Panicked: Our Child Was Living on the Streets

My stepdaughter Katherine was living on the streets with her “meth family” — but we didn’t know where.

We spent countless days and nights waiting for the phone to ring, searching the streets of San Francisco for her whereabouts, seeking help from drug users, police, anyone who would listen to our plight. 

We were in a panic, wondering where she was, where she was sleeping, if she was eating, if she was alive — or if we were about to receive the dreaded call every parent fears. 

Trying to cope with our daily routines was almost unbearable as Katherine’s disappearance consumed us.  Yet we knew we had to stick together in order to rescue her.  We had to stay strong and did so by using these four approaches:

1. FORM A TEAM WITH YOUR SPOUSE/PARTNER:  I cannot tell you how hard it is as a step-mom to convince a biological parent that his child, who he’s known and loved since birth, needs serious, outside help.  But it’s so important that the couple is in absolute, total agreement before redirecting their efforts to saving the child’s life from an addiction.  So, the first thing to do is to form a team that is in total agreement of a) the addiction and b) the approach and methods to getting your child back.

2. STAY POSITIVE:  You have to give up the idea of being “super mom or dad” and trying to “fix” your child’s addiction as if it were a homework issue.  We had to turn over some of the parental instinct and control to a higher power.  This did not mean we gave up, but rather, we stayed optimistic, hoping this positive thinking would keep us sane. We were sure to reassure her friends — and any other possible points of contact — that we were not angry or bitter but simply there for her.  We began to restructure how we thought by taking the negative, guilt-ridden talk out of our vocabulary.  We knew that, as parents, we made mistakes but were not responsible for our daughter’s choices.  We made it our personal mission to move beyond the past and “what if’s” and into the present with a hope for her recovery.

3. LISTEN:  When we did get the chance to see or talk to Katherine…we listened.  This was hard at times because the person speaking wasn’t the Katherine we knew, but nonetheless, they were her words.  We felt it was good for her to talk it out…hoping her moment of clarity would surface and she would accept our support.  We always told her we loved her because somewhere, deep down inside, we believed this positive reinforcement would resonate.

4. STAY STRONGER:  The most difficult part is staying stronger than their street-tough influences.  There were many times we had to make decisions that were not easy.  On one occasion we had to turn down Katherine’s plea for “bus money” and watch her walk away…praying that moment wasn’t going to be our last.  We had to learn to allow Katherine to “want” her freedom from the nightmare and that we could not “make” it happen ourselves.

Fortunately for us we did not lose Katherine to drugs.  Our family was able to come out the other side and into recovery.  In my next post, I’ll explain the process of how she acknowledged the need for help and where we went from there.

17 Responses

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    Jeff Cowling

    October 8, 2010 at 2:34 AM

    My story is literally a hybrid of all the above stories. My daughter is 22 and her name is Brittany. She has a 4 1/2 year old son who lives with us. He is the only thing she really cares about other than meth. I have confronted her with the evidence but the denial in just unfathomable. My wife and I have investigated the Teen Challenge recovery program and are impressed. Getting her there is the challenge. We now realize that she will have to hit literal bottom for her to admit she needs help. The local director of Teen Challenge has been sending her e-mails & is trying to call her. A narcotics officer I have spoken with has also been trying to call her as a favor to lay out the facts. Many of our friends & family have been bombarding her with messages of love & prayer. God, prayer, hope, family & friends are what we cling to. I speak to anyone who will listen to help relieve the pain. I’d be interested in some follow-ups to these posts, particularly Catherine’s.

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    carol cameron

    May 16, 2010 at 5:53 AM

    i live in Australia. my 17 year old son has been using hallucinogens for 3 years. he has had x3 psychotic episodes and has been dealing. he owes money. a month ago his life was threatened and so he left and is now in another state – no money unless I give it, so insight, a dodgy girldfriend who has overdosed three time this month. living on the streets i despair for his future – how can he ever pay the debt, get a life, come home…. my life is on hold as I wait to hear from him, dreading the phone ringing, scared if it does not. I dont know what to do and today I simply can’t bear it.

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