My Teenage Daughter's Fight With Drug Addiction
Imagine your life as a circle, with a dot depicting each part of your life – your work, family, friends, schools, interests and hobbies. Now imagine, just for kicks, that one dot is drugs. Imagine that dot growing, covering all the other things that make you who you are …
That pretty much sums up addiction. In some individuals – no one is sure why this applies to some and not others – drugs push out everything until their whole reason for existence is securing and using their drug of choice.
Families fall by the wayside in shreds. Friends are replaced by using buddies. Hobbies and healthy living give way to lying, deception and theft – anything that ensures the drugs keep flowing.
In one way or another, the addict is kicked out of school or workplaces. Existence, for them and for those who love them, becomes hell on earth.
Addiction has been described in this way, but I know this because I have been into its heart.
I know that no one is immune: substance abuse and addiction can claw into age, gender, race or class; it can claw into stereotypically dysfunctional families as easily as into ‘nice’ families.
My beautiful, bright daughter was sucked into the drug world when she was just 12. Marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine – and the lifestyle of the older addicts she hooked up with – filled a gap for her. Initially, at least, using drugs made her feel good, made her feel she belonged in a world that wasn’t always kind.
She got in too deep, dropping out of school, flitting into delinquency and as she says, losing her family’s trust and some of her real friends.
It took her three years, in which she almost destroyed herself, to find her way back to life.
She’s 15 now and I truly believe, in full recovery, although there may still be slips. With frankness and honesty that blows me away, she speaks at schools to encourage others to stay away from drugs.
But through her addiction, I have come face-to-face with the underbelly of existence. I am sickened by knowing who has been welcomed into our home. A youngster who hung out at my house landed up in a South American jail, another has been a witness in a state murder trial.
Recently I asked a young father of two, with his pretty wife next to him, what made him give up his $100-a-day crack habit. “I started selling my children’s prams and toys,” he said. That was after he’d spent his family’s food money on drugs.
The experts know addiction is a disease for which there is no cure. It can however be successfully treated and go into lifelong remission. Untreated it inevitably end jail, institutionalisation or premature death. That’s what an addict faces.
Their families face a nightmare that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. My saviour has been a growing friendship with other parents of addicts. We share our pain, hold each other when we cry, laugh together and remind each other that we, too, can feel happiness.
We’ve been lied to and manipulated. We try to carve some sense of truth out of layers of deception. During active addiction, lying comes as easily to our children as breathing.
They lie about where they are going, who they are with, what they are doing – anything, everything – almost just for the hell of it. Deception, you see, is an integral part of this disease.
So is passing on blame to us. Our addicts just cannot deal with the despicable things they have done in the name of their king. They hang out with criminals, some sell drugs to fund their habits, some even prostitute themselves.
Our homes have been cased out, pilfered and sometimes burgled. Some of us have been physically abused by our addicts. We dig deeper into our pockets to pay for yet another treatment programme. All of us have been emotionally wrecked.
We know addiction affects families most of all. During our addicts period of active drugging, they get stoned or high and close their bedroom doors. We deal with sober reality. We’ve gone to bed exhausted and not slept for one minute, worrying about whether our children are safe, whether they are alive. We are the parents who feel the torture of our children imploding and our families ripped apart.
Thankfully, some addicts, like my daughter, do choose the tough road of recovery over jail and death. “You stop when you realise how much you are hurting yourself,” my daughter says.
But recovery is not simply giving up drugs. Recovery means accepting responsibility for their actions. It means finding themselves again – they have literally been lost – and building new identities and friendships that don’t involve a druggie lifestyle.
It means breaking out of a well-established comfort zone. It means dealing with the mental illnesses that underlie addiction. We are there to guide our recovering children as they find their way back to a future.
We can hold their hands but we cannot walk the road for them. It demands enormous courage and strength to beat the monster of addiction. Meanwhile, we parents accept our own journeys. Between the pain and the windows of hope, we learn about who we are.
“I was a wimp …I’d curl up and cry when it got too much,” Cindy says. “Now when my teenager brings home drugging accomplices, I kick them out.” Cindy is one of the strongest people I know. It’s taken her years – which included committing her son to the State before welcoming him back on acceptable terms – to get there.
Mike, a single Dad, is reclaiming his life. He no longer accepts his son’s appalling behaviour, telling him to shape up or ship out. He’s started figuring out what he wants, he’s started to put his own needs first.
In the ultimate cruelty, one of Steph’s sons has fought addiction and the other brain cancer. She refused to give up. Her son’s are winning their battles, and she’s winning her battle against depression. She’s finally taking steps to get out of a bad marriage. In her big-hearted future, she’s working to set up a home for ‘difficult’ children.
As for me, I was once a passive, bewildered victim of addiction. At some point, I chose survival. I’ve worked with the police and courts (getting restraining orders) to ensure my family are not walked over by unsavoury characters again.
I’m also resilient; many crises pale next to addiction. As a parent of an addict, I’ve learnt a few things.
The factors that give rise to teen addictions
include peer pressure, an abusive family environment, or just the desire to escape.