*Some names have been changed for confidentiality
“Do you think she will make it?”
Her voice murmured with deep desperation: a desperation I’m far too familiar with. She’s a mother of young female heroin addict, and I’m her daughter’s admissions counselor. The one on the front lines between her, her daughter—and her daughter’s disease.
“We will get her here safe. I know we will.”
I speak with confidence, but inside, my stomach twists in a million different directions, knowing that I don’t have the choice in this outcome. I believe in myself, but I have also witnessed the torture of addiction—and, full disclosure, I’ve lived it. So I am not foolish enough to believe there is a concrete answer. Nevertheless, when I took this woman’s first phone call many months before, subconsciously, I made her a promise. I remained optimistic. And at this point, I might have been the only one that was.
About a year prior, a woman names Sandy reached out to me for the first time. Sandy was at her wit’s end with her daughter’s disease. She spoke gruelingly about what the last six years looked like for her family throughout this living hell. From our initial conversation I gathered that her daughter (Katie) had been using heroin for majority of these six years.
Katie had been to a couple treatment centers, but had no success in achieving long term sobriety. Katie had a couple run-ins with law enforcement and also might have been involved in the distribution of heroin. She was in a long term relationship with another heroin user that looked nothing like a real relationship anymore, it resembles more of a companionship of neglect and emotional abuse.
Katie hadn’t been living at home for five out of these six years, and quite frankly it didn’t sound like Katie even wanted to be home. Her mom said she was a really sweet girl growing up. She had a great childhood, lived in a nice part of town, did well in school, had a bright and charming personality. She had all the resources, love, and support she needed to get sober. But as we all know, addiction does not discriminate and she became one of its many victims. Her life skills had come from the streets: how to get food, how to make money, and how to survive.
And when someone is in full-fledged addiction, surviving is the only thing that matters.
So here we are. Sandy and I, an hour into our phone call. My heart is tender from a mixture of pain and gratitude. Gratitude, that this woman trusts me enough to be so vulnerable with me. I always admire the parents that get on the phone and are so willing to share it all. It’s hard and absolutely terrifying for them. They get so accustomed to hiding the addiction that society has shamed, and that’s why the stigma of addiction is so devastating, because it shames families into silence, and the catch 22 is that honesty is the key to saving an addict’s life
I empathized with her. I’d like to say that Katie’s story shocked me, but it didn’t in the slightest. This is my story too, and a handful of previous cases i’ve worked on. Something inside me latches on to this case mentally, and emotionally, even psychically. I was so drawn to this case it became an obsession. I wanted to help Sandy’s daughter.
I want to help her daughter.
I need to help her daughter.
I am going to help her daughter.
So my subconscious promise was set in stone. I had a plan in the making. There was a call to action. Her mom—her entire family—was on the train. The passion we all had in those early weeks enthralled me, I felt like we were rewriting history in this family. They began setting boundaries with Katie, cut off all financial support, even communication. We were doing it: we were getting her into treatment.
Months went by with nothing.
At this point, I had gotten to know the Sandy very well. I learned that she has two other younger children, whom are both very active in sports. She and her husband strongly encourage and support them, in fear they will turn out like Katie. I know what her husband does for work. I know that she and her husband are happily married, but her daughter’s addiction has her full attention right now, and causes tension between them. I know that she loves Starbucks, and drinks it nearly every morning.
I know that she is secretly stalking her daughter’s Facebook most of the day to track any activity—to make sure she’s still alive. I know that she spends most of the night in panic instead of sleeping, wondering about state of her daughter’s condition. I know sometimes she breaks the boundary rule and sneaks her daughter money or cigarettes. I know how much she loves Katie. I also know she is tired—so, so tired. And she knows me pretty well too. Over the past six months, we’ve bonded over her daughter’s addiction.
Desperate to help, I started getting creative. I tried to set up an intervention, but Katie didn’t show. I called Katie, texted her, and even Facebook messaged her, but she didn’t answer.
I told her family I would fly up there and find her, which is definitely not in my job description. I didn’t even know if my boss would grant me that permission, but at that point I didn’t care. I was committed. (And yeah, her family talked me out of that one.)
