Having addiction run in your family is one of the hardest thing to shield our children from. Sometimes, we just can’t help our children.
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My daughter Katy was always a challenge – she’d not left the Terrible Twos – and when she got older, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). As much of a challenge as she could be, she was also very pretty, smart, and funny. One of my favorite memories is how she loved to eat so much that she’d eat in her sleep – sometimes she’d fall asleep and wake up and continue chewing. No one came between her and her food.
My very favorite Katy moment was right after she was born, they laid her on me, and she lifted her head and looked right at me. Crazy, right?
I still hold that moment close to my heart – has gotten me through a lot of tough times.
Addiction runs in the family, her father was an addict, and by the time she was five, we divorced. He was a terrible, mean person, but never did anything that kept him from seeing his kids. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t just pack up the kids and leave.
By the seventh grade, Katy had begun doing drugs and skipping school.
We fought a lot and when Katy was 16, she told me that she wanted to go live with her dad. Instead of my usual, “you can go when the judge says so,” I said,
“You can go and you can come back if you change your mind, but if you do this again, you cannot come back to live with me. I can’t keep doing this back and forth.”
And that was exactly what happened, she stayed a few weeks and came home. Her father moved in with Katy’s grandfather, who was dying of cancer, and Katy helped out with him and the problems caused by cancer. She decided to stay with her dad and go to school there.
Her grandpa was on hospice which meant that he had a lot of morphine around. Later, I realized that her dad was taking his father’s morphine and giving it to Katy.
Morphine turned into methamphetamines and our relationship began to crumble.
By then, I’d gotten remarried and my new husband didn’t want her to live with us when she asked to move back in. I enforced my previous statement, telling her that she couldn’t come home.
Shortly thereafter, she moved back in with her dad.
In 2007, she married a nice guy; one who complemented Katy well. She was very manipulative and he was able to deal with it. Unfortunately, after he joined the Army Reserves and was deployed to Egypt, which left Katy alone with my newborn granddaughter, Rae. Her daughter’s birth, of course, was crippled with complications; she developed a uterine infection and a week after discharge, her uterus burst.
After her major surgery, the doctors told Katy that she probably couldn’t have any more kids.
Katy was a fierce mom. She was a good mother – very firm but fair. Rae still has excellent manners and is very well-behaved because of her amazing mother. During her ten day hospital stay, she fought the nurses to make sure she could nurse Rae. Once home, she was in huge amounts of pain. This is when I believe her addiction to opiates began.
With her husband away in Egypt, Katy got involved with an old friend and with her pain pill prescriptions used up, she turned to heroin. Our relationship was still very shaky – when I told her she wasn’t allowed to come to Easter, we didn’t speak for over a year. Even still, she let me see my granddaughter.
Drugs had rotted her teeth and beautiful smile. The poor thing had to have them extracted and get dentures. I was with her and it was gruesome.
For my own mental health, I had to distance myself from her. I couldn’t deal with the drama in her life – especially the drama with her father. He, and I believe Katy as well, had borderline personality disorder. She was a difficult person – always talking, needing help, wanting something, craving love, starved for attention, and it drained my husband and son. I’d try to avoid getting drawn into her drama, but she’d sense me pulling away and she’d draw me back in.
When Mike, her husband returned from Egypt, Mike began using heroin as well and the three of them moved in with my ex-husband.
On and off drugs, Katy was overwhelming.
At 56, her dad died due to multiple overdoses. He’d been a heavy drinker and drug abuser all of his life. As Katy had bought the drugs that killed him, so her half-brothers blamed her for their dad’s death. They became estranged, which broke Katy’s heart as she loved family above all.
Both Katy and my son, Chris were very relieved when their dad died because he was so cruel to them. Katy replied to someone who said that “he was in a better place” by saying that “no, he was in hell.”
In 2017, Katy began the process of getting clean and sober and had moved to a city with a friend to get away from her husband who was still using.
She’d gone to the hospital for something and called me afterward, stating that she’d been diagnosed with lymphoma – a kind of cancer.
I didn’t believe her.
