A Mother’s Story
Addiction is a disease. Living with someone who has a disease is difficult. It is difficult before you know your daughter is an addict, and difficult after. My daughter is over 18 months clean now and is maintaining her Narcotics Anonymous program and studying part time: this is a huge improvement on where we were. For her, going to a rehab program, going to regular NA meetings, working the 12 Step Program, and getting her sponsor’s support have been keys to her improvement. She knows, and I know, it is one day at a time, and she must stay focussed on her recovery.
However, life is so much better now than it was when she was using. There is hope for her and for our mother- daughter relationship. She is back living with me. I hope this is temporary, and she will feel able to live alone or with a friend and have a job to support herself. While life is still challenging at times, it is a world away from what it was like two years ago.
Before she got clean, she was moody, lazy, highly sensitive, ungrateful and incredibly difficult to live with. She lied about things all the time to cover up her using, and to get money. She was very adept at manipulation. She blamed me and her friends, and numerous other things, for her awful life. The time her mood was up, was when she was getting ready to go out clubbing.
She would come home at the end of the weekend in a bad mood. (I now know she was coming down then.) The weekly cycle would start again. It was a nightmare. I tried to restrict her money and to push her into working. I tried talking to her. I tried giving her a lecture. I begged her to change her life. I encouraged her to go to a counsellor and, once or twice, she did but then would stop. Nothing worked. She was in and out of jobs, but mostly unemployed. She was in and out of relationships and friendships. She had no purpose and much, too much, time on her hands. She would lie around on the couch, go on Facebook, and plan her next weekend. She was desperately unhappy with herself and her life. She was barely surviving and, as her using increased, her appearance started to suffer.
Her skin was awful. She was forever losing weight and looked gaunt. She was untidy and unkempt. She eventually made no real attempt to take care of herself by then. By then she was using regularly, not just on weekends. I told her I knew something was very wrong and asked her to confide in me. She demurred for a while, then said that, if she told me, it would ‘change our lives forever’. I encouraged her to talk. This was when she finally admitted what was going on, said she was powerless to stop using by herself, agreed to go to rehab and was booked in within a couple of days. I think she was relieved. I felt stupid that I had not realised that she was a drug addict and that I had not been able to help her earlier. I felt angry with her for what she had put me through. I felt enormous compassion for her.
During rehab, she went through a huge change for the better. She got some structure and purpose in her life. She got lots of affirmation and lots of tough love from her colleagues. She began to develop a sense of self again, and built her self-esteem. She started looking after herself and feeling better about herself. She learned about the disease of addiction and what it would take to live successfully with it. She met lots of people battling with the same issues. She was not so alone. She took responsibility for herself and stopped blaming others. She apologised for her behaviour in the past, and thanked me for supporting her through recovery.
She then started thinking about what she would do with her life, and began a plan to go back to study so she could get a job. She began to see that she could have a good life, live drug- and alcohol-free, and be grateful for the good things in her life.
Meanwhile, I had been reading about addiction and learning all I could. I too have changed. I stopped making suggestions, stopped pushing her in any direction. I learned that my daughter is responsible for her journey in life, capable of making decisions and she needs to make her own decisions. Some will be sensible, some not so sensible, but it is her life; and the urge to protect or rescue her needed to be tempered. I am still learning. I am here to provide emotional support and some financial support. I am not here to mother her too much or to enable her to cop out. This can be a difficult balance to get right at times.
Our relationship is much better these days. I would say it is easy. I still worry. Living with an addict is still a bit like walking on egg shells. I have to focus on me and not get sucked in to her dramas, her tiredness or her poor money management. She is an addict and has an addict’s behaviour, so if she is trying to pick a fight, I walk away. If she is in a bad mood, I try not to take it personally. I expect her to look after herself and to ask me if she needs me to do something. I do not feel I have to say yes, if I don’t want to.
So overall, my life is much better now than it was when she was using and she despised herself and me. It is not perfect, but it is manageable and sometimes fun. We can talk better than we ever have and we can have a laugh, watch a movie together and enjoy it.
If an addict decides to get help and get clean, I see a parent’s role as being there to support the addict while accepting that that their child is an addict. As a mother I had to learn to forgive, learn to trust again and be positive about a better future for my daughter. And to get on with my life too!