I backed off for a little before I drove myself crazy. Months passed. I was still communicating with Sandy. I took her frantic calls and 1:00am text messages. She would still answer my check in calls as well, and updated me with any news about Katie. We supported each other. We trusted each other, which I believe to this day was the most important factor to us accomplishing this hellish task.
One day, Sandy called me. Before I could even say hello, she exclaimed with total excitement, “Katie went to her grandmother’s and said how miserable she was, and she knows she needs help!”
This was a huge step for us. When an addict is willing to admit defeat from their addiction, they are willing to listen.
From my experience, I knew the spot we were in. I call it “the window of opportunity,” which is the microscopic amount of time when someone in active addiction is willing to receive help, we can take action, before they get sucked back into the comfort of their addiction. I quickly jumped into my plan to action. The whole family was prepared: we’d been rehearsing this scene over and over for the past 10 months.
Somehow I got Katie on the phone with me. My heart was racing, my head was racing, but I remained calm. I know her, the ins and outs of her. In a way, it was like I was talking to an old friend. In a way, I kind of was—years before, I had been her. I told her to pack her bags, she’s getting on a plane in two days. She didn’t say anything, but I knew inside that that meant she agreed to this proposal.
“Do you trust me?” I asked at the end of our conversation.
“Yes,” Katie said in a shy voice.
“Good, then make sure you get on that plane,” I said as I hung up the phone.
The next few days were absolutely insane. I don’t think Sandy and I stopped texting the whole time. Sandy asked me so many questions. We came up with so many back-up plans, we laughed together in relief that we had finally made it this far, and we cried together in fear she would do what addicts do and disappear. We were in this. We were doing it: we were getting her daughter into treatment.
Then, the day came. It was two hours before Katie’s flight, and she was holed up in a hotel and wouldn’t come out. Sandy was losing faith. I can’t lie: I was, too. I knew what happened at this point. They use and they run, because the thought of changing everything is the scariest thing in the world to an addict. I remained calm and supportive and told her it was going to all work out. Then I prayed.
I called a million times, but Sandy wasn’t answering. I was pacing back and forth. An hour and fifteen minutes went by.
Finally, I looked down on my phone.
She is on the plane, Sandy texted.
I sighed the biggest sigh of relief. Feeling overwhelmed by emotion, I grabbed the nearest thing to me, which happened to be my boyfriend, and I cried. I cried for a long time. It was over—even though the real journey had just begun, chasing this awful disease was over.
In that moment, I rejoiced, knowing that I followed through with my promise. In that moment, I could breathe. And call me crazy, but every ounce of faith I had in Katie getting into treatment, I restored in her achieving lasting sobriety. There’s something about these young women. I can’t help but have complete and undoubted faith that they will find the path. This has failed me—I have been wrong—but the times I’m right make this whole thing worth it. And I’ll do it over and over and over again.
Today, Katie has almost nine months sober. She works the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. She has a job, an honest relationship with her family, and the brightest smile I’ve ever seen. I am so grateful to have been the link to the beginning of her journey. I talk with her often. I also still talk with Sandy. We catch up every couple months. I still give her advice, and she tells me stories about Katie’s progression in sobriety. They are among one of the many of the experiences that has taught me so much about not only my profession, but myself. I am forever grateful for them. I can’t tell you what the future holds for Katie, if she will stay sober for the rest of her life. That not up to me. I can tell you that miracles happen every day, and in this moment she is doing pretty damn well.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with many many Sandys and many Katies. I can’t read the future. I don’t know how things are ever going to turn out. Sometimes, in spite of all my efforts, I fail and addiction wins. That is the hard reality about this disease. It will consume and destroy everything in its path. Sometimes, though we—the families, treatment professionals, friends, husbands, wives—sometimes, we do win. And truly I believe those days are what keep me working in this field. I can’t tell you exactly what made things turn out like they did in regards to Katie. But I’d like to say it was a little bit of faith, perseverance, little bit of God—or the universe—and a whole lot of hope.
NB: All reasonable efforts have been made by this writer to protect client confidentiality. Because of this, names and identifying details in this piece have been changed, omitted, and/or embellished.