I thought she was faking it and using the lymphoma as a way for us to take her in. We had a huge blowout and she turned around and left my house.
Thanks to the heroin, her husband Mike had a bad heart valve and needed open heart surgery, and, being a caregiver, she moved back in with him.
That summer, she ended up staying with us in our cabin in Pennsylvania and I noticed she was tired. Always so tired. She slept so much and so often that I wondered if she was on drugs.
Concerned, we took her to a hospital in Pittsburgh on Father’s Day 2017 where she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
I remember staring at those three awful words written on a whiteboard in her room. She had been within days of dying. Days.
And I hadn’t believed her.
The hospital started her treatment and we had her transferred to the Cleveland Clinic closer to our house. From then on, I was on auto-pilot.
I was a caretaker too: my mom was bipolar which meant that I had to take care of her when I was a kid.
I was the oldest of four and my parents divorced when I was 15, so becoming her caretaker fell into my lap. She’d made numerous suicide attempts and was in and out of the inpatient psych ward multiple times a year.
My dad had a stroke 12 years ago and was in and out of the hospital and nursing homes for seven months before he died. I went multiple times a week to visit, it was nice to spend time with him.
I was raised to be a caretaker.
I stayed with Katy constantly from the moment she had been admitted until the day she died. There were a few nights that her friends would spend time with her so that I could rest. Otherwise, I slept on a chair that converted to a bed. I showered in the family showers and drank coffee from their family lounge
Katy’s first treatment course lasted five weeks and she was stuck in the hospital for the entirety of it. The staff was awesome. They didn’t even mention the track marks on her arms or asked if she’d done drugs.
And that was the beginning of the end for us all.
Addiction isn’t called a “family disease for nothing.” The family of an addict is just as impacted as the addict.
This is her story of her son’s addiction:
My child has become an addict and loving my child is so very hard. I’m trying to find my happy as I learn to deal with his addiction.
With the overload of health issues around here, along with the common “life stuff,” I willing took a break from blogging after the last attacks from trolls; trolls who don’t know me, know my child, know my life, know my situation, and will never understand my life or my thoughts.
Simply: I took a break because I wasn’t strong enough to keep going,
Three blogs, five days a week, and two little freelance writing gigs with groups have kept me tied to the computer dumping out my odd take on humor, insane fake advice, and occasional a vaguely serious topic.
I have decided I will blog, on my blog, and the trolls will not, cannot affect me. I won’t allow them that kind of power. I have to share this story because as odd or awful as this is, I can’t believe I am the only one. Sometimes knowing you aren’t alone, can make a differences on your life. It has in mine, just like everyone here at Band Back Together.
For a very long time, I’ve been living while waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I call it “living” but it’s really just existing – when I can muster the strength to push the elephant in the room to the back of my mind. This horrible addiction elephant.
When someone you love makes horrible choices, you can still love your addict child, but you also have to make a choice.
I made a choice to love from a distance to allow my son to deal with his addiction on his own time, allow that person to do things at their will, wherever they wanted. The condition was: I would not support that person, their activities: not emotionally and definitely not financially.
Of course that comes with a higher emotional consequence for me, a soul-eating, mind -boggling, hellish existence.
Torn when the phone doesn’t ring, furious, emotional and torn when it does. There is no happy medium, is no mutual enjoyment of life, it’s an inner ring of hell.
It’s odd how the human brain learns to process things so completely outrageous and unacceptable if they happen often enough; the brain removes logic to save the heart. The brain knows if one more little piece of your soul falls to the floor, you will collapse and finally fade away.
Things you never thought you would hear, become expected. Disappointing? Of course. Scary? Almost every time. Seeing red with anger? A lot. Somehow, your brain allows it to roll off your back.
loving an addict through childhood
You can’t fix it, they don’t want to be fixed, no matter how absolutely insane and ludicrous the situation, you cannot even point out how completely illogical the situation is, let alone offer solutions. There are no less than 683 million reasons why all of your ideas are completely stupid.
You learn to focus not on the highs, not on the lows. Not the shocking news, but only that you love that person, your child, who just happens to be an addict.
