I will never forget the moment I received a call from the school counselor telling me that my 13 year old little girl, Laura, had been cutting herself. I immediately went to the school and picked her up and took her to a psychiatric treatment facility. They did an assessment and decided that she was not “a danger to herself or others” and recommended outpatient treatment. This was the beginning of many visits to psychiatrists, therapists, and treatment facilities.
I started sleeping in Laura’s bed with her at night. I would go to work everyday and worry about her. I would drive home from work wondering what she might be doing in the short time between coming home from school and my getting home from work. If she didn’t answer her phone when I called I would panic imagining what I might find when I got home. I’d apprehensively walk through the door with images of gore and devastation in my mind. I was so afraid that she would physically hurt herself if I was not there to protect her!
Laura was given antidepressants and was seeing a therapist on a regular basis. I don’t think that it helped much. At one point, when Laura was admitted as an inpatient for a few days, the psychiatrist there, along with the psychiatrist she was seeing as an outpatient, assessed her and decided that she behaved in a bipolar manner. The doctor told us that you can’t really diagnose someone as bipolar as a teenager because they are too young to really have an accurate diagnosis. Often times puberty and bipolar disorder appear very much the same. They decided to treat her for bipolar disorder though. We went through so many different medications and treatment plans. The therapist would give her homework to do trying to help her develop healthy coping mechanisms. Sometimes it felt like things were getting better but then they would get worse again. The doctor told us that’s normal and that we should expect two steps forward and one step back. It felt very much like we did a lot of stepping back though.
It wasn’t until several years later that we discovered Laura’s drug use. I wondered if her drug use was a symptom of her issues or the cause. It appears that it was a little bit of both. Looking back on it now that she’s sober, she’s told me some of her history as a teen with drug use. She would use stimulants when she felt she needed to feel up and sedatives to bring her back down. No wonder we all thought she was bipolar!
It was explained to me that the drug use is always a symptom of some other issue though. If someone is not struggling with something internally, they’re not going to reach for the drugs for self-medication. Laura was looking for anything she could find to make her feel different. She’s told me that she looked for anything that said “may cause drowsiness” on the label. She wanted to sleep. She wanted to feel numb. Very quickly though the drugs became the biggest issue. They took over my daughter’s life and became more important to her than anything else.
The surprising thing to me was how long it took for me to see it. Many times I suspected she might be using something other than her prescribed medications. I searched her room top to bottom on more than one occasion. I searched her car. I went through her phone and computer. Every time I found things I didn’t want to find, but I never found any drugs. It left me believing that my child was mentally ill. It may sound strange, but it was actually relieving to find out that my daughter had a drug problem. I thought this is something that we can address and possibly fix. Mental illness felt unsurmountable.
Drug addiction it’s not an easy thing to fix though. Laura has suffered some major consequences because of her addiction. She is lucky to be alive! I thank God for the rehab facilities and all of the people working in recovery who helped her.
I spent a lot of time kicking myself for not being able to see what the real issue was. I’ve learned since then though that it’s very hard to see it when you’re in the middle of it. Your perspective is different when you’re in the middle of something and surrounded by it as opposed to outside looking in. As a parent it’s very easy to blame ourselves. If you are a parent going through anything similar, take my advice and don’t tear yourself down for not being the perfect parent. That is something that we are all incapable of.
Parenting is without a doubt the most difficult job I’ve ever had! Each child is different. Each situation is different. The right answers don’t come to us easily. I just try my hardest to make sure my kids know how much I love them and I pray to God that I am able to influence their lives in a positive way. Accepting my imperfections and admitting that I cannot control the choices of another person has been essential in my own healing.