So there I was hiding in the corner as my addicted daughter slammed glass candles into the wall because I refused to allow her to go to a concert on a school night. For months her behavior had become increasingly brazen, even jumping out of our moving car when we refused to give her money for something. She’d broken down doors, slammed her body through windows, and threatened us with terrible bodily harm if she didn’t get her way. She’d stalk me like a cougar, hours upon hours, her voice bellowing for all to hear, “Give me money now!” I hated the drug that was inside her, hated it more than anything I’ve ever hated in my life, even hated her at times, until I once again reminded myself that this was a disease, a horrible, crisis creating disease that would show it’s evil face every day until she either got better or died. When dealing with an addicted child, every single day can bring about a crisis. My daughter’s rage was so bad the cops became accustomed- and dare I say- tired-of coming to our home to tackle my daughter and bring about submission.
“I’m crouching like the girl in the crazy movies,
in a corner, head down, shaking, crying, screaming,
scared I might stay here forever.
It’s the only place I feel safe today.”
I was your typical parent, thought my child would never touch drugs, even judged families where “druggies” were present. I’d been raised to stay away from all illegal substances, and I had raised my kids to do the same. What I hadn’t factored into the equation was the undeveloped brain of a young teen. They don’t think like adults, don’t expect negative consequences for risky behaviors; in fact, many teens just don’t think, period. Why would my straight A , softball pitching daughter do drugs? She had a good life, was even named one of the top young dog handlers in the entire country. There was greatness down her path, if she had just followed it. Enter the all- too- familiar self esteem issues. Somewhere in middle school she started feeling not “good enough” and she sought ways to figure it all out. Some seedy character loved by another mom introduced her to pot. I had no idea, can’t even remember any outward signs that she might have been using. After all, she got straight As! I was clueless.
I don’t want you to be clueless. My aim is to help you navigate this disease starting with clues you might not even recognize. And be prepared , because of privacy (HIPAA laws) your best bet is to err on the side of caution, because these laws DO NOT favor parents trying to get help. When my child’s behavior started to become erratic, we took her to mental health counseling and various doctors. She confessed to the doctors about her drug use and doctor administered drug tests also revealed she was using drugs, but because in our state the privacy laws for addiction and mental health start at age 14, we were not given access to that information because she didn’t want us to know. Thus we started on a path of trying to figure out what mental condition she might have, when it was actually drug use that was causing her behavior.
There are so many things I wish I had known, could have done differently. And there are so many laws that I believe need changing to allow parents to get help. I’ll start with the laws. In my state of NJ, a child as young as 14 with addiction or mental health issues may withhold parental consent to have access to their drug tests, information regarding drug use, or mental health issues. My child decided in her addicted, undeveloped mind, to withhold all information. We had no idea what drugs she was using, how often, where, how, or why she was using, and we also had no right to put her into a rehab center without her permission. Yet it was me, the parent, who was paying the bills, me, the parent, who was not allowed to leave her in the emergency room to grab a few hours sleep, me, the parent, dealing with her disruptive behaviors, and me, the parent, who had I known, would have done everything in my power right then to get her the proper help. These laws are in place to protect the child’s need for privacy with such sensitive issues as addiction and mental health, however, to me it is like the medical world’s version of political correctness; we are afraid of offending or hurting the minority, while the majority is overlooked. One argument for the laws reflects on a young person being afraid to tell a parent he needs help due to fear of a beating or getting kicked out of the home. Could that happen? Of course, but meanwhile, thousand of parents are losing their children, burying them in record numbers. I truly believe that if we had access to our children’s medical records and had the right to put them in a rehab against their will, many of these kids would be alive today. A parent must think for a child that is not in his or her right mind. Not only is the brain undeveloped, but it is also clouded with substances that will make them do anything for the drug, including keeping parents away. The other law that cost me precious time in helping my daughter was the 42CFR, the federal statute that outlines confidentiality in substance abuse treatment. When my teen daughter ran away from a rehab facility several states away, I was not informed. They did not tell me my child had run, stating her rights and confidentiality. By the time I found her, two months had gone by and she was living in a crack house, prostituting in Miami. Imagine the head start I would have had, had I known right away, not days after the fact. If she had died during that time, I would have been furious. While there might be reasons for such laws, I can’t help but think they don’t trump the laws of parental love for our children. Please, know the laws and how they affect you. Each state is different. Get to know your state laws. Also, if you do call rehab centers, they will most certainly quote you “$5,000, $10,000, $20,000.” I have never paid that. Tell them, “No, I can’t afford that, please work with me.” Many will come down dramatically and many will offer scholarship status. Twice I paid nothing . But don’t ask me about insurance, each is different, but understand the Parity Act please. There’s too much to get into here, but basically it says your health insurer must treat mental health and addiction as they would any other disease or surgical procedure.
“ I thought you’d be smarter with hiding it.
