I woke up this morning before the sun came up. I have a terrible cold, which has me hacking and coughing as soon as I lay down, so by the pre-dawn hours I gave up on trying to sleep. The great thing about early (very early) spring, is that I can see the sunrise perfectly from my kitchen. As spring unfolds, the trees fill in, also a beautiful sight, but it blocks the view behind us so I am not able to see it as clearly. I sat at my kitchen table, hot coffee in my hand, watching the sun rise. I felt two things when this happen: 1. Annoyed I wasn’t sleeping. 2. Awe because it was really beautiful. It also reminded me of a time, about a year ago, that I sat at this exact table, at the same time of day, coffee in hand, watching the sun rise. I was awake that day, not due to a cold or illness, but due to stress and anxiety because JoDee was about to be discharged from another program from her latest and worst overdose (March of last year). So much has changed in a year, and yet, so much has not.
A year later, no shocker here, JoDee is still an addict. She has relapsed several times since last March and has completed or walked away from several programs as well. She has lived at home, been kicked out of the home (eh, that might be dramatic…more like I refused to let her come in high), moved out, and had her room moved from upstairs to the basement. The addict part, will never change, she will be an addict forever, but how she handles that relies largely on her. I know that sentence does not seem profound, but it is. It’s absolutely profound because it took me about a year and half for me to realize that I cannot parent the addiction out of JoDee. I cannot fix, control, punish or demand the addict out of JoDee. It is now part of her description. It’s going to be a partner in her life, until she take her last breath which hopefully will be about 71 years from now, give or take.
It is not an easy conclusion to come too. When you hear that your child is an addict your first thought, at least mine was, that this is a joke. She is not nearly as “sick” as she thinks she is. She just needs to stop doing this. I really thought I would send her off to detox, she would go, we would not tell anyone in the family and she would come out and resume life. It is really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that JoDee is a heroin addict. I just couldn’t understand what that really meant. She didn’t look like a junkie or a bum or someone who was stealing or cheating or lying. But no one wants to believe that their loved one does. When any parent is confronted with something there child has done wrong, the knee-jerk reaction is to disbelieve our little cherub could be so wrong. This is no different. The idea of what a heroin addict looks like is defined by what we see on tv, in movies and in the news. Until very recently addiction was truly viewed in a very general way as a character defect that is a pimple on the ass of society. Only until the death toll has begun to rise so quickly, have people finally stopped long enough to pay attention to learn the truth. I didn’t have the opportunity or the luxury to wait for the news anchor to tell me addiction was ruining lives, I had to live it. I had to suffer through the peaks and valleys of addiction first hand to learn the hard lesson.
About 6 months into the learning of JoDee’s addiction I went to my first Al-Anon meeting with a woman named Sandy. Her daughter had approached me at an NA meeting with JoDee to tell me that our story reminded her of her story with her mom and encouraged me to call her. Today I am lucky to call Sandy a friend, and it started long before that first Al-Anon meeting. At that meeting, a woman was speaking. She said many things that night, but the most important thing I heard that night was that her daughter was 11 years clean but that is her daughters business, not hers. I was horrified. I couldn’t imagine JoDee’s clean time or lack thereof, not being my business. At that point, it wasn’t just my business, it was my main focus. Those were the days of begging and pleading and praying and screaming. None of which worked at aiding JoDee in pulling together more than 5 minutes of clean time. But how would I know that? Someone could tell me, or someone could give me literature that I could read. I could listen to speakers, attend meetings, I even had other addicts tell me that I had to let JoDee figure it out, reach her bottom, want what they had, before she would try to stay clean. But I wrote them off. I ignored their words, because I had to work my own process.
In those early months (and year) I spent countless nights at NA meetings with JoDee. My theory was if I drove her, sat with her and brought her home, I knew she wouldn’t use and would hear the message. The expression you can bring the horse to water but you can’t make him not use heroin comes to mind. However, if nothing else came from all that, I learned a lot about addiction. I believe that I may not have been ready to apply the foundations of Al-Anon, when I attended those meetings, but I was able to apply the foundations of NA. Why? Because I heard over and over and over again how the addict has to have the desire to find her/his path to recovery. I was able to recognize that JoDee did not have the desire to be clean. It heightened my anxiety, and scared me beyond comprehension but I think knowledge does that. The serenity pray became something I would recite over and over in my head at night when I couldn’t sleep. I would replay the 12 steps and I would try to imagine JoDee working through them. I am fairly certain that JoDee has completed step 1 so many times, I think she could wallpaper her wall with the work. I have read the basic text more than she has and I still read the Just For Today every morning. Even thought, I am not the addict. And the reason for that, is because I have surrendered to the fact that it is out of my hands. I know that there are a lot of parents, newly inducted into the world of addiction, shaking their head in disgust. I understand. I was where you are a long time ago.
It is such an individual process, no one reaches the conclusion at the same time or in the same way. I am not saying I don’t still try to control JoDee’s addiction, because I would be a bigger liar than a contestant on Big Brother if I did. But now it’s my choice. I am a fighter, I might go down but I will be swinging. That’s just my style. I have read a lot about addiction and I believe that addicts that can maintain some family contact have a better support system thus a better chance at survival, however, I believe everyone has to do what they have to do in active addiction, so sometimes a family has to cut off for perseverance. I have tried dealing with doctors, case managers, social workers, nurses, program managers, sober house managers, insurance companies, and I am an educated, adult woman- and many times I have wanted to run myself over with my own car than deal with any of this. I have no idea how JoDee would have done it, detoxing or high. There are times when I say I can’t do anymore, or I want to do nothing, and I make a choice to do something or not do something. I don’t feel like I have to do something or it’s my fault if she dies. I will always worry that she might die, I worry about that during clean time just as much during active use, but what I don’t think is that it’s my fault. There is no fault. There is no finger to be pointed, or no person or thing to blame. It’s addiction- a disease. A life changing, mind altering, family ruining disease, but a disease none the less. A disease that will be with my daughter for the rest of her life, and a disease I will help her fight, but I finally understand that I can only stand beside her while she fights this battle, I cannot fight it for her. If I could give a message to myself two years ago, it would be its ok to hold her accountable. It’s ok to tell her reciting literature from NA or wearing NA clothes does not make you clean, not doing drugs makes you clean. And I would say it’s not just ok but necessary that you hold her responsible for her own actions and stop taking them so personally.