Life, Love, Long Hair, Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth, and other mysteries

All this and more, from a semi-Serbian, slightly sane, former editor for physicians and surgeons, who is the mother of seven kids.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Daughter's Journey From Addiction to Freedom

My oldest daughter, who is now 19, has such a wonderful success story, I can hardly wait for her to publish her side of it.   Right now, her days are pretty darn full, so I will encapsulate a bit of it from my viewpoint, which, I will mention here, has first been read and approved by her.

For privacy, I will change her name.  I will call her "Nirvana".  I think she will like that name.

When Nirvana was a child, I had more than once heard words from friends to the effect of, "I sure don't envy you being her mother."

"How can you LIVE with a child like that?"

"I don't know how you do it.  You must have a lot of patience."

She was a difficult child, to say the least.

By the time Nirvana was 11, she had gone a few times to the care of family friends for a week, just to give the rest of us at home a bit of respite.

She displayed a lot of anger, jealousy, selfishness, bossiness, impudence, and defiance.  She was mean to her siblings, especially my third child, Santana* (*name also changed) who is now 14.

I remember one time, sitting on my bed with Nirvana, talking about her anger, and she said, "It's not that I don't like Santana.  I love her.  I want to stop being mean to her but I don't know how."

I didn't know how to help her.

But I kept praying, for her as well as for me.

Since having left her father in early 2004, I've taken a lot of parenting courses, and maybe if I'd taken them sooner, I could have had some answers for her.

Nevertheless, Nirvana eventually found a way to get better, but not without some very rough lessons along the way.

Shortly after I left her father because I couldn't take his abuse of me any longer, Nirvana ended up in a psychiatric ward for a few weeks.

I had tried to take my four children with me when leaving their dad, but he made it impossible.  (Long story, which can be read here).

While at home with her dad, she got into a fight with him, where she threatened him with a steak knife.  That was the event that wound her up in the psych ward, where she was assessed and medicated, but no long term help was given to her at that point.

By the time she was in her early teens, she got into heavy drinking.

She ran away from her dad and came to live with me.

She got kicked out of not only the junior high school but also from the whole school district, for too many offenses, such as getting into fights, skipping school, sassing the teachers, etc.

She came home from school one day when she was 15 and it was obvious she'd been crying.  She asked me if I knew anyone, in another town, with whom she could go live so she could start fresh.

I thought of my best friend, Shakira* (*name also changed), back near my hometown six hours away, who had previously told me that if ever I and/or my kids needed a place to stay, we could stay with her.

I called Shakira, and plans were made for my daughter to go live there.

However, when Nirvana's father learned of her desire to move away, he invited her to his house and spent a few weeks convincing her not to live with Shakira, but rather to go live with his parents, who also lived in the same area.

During those weeks, Nirvana, having been kicked out of the school district, had nowhere to attend classes.  So much time went by that she missed her chance to start at the beginning of the next semester in the new school.  Her only option by then was to join "the alternate program", which is ill reputed for its harboring of those with little to no desire to do good academically or socially, unless you call partying a beneficial part of growing up.

Had she gone directly to Shakira's house as we'd planned, she would have gotten in on regular schooling and things might have gone easier for her, with more exposure to people heading in the right direction, as she had desired to go, instead of falling back in with another party crowd which she was trying to escape in the first place.

Over the next few months, Nirvana went from wild to wilder.

I was in contact a few times with the school principal - who, interestingly, was my former gym teacher from grade 8, who I thought was awesome, and who remembered me.  (Nirvana was going to my old high school).

The principal and I had discussion about what could be done for Nirvana, which didn't amount to much without her participation.

One thing that happened was Nirvana got a psychological evaluation and it was determined that she had ADHD.  She was prescribed a couple of medications to help with her sleep and her concentration.

The diagnosis helped it all make sense, why I had such a hard time with her all her life, in retrospect going right back to when she was a newborn.

After several months of living with her paternal grandparents, with whom Nirvana was not getting along, she left.  She called me from a gas station and asked for Shakira's phone number.

Shakira was there to pick her up within a couple hours, and quickly became one of my daughter's best friends to this day.

Shakira had her share of hard times with Nirvana, but their rapport was wonderful.  Nirvana calls her "my second mom".

During the summer, Nirvana came to visit me.  She commented with awe over how much she missed our big blue skies, the rolling hills, the lakes, and the peacefulness, and asked to move back in with me.

She said, "But there is one condition:  I want to get into a rehab program.  Can you help me get into one?"

Yes!  Yes, I could help her!  Yes, I did help her!

Before she had even packed her bags and moved back home, I called the community family services agency and asked what kind of help there was for my struggling daughter.

They sent a key worker out to my house and we went over the options, which included a youth drug and alcohol counselor, a personal counselor, a few different alternate school programs from which to choose, as well as some rehab programs of varying lengths and locations from which to choose.

I registered Nirvana in the alternate program at the high school, as that was the only one that was going to work for her at this point in her life, with the difficulties she had in concentrating and getting to class.

Nirvana started attending personal counseling as well as drug and alcohol counseling.

She joined a rugby team and a local Mixed Martial Arts group.

She occasionally went to a local church youth group with some rugby team members.

I was in frequent contact with the teacher of her alternate program, as well as with her key worker and her drug and alcohol counselor, discussing progress as well as struggles, trying to come up with solutions but mostly waiting for a bed to open up at the long-term rehab center on which she and I had decided for her.

