A Beautiful Unraveling
“There is a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because here is where you begin.”
- from For One More Day by Mitch Albom
Behind my daughter’s story of addiction is my story—the story of the mother of a heroin addict. She and I cannot tell the stories of our lives without discussing parts of each other’s stories for our lives are intertwined, one woven within the other. I am the origin of her—the catalyst of her existence, the womb within which she was shaped and formed. Mine are the hands which held and rocked, comforted and soothed her. I am the mother who loved her before I ever met her and who will love her for all eternity.
My daughter was supposed to be my manifesto to the world. When the nurse placed her in my arms for the first time, I vividly remember thinking she is my chance to redo all that I have gotten wrong in life. She will become the best of me. In that instant, I began a 28 year long codependent relationship with my daughter. During those years, I realize today, I was subjecting my daughter to emotional abuse. At the time, I simply saw it as love; however, the unresolved wounds I carried from my childhood played an admittedly critical, albeit damaging, role in the formation of my parenting style. Codependency and emotional abuse is what I called love. And, because I loved her so much, the abuse was considerable. She became my identity—the sole source of my joy and contentment. For 28 years, I made my daughter responsible for my well-being personally, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. She was accountable for how the world perceived me. I made my little girl the barometer by which I measured my success, happiness, joy and value in life.
When addiction entered her story—our story—and begin writing the script of her life, it erased all of which I had built my life upon. My bedrock had been my motherhood, and when the disease gradually began erasing my daughter, it erased me right along with her. As addiction waged war against my daughter’s body and mind, its forces also ravaged my my heart and mind .
In becomingjamie, I will chronicle my journey through the shadowland of addiction—the denial, betrayals, mind-numbing fear, anger, agony and rage, as well as the heartaches and despair of watching my beloved only child descend into a life that would shatter my hopes and dreams for her, for me and for us. In the process, addiction would destroy my manifest to the world, extinguishing the best of me that I had to offer.
Nothing in my life experiences prepared me for the horror of addiction or the devastation that it would visit upon our family. I was not raised in addiction, nor had I ever experienced a substance abuse problem myself. It is cliché and insulting, but by all of society's measurable standards, we were a nice family who lived in a nice neighborhood in a nice house. In short, we were a nice middle-class, suburban family who worshiped in a nice church. I continually wondered, how had addiction found us? We didn’t live, work, play or worship in areas that addiction lived. I had yet to learn that addiction does not discriminate. It is not bound by race, religion, socio-economic status or educational achievement. It is unimpressed by a person’s faith or convictions or demographics. I maintained the false belief that religion, moral fortitude and active parental involvement were effective weapons against drugs and other illicit vices. I had spent years developing, crafting and honing my daughter into the person I thought she could and should be. Drugs were never part of the plan. When they first appeared on the scene I eliminated them with a harsh and lengthy sentence of punishment. Not in my house, I loudly declared. And that was that—or so I then thought. But, addiction would happen in my house, to my daughter, and I wouldn’t be able to punish it away, pray it away, lecture it away, educate it away, guilt it away or shame it away.
These facts left me feeling desperate, overwhelmed and filled with fear. They also led to my unraveling—mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. My relationship with addiction has caused me terrible grief, pain and anguish, BUT it has also offered me lessons in hope, love, joy, faith, kindness, sacrifice and the power of community. I will never be able to say that I am thankful for addiction; however, I can say that I am thankful, even grateful, for the lessons that I have learned as a result of the disease. These lessons—the lessons learned in the dark nights of my soul—have brought me to where I am today. Learning to live with addiction and the affects of the disease have taught me how to live as the truest version of the person I was created to be. My story—my life as the mother of an addict—is the story of coming to terms with life as it is, not as I wish it to be. It is my story of learning that I was simply a broken and imperfect vessel that God used to bring my daughter into the world. I had to accept that she was never meant to be my second chance at life; this is her life, not mine. It was and is hers to do with what she chooses. She does not owe me. She is not indebted to me. Her addiction is not about me. It is not a personal attack against me as her mother. It simply is.
Once I accepted those truths, I was left with the challenge of becoming Jamie—a wife, sister, friend, dog mom, business owner, writer, blogger, speaker—and all the things I was created to be, but lost or misplaced along the way. Motherhood will always be my greatest calling and the title I most cherish. It is my first love, but it is only one part of who I am. My daughter is a piece of me, but she is not all of me. She is a woman, independent of me, liberated on the day the umbilical cord was cut. My role in her life, now that she is an adult, is simply that of a mother. I am no longer her mommy. Mommies are guardians, providers, nurturers, care-givers and instructors. My role in her life as any of those is over.
In becomingjamie, I will share with you how I have begun to rewrite that which was erased by my daughter’s addiction. As I chronicle my journey through the dark and murky world of addiction, I pray that my story, the story of a mother of a heroin addict, will shed light, offer hope, enable healing and provide you with comfort. One of the most important things I hope to impart are the powerful and healing words of “me, too.” Hearing, seeing and feeling the influences of the incantation of those two words have brought me great relief in the midst of soul-retching agony. I pray that you hear me speaking those words to you as you read my blog. If you are a parent, a spouse, a child or a friend of an addict reading my story know that our relationship to the addict may be different, but our experience is the same. We have all lost parts of ourselves to our loved one’s addiction. We have all seen addiction erase trust, love, finances, hope and joy from our lives and our relationships.