You make sure whatever you say won’t offend them, or their choices, and you make double damn sure that person knows you love them, you love them deeply, you love them completely, you love them from your soul. You only want the best for them, safety for them, happiness for them.
No one really has the same idea of happiness.
it took me 43 years to realize that.
Another thing I learned; just because it’s ” the normal” thing that you’d make anyone happy, happy and delighted and feeling so very lucky, this can seem like hell on earth to someone with a different view of happy. So who am I to attempt to enforce my idea of happy on anyone? Simply put, I am no one. I am just a daughter, a wife, a sister, a mother, an aunt, a friend.
I am made up as we all our of a unique cocktail of our childhoods, our teachers, our elders, our peers, our life lessons, co-workers, books, and shows we have seen. Just a big casserole of a human being trying to find “happy.” When I achieved happiness, I assumed it would be wonderful – more than wonderful – and that, in turn, everyone else would become happy. Everyone would see how hard work brings happy, how loving each other brings happy, how walking the right road, singing your own song, and smiling would obviously land you in happiness.
The past 20 years, I tried to shove people into the happy, I tried to drag them into happy, push them in, beg them, lure them, slide shows of happy, handmade cards, long emails, song dedications, heartfelt talks, and hugs, I could surely get them to happy. Once they saw happy they would be like “duh, I want to be happy too!”
I was wrong. Their happy was so different than mine so I had to accept they would not be in my happy with me. Maybe they were taking a different route, and we would meet up in happy. Maybe their happy just meant more pit stops, more experiences, different criteria, maybe their happy would never lead to the same location as my happy. What would I do then?
Their happy could be really good for them, so I will work on being happy for their happy.
Little crumbles of your heart fall as your soul tears.
In the end, all you really want is for them to be happy. You convince yourself not to be such as narrow-minded selfish ass who demands everyone’s happiness is within arms reach of your happiness. We are not all alike, and really, what a boring world that would be. Keep telling yourself this as it makes it easier to persevere your heart, mind, and soul. Besides, it makes them happy that you are happy for them. It’s painful but it’s good for them and for the relationship.
Then the call comes, not a happy call, you are prepared because you know when this disease spins ’round, the calls come in two forms and two forms ONLY.
One, the world’s best thing ever, everything is amazing.
The next call, though, could be in a week, a month, a day, or within several minutes: the world is ending, there is no hope, no escape.
There’s not a single thing you can do to make it better. So you listen, try not to cry, remembering to love, offer helpful solutions, offer to make arrangements or calls, you do what you can and it’s usually for nothing. It rarely works out, but you make damn sure they know you love them so much you can’t breathe when they are in pain.
The calls – you see the caller ID – it’s a number from a state that you don’t know, but you do know who is on the other end, you never know the type of call, only that it’s from them. So you take deep breaths and you prepare to play the roulette game of their life. What kind of call you don’t know it could be: an incredibly fantastic words of grandeur.
Or the call can be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, sobbing pleads for help.
You don’t know, because you can’t know but you answer the phone, inviting the roller-coaster of love and hate and pain into your world.
Nothing surprises you now.
As long as it’s their voice on the end, you are prepared, it’s now become common practice. You’ve learned to stop yelling, begging, urging, and learned to focus on conveying the fact that you love the elephant in the room. You love that elephant when your eyes open in the morning, and you love that elephant when your eyes close at night without a tear running down your cheek. No one sees your tear.
No one hears your cry and no one, no one can understand why this elephant is needed, deeply; it has become comforting.
Then as you are in your happiness on the back porch wind blowing you sit with your little family, cross-legged looking at your happiness, eating sandwiches, and thinking how peaceful and loving and happy this all is.
The phone rings.
The addiction elephant steps outside. The elephant sits on your chest, takes your breath, and overcomes you. Sometimes, when that elephant climbs on you, you compartmentalize you soul, your heart, and your brain as this allows you to attempt to speak in a sane, calm, tone, using gentle words, no blame, just love.
The call ends, with mutual ” I love you’s.”
The happiness is now gone for them as they are faced with a very adult matter that can’t be “worked away.”