On the surface, it looked like things were getting better, but soon her school attendance got worse.

She was spending more and more nights out late or not coming home at all.

I heard from one of the teachers at the alternate program that she was hanging out with those known to be involved in "things that are really not good", without giving me too much information.

I was finding tiny little zip-lock bags all over her room.

Rolled-up five-dollar bills.

I knew what was going on, having been around it enough from her father's use of it, although it would be months before she would admit the truth.


On top of so much else.

I pushed and pushed with the rehab program coordinators, telling them how urgent it was that my daughter get in.

I understood that there was nothing they could do to speed it up, but I didn't want to slip through the cracks so I continued to make my presence known.

All this time, however, Nirvana for the most part was very respectful.  She would call or text to let me know where she was and when she'd be home.  She kept her room tidy, did her laundry, and helped with chores around the house.  When she slipped up and had a moment of rage a few times, she was quick to apologize and made efforts to not go in that direction again.

So there were some positive changes, despite the destructive lifestyle she was living, and had it not been for the loving support and sometimes tough love of "her second mom", Shakira, before moving back in with me, I don't know if she would have even been alive, let alone respectful.

Finally, after endless phone calls from me to various people involved in the rehab program, to the local drug and alcohol counselor, and to the key worker, we got news that there was a bed available at Portage!

Portage is the rehab program responsible for the transformation in my daughter.

I can't say enough good about Portage.

I tear up just thinking how much they've done for her -- how much they supported her and tough-loved her into the realization of her own power to change herself!

On February 2, 2010, we drove five hours to get my daughter to Portage.

Just as I'd seen in the pictures, the buildings were the same shape as my own house, which I thought was a nice little "meant to be" touch to the whole experience.

Our House, Sept 2010

Here's one of the buildings at Portage.  See the video on their website for much more.
During the first three months at Portage, Nirvana had a very hard time.  She was the queen of the rebels in there.

She wanted out.

She sneaked to use the phone when she wasn't authorized to do so, and called to beg me to get her out of there.

I listened to her concerns compassionately.

Then, I phoned the staff to discuss it with them.

It sounded pretty grim, like if she really wanted to get out, they'd not stop her, but they'd still do whatever they could to try to encourage her to stay.

I phoned a few friends to arrange a little incentive for her to stay, such as the promise of a trip upon graduation, to stay with my friend in Hawaii, or a trip to go visit family members she knew in Alaska where we used to live.

But it turned out I didn't need those "bribes" after all, and she decided on her own that she was going to persist with the program.

Within a few more months, Nirvana became what they called "chief" of the girls program.  This status was earned by proving oneself responsible enough to handle such a position, and according to the program staff, with whom I had a teleconference every few weeks, she was not only the first person to achieve such a position in such a short time, she was also doing an excellent job of it and was respected by her peers.

By the time Nirvana was ready to graduate, she had fallen so much in love with the program and the people, it was difficult for her to leave.

My family and I met up with Shakira at Portage at the end of January, 2011, to take part in Nirvana's emotionally moving graduation ceremony.

I video'd the whole thing, being careful not to include any faces other than Nirvana's, as privacy is a huge part of the success of such a program -- the participants need to feel trust in order to heal and to succeed in their goals.

Now here we are, February 2012.

Nirvana is over two years clean and sober.

She attends aftercare meetings and support groups regularly in the city in which she lives, six hours away from me.

She goes to concerts completely sober, associating mostly with people of a similar mindset, but also having some friends who are substance users.

She is now a licensed body piercer with her own tools and has even done my belly-button for me.

She has been cleaning houses for a living while paying her rent, buying her needs and a few wants, and attending an adult learning center to complete her grade 12.

She graduated from that grade 12 program a few weeks ago, and I plan to attend the official grad ceremony next month.

She phones me at least once a week, usually late in the evening on her way home from meetings, while she is on the bus, as that is her only free time, she keeps herself so busy.

She has multiple piercings and tattoos, sometimes wears her dyed black hair in a Mohawk, and is often found in mosh pits rocking out to wild music, but the inner Nirvana is far from the stereotype of such outward appearances.

Sometimes she still struggles with issues in life, like anyone else, but she no longer turns to poisons to muddle her clarity.

She has much support in the form of counselors, friends, family, and social services -- and from the strength and wisdom she has within her.

Her current goal is to become a drug and alcohol counselor.  I have no doubt that if that is the direction she is set on going, she will achieve her goal with flying colours, and that any other goal she sets will be met with the same success.

My girl is a winner.

I'm so proud of her.

I adore, admire, and respect her.

I love her.  


  1. Awesome job "Nirvana" :) I think it's so important that we all look past the outward appearances to the heart and soul of each person...and by sharing this with everyone, you've reminded me of this...

  2. Wow, I'm amazed! But also so very proud of ur daughter!!

  3. Beautifully written, so happy to have witnessed this second half of 'Nirvana's' success. We love hearing from her!

  4. Thank you all for the comments!

    "Nirvana" speaks fondly of you, Portage. Who knows - maybe she will be part of the staff there someday.

    I do hope she gets around to writing her side of the story as I am sure it will inspire many.

  5. This is such a wonderful story to hear, and you sound like a great parent :) Well done, both of you!


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