I guess you’re now at the point you just don’t care
There are tinfoil pieces and burnt spoons everywhere
There are little baggies all over the house
With all this evidence and your rolled back eyes and needle marks,
I still can’t get you into rehab
BECAUSE YOU REFUSE.
Where are my parental rights?”
As a parent who prided myself on my beautiful, well groomed, intelligent children, I also missed early signs of substance abuse. When my daughter’s eyes were red she blamed allergies, when she locked herself in the bathroom, she blamed stomach issues, when she raged, she blamed unfair parenting. In the beginning, I did believe her, after all, my child would never do drugs. But as time went on and I observed more and read more, I realized how naïve I had been. Pay attention to the following clues. I have included minor clues and major clues. Take them seriously, please.
Behaviorally, if he or she starts:
Cursing and calling you names
Sleeping all day
Acting over excited
Eating and slamming cabinets shut late at night
Acting “backed into a corner”
Locking themselves in the bed or bathroom
Being secretive on the phone
Physically, if he or she starts:
Developing acne or skin rashes
Rolling eyes back
Nodding the head and sleeping at tables
Sporting red eyes
Going days without bathing or brushing teeth
Looking withdrawn and sallow
If you see these signs at home:
Eye drop containers
Lots of gum
Toilet paper rolls stuffed with cotton
Elastic bands scattered around
Unexplained seeds on a surface
Missing or watered down alcohol
Small baggies about 1 inch by 1 inch
Matches and lighters
Rearranged medicine cabinets and missing pills
If you see the above signs, you’ve a right to put Sherlock Holmes to shame. Be the best detective ever to grace the earth. Your child needs you.
Of course, there are other reasons for the signs and symptoms listed above, but the earlier you know what you’re looking for, the better. If you see any of the following, please keep an eye on your child and seek help as soon as possible. Encourage your child to allow you the information you need to help him. Love your child and support him, but be prepared for roadblocks and possibly a long and agonizing ride. This disease doesn’t discriminate. A perfectly healthy child only needs one teenage mistake for him to “catch” this disease. Once the brain is hijacked by the drug, the child is under its control. And so are you!
“ I have been swindled by the drug too. Not in the way you have.
You see, I never took him, never would think about taking him,
but he still fooled me.
He made me believe your lies so many times I can’t count.
He led me into naivety when I should have known better.
He shook me down for fear of his violence so much,
that I retreated rather than stood.
He held me hostage when I should have been strong.
He almost killed me and my family, and I almost let him.
I always thought I was strong.
Apparently I am not.”
If and when you succeed in getting your child into a rehab, allow yourself to breathe. I suffer still from symptoms of PTSD though my daughter has two years clean. If I could go back, I would have given myself permission to go out and enjoy a day without thoughts of her and her issues, I would have booked a massage, I would have closed off thoughts to her and watched a movie instead. I know it is easier said than done, but I would have given myself permission to try, without guilt. Perhaps then, the disease would have hurt one less victim, perhaps then, the awful panic attacks would leave me alone more often.
“I beseech thee, oh heart, to allow me a moment’s peace,
to banter with my restless brain, to implore it to forget love’s dying hold.
Allow me a restful slumber curled up with my grandma’s quilt,
fluffy socks and humming rain,
To rock my aching soul gently away from incessant thoughts
of her dying grace, her joyless song.”
Finally, find it in your heart to forgive your child. Through all the suffering and pain it is hard to remember that this is a disease, the drug has taken your child hostage. We must be the gatekeepers of the child within, guarding our love for them during the turbulent times. But you will be angry, you might even feel hate. Yes, hate. But it’s hate for the disease, hate for the drug. Forgive your child for the disease, and I will guarantee you will feel a weight lift off your shoulders. And remember there is hope. With each new sunrise, a new day begins. This could be the day the light is turned on and the healing begins.
“Today is better, a sunny day blossoming after my heart
had been a tilt a whirl, spinning out of control,
threatening to spill me onto the filthy pavement,
leaving open wounds, inviting more infected thoughts
to invade my fragile being.
I asked God to stop the ride.
And today is beautiful.”
Maureen Fitzpatrick is a married mother of five who lived through 6 years of hell when her oldest child became addicted to heroin. Her goal is to use her debut book, Beyond Horizon Fall, as a tool to let other parents in similar situations know they are not alone.
All proceeds from the sale of her book will benefit organizations that encourage positive living and assist in the teaching against/prevention/assistance of families affected by substance abuse. Kids Caring Foundation and Stand Up to Addiction are the nonprofits for this quarter.
Writing poetry began as a coping mechanism for the storm that brewed around her and blossomed into a love and a need to let others know that confusing feelings during turbulent times are human. She invites you to read her real and raw journey as told through poetry and prose.
A former teacher of all grades 2-6, Maureen’s love of writing became a salve during the turbulent years of her drug addicted daughter’s fight to survive. Though help was hard to come by, through determination, love, and a fierce will to live, her child is now drug free and Maureen’ s life is peaceful. She offers her hope and support and a generous hug.