You Can Love Your Child and Hate Their Substance Abuse
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When my husband went into long-term treatment for his addiction, I had to move back home for financial reasons. I can't tell you how awful it was moving home, trying to explain what had happened, without telling anyone why I left New York. I suppose most people would have assumed we were having marital troubles but I felt like I had "My husband is a drug addict" flashing over my head in neon lights.
I was sitting in church one day and noticed in the bulletin it said, "Special Event at Celebrate Recovery, Judy Tomczak speaking, Tuesday at 7pm". I knew about the Celebrate Recovery program and thought I might find someone in my situation there. At the very least, it would be good content for my blog.
From the moment Judy Tomczak started speaking, I knew I was supposed to meet her. She came with a sign that read, "What I can not control will not control me". I bought her book and had the pleasure of meeting with Judy for dessert a few weeks later.
There's something achingly beautiful about speaking to a mother whose child has battled an addiction. From years of practice their patience is honed, grace evidenced and strength radiates from within their very core. Judy was all these things and more. I'm greatly honoured to have her write for my blog. There are links to buy her book below, I highly recommend it whether you're a mother, wife, daughter, etc.
This week is a good one! If you love this, stay tuned because Judy has more posts coming from her mother's heart!
Blonde hair, blue eyes and a wealth of talent. She was my first born; Beautiful, funny, smart and excelled at anything she put her mind to from track and field, dance and figure skating. She had a beautiful voice and sang like an angel. She had the drive and determination of an Olympic athlete. She could have done anything she wanted but ended up doing none of the things she dreamed of because deep inside her lived a little girl who felt unworthy.
I love her more than words can say.
Like a storm, addiction entered our home. It ripped a path of destruction through our hearts and our lives. We rebuilt and it returned over and over again. Sometimes we saw it coming and sometimes we did not. I had seen this storm before in the life of my first husband and the father of my children and it destroyed our marriage. On top of the pile of infidelity, broken trust and promises, lies and abuse lay the love that I once felt for him. When addiction took root in the life of my child it took on a whole new kind of pain. The pile of broken trust and promises and abuse though similar in many ways, the love I felt for her wouldn't die, could never die because she is my child.
I entered into a love/hate relationship with my child. Hating what she was doing to herself and our family but loving the person she was before this all began and knowing that person still existed beneath the veil of addiction. I lived in a perpetual state of grief even in the good times, knowing that a relapse was just one trigger away.
As is often the case, long before there was addiction there were problems. Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety at an early age, she struggled daily with self-control and got in trouble everywhere she went. This I believe, left her with very low self-esteem, often present in many who struggle with substance abuse.
She fought hard to overcome this and in grade eight she turned her life around and was awarded the "Most Improved Student" award. I thought the worst was behind us but I was wrong. Her struggle with addiction began with an eating disorder. Though she was inwardly trying to destroy herself, on the outside she was kind, motivated, driven and trustworthy, very loving and thoughtful. Just as life was beginning to resemble normal for us as a family, she walked across the street, shook hands with a boy and thus began our journey into a different kind of hell.
Before this, she was a daughter I trusted so deeply she had access to my bank card and pin number. She walked across the street and changed almost overnight. There she was introduced to a world she had never before been interested in. Nothing challenged my faith, my well-being and my spirit more than the battle that took over her life. It lasted well over 10 years, a decade of torture. Learning that it wasn't my battle to win or lose has been my greatest challenge yet.
The simple answer is this, I couldn't do it for her. I couldn't make her want to get help. She was trying every drug she was offered and mixing it with alcohol. I tried everything I could think of. I knocked on doors in the middle of the night and hunted her down. Had there been cell phones and Facebook back then I would have stalked her every move as if that would have changed or prevented anything. I tried forcing her into help to no avail. People with addictions are very resourceful and driven by their next fix. Lie, cheat and steal and it doesn't matter who they hurt in the process, the goal is a high at any cost.
We almost lost her three times in a span of a year. She was put on a 72-hour hold twice. Each time we felt relief thinking finally she would get the help she needed but the hospital released her only after a couple hours. I almost got stuck here and many of us do, the system, it let us down many times. A 72-hour hold needs to be 72 hours and it is far too easy to get prescription narcotics but the truth is, my daughter played the system.