Throughout my journey I was plagued with questions. What had I done wrong? Where had I failed her? When had her life become so horrible that she needed a pill to escape it? Was my overindulgence of her to blame? Had I forced religion on her in such an overbearing manner that she was pushing back against it, rejecting it? Did the lack of a consistent father figure cause her to question her self-worth and seek relief in a bottle? These questions and more raced through my mind in the early years of her addiction. They were endless and merciless. I was convinced I was to blame. The immense shame, overwhelming guilt and blinding fear mixed with anger and endless reserves of resentment kept me bound in a vicious cycle of pain and unmanageability. How did my beautiful, silky haired, vibrant and witty daughter become an addict? How could I have known that she would become susceptible to the disease of addiction? And, eventually, why couldn’t I unravel the hold addiction had on her?
Trying to find the answers to these, as well as all the other questions swirling in my head, led to my own unraveling. It started slowly, but once momentum built up, I begin disintegrating rapidly. It quickly became evident that I was as addicted to my daughter as she was to the drug. My daughter was obsessed with the drug and I was obsessed with her. Everything she did to get the drug—steal, manipulate, threaten, cajole—I did to stop her. She couldn’t stop, and neither could I. She feared life without the drug and I feared life without her. She was restless, irritable and discontent without her fix. I was restless, irritable and discontent with her inability to stop. She was powerless over her compulsion for the drug. I was powerless over my compulsion to stop her. Addiction had entered our family, and we were defenseless against its cunning, baffling and powerful influence in our lives. She had the symptom of the drug. I had the symptom of her. She had illusions that she could control her drugging. I had illusions that I could control her. Neither one of us had any idea what we were up against. Our lives were unraveling, and we were powerless to stop it. We began to wage war against one another, each of us fighting to manage our “ism’s” and maintain our illusions. Our codependency raged out of control, and the ties that bound us tightened, knotted and became an impenetrable wall of self-will. We were unrecognizable to each other. She stood in the way of my sanity. I stood in the way of her pursuit of the needle.
“She was the most beautiful uncomplicated thing I had ever seen. A tangled mess of silky string. All I wanted of life was to sit down cross-legged and untangle her knots.”
-Knots by a Atticus.
In this poem, Atticus captures the feelings I described earlier, when the nurse placed my daughter in my arms for the first time. I thought, I will untangle her knots and, in the process, I will be able to unravel my own sorted past and she will become the best of me. My mothering style was formed around that illusion. It would define how I showed up in my daughter’s life for 28 years. I was her mother, her untangler. Qnd when addiction took root, I assumed the only role of mothering I knew—the untangler. When I looked at her, she was still my beautiful daughter, but now I saw a tangled, complicated mess composed of dirty and sorted knots of which I did not recognize or know how to unravel. But, I was her mother. I was sure it was my job to figure out these new, intricate knots of addiction and disentangle her from them. Her life was unraveling, and I was convinced that I could solve the mystery of the knots and help her regain her life. I could never have imagined what my attempts at unraveling the knot of addiction would cost me.
Webster Merriam defines unravel as “to investigate and solve or explain (something complicated or puzzling). Its synonyms include: to solve; resolve; clear up; unscramble; explain; figure out; get to the bottom of; and clarify. These descriptors epitomize exactly what I did in the beginning of my attempts to unravel my daughter from her addiction. I was fixated on unraveling her. It was all I thought about. It consumed my every waking moment and distracted me from life. I stopped being able to eat, sleep, concentrate or complete any tasks apart from her unraveling. She chased the drug and I chased her. Our lives were unraveling in unison, and we were powerless to stop it. My power as a mother, the master untangler, was no match for addiction.
My own unraveling was neither beautiful or silky smooth. Rather, it was a tangled mess that left me undone—emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. I could not tell where her tangled knot of addiction ended and mine began. We had become a twisted, enmeshed jumble of knots, incapable of being unraveled without cutting away the numerous knots that had caused our enmeshment. My choice to begin cutting away at the ties that bound me to my daughter was one of the hardest, most excruciating decisions I would ever make. I didn’t know where to cut and where to stay attached. In the beginning it was a mess, and things became more jumbled than ever. Howver, gradually, slowly, with tremendous timidity and angst, I continued my attempts to untangle. Eventually the knots loosened, and I began to haltingly disentangle myself from my daughter’s addiction.
It was agonizing to realize that my unraveling would ultimately require that I untie ALL of the knots that we had created. The drastic cutting away of our mother-daughter ties would eventually lead to the unraveling of all parts of me. My faith, hopes, dreams, desires and social and political ideologies ended up spooled on the floor of my life in a jumbled mess. No thread in my life was left untouched once the unraveling began. Every part of me had become entangled and knotted, and every part of me would have to be cut into and subject to untangling. The surrender to and acceptance of this realization has been slow and tedious. My unraveling is still in process. My story is not yet finished. How it will end I cannot be sure. But from where I stand today, I see a beautiful tapestry being formed. I am creating a way of living, loving and mothering that I could never have imagined—certainly not 29 years ago when my daughter was born and definitely not 8 years ago when she revealed her addiction. I am learning to live a life of hope and healing, filled with gratitude and contentment. I am learning to be okay—whether my beautiful, silky haired daughter is still entangled in her disease of addiction or not. So, for today, I am by my account