Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Beautiful Girl

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


Sandi McBride said...

I've never had the experience with a child, but my Grandfather (whom I adored) was an alcoholic...I saw what this kind of addiction can do not only to the addict but the family. I hope that if she should see this, she will recognize herself and not think this is some other child unbeknownst to her that you speak of. I hope and pray that she can see what she has allowed herself to become and put as much effort into recovery as she has addiction. I pray for recovery for her. And for you. You don't deserve this, certainly...but then, neither did she.
warm strong hugs to you

TheWritersPorch said...

Sweet D...........
I really am at a loss for words.
I cannot fathom what it must be like to walk in your shoes! As you know my only daughter spent five years in a DV situation, another three years in a horriable court war. I nearly lost my mind. She was under treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from being beaten and raped.I had to take perscription sleep medication to turn off the movie playing in my brain at night. After nearly ten years, it finally ended and I got my life back. My faith helped me survive and kept me from killing those I dreamed about killing.My thoughts and prayers are with you.
This is the hellish side of parenthood.

I hope this doesn't post twice. It just came back not posted.

Daryl said...

(((Doris))) ... I wish there were words to say to make it all right and give your daughter back to you AND to herself ...

Mental P Mama said...

Words fail me. Please know i am thinking of you all. I cannot begin to imagine what hell this must be.

Mary Moore said...

There are no words that can tell you how I feel for you.

One of my best friends went through this a few years ago with her oldest son. It was 6 years of absolute hell. But he made it through and is now doing very well.

What I learned from this is that you cannot blame yourself. My friend has 2 other children who have never had any "issues". This son was always a little different, a little more difficult, etc.

I will keep you in my prayers.

Childlife said...

D... my heart aches with words I can't even write. The loss of potential, whether temporary or permanent is a dreadful thing to have to grieve as a parent.

I so identified you when you said, "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." I do this very well myself.

Know that I'll be praying for the return of your angel girl with all my heart.


Lorna said...

Doris, everyone here has already expressed very well the helplessness they feel, their lack of words at pain so deep, that I cannot add to it except to say that my heart swells up and hurts for you.

You express your thoughts and give details and vivid images so well that the roughness of it comes through to maybe half of the way you have been feeling for so long.

I wish you and your daughter well. I hope that she does fall as far as she can fall and thne decides to get help.

I hope that you continue to find moments or stretches of joy where and when you can.


Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

Oh boy D! You know I do understnad your feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. What could I, should I do differently? We are what we are, and I know you have done your best.There is n more... By asking her to leave you are not enabling her behaviours on your watch, it is so hard...

Perhaps you will be near when she hits rock bottom, if not whomever she turns to at that time.... I hope they are parents themselves who have the sense to do the right thing and help her get help. She may like others I know, ask for the help themselves, she is intelligent to know where that is already...she only has to reach that point, to make the first step towards her recovery.

I think of you everyday... don;t hesitate to email me to chat if you want.

Saz XX

Employee No. 3699 said...

I have an understanding of what you are going through. I see it with my parents and my brother. He's an alcoholic. They sway between telling him to leave and enabling him. It hurts to watch.

You're in my thoughts, please know that.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

You have lived some of my greatest fears. I am glad that part of your healing process is sharing your story. You will be helping so many families.

Akelamalu said...

There is no worse feeling than the one you get when your child hurts themself. I feel for you honey, I've been there, though my son's attempt at self destruction was nowhere near as bad as what your daughter has been through. x

Maggie May said...

I am so very sorry. It is not your fault. It is probably in her genes. It is a matter of luck who inherits what. You have always done your best for her.
I agree with you about the cat. If she looks after herself then she is capable of looking after the cat.
Sending love and hugs to you .
BTW...... the Sunday Roast was brilliant.

Akelamalu said...

PS It's me again! I've tagged you for a meme, I hope you don't mind. x

Cloudia said...

Thanks for your honesty. I hope our concern and respect helps a litle bit. Don;t feel guilty if you manage to be happy! Aloha-

SandyCarlson said...

I remember being an angry young woman. I got through those (long) years with the loving support of folks who were older and wiser and embraced me in a way that let me struggle with myself. It was my struggle. In the end, they were there for me. I learned to respect my elders, to respect their awesome wisdom and respect for me and my life. I hope you daughter has the same experience.

the walking man said...

If there was denial then it is a thing of the past; and if there is one immutable it is that the past can not be modified or changed.

But the future, now the future is not set in concrete so that is where your efforts lie, in bringing about a result in the future. Be it tomorrow,next month or next year.

When is not yours alone to decide only to work towards so that by the time the concrete sets it is the way life should be or at least a reasonable facsimile of it.

As a child I was fed drugs and pills for "whatever" which led me to decades long use with few constraints.

The rationalization was "hey this is what my parents want...to give me drugs, then by taking them I must be making them happy."

