A text from my daughter popped up on my phone the other day. “I need to talk to you.”
I immediately texted back, “All OK?”
When she called, it turned out she had a question about her new dog and what kind of food to get him. We had a nice conversation about pet care and dog food, just a normal chat like so many we’ve had in the past.
But in the instant before the phone rang, I found my heart racing, palms sweaty, wondering if this was it — the moment she tells me she’s lost her job, broken up with her boyfriend, wrecked her car, gotten arrested. The moment I talk to her and realize something isn’t quite right. The moment I find out she’s relapsed again.
For most parents, once their children have finished school, landed jobs and made their way into adulthood, the anxieties of parenting fade a bit, taking a backseat in our daily lives. Sure, we still worry, but it’s not like that heart-stopping fear of letting a toddler climb the jungle gym for the first time or watching your teenager drive off in your car with their brand-new driver’s license.
But when your adult child is a recovering addict, that sense of dread stays front and center — and I’m not sure it ever really goes away.
I entered my daughter’s life when she was 6 years old. As my now ex-husband’s child from a previous relationship, she hadn’t had a lot of stability, between a dad who worked too many hours and a biological mother fighting her own substance abuse issues. I became her anchor, her security, and when she was 10, I adopted her and became her mom.
I thought it would be easy, but of course it wasn’t. I’m very much a Type A personality, and my efforts to control and micromanage her blew up in my face repeatedly, even more so when she hit her mid-teens and discovered alcohol, then drugs.
She turned 18 just as my marriage was falling apart, and her anger and resentment only intensified. We went months without speaking, and when she did call, it was because she wanted something, usually money. I would lie awake at night, my stomach in knots, agonizing over the thought that she might be hurt, she might be sick. She might be dead.
When she wrecked her car after a night out and it was impounded, she called again. This time, instead of giving in to her demands for money, I offered to send her to rehab. I think we were both surprised when she said yes.
I found a treatment center and bought her a plane ticket, sending her across the country to what I hoped would be a new beginning. And for a while, it was. She thrived in treatment, worked on her recovery, went to all the meetings, said and did all the right things. She stayed sober for almost a year, then moved into an apartment with some girls who were also in recovery. She seemed OK — better than OK. I exhaled.
Then came that 6 a.m. call, the one that never means anything good. The call where she told me she’d relapsed almost the minute she left the facility, and that she had gone off the deep end this time. My baby, my little girl, had graduated from alcohol and moved on to much harder drugs.
I’d be lying if I said late-night texts or phone calls didn’t still make me fly up out of my bed to find out what happened, what’s wrong.
She checked herself back into treatment. Detox and recovery were more difficult this time. When I talked to her, she didn’t sound like herself, and I wondered if her beautiful mind had been destroyed forever. My sleepless nights came back in full force. I paced the house during the early morning hours. I cried. I prayed to all the gods I did and didn’t believe in. I felt like I was in a constant state of adrenaline-infused panic that was impossible to shake. I felt angry and helpless, but more than anything, I felt scared.
The statistics on recovery are disheartening. About 40-60% of addicts will relapse at least once, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For some, treatment becomes a revolving door that decimates the user, their family and everyone’s bank accounts. It’s expensive. Many insurance plans don’t cover it. Waiting lists for treatment can last for years, yet many addicts don’t have years, or even months. Our family was lucky because my ex and I both had jobs with decent insurance, and we were even luckier in that the Affordable Care Act kept our daughter on our insurance until age 26.
We were lucky to have insurance, but we were also lucky because my daughter really wanted to get well this time. She picked herself up, worked harder in the program, sought more intensive therapy and listened to her sponsor. She became immersed in a different kind of life, with a strong community of other recovery group members, daily meetings and a mindset that keeps her recovery in the forefront at all times. She recently celebrated three years of sobriety, and I couldn’t be prouder.
As for me, I’ve had to figure out how to let go. Through much reading, introspection and help from groups like Al-Anon, I’ve learned to love her without trying to control her, to let her be in charge of her own life and find her way. I have faith in her. I know how strong she is, and I know how committed she is to staying sober.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have sleepless nights, wondering if she’s really as OK as she seems, if she’s telling me the truth about her life. I’d be lying if I said late-night texts or phone calls didn’t still make me fly up out of my bed to find out what happened, what’s wrong. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still afraid, every single day, of losing her.
I don’t know if I will ever fully recover from my daughter’s addiction. I don’t know if I will ever relax my heart and mind enough to not put out a prayer to the universe every night for her continued sobriety. I don’t know if I will ever be able to stop holding my breath, waiting for that proverbial other shoe to drop.
But I continue to try, and as the AA mantra goes, it always takes one day at a time. Every day that she’s in recovery is another step forward in her journey, another moment when I can slowly, bit by bit, let go of the fear. Because today, she is sober. And today is really the only thing any of us have.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.