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[ Opinion ] [ Personal Narratives ]

A Mother & daughter overcome Heroin addiction

Our personal story to hell and back.
By Sarah and Emily Gammel

The Three C’S

Sarah: You didn’t Cause it, you can’t Control it, and you surely can’t Cure it.

This became my new mantra that I found myself repeating out loud at night, as my daughter Emily found herself again, enveloped in the harrowing depths of a heroin addiction.

If you’ve ever been to Alanon you might have heard of the three C’S. They are listed above. It was nice to hear them said, when I first attended an alanon meeting.. As most parents and loved ones of addicts, I’m sure that you can attest to how soothing validation is when dealing with the disease of addiction.

Yet, for me it only provided minimum comfort when I’d rehearse these words aloud as I laid awake at night, staring at the ceiling, fearing what was going to become of the beautiful young woman my daughter once was. I didn’t cause her addiction, I can’t control her addiction and I can’t cure her addiction. Only Emily could help Emily. This was such a hard lesson I had to learn, as a parent. It’s  been a long standing job to protect my child, but this was completely out of my hands. The only thing I could do was help her , help herself. All the while attempting to keep myself healthy as well. Unfortunately, this didn’t always happen. I mean, how could it? I loved my children more than life itself, and here I was, mentally preparing myself in case she didn’t make it. I sat engulfed with worry and angst that I was quite possibly going to bury my youngest child. Emily was teetering right on the edge of giving up on herself.  I can’t express in words just how terrifying this feels as a mother to witness this.

In many ways, we were in this together. Yet, I spent many nights feeling so deeply alone. I just wanted to give my daughter a fighting chance at recovery and a life that she so desperately deserved.

However , with the addict inside her, or as I like to say “possessing her” she was now a mere shadow of the vibrant outgoing smart bubbly girl I had loved all these years.

She lied to me, every word that came out of her mouth, was a lie. She only came to me if she needed money, or needed me to bail her out of the numerous predicaments the disease of addiction got her into.

She stole from me. My jewelry was disappearing, at an alarming rate, I slept with my car keys under my pillow. after losing large amounts of money, I learned to hide my pocketbook when she graced me with her presence. Which again, only happened when there was an alterior motive.

Gone , were the days we spent together for the sole purpose of enjoying each other’s company. We used to love shopping , and taking weekend trips to the ocean in the summer. Those days had suddenly felt like another lifetime. I mourned my daughter, as she walked physically here on Earth, but spiritually was dead. There was no signs of the life we were both desperately clinging onto.

I missed my daughter and. I would do whatever I could to get her back before it was too late.

Emily: I used to walk past my mom, as her red eyes seered from staring at the computer screen, where she spent endless hours online researching the newest treatment modalities available. I, of course couldn’t have comprehended at that time just how much my struggle with heroin was affecting her

My mother would be on her phone waiting on hold every day, in the wee hours of the early morning, just to hear “call back tomorrow, there are no beds available” I’m sure as the mother of a heroin addict, 24 hours seemed like a lifetime.

Still I didn’t know just how gut wrenching that must have felt to hear this repeatedly, as she called every local detox in a 100 mile radius.

When a bed finally did become available, I was the first one to find a reason why I just couldn’t go. I chuckle to myself now at the irony, although it wasn’t so funny back then. I’d fight with my mom as I passionately declared myself to be too good for most treatment facilities

“Mom, I’m not going there, they have rats, and I’m not sleeping with bedbugs” I’d proclaim. Yet the nights that followed were spent in the seediest run down motels, with other addicts I barely knew. I smoked crack cocaine and shot IV heroin in rooms made up of squalor and filth. I didn’t shower, and anyone who’s experienced addiction first hand, can vouch that the stench that emanates from your pores, when using is like no other.

This is how addiction works, I justified everything, I acted completely irrational, and was in the upmost denial about the grim reality of my situation.

Yet my mother never gave up on me. There are times where I wish she would have, and there are times where it would’ve been completely reasonable to cut ties, to save her own sanity, but she didn’t.

