A Mother And Daughter’s Worst Nightmare

By Constance Curry and Kristina Wandzilak

mother and young daughter nose to nose

Mom: I was born the oldest of seven children in a sweet catholic family. Our parents loved and respected each other and we felt safe in our home. I was a popular and active student in high school and college, was on the student council, officer in my sorority and varsity cheerleader at Texas Tech the year we went to the Gator Bowl. I loved being an active, involved, visible participant in all aspects of my life. I wanted to keep that action and excitement going so I married an alcoholic. It didn’t seem like he drank any more than anyone else. I didn’t know anything about this disease; to me an alcoholic was a dirty old man face down in the gutter, not a businessman in a suit and tie going to work every day to support his family.

Like all young couples we had high expectations for our life. We had four children, a successful business and a nice life. We lived in the right town, on the right street, drove the right cars and sent our children to the right schools. We went to soccer games, baseball games, and swim meets every Saturday during the summer months. We took our family to church on Sundays and said prayers with them at night. We looked like the All American Family on the outside, but on the inside there was growing discord with manipulation, control and a seething rage just under the surface and we never knew when it would erupt. Maybe it happened because the garbage wasn’t out on time or maybe because the dinner wasn’t ready as expected. My husband’s anger got bigger and bigger and I got smaller and smaller feeling fear that was overwhelming. I gave my power away one day at a time, one incident at a time until I became a shell of that vibrant, confident young woman I started out to be.

So along comes our thirteen-year-old daughter to proclaim to the world we were not as we appeared to be!

Kristina: I had my first drink when I was 13. I stole liquor from my parents and drank myself to oblivion in the bushes at the end of their driveway. From the very first moment, I loved alcohol and the feeling of perfection that came over me as the liquor began to numb the parts of myself that I hated most. In the bushes, late that night began an obsession with oblivion that haunted me for all the days that followed. I thought about drinking and could not wait until I could do it again. I drank whenever I could from that point on.

I went to high school and met new friends. My first date was with a boy that had long hair, surfed and drove a VW bus. My parents hated him and I was crazy about him in a way I had never felt before, or since. When I was around him nothing else mattered. Nothing. He took me to my first dance and before the event he pulled out cocaine. I knew I shouldn’t do it and I was scared but I looked at him, and felt my insides turn with a bitter excitement. My heart was pounding so hard that it felt like my chest bone might actually crack wide open. I wanted him to like me. I wanted him to see me as cool and not the terrified girl beneath the black and white prom dress. He asked me if I wanted some, and without hesitation, I said yes. Sweet oblivion followed.

My life was never again the same.

Mom: She began to change, gradually at first. I thought maybe it was just teenage behavior. She became angry, belligerent, and defiant. The high school would call in the evening because she missed one or more classes that day. What was happening? She was always a diligent student, making good grades and completing assignments on time. It didn’t matter what boundary we set, she ignored them. She would sneak out at night and crawl back in her window in the early morning. I had a pain in my stomach all the time and many sleepless nights. I felt such shame that I couldn’t control my daughter.

Finally we took her to the first treatment center. They suggested I try Al Anon but I just wanted her to be fixed so my family could have peace again. I did go reluctantly to my first meeting and eventually found help for myself in the Al Anon program. I went to meetings three and four times a week. The first three steps, slogans and the friends I made were the springboard to a new life for me. I began to slowly find my voice again. I got a part time job that helped me gain confidence one day at a time.

But Kristina ran away from that treatment twice so we kidnapped her and took her to an isolated woman’s facility in Idaho where she would be unable to leave. Of course we received a call in the middle of the night that she had left at 3:00 am after the worst snowstorm in 50 years. You can imagine the knot in my stomach, fear just gripping me. I paced the floor, angry and terrified. The next day I went to my church and ask God to take her. “Let go and let God” kept going off in my head. What would I do without that slogan? I repeated it time and time again. Finally it landed someplace inside, I got it: I HAVE NO POWER OVER MY CHILD!

What a relief. I felt so much lighter that day. This was a pivotal point for me. I realized she was in charge of her destiny and I was in charge of mine. I needed to continue working my program and prayed she would find her own someday.

Several weeks later she arrived at the door wanting a place to live. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was happy to see her alive but living with her was too much drama. I told her I loved her, so happy to know she was alive but she couldn’t come home and treatment was always available

Kristina: The day my mom closed the door on me, was a turning point in my life. I descended quickly into the depths of addiction. I had jobs but was fired from every one. I worked only to earn drug money but soon my need to be high far outweighed minimum wage earnings. So I robbed 22 homes, desperate to feed an insatiable addiction. I thought about my mom every day and I wondered if there was any hope for me. I wished hard that things were different. I prayed that one day I would wake up and this would be a terrible nightmare.

I ended up homeless on the streets in SF. I was lost broken and hopelessly addicted. I ate out of dumpsters, begged for money and desperately tried to stay high. It was freezing and my bones ached with a mean and restless chill. The end came on a day that was no different from any other. I found a bottle of liquor in a dumpster and drank the bottle dry. I was going to throw myself into oncoming traffic but was arrested for being drunk in public. I was put on a hold in a homeless shelter and on the floor of the bathroom, at the edge of eternity, inches away from the other side; I had a moment of clarity. I did not want to be addicted and I did not mean for any of this to happen. I saw so clearly that I had done this to myself and I was filled with regret that my life was going to end. The last thought I remember having before I closed my eyes to die, was how sad my mom will be that it ended this way.

I am not sure why I walked out of that shelter alive, but I did.

I did go to treatment. I fought hard to come back from homelessness and addiction. I worked years to make peace with my family, the community, and myself where I caused so much harm.

I have earned many years of recovery. I have educated myself, started an international addiction intervention practice where I travel and work with families and addicts who are in crisis with addiction. I am an author of an acclaimed memoir that I wrote with my mom and the recipient of the Prism award for the document series- Addicted, on the Discovery network.

However, one of the greatest gifts of recovery is my relationship with my mom. By letting me go she enabled me to find my way to the bottom, where I could then, and only then, find the willingness to change my life. My mom loved me enough to let me go, and through her own recovery, illuminated the way out. She is the bravest woman I know and the hero of my story and countless others.

Mom: I am proud of my daughter today. She has been sober 21 years and works in the field of addiction. She has two lovely, healthy children and I hope they will follow a different path from their mother.

My daughter and I have written a book together called THE LOST YEARS, Surviving a Mother and Daughter’s worst nightmare. We tell our story to understand what happened to us and to help others suffering from family addiction. We want others to know they are not alone, there is help and hope.

I can’t say I am happy my daughter is an addict but I am happy that we have shared our experience with others. I like showing my children we can make mistakes in life, sometimes big mistakes, acknowledge them and be different. It isn’t the adversity that comes our way but how we handle it that defines us.