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A Mother's Cry

September 1, 2006
by Gail Echeverria, CADC II
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A professional's experience doesn't diminish the pain of family addiction, or the questions

Today when I removed the mail from the box, a letter from my daughter fell from the pile of envelopes, advertisements, and junk mail. On the back of the envelope, INMATE was stamped in red ink. My daughter has been in custody since March 2005 for bank robbery and fraud.

I felt a lump form in my throat and the sting of tears filling my eyes. I dreaded reading the letter. I went about opening the other mail and made my way around the house focusing on the chores at hand, all the while feeling the tug of my precious child. The longer I avoided reading her words, the more anxious I felt and the more consumed I was with the sadness I feel for her.

I unplugged the telephone, went into my bedroom, and closed and locked the door. I picked up the letter and held it to my heart. Somehow I felt close to her in knowing that her hands had touched this envelope just a few days ago. Flashes of her at different stages of her life filled my mind. I found so much I wish I could go back and change.

I know, and have known for years, that my daughter's issues are not mine to make right. She has her journey and her own missions to fulfill. I have been to parents groups, Al-Anon, personal recovery, family counseling, and so on for more than 20 years. No matter what I do for myself, I cannot make her life better.

In the beginning, if someone had asked me to die in order to save my daughter from addiction, I would have agreed to. Now, 20 years later, it is apparent to me that this would not have been the answer. My love for her has been part of the problem. The tears I cry do not change the direction of her life. Instead, I become depressed, devastated, and unable to parent her siblings.

Everything has been about her: saving her, nurturing her, paying her bills, setting her up in a different house or apartment, buying her a car, paying her fines, taking care of her children, paying her dental and medical bills, getting her needs met, and handling her life for her. We were doing the same thing over and over again.

Failed attempts

My daughter has been in the worst and the best detoxification and chemical dependency programs, both medical and social models. Somehow, some way, she contacts her friends on the outside and they pick her up and she is off and running again. When given the chance, she runs like a caged animal from her captors, in fear of harm. Months go by before we hear from her again.

When we reach the point of accepting that she has been killed or kidnapped, she surfaces, broken and starving and physically exhausted, willing to do anything if we will just help her this one last time. She swears she has learned her lesson and just needs her parents and family to love her and protect her from a new group of horrible people who are threatening her. “They did it to me,” she says.

For more than 20 years I have been lost in the realm of my daughter's potential for recovery, taking her from one therapist or doctor to another but finding no answers. No person, therapy, pill, or place could help my daughter. I am still not sure if she is mentally ill or a drug-addicted criminal, or both.

One doctor diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. Her refusal to take medication to help with mood swings makes things worse. We are subjected to threats of suicide or homicide, raging and violence, stealing of our money, jewelry, and anything of value, or not of value.

My once beautiful daughter has become a predator—a homeless, begging, thieving, scary person. What in the world happened? Is it genetic? I know that professionals and scientists have disagreed over the topic.

Family dynamics

I am an alcoholic in recovery. My father and his father were alcoholics. My mother's father was an alcoholic and a gambler. Some of my siblings have addiction issues. Most of my father's 10 siblings are alcoholics, and most of my family members deal with behavioral disorders to some degree. Were we born with it? Did my child receive a genetic disposition to become an addict? Has her life been a product of genetics and the environment? Is there hope? These questions go through my mind daily.

Most of the time I do fairly well. I get up, do my personal recovery rituals, go to work, take care of my daily affairs, and greet people with enthusiasm. Then there are days when I cannot talk to anyone. I cannot feel anything but this deep sadness that owns my soul. I cannot help my child. I cannot.

I heard a story at an AA meeting one day. It was from an article in a recovery magazine about an alcoholic. I will try to repeat the story as best as I can recall:

A man fell into a deep, dark hole and couldn't get out. His wife said she would get him out no matter what it took, so she loved him with all of her heart and soul, but he still couldn't get out. She told him not to worry and that she would pray for him and God would get him out of the deep, dark hole. But even prayer was not enough; he still could not get out. She brought faith healers and rich relatives and borrowed money and sold her belongings. But everything she could think of failed; he still could not get out of that deep, dark hole.

Then one day when all appeared lost, two men came by and observed the problem. They jumped into the deep, dark hole with him. The man said, “What are you doing? I did not ask for your help.” The men smiled and said, “We have been here before, and we know the way out. It is only 12 short steps that you need to take. Come, follow us.” Not sure if he should trust them or not, he looked to his wife, who encouraged and almost begged him to give it a try. So he did follow the men and they were right. Twelve short steps and he was out of that deep, dark hole.