Maureen Cavanagh, MPA, M.Ed.

mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s

When enough really crappy things occur in your life, and you somehow survive them, people start to tell you that you should write a book. You think they are joking but then, after a while, you’re not so sure. More than once, I looked around at the things that were happening and thought, “No one would believe this; I really need to write a book!” Of course, it’s just one of those things we say to ourselves to relieve the tension until a real, authentic agent with experience and credentials and who is far smarter than the great majority of people you’ve ever met in your life says it too.

He had seen an article in the New York Times about my daughter and the work I was doing with the non-profit I founded in 2012, Magnolia New Beginnings. Now, you’d think that being in the NY Times would somehow make me worthy of a book, but in fact, my story is so very similar to the stories I hear and read about on Magnolia’s Facebook support pages, that in my world I am very ordinary.

It is the ordinariness of my story that makes it worth telling.

When it was first suggested that I share my story, my initial reaction was a resounding, “Hell NO!” I am the worker bee in the background, the connector of people that like the spotlight. I prefer to quietly get things done. Exposing myself and the horrors that
I had experienced with my daughter’s ongoing substance use disorder and how it had changed my life and my family was about as appealing as walking down 5th Avenue, naked, twirling a baton and playing the cymbals with my knees. Something no one needed to see or hear and I had no desire to do.

Then I thought about the good that could come of it.

Still trying to comprehend the overdoses, multiple treatment centers, and just the idea that my sweet girl was addicted to heroin was my defining moment when I walked into my first Learn to Cope meeting. Learn to Cope is a peer-led support network with in-person meetings linking and supporting people dealing with addiction and recovery. It’s also the group that saved my sanity.

Everything changed after I connected with other people just like myself. Everyone I met seemed to have a version of the same story, that in my isolation, I held quietly to myself. Many had that same ‘deer in the headlights’ look that I had worn for so long. Others in the meeting had somehow gained control of themselves, realizing it was the only thing they could actually control. They stuck around to tell their stories and to support those still in the process of learning how to live in the limbo of addiction.

I was having an experience, that, as someone who had taken their child to regularly scheduled pediatrician appointments, choir practice, softball games and who applauded as she won a scholarship and graduated with honors from high school shouldn’t be having. The stone-cold, hard reality is that no one is immune from this disease.

I read everything I could get my hands on, joined every group, went to meetings and called everyone and anyone that might be able to help me. At the end of the day I learned that the only one I could save was myself.

A favorite author, Viktor Frankl, once wrote “When we are no longer able to change a situation-we are challenged to change ourselves.” I am sure he was not envisioning speaking to a parent of a child that is addicted to heroin, but he might as well have been, because it is the truest advice that I was given.

Somewhere around the time that Frankl’s words were starting to make sense to me, I was approached about the possibility of writing a book by an incredible man named Elias. I suppose, in time, his entry into my life will be another pivotal moment, much like when I walked into my first Learn to Cope meeting. Elias believed that my ordinary story needed to be told and he believed in my ability to tell it with humor and compassion. I wasn’t so sure. I wondered why anyone would read my story when it seemed to be happening to everyone all around me, but I trusted his opinion.

I wrote the book, “if you love me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Heroin Addiction,” hoping I could connect others who, like myself in the beginning, felt so alone and lost. I now realize that although I do believe that so many people struggling unsupported will benefit by reading this book, I discovered that I really wrote it for those that think it can’t happen to them.

We are losing over 174 beloved people a day to overdose, a figure I’m sure is grossly under reported, and we wonder where is the outrage? The outrage across all people will come when no one feels as though they are exempt, that it can’t happen to them. The only way that will ever happen is if those that have been affected speak up, without fear or shame, and tell their very ordinary stories of summer camp, family vacations, quiet family routines and how ultimately that turned an ugly corner that resulted in addiction, overdose, sometimes death, and in some cases, if we are very, very lucky- of recovery. It is those that are blissfully ignorant that addiction is just one wrong teenage decision away that need to feel the outrage and to get on board to help change a system that is failing and causing us to lose some of the kindest, sweetest and gentlest souls of their generation.

I tell my story, a journey like too many others, in hopes that one day no one else will have to live it.

Maureen Cavanagh is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings, http://www.magnolianewbeginnings.org a non-profit peer-support group for those living with or affected by substance use disorder. She is a CCAR trained recovery coach and trainer, speaks extensively to parents and community groups, and has been recognized by The New York Times, CNN, and other outlets for her work fighting the opioid crisis and the stigma that surrounds it. Her book, “if you love me: A mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Heroin Addiction” is published by Henry Holt and Co., a division of MacMillan Publishing.