Growing up, I lived in a bubble where addiction didn’t exist. I was one of four children. My dad had a great corporate career and my mom worked in health care. I grew up tagging along on business trips and spending summers in Europe with family.
Soon, I was in my 20s and shuttling four kids to school and sporting practices. Life was good. We had two birth children and raised two of my husband’s cousin’s kids after their dad died. All four of my kids are close in age. They were my number one priority.
Life didn’t stay this easy for us. We decided to move to the country. We found a beautiful little rural town, and what looked like the perfect place turned into the perfect storm for my children. As we later found out, we had a lot of history of addiction in our family. Soon after moving, our town was hit hard by what we now know as the opioid crisis.
When my children became addicted to opioids, I was sure I must have done something wrong. During that time, I spent every moment of my life focusing only on them and their disease. As a mom, my first instinct was to protect my children. I soon forgot all about me and only focused on trying to “fix” them. I got to a point that I wouldn’t leave my home. I was afraid I would miss the knock on the door to tell me one of my children didn’t survive. I would cringe at the sound of every ambulance or police car that I heard. I spent every moment I could searching for the miracle cure.
We had some ups and downs on our journey. It seemed as one child would become sober, one would relapse. On any given day I could have a different number of children working on sobriety or in active addiction; that number fluctuated often. As time went on, we got to a point that all four of them were doing well. But I wasn’t.
My life had been so consumed by all of the craziness that came along with multiple kids using substances. I didn’t know who I was anymore, or even what I liked to do. Not too much later, grandkids were born. Soon after that, more relapses came. One by one like dominoes, my children fell back into using opioids. That’s when I became a grandmother raising grandchildren.
I knew to be the best me I could be for my grandbabies I had to step back from the chaos and find another way. I became very active in many online groups as well as in my community.
My online searches eventually led me to Partnership to End Addiction’s parent coach program. Here, I learned so many new skills. Skills that have really changed the way I communicate with my children and even my grandchildren. Skills that I believe helped lead three of my children into recovery. Being a volunteer parent coach has been so important to me. I am able to listen to and share my experience with the terrified mother of a newly homeless or incarcerated young adult, or the mother that just found out that addiction has taken hold of her child as well. By being able to share my journey with these parents, and also remind them to not forget about themselves, I hope that I am able to spare them from experiencing some of the really bad days – the days that I had in the beginning.
Even though I spent years learning as much as I could and searching for that miracle cure, I never found it. In 2018, my Tommy was sober for nine months when he made the last decision he would ever make. He was found in his sober home bed. That day I was out with my granddaughter. The call I had spent so many years waiting for, came, and I missed it.
As it turned out, through the parent coach program, I had learned how to care for me and how to live life again. Missing that call didn’t change anything, and it certainly didn’t make it any less devastating. What I learned is that it’s true – our fear can paralyze us. I waited all of those years for that call, afraid to be out just in case it would happen. I gave up all of those years of living waiting for a call that I couldn’t possibly change the outcome of – no matter how much I wanted to.
I don’t remember much of the days to follow – what I do remember is the love and compassion from my fellow parent coaches. They carried me when I couldn’t carry myself. While I focused on making sure my three surviving children in early recovery were safe, they swarmed around me. They provided support and helped with everything from contacting funeral homes to researching how I should tell Tommy’s children.
The months that have followed since Tommy’s death have been difficult. I have had to learn how to mourn Tommy while still celebrating the milestones of my surviving children who have remained on their recovery journey. All while raising grandkids and remembering to practice self-care. Many days have been one breath at a time. For me, the Partnership to End Addiction’s parent coach program has been a vital part of surviving this new journey.