Often times, my mother would try to put her foot down , and draw the line. Tough love as some might call it. Yet somehow the addict in me, would con her into believing that this was her fault, that being addict was a direct result of failed parenting.

I’d crucify her for all that went wrong in my life, big and small.

I didn’t mean these words and now can fully admit that I was the sole person responsible for getting using heroin. No one else.

Sarah: When Emily finally did make it to treatment, I remember what a sigh of relief it was. I could finally breathe. However if I’m being honest, I knew that her impulsivity had led her back out the door before, in full blown relapse status. I spent many days waiting for the other shoe to fall. Waiting for a voicemail left from a detox counselor to sympathetically inform me “,Emily took off with another addict earlier today.” Yes I had received these calls before, and they were the most dreadful.

This time though, the only phone call I received was from Emily. She was clear headed, sounding full of life once again, asking if I’d please come to visit on the weekend. She was in a halfway house.

I’d wake every Saturday morning to make the 2 hour long journey, for a short one hour visit with my daughter. All the families and recovering addicts would gather in the small family room allotted just for visitation. We were packed in like Sardines. This was the highlight of every week, as I slowly watched her regain so much of what had been lost to heroin. Emily’s smile that was so contagious when she was a child, had returned brighter than ever. She laughed, a laugh that I had forgotten what it sounded like, after it had gone silent so long ago, Her face no longer gaunt, and pale had filled back out. The gradual transformation was incredible, but also scary, given the bleak statistics of those who actually maintain recovery from addiction. The most important thing I learned was to live in the now. Every time I caught myself worrying I shut it down. Emily always reminded me, “Mom, all we have is today, the present.” She practiced this concept in everyday life and I also came to live by it. I was proud of her growth, and still continue to be in awe of her new found determination to give herself and her children a better life.

Emily: When I got clean, I couldn’t fathom just how brutal my addiction had been for my family, especially my mother. I think as addicts we tend to believe that no one truly cares about us, and that we are only harming ourselves. It’s clear to see that this was nothing more than my mind giving me permission to continue using. All the pain and suffering was reflected back at me, as I sat across from my mother that first visit. I could see the relief, but also the pure exhaustion that permeated through in her eyes gazing into mine. I wanted nothing more than to take all the hurt I caused, away. Right then in that moment. This is another common trait addicts struggle with. Delaying gratification, and patience. I wanted her to feel better NOW, but deep down I knew this wasn’t possible. I didn’t cause this pain in one day, and I wasn’t going to abolish it in one day either. Time, is by far one of the hardest things to accept.

My mom was and still is in many ways , my backbone, and although it’s tough to hear how much pain my addiction inflicted on her and my family, I need to hear it. We all need to hear it. The stories we addicts share are so important but the stories our loved ones have to tell are of equal importance. As addicts we feel isolated, and through my mother’s story and others I’ve recognized that they too , are fighting the battle of addiction, just in a different way, At times, the pain they feel is greater than us addicts. They stay strong for us, when we feel weak. They face the same negative stigma and judgments, we do . The blame they place on themselves is heart wrenching ,and the helplessness they feel is insurmountable.

Addiction is a family disease.


I’m so grateful for my mother. As a mother of two myself, I know the unconditional love that is ingrained with being a parent. Without any doubt I know that my mother did everything out of love, and only wanted the best for me. I only hope that I can be as supportive and loving with my children, if ever they are faced with having to battle an addiction.

Sarah : I want to end our story  by saying how deeply sorry I am and feel for the loved ones who’ve lost their family members to the disease of addiction.

My heart especially goes out to other parents grieving the loss of their children. I see it all too often as a nurse in the emergency room, and it affects me deeply on a personal level. I hope that reading this you know you aren’t alone and there are people out there who are thinking and praying for you.

It just so happens that Emily was one of the lucky ones, overcoming this addiction before she succumbed to it.

To the mothers and fathers out there whose children continue to struggle, please be gentle with yourselves. Please know that your children love you, even if the addict that lies within them says differently.

To the addicts, out there who are still active, please know that you are loved and when you are ready, others in recovery will be there waiting with open arms.

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