Her life became my emotional compass, riding the highs and lows of her life. When she wasn't doing well, I stopped living and became consumed with what I thought I had to do to fix this. It became more than I could bear. In my darkest moment, I cried out to God. I wanted my world to stop. I had, had enough and couldn't do this anymore. I felt God speak to my heart saying, "You can stay here if you want, I know how you feel, but if you do, addiction and everything behind it will get a two for one deal".
In that moment I made a choice. I had no control over whether this would take her life or not but I did have control over whether it took mine.
My focus began to change. I chose to leave my house, make plans and not cancel them. I chose to let people into what was happening in my life. I stopped taking my cell phone to bed. I resisted the urge to defend myself and engage in the angry banter, false accusations and blame. I stopped asking questions if I knew the answers would only fill my thoughts with things I could do nothing about. I found hope and support in the lives of others who were going through the same thing. The stories all so similar though the circumstances vary. Beautiful intact families, broken families, healthy and unhealthy, wealthy and in need, addiction and mental health issues I have learned, appear in all types of families. I let go and began to live the life God had intended for me to live instead of riding the rollercoaster of what was going on in my daughter's life.
I started to recognize, with the help of others, what was in my power and what was not. I began to give to God what I had no power to change and then God changed me. I put my daughter completely in His hands, knowing I could lose her but trusting that He could do what I could not. I loved her before she was even born but He loved her before I even knew she existed.
We are both deeply and profoundly loved by a God whose love knows no bounds. Those are the hands I can trust her and my broken heart in. The choice will always be in her hands but He will place in her path everything and everyone she needs to make the right choice. Putting my happiness and well-being into her hands on top of everything else she finds too much to handle was unfair to her adding to her long list of guilt and regret.
Loving someone with addiction looks very different from loving someone with any other issue. It means letting go and letting them fall and this is hard to watch. It means allowing them to feel the direct hit of their own choices because consequences are the best motivators for change. Very few go for help when they are comfortable. Most go when they have lost everything and they have no other option. Why would anyone of us want to change, if our destructive behaviours cost us nothing? But this as a mother is hard to watch and hard to allow. It goes against our natural instinct to protect and to nurture.
My love for her life had to be more important to me than my own need for her to love me back, in order for me to let go and allow her to fall. Following through with this cost me my relationship with her and she vowed she would hate me forever. When you get in the way of their drug of choice, you become the enemy. Her consequences forced her into the help she always needed. There was no guarantee it would work and we had expected she may take her life. It was a very real possibility but we knew we would lose her either way.
For almost two years she didn't talk to me and this was a daughter that once adored me. Here we are three years later and I now hear from her every day. She's doing the best I've ever seen her and for the longest time yet. In the end, she made the right choice and got help. Whether she stays on the right track is in her hands. Her life depends on it. Our relationship isn't what it once was but someday it may be better than it ever was.
Her life isn't perfect and may never be perfect, but she's a long way from where she once was. I am proud of her. Addiction isn't who she is, it's what she struggles with and we all struggle with something. There is no guarantee in this, but I've decided no matter what to hold on tight to that "Unseen" hand and He will get me through it. I want for her to be okay and pray for her every day but I no longer need for her to be okay in order for me to be okay. My daughter fell into a pit of addiction and I had fallen into a pit of despair but there is no pit so deep where His reach isn't deeper still.
I've learned to embrace every good moment and live in the "what is" and not the "what ifs". I don't know what my future holds but I know who holds my future.
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"
Judy Tomczak is the author of "When the Light at the End of the Tunnel is Another Train". Judy is the youngest daughter of Rev. Lorne Shepherd, founder of the Heart to Heart Family Ministries. Life was relatively calm until her adult years but nothing challenged her faith and well-being more than watching her daughter fight the battle of addiction. Judy has committed herself to being a conversation starter and storyteller to do her small part in lifting the veil of guilt and shame that often surrounds mental illness and addiction. Knowing you are not alone is often the first step in seeking help.