For much of her adult life, Susan, the daughter of close friends, has battled addiction, both alcohol and drugs. I watched as her parents did their best to get her into treatment – she was in several over the years. Even though Susan sees me as her “second mother,” I chose to keep my distance as she battled addiction and a few stints in jail. Susan called me many times, I saw her a few times, but I found myself intolerant and stopped answering her calls. This, despite the fact that I provide marketing and communications for a drug addiction program.
The Turning Point
Then everything changed. I received a text from her hinting that she was ready to end her life. Both of her parents are deceased, her family and friends had turned their collective backs on her, so she had few places to turn with her cry for help. I jumped into survival mode – called a mobile crisis stabilization unit, the police, and ultimately, the addiction center where I do marketing. After Susan agreed to an assessment and detox, she entered the addiction center’s 90-day program. It changed my life as well as hers.
I realized that, despite all I had learned about addiction through my work with the center, I was holding onto biases and preconceived notions about addicts. I saw them as do many – back-alley derelicts who had made this choice to become alcoholics and addicts. Then I began to attend the Saturday meetings between families and their addicted daughters at the center. I talked with clients – women ranging in age from 18 to upwards of 60. I got to know some of the most incredible women – gifted, intelligent and troubled. Some had children, some came from very well-to-do families, a large majority had faced trauma earlier in their lives and had passed through a variety of treatment programs. During sessions set up just for the families of clients, I listened to anguished parents and siblings, some of whom were now caring for the addicts’ children. Some remained hopeful that this would be the program that finally worked; others expressed anger and were ready to wash their hands of their daughter or sister if the addiction continued. I heard guilt, pain, exhaustion, ambivalence, and yet, love, so much love.
I looked forward to these Saturday sessions, watched women come and go – many because they had completed the residential program, a few because they had failed and again returned to their addiction. I saw Susan becoming whole again – physically and mentally. I saw a determination that had escaped her for years as she got to know herself – probably for the first time. She expressed hope for the future – a job, her own apartment, new-found friends, a religious enlightenment, and, most of all, final freedom from addiction.
Now, two years later, Susan has what she now understands as the important parts of her life – her faith, her support group, her sponsor, her sobriety . . .and hope. Yes, she also has a well-paying job, an apartment, and a car, but now understands how insignificant material possessions are compared to those mentioned earlier. She is mentoring other women who are battling addiction and is finding a contentment that has long escaped her. I am hopeful and cautiously optimistic for her future but have learned that there are no guarantees. We have drawn closer again – in touch weekly if not more often. Having known Susan since she was seven years old, I never stopped loving her; I had just hated what I thought then were her choices. I know now that addiction is not a choice – taking that first drink or drug might be, but the consequences are not, the disease is not a choice.
My eyes have been opened to the reality of addiction. These aren’t “addicts;” they are people with the disease of addiction. I have a new empathy for their struggles, am better at my marketing job because I have a better understanding of the issues and the pain – of what got those with addictions to that place and what it is taking to get them into recovery. I understand the families who have decided on tough love, those who still live the nightmare of waiting for that phone call telling them that their child, sister, brother, etc. has lost the battle, and those who live with the anger of knowing how much their family has been changed through the addiction battle, no matter what the outcome.
I thank this addiction treatment center for all it is doing for women who so desperately want to change; I thank the women for showing me a bravery and determination I’d never before experienced; and I thank Susan for sharing her life with me.
Getting Help at Wayside House
If you are a woman struggling with addiction and mental health issues, Wayside House can help. We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer inpatient rehab with various therapies, relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare, as well as job training and parenting education. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.