The Mental Health of an Addict’s Mother
As a parent of an addict/alcoholic with a dual mental health diagnosis, I watched my daughter suffer from these horrific diseases, off and on for more than fifteen years. It is impossible to ignore the impact that a child’s addiction and mental health has on a parent. Because of this I started therapy myself, and I believe that it saved my life.
Carrie was always a sensitive and thoughtful child, with anxiety and many fears. As the years progressed these became exaggerated and she became less outgoing and internal suffering was apparent but she was not easily reachable. Carrie’s depression began in high school; before drugs became the focus of dependency. At this time I was emotionally unprepared and clearly didn’t seek the proper help; which in turn had a major effect on her care. Carrie masked her disease well; she was an excellent student and athlete. In the summer before her senior year she took overdoses of Advil and called a friend for help. She was hospitalized locally on a lock-down psych floor. Her soccer coach was the psychiatrist on call at the hospital that day and was shocked to see her admission; she always viewed Carrie as a happy and incredibly talented young woman. This is not uncommon, as many people who struggle with mental health challenges learn how to present a beguiling exterior that masks their pain. As I reflect on the past I realized how few coping skills I had. I also didn’t receive the support from Carrie’s therapists, school or medical physicians. Mental health providers for children and adolescents were limited. I was not proactive nor did I have the patience that it took to understand the ramifications and extent of her disease. I was a good parent on many levels yet I was in denial and was remiss which led to failure on behalf of Carrie and me. Through many years of therapy, with very little success, Carrie turned to marijuana and alcohol. She would achieve sobriety for months and often years, but eventually would fall back and willingly would admit herself to a well-known hospital outside of Boston that diagnosed and treated both substance abuse and mental illness.
I attended two years of group family meetings but, again, I am not sure that I really committed myself to the depth of what those meetings really meant. I was attentive physically but I was honestly not mentally absorbing the depth and complexity of these diseases. I was continuously frustrated by the lack of support that I was receiving from the hospital which often lead me to believe that she was doing alright, again I am certain this was denial. These hospital admissions for Carrie extended over a period of eight years. Toward the end of these stays they said Carrie wasn’t a substance abuser, she was diagnosed as clinically depressed with an anxiety disorder. Yet she would be the first to tell you today that she was also a drug addict. Carrie later informed me that she was able to manipulate the system and convince the physicians that her depression/anxiety was the only battle she was fighting. I believe that addicts live in the panic of the unknown. When you are fighting the war on addiction, you live in fear of what life would be like without substances.
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I was disconnected to the importance of these diseases that needed attention that I was unprepared to face and chose not to. I would seek mental health assessments for myself but never found the right fit, and I would quit. I was failing Carrie on many levels, and yet I truly thought, at the time, that I was attentive.
As the years went on and Carrie went off to college she had several years of sobriety at Northeastern University and graduated summa cum laude. Gradually her addiction began to seep into her everyday life, as she entered into the professional world. She continued to see a psychologist and was taking meds for depression/anxiety but was actively using simultaneously. I would often attend sessions with her, which really confused me as to why I would be invited if she was self-medicating. I was constantly questioning myself and assuming that her erratic and impulsive behavior was symptomatic of her mental illness, not her addiction. It became the question of denial or truth? Her mental health and addiction combined was the deterioration of her young developing years. I am not sure if I was naïve or chose to not address the real issue, Carrie needed help and I was failing her. I might also add that I did believe that I was present, so therefore I must be paying attention. I was a trusting person and assumed that I had raised my daughter to be so also. I now realize that her disease was overpowering. Distrust wasn’t the issue it was the demons in her mind that controlled her behavior.
Conflict and turmoil was the norm in our home. My other two daughters found it frustrating and disturbing to witness Carrie’s behavior. Holidays and family time were disrupted, which built resentment. I also believed I failed the family by not taking these difficulties to a different level. I was focusing on the mental health piece rather than the substance abuse. I always knew that Carrie was suffering more than anyone. It was painful for the family to see her anguish, yet with addicts there is a strong element of anger and bitterness from siblings and parents. I certainly didn’t reach the depths of understanding the complexity of these dynamics and impact on the whole family. We definitely should have all been in family therapy.