Sounds a little twisted right? It is but it is also logical for a child to think in this way. So daughter now is doing as an adult what she was told and coerced into as a child.

Your fault? Hardly, you and the old man were following the best medical advice available at the time. Today the advice with the right doctor would be different, the diagnosis would most likely be more thorough; so start by never again beating yourself up for what professionals thought was the right thing to do.

Only thing is now she thinks like a nine year old in regard to drugs not the mid-twenty year old she is.

From the picture I am guessing 23-25? And sadly it sounds like Heroin to me, better than crank or crack but evil enough for one person.

She seeks no help other than for basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and drugs. I am assuming there is no job or legal way to earn.

It doesn't matter what you do to not enable her addictions because her friends are doing it for you, they have taken over whatever place you had years ago in her ability to find what she wanted.

My question is this,who does she love and is that love returned? Not the cat, she doesn't love the cat or she would have provided for it.

The one she loves is the only one who has the power to give her, her life back. People no matter how hardened will do anything necessary to be loved in return for the love they expend.

Find the one she loves and you will find the key to her recovery. Once that that that person turns the key the years of bullshit will flood out and most likely not before.

But all that said my concern is for you and the old man and the son more than for her. Your happiness can no longer be contingent on her well being. While I realize that you could no more be a mother than a rock could be water, you must realize that rocks do overcome water.

Forgive yourself for the errors you perceive my friend, they are not yours to hold on to, so let them go.

RiverPoet said...

Sandi - I echo those hopes. Addiction is a disease, and what it does to the addict and the families is terrible - but at the same time, we don't have to lie down and let her walk all over us. It's hard to set those boundaries, but it's necessary.

Carol - I can relate to that movie you had playing in your head, and I'm so glad that your situation finally resolved. Indeed, this is the hellish side of parenthood!

Daryl - Just having a place to put this helps. I hope that she is getting the help she needs.

MPM - (((hugs))) I'll be fine. It will just take time.

Mary - You hit the nail on the head. Like your friend, I have another child who doesn't have issues. I'm glad your friend's son got better. Every story like that gives me hope.

M - Yes, no matter what the illness that strikes our child, it hurts us so deeply and affects every aspect of our lives, doesn't it?

RiverPoet said...

Lorna - Yes, with my Girl it's one heartbreak after another. I keep hoping and praying, though, that someday she finds her way out of this mess of addiction.

Saz - I definitely know that you understand this affliction. I'm so grateful to have your friendship, because you understand that mad cycle of enabling/shutting down that we go through. It's painful and maddening.

3699 - So you know exactly what this is like. As a parent, we're wired to want to help and to solve our children's problems. When everything we do makes it worse, we feel lost and alone - and above all, confused. I appreciate your friendship...

NATUI - Thanks, my friend. Sharing it is hard, because I don't want anyone to think I'm feeling sorry for myself. I just feel the need to let others know that they are not alone.

Akela - You said it perfectly here: "There is no worse feeling than the one you get when your child hurts themself." And even worse is to know that you can't do a thing to stop it.

Maggie - Thanks for your kind words all the way around (including about the Roast). You're right in that we've done our best for her. Now it's up to her.

Akela - I'll pop over to your place today...

Cloudia - You're right, I won't feel guilty about being happy. I have some good things in my life, and I plan to enjoy them.

Sandy - I was a bit of a rebellious teen, too, but I wasn't born with the addiction gene (thank God). To watch my Girl go through this is horrible, simply horrible. I hope you're right, though, that she will turn to someone older and wiser who can help her. She won't turn to us for anything but money, shelter, and whatever she can steal.

Peace - D

RiverPoet said...

Mark - The only person I think she loves is the boyfriend who has been in and out of her life since she was 18. The only problem is that for all we know, he's part of the issue here. He wouldn't communicate with us at any rate, because of all the horrible things she has said about us. Even when she was in the hospital with a serious illness, he wouldn't answer or return my calls. So she has closed one more route for us to help her.

I don't know what will happen to her. Yes, she is 25, and yes, I think she has an IV drug problem in addition to alcohol and pills. She has had the cops called on her before for leaving the hospital with an IV line still in her arm. She cried foul on that and told me it was all a lie, but I spoke to the head nurse. She said, "Ma'am, we don't send the cops out unless we're sure. And I can't discuss your daughter's history with you." That told me a lot right there.

Thanks for the thorough comment, my friend. It does help...Peace - D

Leendaluu said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. Your efforts have been extraordinary, in my opinion, and there should be no guilt. Please take care of yourself and your family. And I think you are totally right about the cat....

the mother of this lot said...

What a beautiful post about your beautiful girl. What struck me was there was not a trace of bitterness in your words.

I will pray for you all.

ConverseMomma said...

