Al Anon preaches about detachment, meaning to separate ourselves from the adverse effects that another person’s use brings into our lives. I can only assume whoever developed this theory didn’t have a child who shoots up heroin and meth.
If she had cancer, there wouldn’t be an expectation for me to detach from anything. In fact, society would frown on me if I did. Addiction isn’t different. She suffers from a disease, one that has been in my family bloodline for as long as I can remember.
My name is Erika, and I was born addicted to opioids. I’ve lived to see four generations of substance abuse in my family and for the first time at 46 years old, I’m in recovery. I’m learning to live a life that doesn’t revolve around someone else’s addiction, a life I’ve never known.
I’m not ready to share the events that led me to this place of awareness that I, wholeheartedly sober and somewhat sane, need help but the breakdown following this snapshot in time led me to three interactions that gave me the strength I needed to accept it and forge forward.
It was nearing midnight when my husband and I pulled into the Pilot Travel Centers’ parking lot half way between Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minnesota, where we brought our daughter for inpatient treatment and our home in Iowa. We left on our road trip 16 hours prior and our intention was to sleep for a few hours. Both of us were due at work first thing the following morning.
It’s possible the cause was relief because she was now in a place where she was safe and I was momentarily free of the responsibility of keeping her alive, or maybe it was a decompressive crash because of the nightmare we endured fanning out over the course of the previous week, or perhaps it was the entirety of her eight year-long addiction flooding back to me, but I broke down sobbing and sobbed until 4:00 am when we hit the road again.
The emergency room doctor
I knew seeking medical care would be a risk, but I promised my husband when we returned home that I would. Swelling filled the space between my fingers as they lay limp, dangling from my right hand. Bumps and dings transformed into blackened bruises as our travels continued on, especially on my face where the rain gutter shot back and smacked me with full force when I took a hatchet to it.
I knew lying could only make matters worse because if I didn’t come forward about inflicting my own injuries, they’d question me on who did.
“We couldn’t get her into the car. When I called for a deputy to help, I was told to follow the magistrate’s order, put her in the car and take her straight away. No one was coming to help us and it was a matter of life or death,” I rambled with heightened anxiety.
“So, I did what I felt was the only option I had left. I went outside to the front of our house and beat the shit out of my property until our neighbors called the police,” I carried on.
“Did it work?” She inquired.
“Well, she’s there and I’m here so, um, yeah,” I responded.
“Are you facing charges?”
“No,” I replied. “There aren’t any laws against destroying your own property, but even if there were, whatever. I did what I had to do.”
She sent me for x-rays and the nurse iced down my bruises. The longer I waited for the doctor to return, the more convinced I was that she was filing a petition with the court to have me committed. I didn’t blame her. “Stable” wasn’t a word I would have used to describe me either. My actions were off the chart, but they were also from a place of love and desperation, a place I have no control over.
I was certain the next person to walk through the exam room door was going to inform me of my upcoming stay in a locked psych ward, but it was the opposite. The door opened and there was the doctor telling me I was clear to go.
“I’m sorry the system failed your family,” she said before sitting down and settling in. I wasn’t open for a discussion about it, but I couldn’t decline a discussion either. I wasn’t in a position too.
“What you did was admirable,” she said to me. “It was the right thing to do, and I can only hope to be strong enough to do the same if I ever need to.”
Promptly, I began sobbing again.
We pulled out of the Pilot Travel Centers’ parking lot and navigated our way back to the interstate. Once we were on a set path, I dialed the number to our local police department back home in Iowa. I owed the sergeant who responded to our neighbor’s call an apology for my rudeness and inappropriate behavior the previous morning.
Sergeant M. is someone who has always supported our daughter and is there to do whatever he can. During our countless interactions with him throughout her addiction, he has never implied that she’s a criminal even at times when she did, in fact, break the law. He treats her with respect, compassion, and is understanding that she’s ill.
He didn’t deserve me screaming about how much Iowa’s system sucks while chunks of my property were flying all around him.
“I am so sorry for my behavior,” I sniveled.
“Erika, you don’t owe me an apology,” he insisted. “I owe you an apology. I took an oath to serve and protect, and I couldn’t do more for you and your family. For that, I am sorry.”
I disconnected the call and turned my head toward the window so my husband wouldn’t see the tears stream down my face.
The recovery and addiction therapist
The emergency room doctor and Sergeant M. affirmed that my feelings were genuine and not a product of emotional instability, but it was the recovery and addiction therapist who pushed me to take the next step.
“Addiction is an illness and you’re suffering from this illness, too,” he told me. “It doesn’t spare anyone in the family.”
All I heard him say was, “you are sick too” and those words weighed heavy on me for the next several days. On some level, I suppose I’ve had an awareness of this. I’ve lived through 46 years of other people’s addiction. It’s normal for me, but I know it’s not normal. The trauma, the triggers, the PTSD and the fear opioids will kill my daughter, the same as it did my mother. Nothing of what I’ve experienced is normal. My baseline is dysfunctional.
While our daughter is inpatient working on her recovery, our family is taking part in Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s family program. It’s the first time we’ve ever been in treatment together as a family.
We’re learning how to break patterns and set boundaries. We’re working on being a better support for her when she returns home and to empower her on her journey to sobriety. We’re taking accountability for our own roles in her addiction, and we’re figuring out how to function as a family not controlled by drugs.
I’m attending virtual support groups through Unity Recovery three nights a week and weekly individual therapy sessions with the recovery and addiction therapist. I’m processing a lifetime of anger, frustration and fear which has been the most challenging part because 60 days ago, I would have told you that I’m completely unscathed. Those who live with addiction tango with denial the same as those who experience it.
Families of addicts suffer in the shadows, and our experiences are very real. I’ve spent my entire lifetime listening to addicts tell me I can’t possibly understand because I’m sober, but I can and I do.
I don’t know where recovery is going to lead me, but I know this; The goal for families in recovery is progress not perfection because it allows us to look back at each success without focusing on the negative, and it’s those successes that give us the strength to carry on.