I’m thrilled to have an article published today in the April issue of Recovery Today Magazine. You can click here to download a free copy of the entire digital version of the magazine, or read the article below.
A Very Fine House
I often tell people ours was the family to which this could never happen. Meth addiction? No way. That couldn’t happen in our family. Meth was something that happened to other people. It was “over there” somewhere.
When my beloved daughter, Annie, became addicted to alcohol, marijuana, and then ultimately lived on the streets of our community as a meth addict, I came to realize that if addiction could happen to her, then it could happen to absolutely anyone. And it of course does.
Annie was bright, beautiful and talented… deemed gifted in fact. While a bit “nutty” and overly emotional, she was a (mostly) good kid. She didn’t party in high school, and unlikely as it may seem, she was nearly eighteen at the time she first experimented with alcohol. I would learn years later what that first drink meant to her.
We’d survived the teen years and the terrible-two’s, yet Annie’s transition to adulthood was rocky. I’d never considered that a possibility! Once she left the framework and security of the home nest, there was one crisis, one meltdown after another. She crashed and burned during the first semester away at college, and we rescued her. Life stabilized for a while, until she ventured out again. Then came another rescue, and the rescue after that, and the rescue after that one.
Like most parents, my husband and I believed that if we helped enough, our daughter would eventually learn how to help herself. Only it didn’t seem to work that way. We repeatedly dusted her off and dried her out, but each new “fix” quickly disintegrated. Over time the stakes increased, until Annie’s very life was on the line.
At age twenty-two, while at a party and high on alcohol, Annie daringly asked for cocaine. Yet the white drug provided wasn’t cocaine… it was meth. And it took her instantly. Within two months my daughter was homeless; within four she’d had her first arrest. She then repeatedly broke into our home and stole from her family. Once involved in a large drug bust in our community, her mug shot made the six o’clock news. My daughter was called a “transient” for all the world to see and hear.
The girl into whom I’d poured a lifetime of mother’s love no longer inhabited the precious body I’d brought into the world. Annie was gone. The rare times when I did see her, I barely recognized the monster-who-used-to-be-my-daughter. The grief was nearly unbearable.
At the time, it never occurred to me that my daughter was suffering as much as I was. I just assumed her life was all about partying … you know, one perpetual high. But when I threw myself into researching addiction, and heard the stories of recovering addicts at a support group I attended, a different picture of addiction emerged. I realized my daughter wasn’t partying. She was in bondage. Annie wasn’t misbehaving… she had a disease. Trouble was, she wouldn’t acknowledge this about herself and accept my help. It’s the nature of the beast.
It had always been hard for me to let my daughter take her falls, so you can imagine my feeling when that first call came from jail. No one in our family tree had ever been in jail.
“Mom, you’ve got to get me out of here!” she screamed at me.
“I don’t need to do anything,” I told her.
“But you don’t want your daughter in jail, do you?
“Of course I don’t want you in jail. But I didn’t put you there.”
I hoped Annie would one day forgive me for this… that is, if we ever made it to “one day.” All my instincts told me that her dad and I needed to make it as hard as possible for her to continue doing what she was doing. I’d learned enough to know that incarceration was by no means a solution for addiction, but jail could nevertheless be an effective time-out, an opportunity to hit the “reset” button. More importantly, it could provide a window of time for intervention.
I also discovered that allowing Annie to experience these kind of natural consequences provided relief for our family. Even though she no longer lived with us, her outrageous behavior and lifestyle wielded incredible power in our lives. We’d been taken hostage by the incessant demands and chaos created by one in active addiction. It was a pivotal moment for me when the fog cleared and the clouds parted, and I realized I had a choice in the matter. By stepping back, and stepping aside… by getting out of the way… my husband, son and I were freed from experiencing the consequences that were rightly Annie’s to bear.
But what about the sixty-four dollar question… that single greatest fear that every parent carries? What if my daughter, um, died? Like most parents, I always believed I would take a bullet for my child. I would protect her from any harm… I would die for her. And believe me, I wanted to save Annie from addiction with everything in me. Yet it was the most painful lesson of my life to learn I couldn’t save Annie by taking the addiction bullet for her. Paradoxically, the more I tried to save her, the sicker we both became. Everyone in the family became sick. Counter-intuitive for parents for sure, but there’s truth in the spiritual principal which says we can’t fix, change, or cure another person – not even our most beloved child. We can only change our self. I needed to be the person I was longing for Annie to be. Change needed to begin with me.
There was no escaping that truth. Addiction wasn’t Annie’s fault any more than cancer or diabetes or heart disease is someone’s fault. But it was her responsibility. All I could do was my part, which was to speak wisdom into her life, to advocate for her, to intervene at every possible opportunity, and to offer the best medical care and treatment my husband and I could afford.
I am grateful beyond description that Annie ultimately reached out and asked for help… the kind of help we were willing and able to give. What followed was not just her treatment and recovery, but my continued recovery as well. We were both changed forever.
You can read Barbara’s full story in her book, A Very Fine House: A Mother’s Story of Love, Faith and Crystal Meth (Zondervan/Harper Collins, 2014) It’s an intimate memoir of anger, pain, and loss. But it is also a story of transformation, of stepping back and stepping aside, of love redefined. Barbara’s obsession to save Annie at all costs, and her rage against God for allowing drugs to devour her college-age daughter, gave way to new insights about herself. Annie’s addiction changed them both.