I have not been through this with my own children, as they are small. But, I have watched my father and brother battle with alcoholism. It took me so long to be able to let there addictions go,and not feel responsible. YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE. But, as a mother, I can only imagine the pain and the heartbreak. Know that there is someone on this end wishing things better for you all.
Love and peace,

Jay said...

D, I so feel for you. *Hugs*

I think the first thing you need to do, purely for yourself, is to accept what you have been told. You didn't cause this. There was probably no way for you to avoid this. You were an ordinary mother with an extraordinary situation to cope with, which you did with extraordinary love and devotion and all the wit and skill you could muster. No-one could do more.

Addiction has scarred my family too. Until the addict has indeed hit rock bottom - and decided for themselves that they wish to be helped - there simply isn't a way to really help them.

Word on the Street - Portland said...

Al-anon is an incredible program, I'm glad you have found that support. I have spent many a night at an al-anon meeting slowly figuring out the past and how to apply healthy behaviors to the future. My father was what they call a dry drunk.

Syd said...

I read Beautiful Boy too. What a sad story, yet it wasn't a story but truth as you have put here. It happens to hundreds, maybe thousands of people every day...they realize that their child is different, not the same as last year, and begin to suspect drugs or alcohol. I think that you are brave to write this. I am sure that it hurt deeply. Thanks for your courage and the love that you have for yourself. A least your life will not be lost by sacrificing it totally for another.

Niki said...

Is is weird that when reading this I realize that I have felt the same thing, however I am no mother, I am only 17, but I have felt this with my younger brother, I feel like a mother to him because our mother left and he also is an addict (with a serious abusive behavior)

SOUL: said...

i came by to say thanks for the hug-- but i see you need a couple too-
so here's a big fat hug from texas for ya.

that stuff is all so very hard to handle-- but it gets done. i guess.

i'm sorry that this is happening to you and yours--

take care

RiverPoet said...

Leendaluu - Yes, she hasn't asked about the cat any more. In fact, we haven't heard from her since she picked up her things.

MOTL - Oh, sometimes I'm very bitter, but that passes. What's left is the confusion, concern, and fear for her.

CM - My dad was an alcoholic, a dry drunk who quit cold turkey when I was a baby but then continued the vicious behaviors. Mom responded to his behavior by popping a lot of Valium. But to watch my child go through this is much worse than watching my parents, somehow. Maybe it's because I knew I'd be leaving my parents at some point. I can't leave my daughter.

Jay - Thank you. I am trying to accept what I've been told, because I need to be at peace about all this.

Portland - Thanks for the encouraging comment about Al-Anon. It's hard to fit all of this into my life, but I need to do it in order to get some peace.

Syd - Wise words indeed! Your comment is very helpful, and you're right. My life doesn't need to go down the drain along with hers. I have offered many ways for her to save herself, but in the end, only she can grab the lifeline.

Niki - I read your blog, and it seems as though you've had a rough young life. I hope you can turn your eventual freedom into something beautiful. Keep writing poetry and believing in yourself.

Soul - Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it's been a trying year, and it's only February!

Peace - D

Busy Bee Suz said...

My heart breaks for you. It seems that you have done everything good for your daughter. Really. Mental illness is not something that we can avoid sometimes. I have NO answers or insight for you. but I am thinking of you. Of her. I hope she can get better. I hope she gets help. take care,

Jo said...

Oh, gosh, I think everyone has said it so well, I don't know what else to say. My heart breaks for you, and for your daughter too. She was born with her illness, and no one is to blame, certainly not you! When she is ready to accept responsibility herself for getting well, she will do whatever she can to get well. In the meantime, you have to take whatever happiness you can get.



nola said...

Wow. Powerful post. So much pain. Having a one-and-a-half year old, all a new parent sees is hope for the positives. But this could be anyone's child, even mine one day. How horrifying. You showed strength posting this and allowing your emotions to dictate and not hers.

Hugs from me too.

Meredith Teagarden (The Things We Carried) said...

I am sitting here, the mother of two girls one twenty five, one three (also four sons). My heart aches for your mother heart. To see your child suffer and not be able to stop it, rescue her from herself, and have to learn to find life differently...wrenching. I can hardly write for my tears for you.

I hope you are in the company of incredible friends who love you and carry some of the pain you must bear.


js0512 said...

I just discovered your blog, and after reading this entry, I felt compelled to comment. But I'm not entirely sure what to say. I know you said that Al Anon tells you it's not your fault. But I want to tell you, as someone who has been in your daughters shoes (though not quite as severe), it is NOT your fault. I know my parents struggled with the same feelings and I feel incredibly guilty for it. There is nothing you could have done or not done to prevent these things from happening. I am glad to hear that you are continuing to do the things you enjoy and live your life. My mom didn't, she even quit her job, and it didn't do her any good. She needed that outside life line instead of allowing me to drag her down and beat her up. I am so sorry that you are going through all of this, and I truly, truly hope she finds her way back to you.

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