On March 30, 2018, my husband and I were out of town when we got the call no parent ever wants to get. After not hearing back from my 19-year-old daughter all morning, we asked my son in Texas to ask his friend in California to check on her. She was found non-responsive, and the paramedics could not revive her. An hour after the initial call, my son called to inform us she had passed, and the police would be calling us to confirm our worst fears.
My heart sank, and I got the biggest pit in my stomach. We were traumatized and devastated. Almost two years prior, in March 2016, she had opened up to me and her step-dad, who loved her as if she was his own daughter. She told us she had a problem with drugs and asked for help. It took courage for her to trust us enough to admit she had a problem for which she had no control over.
We had no idea she was an addict. Initially, we thought we were dealing with typical teenage defiance. In hindsight, we came to realize we were in denial that something far worse was wrong. However, we were greatly relieved she had found the strength to ask for help.
The deep, dark world of addiction is not one we ever expected to be in. We knew nothing about it and quickly took a crash course to find out what we were supposed to do to help her. We read extensively, sought out counseling and attended support groups to learn from the experts. It was like learning another language with its own acronyms and words we had never heard before.
This is when we learned about using an Education Consultant (EC). We did considerable research to find an EC whom we felt could best help her. After several interviews with her and family members, the EC recommended we send her to a wilderness program.
We were taken aback because we thought the EC was going to recommend a school she should attend to finish high school in a safe, drug-free environment.
In addition, we were totally unfamiliar with wilderness programs. The EC said education was a secondary priority at this point and insisted my daughter needed an “intensive” intervention, another term we were not familiar with. In a state of shock and disbelief, we tried to wrap our heads around all this new information. My daughter had an opiate addiction, specifically heroin, which we came to learn was quite serious and extremely hard to break.
After the thought of sending my only daughter into the wild in another state sunk in, the EC narrowed down our choices. We chose one, and she agreed to go. So, we quickly began figuring out all the logistics. In the process, we learned it is rare for an addict to come forward on their own and ask for help. Because of her willingness to go, she would not require professional transport, or “being gooned” as the kids term it. This was the beginning of our treacherous journey down the road of addiction that is full of hope, heartbreak and financial despair.
She spent seventy-seven days in the wilderness program, immediately followed by an additional forty-five days in a residential treatment center (RTC). This allowed her to gradually reintegrate back into the “front world.” The RTC program included individual, group and family counseling, as well as school and meetings. She was doing very well, which “they do until they don’t.”
In October 2017, I received a phone call from her; she was crying hysterically. She had been in an accident. Fortunately, she was alive, only shaken up. No one was hurt, but she had hit at least four parked cars and flipped her car, totaling it.
When we arrived at the scene of the accident, we thought she was lucky to be alive. There were several police cars, one lane closed, and tons of onlookers. She had relapsed after a fight with her boyfriend and ended up in jail. She had been sober for seven months.
Part of ensuring accountability was a family contract which she had agreed to and signed. Per our family contract, if a relapse occurred, she would immediately go into detox and start treatment again.
Once again, I began contacting resources to find a place for detox and rehab. To her surprise, we picked her up from jail and drove her straight to detox. After completing detox, she transitioned into a ninety-day treatment program which she completed successfully. Then, she stepped down to an intensive outpatient program (IOP), followed by an outpatient program (OP).
She was also taking high school classes. Only a few chapters were left in her last class. This put her on track to finish by April 13, 2018, the week after spring break. She had picked out her graduation gift, a trip to South Africa to volunteer at a monkey and wildlife rehabilitation center. But, instead of planning an exciting celebration for her graduation, we were forced to plan her funeral.
For some time, my daughter had wondered if she was bipolar because she felt like she had two different personalities. As part of our addiction education, we learned that addiction is a brain disease and that her addict self is like a separate personality. The goal in recovery is to suppress her addict self and keep her sober self in control because only the sober personality can reason and think logically.
Addiction is truly a family disease because it affects the entire family. Parents of a child who is an addict feel the stigma of shame and guilt. We found ourselves putting our lives on hold, not doing our usual activities or going on trips because we always wondered in the back of our mind if something would happen. And, just as we started to move on and live our lives normally, tragedy did happen.
My daughter had been doing so well. She was sober five-and-one-half months, about to graduate high school, had just gone to her outpatient group, had a clean drug test and was dead three days later. She had a bad day and her addict self reared its ugly head, took control and made a deadly decision. She chose the wrong way to cope instead of using the skills she learned in therapy.
She was beautiful and had her whole life ahead of her. This final relapse was not only the end of her recovery, but, tragically, the end of her life.
Liz Pires is an average American, middle-class family, mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, corporate executive.