The Ugly Truth about Despair

Of the many horrendous things I have endured during my daughter’s active addiction, the worst for me was during the time she was on the run in Arizona. I had flown with JoDee out to drop her off at rehab so I knew the area. I debated flying out to look for her, which is totally ridiculous because if someone doesn’t want to be found, they won’t be. I called hospitals, police departments, the center, daily, hourly, minute-ly, to see if anyone had seen her. I tried calling the probation officers of the girls she was running with but no one had seen or heard from them. No one. She was gone, in a city 2000 miles from home, on the street, using drugs.

During this time, Despair was my new shadow. Despair is awful. Ugly. Debilitating. Despair makes the most delicious, decadent food turn to ashes in your mouth. It makes the idea of getting out of bed unbearable and exhausting. It makes a sunny day seem like a burden. It murmurs in your ear that giving up is acceptable, encourages you to ignore the laundry, cooking for your kids, getting up for work. It is heavy and manipulative. Its presence is huge and blackens out the sun, it makes your children’s laughter grate your nerves like fingernails down a chalk board. At some point Despair sat me down, looked at me with contempt and disdain, and told me JoDee couldn’t fight this disease and it was pointless to try. Like a fortune-teller with a crystal ball, it played a scene before my eyes of JoDee’s funeral. The boys in suits, me in a black dress, crying, inconsolable. Her lifeless, cold body, laying in a coffin. This was our future, Despair said, don’t fight it, it will only make it worse. And I believed it. I stopped sleeping, eating, becoming completely void of any feeling at all. I stopped concentrating at work, if I am being honest, I showed up but didn’t function. Some days, I would drive home from work, cook dinner which was frozen pizza if they were lucky, crawled in bed and hoped I would die too. It was easy to see that Despair was my friend. It was trying to stop me from fighting the inevitable. It was trying to protect me from further hurt. I physically pulled the blanket over my head, and figuratively pulled the blanket over my life. There was no talking to friends. There was no confiding in anyone. It wasn’t from embarrassment, it was because Despair convinces you that you aren’t worthy of anything life has to offer. And finding even the smallest piece of joy on any given day was punishable by incapacitating guilt.

This is the point in the story that I learned that Reality has a purpose. I have regarded Reality with scorn but I was wrong. Again. Reality grabbed me by the hair, dragging me to the mirror. Reality forced me to look at myself, weight loss, dark circles under my eyes, hair matted, pale. Reality had its own crystal ball. In the mirror, reflected in my own eyes, I saw our future. I saw JoDee home in her bedroom, school books surrounding her while she did her homework. I saw the boys in the yard playing football, while I pulled weeds around my tomato plants. I saw AC mowing the lawn, while the girls filled water balloons to throw at us when we were least expecting it. But none of this could happen if I just gave up. Reality showed me that as long as I allow Despair to stay in our lives, it would spread like a disease. Reality showed me that Despair is the sibling to Heroin. Heroin takes the addict and Despair takes the family. It’s a disastrous tag team. I was desperately trying to expel the hold Heroin had my daughter, but that was impossible unless I started with myself. Reality also showed me my present life; my boys isolated from each other and me. I saw them wearing dirty clothes, our food pantry empty, the milk expired weeks ago, the dog and cat hair tumbleweeds floating in my hallway the size of softballs. I was a disgrace.

I ran Despair from our house that day. I showered to wash the scent of Despair off of me. I did laundry, cleaned the house, and washed my sheets, grocery shopped. I didn’t want to smell Despair, see Despair, or have any glimmer of Despairs time in my house. I humbly thanked Reality for reminding me that I had a purpose and a plan. Reality helped me regain my focus. A week had gone by since the day I told JoDee a plane ticket or nothing. I had to find faith in her that she would come to her senses. At some point she called again to tell me she had a job interview at a grocery store (lie), that she had met a boy (another dink in a long line of dinks she had dated), and she wasn’t coming home but need my help (no!). I told her I didn’t agree with her choices and I wasn’t giving her any money. Sporadic calls went like this for weeks. It was agonizing. Torture. To say no once is hard, to keep repeating it and repeating it is just cruel. But that’s what addicts do. They wear you down. They know that when you love someone it is hard to watch them suffer. They count on the fact that they will be able to pull your heart-strings to get what they want. The last time we spoke, she was angry, she yelled. She was going to shut me out of her life.