In March of 2015, she called me from a Las Vegas motel and informed me that she needed to go to rehab. I acted fast, so that she wouldn’t flee the motel. My other two daughters and I arrived in Las Vegas late the next night. We told the front desk clerk the reason for our arrival. As we walked too my daughter’s room, I prayed that God would give me the strength to stay strong. The clerk proceeded to share her experience as a recovering addict. She told us that another employee had been praying with her and brought her food. Carrie had never shared the details of her disease; but these wonderful people understood her desperation.
Upon arrival, her initial response was one of acceptance, but that attitude quickly turned into one of resistance. I knew that she had lost all sense of reason; her addiction had overpowered her thought process. At that point in time I had been in therapy for about three years. By now I was totally invested in changing my life and viewpoint on how to gain patience and coping skills that would improve my life. I had a greater understanding of the disease and what role I could play as a parent of an adult daughter with a co-occurring diagnosis. I contacted my therapist who guided me through our intervention along with the director of a rehab in New Hampshire. I was calm; I had control and was able to make clear decisions in a concise and thoughtful approach. My other daughters were amazing they also followed my guidelines and we brought got Carrie to the airport with a good deal of coaxing with only two choices: you either come with us, or you live in your car with no money. It was hardcore but I knew there was no other option, or it would have been a total loss.
As we approached TSA checkpoint, my daughter began sweating and hanging her head low and my other daughter said, Mom “I think she is going to have a heart attack.” I told her to just keep moving in order not to draw attention to us. Amazingly we made it to the gate. Carrie was going to detox and she knew it so she started drinking heavily. She became irrational, verbally and physically aggressive. I asked the flight attendant to have the captain call the state police upon arrival. The situation was officially out of control. The state troopers boarded the plane and contacted Carrie’s friend her took her to rehab, where she stayed for five months and had two setbacks.
She has the tools to recognize what has caused these setbacks and now has the ability to return to sobriety without feeling like a failure. I have attended recovery meetings and now absorb the knowledge and understanding through them combined with my therapy how little control I have over Carrie’s sobriety but I have a good deal of control over my reaction to the life that Carrie lives. There is no one recipe for sobriety. My daughter states that hitting rock bottom is most abusers’ reality. She knew that, if she didn’t get clean and address her depression/anxiety, she was going to die. During one of our heartfelt conversations while in rehab she said, “This is the first time I have not wanted to be someone else in my life.” Those words had a powerful and emotional impact on me. It was an affirmation that Carrie found peace, but sad to imagine that anyone lived with the lonely desperation of hopelessness and grief, especially your daughter. I knew then that I had to reach into my soul to find the depths of where do I fit into Carrie’s world of sobriety. I found that calmness with time and lots of hard work. I live a life much like that of a recovering addict/alcoholic. I remind myself daily that regardless of what challenges come my way we only have today. I try not to live in fear of the future that I am unable to predict.
The purpose of my story is to believe that HOPE is our only method of survival. As a mother I faced isolation and helplessness, experiencing the same feelings as Carrie did. Addicts live with the haunting need to use daily combined with the battle of mental illness and stigma attached.
After many conversations with Carrie, I finally had an understanding that as her mother I had no control over her decision to become sober. I too must SURRENDER. This was a difficult concept. Our journey was parallel by the mere need to accept her decision.
Addiction is a disease not a choice. The choice is to become sober and however that works, it is individual decision. Carrie has accomplished her sobriety, at the moment. She believes in a higher power through the power of prayer and gratitude.
Our family is fortunate and indebted to Carrie for believing in herself and fighting a dual diagnosis that society views as a weakness of character. I am most proud of Carrie for her courage, bravery and inner strength to fight a battle that tests the depths of your soul and spirit. I am always humbled by her willingness to live a life of transparency and constant ability to forge forward in the midst of adversity. She challenges herself spiritually, mentally and physically by tackling some of the most difficult mountains in the country, running a half marathon. Carrie has found her true spirit and regained her dignity and respect. Through social media she has captured the attention and respect of people she has never met.Through her openness and wisdom she has found her true self. She has embarked on a career of health, nutrition and wellness.
If this story can reach those who have a loved on fighting these diseases, I only hope they to find the journey of promise and faith. Please don’t feel alone, Carrie is living proof that MIRACLES DO HAPPEN.