her armpit. That tells me something, boy does it ever. It tells me that I have a lot of denial of my own going on.
Even though our Girl has moved into someone else's home, we keep getting her mail and packages for her. She has a few aliases (or maybe alternate personalities?) that receive mail here. I've told her that those things will go back in the mail system, marked addressee unknown.
She wants her cat back. Last time we had to bail her out, the poor cat required about $500 in vet care to get well. I'm not willing to go through that again. Maybe when I see the Girl taking care of herself for awhile, she can have her cat.
Should I be writing all of this here? Maybe not. If she finds this and reads it, she will be angry. But for so long, we have held it all together, pretending that we're a normal family with a rebellious daughter, pretending that everything's fine - living in denial. For so long, her feelings have taken precedence over ours. For so long, we have protected her at the expense of us.
As I go through this difficult semester, juggling grad school, work, volunteering, writing, blogs, and life in general, I am beginning to recognize the fact that I've overloaded myself this way ever since she started getting "sick." Back then, I was juggling work, family life, running to hospitals for meetings with the therapists and doctors, and my own changing identity. Once I got on the treadmill at high speed, I found it difficult to get off. Perhaps by being busy, I avoided the worst of the pain of what we were going through. A little more denial.
For now, though, I'm enjoying the activities in my life, and I don't want to give any of them up. I like who I am. Her struggles were intertwined with mine for so long that I sometimes didn't know where she stopped and I began, but for the first time, I'm really living my life, not hers. Yes, I hurt. Yes, there is damage. But I'm not throwing money, assistance, and energy toward a problem that is hers to deal with.
Yet I do miss my beautiful girl, so much. Like Sheff says in his book, a parent of an addict can't expect to be happy for very long. But I will take the small bits of happiness where I can get them. Someday, she will hit her "rock bottom" and will seriously get help. Until then, we do what we have to do and get on with the business of living our lives.
Peace - D