You don’t remember the rest of the happy picnic: the people in your happiness with you do not have a conversation about it. You move on as you do after every call. But something is wrong, very wrong
You can’t tell anyone, yet you don’t cry, you don’t sob, you don’t fall to the floor, you don’t steal a car to get to the addiction elephant to hold them.
What the hell is wrong with you?
Why are you not responding like a human?
Why aren’t you happy?
Why not like the other times?
You haven’t fallen apart yet.
Will you fall apart?
Will this change your ability to move forward?
You know that If this person comes back, can you handle it?
Can the happy team handle it? What will be the cost of the elephant if you don’t?
What will be the cost of happy if you do?
I know the other shoe will fall, there’s just no way to process this without dying more inside. Maybe I am out of a soul, a heart, tears. Maybe I have been cried out, maybe I am stronger, maybe my brain is trying to protect me.
I am very much not okay, mostly because I feel okay, there is no way that I should feel okay.
Why am I not shaking, sitting in the shower crying, sobbing, and vomiting like I’ve done before when the bad news comes?
I’m not even shaking.
The shoe will drop, I hope, I beg, I have the strength, the knowledge, the wisdom, the compassion, the ability, the life experience, balanced with the brain, the heart and soul, to take this journey.
To share my happy, to understand their happy, to make a new happy, but most of all, to convey they undying, deepest of love and the basic humanity to make their happy the best happy I can.
Please find your happy; let everyone you know how much you love them – no matter what what makes them happy.
We all have letters we can’t send for a zillion different reasons. Maybe the person is no longer around, maybe you can’t actually speak your mind to them, maybe you’re just not ready to admit it.
Band Back Together encourages you to share your letters with us. You never do know how soothing someone else’s words can be. Click here to write your own letter.
Dear Littlest Sister,
I wish, for so many reasons, that we were closer. It seems that all your life I’ve watched you hurting, and I’ve never been able to help you. Either it was out of my hands or you wouldn’t let me close enough to be any good.
I know I’m a disappointment to you, and that there are times you wish we didn’t share a name. I’m sorry. As difficult as our relationship has been, I have always been proud to call you my sister.
When you were five and our parents were divorcing, I should have been more sensitive. I should have seen the Little Sister who needed reassurance. Looking back, I don’t know why I minded it when you followed me around – you were so darn cute!
When you were playing softball, I wish I hadn’t been so wrapped up in my teenage-self. I wish I’d praised you for all your hard work, told you how great you were. Had I praised you, would you have felt shadowed by our middle sister’s spotlight? Would you still have given up sports?
Maybe it would have changed your future to hear how proud I was of you.
When you were experiencing your own teen depression, I wish I hadn’t been thousands of miles away. I’d have held you as you cried. Maybe then you wouldn’t have tried to overdose. If I’d been there to listen, would you have started cutting?
When you enlisted in the military, did I tell you how my heart swelled with pride? When you came back from your basic training and tech school, I was, once again, wrapped up in my own stuff. Did I tell you that I loved you? Did I tell you that I missed you each day you were gone?
And now, when you’re hurting – when your life is spinning – the distance between us is more than the five-hour drive. I want to call you and listen to your tears. I want to tell you that broken hearts hurt worse than childbirth, but that you’ll heal and be stronger.
I want to comfort you and give you the compassion and support that I know you won’t get from our mother or our middle sister.
It’s silly, really. We’re so much alike, you’d think we’d be closer. But, as I look back, I can see all the wedges I drove between us.
And so, I’ll write this letter to you, a letter you’ll never see. I’ll keep you in my thoughts as I wait to hear news of you. And I’ll pray that this isn’t the thing that causes you to hurt yourself again.
You are such a beautiful person.
You give so much of yourself to everyone. You, who never wanted children, are my son’s favorite aunt. He glows when he talks of his time with you and he tells anyone who will listen that he wants to join the military, just like his heroes. Do you know you’re one of his heroes?
Do you know you’re one of mine?
I love you to the depths of my soul. And no matter what, you will always be a part of me.
I am so infinitely proud of you.
