The Eyes To See

Substance use disorder doesn’t discriminate. Before Annie was swallowed up in it, she was a successful gymnast, age ten, competing in England while we were living in Greece. She was a gifted artist. And she graduated from college with a B.A. in Journalism. When she was 21, it all fell apart. Why speculate on “Why Annie?” Rich, poor, educated or not, SUD can strike anywhere. And sometimes there is a gene component—four generations in my family—but not always.

The particular poignancy of this mother’s story is that Annie and I mirror each other: we both suffer from substance use disorder. So my story has a bit of a spin to it. It’s all graphically portrayed in my books. I’m not as detached as many parents without such baggage. My guilt and overinflated sense of responsibility consistently got in the way of any objectivity or of my acting intelligently. I had to let go of my remorse before I could be helpful to her. And I had to learn to value myself enough to do that.

That came from working the steps of my recovery program. Self-forgiveness is critical to my ability to move on. Mine has been a classic redemption story.

I have learned to live well, despite the fact that my daughter is estranged from me. Many fellow parents, myself included, are primarily interested in the magic bullet that will save our kids. But I’m glad I stayed around long enough to learn that even though I’m powerless to save my daughter, I can still save myself. There are other voices in my world who call me: other kids, grandkids and many friends. I want to listen and live well for them. That is the message of my story and many others’: that even though I’m weathering a parent’s worst nightmare, I’ve learned that there’s no glory in martyrdom, and that I’ve earned the right to live happily, whether Annie recovers or not. Life goes on, and we with it. I’ve lived a blessed life, and only through my work in recovery have I found the good sense to recognize and be grateful for that.

As I’ve watched Annie slipping away all these years, I’ve learned to view my life through a different lens. The tools of recovery have taught me how to be grateful for what I have, how to let go of people and situations that I cannot change, and to have faith in something greater, wiser, and more powerful than I am. Losing my child to substance use disorder did break me a few years ago, and in my brokenness I turned toward the light that had always been there. I’m so grateful that I still had the eyes to see it.

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