I am the mother of a daughter with a substance use disorder (SUD). I am also a wife, sister, friend, dog owner, New Orleans Saints fan, a lover of all things chocolate, a blogger, a speaker, a family peer support specialist, and an educator/advocate for family members who are navigating the landscape of AUD and SUD. These other facets of me are important to share because for the first five years of my daughter’s addiction, I lost the ability to identify as anything other than the mother of an addict. I was as lost in my daughter’s disorder as she was. She was obsessed with the drug and the drink and I was obsessed with her.
As my journey into wholeness and healing has developed over these last eight years, I have chosen to write recovery into my story. Part of my recovery story is accepting that I am powerless over my daughter’s disease and that my life, my story, my daughter’s story and our family’s story cannot be managed, manipulated or forced back into its original script. I, like so many others I encounter, had written a script for my family and in no way did it include SUD. In fact, it didn’t include any sickness, heartbreak, disappointment, isolation, shame, or devastation. In my script we all lived happy, carefree, successful lives, filled with joy, laughter, and wonder. No sickness, no failures, no disenchantment. No reality!
Today, SUD is an ever-present theme in our family’s narrative. My beautiful daughter’s heroin use has left an undeniable imprint on our story and in my brain, heart, mind and soul. I can never erase this imprint, but I can reshape it. It can be a part of my story without being my story. Today, I work hard to stay present to the present. It is a comfort to know that I am not alone on this path; that my story is not unique. Rather, it is a story that millions of parents, children, partners and friends of people who suffer from SUD share. Our stories differ in detail but share common themes such as pain, fear, isolation, shame, anger, betrayal, and confusion to name just a few.
My daughter is my only child and I love her deeply. She is writing her story, and I and writing mine. The subplots within my daughter’s story, sobriety, medical management, or active using does not negate my relationship, my love and my status as her mother. These subplots, nor any one, or any disease, can rob me of that. I am her mother and she is my daughter and I love her more than life itself.
However, to love her the way she deserves to be loved has taken a lot of time, effort, and energy on my part. Loving someone with a chronic, progressive, and deadly disease is difficult at best and utterly depleting at worst.
As my only child, my daughter was of utmost importance to me. So, everything about her and related to her was treated with extreme vigilance. My opinion about her life and how she lived it mattered because I felt she was a reflection of me. I raised her as a single parent so, I assumed the responsibility for all the good and the bad. As a result, I justified my behavior of telling her what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it, and why it was important to do it my way. There was nothing in her life or about her that I was indifferent about. Everything mattered! All the time. In essence, I held her hostage to the storyline I was writing, for her, for me, for our family.
What I have learned over these past eight years is that my need for recovery is no less than my daughters. Alcohol and drugs do not make my life unmanageable. Rather, it is the compulsion I feel to control other people, places, or things. My attitudes and behaviors are direct evidence of this. The unmanageability I feel compels me to try and force solutions for others without invitation or consent. This need to control the uncontrollable is “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” To stop it, I have found it necessary to examine my myself, my attitudes, and my actions. To take the focus off the script I am trying to enforce on others and become aware of the edits that are being written in real time; in the present; in reality. The truth is that my daughter chases a needle with the same abandon that I chase her. All that differs between she and I is the object which we chase, not the compulsion or intensity with we chase it.
Addiction causes us to live in the shadowlands of our lives. The shadow it casts is sweeping, dark, depressing and depleting. My catalyst out of this shadowland was my desire to find a cure for my daughter and her SUD. On the journey to find her healing I have found healing and restoration for myself. I will never have enough emotionally, financially, mentally, physically, or spiritually to “cure“ my daughter, because those things do not cure diseases. Nor does love. Accepting that and refusing to believe that if I could just muster up enough of one, a combination of, or all of these things combined, helps me to edit my story and stick to the primary plot, which is this: I love someone who has a chronic, progressive, and deadly disease. I am not her solution, her cure, or her scapegoat. I am simply her mother, a mother who loves her one and only child without measure. Therefore, my role is simple: to spend what time I have with her loving her, not fixing, scolding, shaming, or abandoning her. Love is a price I am willing to pay because while it cannot cure her, it can’t hurt her.