Your Big Sister
I always thought that PTSD was something soldiers developed – I was naïve; had no idea anyone could develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After my teenage son began to get into trouble, I assumed we’d become another statistic – a family with an out-of-control teen.
After we started family counseling, my therapist suggested that I try private therapy. About a week into it, I was diagnosed with PTSD. The therapist said were several things that led to PTSD.
PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can occur when something horrible or traumatic has happened in. It causes stress every time you encounter a situation is similar to the previously-experienced traumatic events.
I’ve had a few types of traumatic events. I had a rocky relationship with my father growing up and then his death was both very sudden and very traumatic. An abusive relationship with my ex. I’ve experienced abuse from my son. Lastly, I was bullied by a girl from second grade all the way through high school.
My reactions to everyday situations can be more intense than they need to be – but whenever I am in a stressful or threatening situation, I relive past experiences. It’s hell, reliving the same horrible day over and over.
Once, when I saw my grade school bully in the grocery store, while I was there with my kids and we were checking out. The sound drained out of the store. My heart began to race. Blood pumped in my ears. My face got hot. As soon as I was able, I grabbed my kids and ran for the car. I must’ve driven break-necking speeds home, but I don’t remember getting there.
I had a panic attack after seeing this woman! We live in a small town and the odds of running into her are probably higher than in other areas, but I never see her. When I did, I hit fight or flight mode, and flew! That was six years ago.
Since I began therapy, I’ve seen her again. My daughters were with me, and this time I made sure to make eye contact with her as I turned to my daughters and said, “Girls, let’s go check out. I think we’ve got all we need now!” I turned and went to check out. As we left I felt so proud of myself for facing her, and not fleeing like a chicken facing slaughter!
Thanks to the ways she traumatized me, I always tell my kids, “Don’t take anyone’s crap at school!” Recently my daughter was getting harassed by a staff member at her middle school. I contacted the principal and reported her. This woman has not bothered my daughter since I reported her; threatened to file a sexual harassment suit against the school.
Since starting therapy, I stand up more than I used to. Despite all the reasons my therapist thought that I was traumatized, I think the bully and my father’s sudden death were the two that really affected me.
I was a victim of domestic abuse, but I came to terms with it, and took a stand. I left my then-husband and married the man responsible for making me feel like I was worth more. I call him my White Knight because I was considering suicide when we met – he saved me.
My son and I have resolved many of our issues and are working on our relationship; things are getting better.
I still have issues with my dad’s death.
See, I was blamed for him dying. He died from cancer 14 years ago and afterward, I was told that being around stressed him out – caused his cancer to return after it had been in remission.
Being blamed for his death is a hard thing to overcome. But this year, I was able to make it past his birthday and the anniversary of his death (exactly a month apart) without being a total mess!
To all those out there who have been bullied, abused, or lost a loved one, don’t assume you are strong enough to deal with it on your own.
PTSD snuck up and took over my life. I’d been miserable for years because I didn’t know what I was trying to cope with on my own. I suffered for years without understanding why, until I didn’t want to live any more.
Now, I cannot imagine having missed one day of my kids lives. Good or bad, I want to be there for it all. When they graduate from high school, when they get married, go off to college, when they start their own families. I want to be there, protect them from the problems I had. To tell them, “You’re better than this!” Or smile for them after they avoid bad situations entirely!
Don’t hesitate to get help for PTSD. It really does make a difference.
I never wanted to go to therapy every week, but I am, and I am doing much better. My therapist told me last week that he thinks I am nearly ready to be done. I think that’s a remarkable thing to hear – I am better, I can do it.
My therapist told me recently that I’m a remarkable person for dealing with what I’ve experienced, and still managing to smile. I told him that despite any issues I’ve had, I have great kids and a loving husband.
That’s all I could ask for!
It all started when I was a teenager. Or maybe that was the end. I still don’t know.
Before that, life was good. I had a great mom who took good care of me and my brothers.
Then she married a monster.
He molested me, scared me so much that I couldn’t tell anyone, especially my mom. She went to her grave thinking life was good and fair – and I’m glad for her.
But I paid for her peace of mind. God, I paid.