For five agonizing days, I checked my phone religiously. No call. I checked Facebook. No message. No texts, no hang ups. No contact. Of any kind. On day 5 I saw Despair looking through my kitchen window. I saw him standing outside my office at work. I watched him lurking around the backyard, but I ignored it. I looked at baby pictures of JoDee to remind me of better times, when she was riding her tricycle, on my Dad’s boat, with Victoria dressed up as Ketchup and Mustard for Halloween. I refused to back down and let Despair back into my house and my life. I gave it the finger as I walked by in the parking lot at work. My daughter may shut me out, I might lose her to Heroin, but I would not let Despair takes us all down with her. At some point, I may have to sever the finger to save the hand, as it were.

As Thanksgiving approached, I became anxious that we would have to sit down as a family for dinner without even knowing where she was. I fought with AC, I fought with my family. I snapped at people at work. I couldn’t stand the happiness of others. I didn’t want to celebrate any of the holidays. If I had to listen to Michael Bolton sing in one more Christmas car commercial, I was going to be homicidal. I refused to Christmas shop or decorate the house. My high school reunion was coming up. The thought of going to the reunion and hearing how wonderful everyone’s lives were when my child was a homeless, drug-using, disaster was too much. I decided not to go. I canceled dinner plans with friends. I reverted even more into myself than I already had. I stopped speaking. Period. Unless absolutely necessary.

The day before Thanksgiving, I left work late. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to see my kids, AC or his kids. I didn’t even want to see my cat (which, if you know me, that’s serious!). But still fighting Despair, Reality and I drove home in silence. The car was heavy with the emotion. Reality pressing me to stay the course, Despair hanging on my bumper, trying to get my attention. Fear, lurking as always, in the cargo area, staring out the back window as we passed all the houses already decorated for Christmas, when my phone rang. JoDee.

She said very little. The expression less is more fits perfectly. It was what she wasn’t saying that had me curious. I asked how her job interview was (the one I knew didn’t exist). She didn’t say anything. I asked her how the weather was, she sighed. I asked her what she was going to do for Thanksgiving, dead air. I told her that kitty was getting big. No reply. So I stopped speaking too. I waited. Finally, she asked how her brother was (he was passing a kidney stone). I said say the word and you can come home to see for yourself how he is. Without hesitation, with Reality and Fear listening, praying, hoping, she said “Word”.



5 thoughts on “The Ugly Truth about Despair

  1. Tricia Parsons says:

    You have a gift for making us live this terrifying time in your life right along with you. If Despair has a hold on another family, I hope they read this and see how you found the courage to push it out of your family’s life and know they too can move on with the help of Reality. JoDee is very lucky to have a strong mother and so are the boys.


  2. Andrea says:

    I concur. What’s amazing is that I was a witness to you during this time. You may have felt like you fell apart and gave into despair. But I marveled at your strength, and the fact that you even managed to come to work at all- but above all how hard you fought (and continue to fight) for your kid.


  3. Pam Follows says:

    Such a powerful reminder that giving in to despair, while tempting, helps ok one and leads no where. Sharing your lowest moments and your overcoming them will surely help others believe they can do the same.


  4. Betty Volan says:

    thanks Mel – u have an incredible way of writing – i can relate to the unbearable sadness and feeling of helplessness – Nadia tells me she’s ok and i have to believe that or open the door to “Despair” – i thank God every day for her, and for the guy (her guardian angel) who is looking out for her – being so far away is really hard – but she does keep in touch and is starting a new outpatient clinic with the help of her recovering guardian angel – she’s been clean (or so i hope) for weeks on her own under his very watchful eye – i think of JoDee’s visit w/Jim & Di and how much she reminded us of Nadia – i pray for them and you and for all the young people who make that one mistake that they have to live with for the rest of their lives – thanks for baring your soul to help others…


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