Every mom loves to brag about their kids and I am no exception; this story however, is no fairy tale. It is one no mother wants to tell.
The journey started on a straight enough roads but somewhere took a detour that landed us both in quicksand.
An incredibly bright and creative child, my daughter was an artist from an early age. When drawing birds in kindergarten, she didn’t make them appear like rounded M’s as the other kids did. She drew birds flying up, flying sideways; wings expanded or tucked, everything from the correct visual perspective.
She learned to play the saxophone in fourth grade. She didn’t just learn it quickly; but after only a few lessons, taught herself to play each different type of saxophone. As a teen she moved onto the bass guitar. When asked why she wanted a bass over a regular guitar, she said incredulously
“Anybody can play a regular guitar Mom, the bass pulls everything together; it’s the most important piece in the band.”
Art and music were like oxygen to her; that is, until she tried heroin.
Heroin took us on a roller coaster ride that lasted for years. Each period of sobriety for her led to outrageously high hopes for me. Each relapse a new hell, for both of us.
At the peak of her addiction, when I wouldn’t hear from her for a few days or her phone was off for lengthy periods, I would sometimes not be able to control the urge to walk to the closet and feel all the way in the back. Hidden behind everything was a dress. My daughters dress. The silky soft fabric a small comfort to my anguished mind; a desperate link to who my little girl used to be. It brought back memories of a time not cluttered with fear and pain.
About a year prior, while packing away summer clothes I ran across the dress in amongst my things. It didn’t fit her anymore; it was now too big. I couldn’t figure out how it got into my closet but I can’t say I was unhappy to see it. Perhaps I had taken it meaning to donate it. I couldn’t remember. She had once worn it to a wedding and a few other special occasions. I would run my hand along the side of it, picture her smile, her beautiful blue eyes shining. They didn’t shine like that anymore.
The dress was a bitter sweet discovery. I considered just throwing it in the donation bag, but a voice in the back of my mind said, ‘you better not throw it out, you may need to bury her in it.’ Through tears I cleared a spot all the way in the back of the closet and hung it there.
Often when a child or loved one is in active addiction, a cycle starts that you are unaware of until you are nearly consumed by it.
I was terrified she would be arrested, hurt or be found dead. Even though an adult I couldn’t bear the thought of her being cold, hungry, or even being at the mercy of God knows what. I went to extreme lengths to insure that didn’t happen. It was in this cycle that I think part of me lost my mind. I became convinced that if I threw away that dress, she would die. As long as I had it, she wouldn’t need it. If I threw it away there would be a need for it. Having worked in the medical field for over 20 years, I had developed a somewhat heightened sense of superstition. In the hospital a full moon means crazy happenings; never say the word q.u.i.e.t out loud when you are in the building, never bring a book to work to read on a break because you won’t get one etc. This did not help my mental health.
For months, that dress was my secret comfort. If I kept it, I might get to see her eyes shine again.
Throwing it away just wasn’t an option. During that time I had started in a recovery program for families of addicts. I had learned some self care and stopped enabling.
It wasn’t until after her overdose and near death that I was able to let go of the dress. A couple of weeks later I folded it, put it in a bag and took it to the trash. It was in the aftershock of knowing how close she had come to dying that I could no longer deny the truth.
It was a surrender to the knowledge that the will to survive would need to come from her not depend on any outside source including me; that she deserved the dignity of me letting her go to make her own way even if it took her life. I would always be able to recall the girl with the bright smile and shining eyes, but she would have to put the light back in them herself. Even without an addiction there are unforeseen dangers facing everyone and at any minute time can be taken away from us. It is up to us to relish each moment as if our last.
Addiction doesn’t bargain. No amount of begging, pleading or bribing could have made her whole again. I cannot will sobriety into my adult child; I cannot will my dreams for her into existence.
Holding on to that dress was not going to bring my daughter back. If and when she decided to seek help, the person she was at that moment would be the person I would need to love and accept. She had been through too much to ever be the same, just as I would never be the same.
I wish I could say things are perfect. Sobriety does not cure the disease, the real work comes after.Even now with drugs not being a daily battle, I still struggle with wanting to come to her rescue and she still struggles with the wreckage of her choices. There are no happy endings with addiction. Only the reward of facing each day as it comes. Every day brings new challenges but at least now we can start each one with a new dress.
There is an hour, a minute – you will remember it forever – when you know instinctively on the basis of the most inconsequential evidence, that something is wrong. You don’t know – can’t know – that it is the first of a series of “wrongful” events that will culminate in the utter devastation of your life as you have known it.”
― Joyce Carol Oates
Kat Kenner- Kat Kenner- mom, healthcare worker, soap maker, writer and pug wrangler from Arizona. Lives in a small beach community in New Jersey.
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