I lost track of how many times he molested me. There were just so many. Three years of that man forcing me to do things I’d never heard of, threatening to kill my mom if I told anyone he was abusing me.
It took me nearly three years to do just that – tell someone.
Then I married, and acquired an instant family. I thought life was going to be better.
That’s when it started.
At first it was little comments, “That swim suit shows too much,“ or, “You shouldn’t wear that, because your legs are too fat.”
Then, the rapes started.
He knew what I’d been through with my step-dad, yet he was doing the same thing – he raped me. I felt like this was just how men treated women. I was afraid to leave, and afraid to stay.
By then, I had another wonderful daughter. She was, and still is, my best friend in the world.
But he was still raping me.
And, yes, I took it. No one told me I didn’t have to. I am just now figuring out that I deserve better – and I am almost 53 years old. So much wasted time.
He finally found someone else.
I pray for whomever he ends up with, but I can’t turn him in. He is the father of my children. I can’t go through the public humiliation.
Divorce sucks, but it has to be better than my previous life, right? But I’m scared. I’m scared of another man doing this to me.
I will not let that happen. I think I’d rather stay single. I may be broke, but I won’t be controlled by anyone else ever again.
Maybe, in time, I can let more of this out. Right now, this is a huge stretch for me even writing anything about any of this.
How am I supposed to cope with my past, while living in my present?
This, tonight, is why were not married yet, Love.
I tell people it’s because we both want to finish school first and don’t want to risk a long-distance marriage, but that’s not the whole truth.
It’s your temper.
I rarely see it, but when I do, it’s explosive. I can’t handle that after living with my mother.
Every few months or so we get into a disagreement about something and you explode in anger, yelling at me. Usually after your outburst I just sit there in silence, scared that it’s going to escalate like it always did with her. It never does, it’s just an awkward silent time.
After every fight, I apologize first, because I know I’m very opinionated and sometimes I talk over you, which means you feel like I don’t respect your opinion. I’m trying to fix that, prefacing my statements with “in my opinion” or, after you’ve told me your opinion, I’ll say “I see where you’re coming from” to let you know that I do hear and respect your thoughts, even as I keep my own.
Tonight, you hit my cat for scratching you. I warned you that if you started playing with him you’d probably get scratched because he’s still a baby; apparently you ignored me. When he did scratch you, you hit him, and I grabbed him away from you and got onto you. I had warned you about him several times and then you exploded, yelling at me about how the cat should know better. A few moments of silence ensued, we started talking about other things, and as you left, I apologized.
I always apologize.
You. Never. Do.
This is why we’re not married yet: you’ve never learned to swallow your pride and apologize, even when you know you’re wrong.
I hope in the next couple of years you get better at expressing yourself so you don’t get frustrated and yell at me out of nowhere. So you can let me know when you feel slighted before it ends up exploding out. I know you have issues communicating your thoughts and that’s why I still happily wear this ring on my finger. I hope you learn to apologize, not necessarily for your actions, but for what your actions caused.
We’re young; we’ve got some growing up left to do. I know I’m to blame in this, too. But I’m not going to marry you when your temper explodes like that. I lived 19 years with that, and I’m not doing it again. You may think it was just a little hit to teach the cat that was wrong, but you did it in anger; if you hit a cat in anger, who’s to say you won’t hit a child in anger?
This is why we’re not.
I love you.
I can’t wait to walk down the aisle and finally take your name as my own. But I will wait. I can wait as long as it takes for you to realize that this is a problem that we’ve discussed before, and maybe now is the time to figure out some strategies to deal with this.
Because, let me tell you, I will NEVER live in a house where I am afraid of outbursts again. I’ve lived through the bruises from my mother when she exploded in anger. I’ve lived through locking myself in the bathroom as my brother exploded, punching through the wall, and breaking the windows out of his car, and I will NOT do it again.
You’ve never hit me, and you probably never will. But every time your anger explodes out of nowhere like that, I’m taken right back to those days living in fear that the yelling is just the first step. I’m not going back.
I love you. Ninety-nine percent of the time you are the greatest guy I could ever ask for, but this has to stop.