I chose Lou Alpert’s poignant blog about trying to help an heroin addicted adult daughter as the final blog in this Moms-Who-Write series. Memorial Day is a good time to remember the bonds that weave us together into families – through good times and rough waters.
Impermanence and Healing
By Lou Alpert
“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Like so many, I have spent most of my life wanting everything “wrapped in a bow” with clear outcomes and a sense of certainty. I wanted permanence and hated change of any kind. I believed if I could simply control the people, purpose and financial issues in my life, I would be at peace and happy.
I thought if I could create the perfect family; enviable to all, with the perfect husband, children, and financially secure…that I would finally be content. Ha! Two failed marriages, eight children…who are not perfect, and many years later, I have begun to accept my lack of control and the impermanence of all things. It was a hard-fought battle and surrender only came as a means of survival and healing. Like an addict, I will be required to surrender to this impermanence and lack of control minute by minute, day by day, for the rest of my life to stay at peace and heal.
It Took My Daughter’s Addiction to Get It
It took five years of my daughter’s heroin addiction to finally get it. When I first became aware of Crystal’s addiction, I thought I could fix it. Even though I had grown up in a family full of addiction; with no great outcomes, I thought I could maintain the perfect picture of a family and make it right…my daughter would be the exception. She would not die. I would save her.
After Crystal’s first stint in detox and rehab, over a year of sobriety and a child, Crystal relapsed. I was caught completely off guard. I truly thought we had fixed this thing. We talked. I asked if she was using and she said “yes”. I asked if she had put a needle back in her arm and she said “yes”. Crystal agreed to go back to detox.
Misguided by Emotions
It was a difficult time for everyone but now there was a child involved. It took a few weeks to get a bed and during that time Crystal was scoring drugs and staying high. I began sending money to buy drugs, so she would not stay out all night. I was misguided by my emotions and thought I could control her safety by providing drugs at home. In retrospect, not my proudest parenting moment.
Upon completion of a seven-day detox program, Crystal rewarded herself with a new tattoo and returned to her life. She did not want to consider another long-term rehab program, go to meetings, or work the steps. To me, her commitment seemed shallow at best. Relapse came quickly, and Crystal began staying out all night…only coming home to take items she could sell to buy drugs. Her Ex was forced to take their daughter and move away. Crystal ended up homeless and living on the streets.
Even then, I thought her time on the streets would be brief, but days turned into weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. I, in turn, began a two-and-a-half-year spiral into isolation and crazy. During that time, permanence and impermanence blurred.
A Tragic New Normal
I accepted her living on the streets as my new norm; a new kind of permanence for her life. This time the risk of believing she would get clean left me too emotionally vulnerable to consider. At the same time, I accepted a fear-based kind of impermanence as a form of armor to protect myself. This impermanence was based solely on the fear that she would disappear, be killed, or overdose. Not the kind of peace through impermanence I was looking for.
Once Crystal was off the streets and in rehab, I began looking for ways to heal myself. I had stuffed down an array of emotions during Crystal’s time on the streets, compartmentalizing my life in order to function, and suddenly all those emotions came spewing to the surface. The circumstances of her entering rehab were complicated. Her pregnancy, CNN intervention, an Albuquerque policeman adopting her baby and being a guest at Trump’s State of the Union address all had me spinning, but Crystal had also received a full scholarship to an expensive and reputable rehab program at Mending Fences in Florida. I was both angry and grateful at the same time.
Impermanence As a Way of Life
I began reading the books of Thich Nhat Hanh and trying to understand the positive teachings of impermanence. The more I have embraced impermanence as a way of living my life, the more peace I have found in my living. Knowing each day will bring unknowns, both good and bad, lends an excitement to my life I had not experienced before. I live more fully in the moment, and knowing I have no control over Crystal or any of my other children has granted me a sense of freedom that I relish.
Crystal has been clean for over a year now and I am grateful. We have not seen each other but we talk and text. I am not worried.I love my daughter and I know she loves me. This period apart, that by earthly standards seems long… is just as it should be. We are both different people now and our relationship will be new. That is exciting. This time apart is not permanent and when the time is right, we will start new and grow something stronger and healthier for both of us.
Five Tips for Parents of an Addict
- Do not isolate. Go to a meeting, call a friend. We are stronger in community.
- Resist the urge to play the role of victim to your addict. This accomplishes nothing and leaves you drained and unable to manage the daily roller coaster ride that comes with loving an addict.
- Become a compassionate listener. You cannot fix your addict, but you can keep the door open by listening without judgement and showing them compassion.
- Enforce boundaries. It is not your job to resolve the problems that come with the addict’s choices…even if those choices result in joblessness, homelessness or sickness. In fact, you can’t resolve them. Only the addict can elect to change, and then you can be there to support the next steps.
- Take care of your physical and mental needs. It is important as you come to terms with your child’s addiction that you also actively engage in self-care. Anxiety breeds anxiety. Sleep, exercise, prayer and meditation are just a few of the tools available to you on this journey.
“Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Lou Alpert has captured the painful journey of learning how to be in relationship with an addicted adult daughter in her recently released book, Surrender, A Love Letter to My Daughter. If you’ve enjoyed this blog you may also enjoy this one about caring for a loved one struggling with memory loss issues. Letter to Dementia Care-givers
Thank you for taking time to read Lou Alpert’s blog. Consider sharing it with a friend. If you want to read future weekly blogs about people and programs making helpful contributions to society, sign up at HowWiseThen. I’m currently giving away a section from the study guide from Asunder, a story and study guide about moving on after the loss of a spouse.