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For the past eight years, I've been a mom to Alexandra's children. But no matter how many noses I wipe and lunches I pack, Nathan and Leilah are keenly aware that their real mother isn't here.

Recently, they were reunited, and it was bittersweet.

Alexandra had last seen her oldest two kids 18 months ago, when she was in the throes of addiction. She saw Michael when he was a little over a year old.

I cried seeing my daughter with her children. There were lots of tender hugs, sweet kisses and precious tears from everyone and I could almost see the love, like a little cloud hovering above them. But the cloud didn't burst – because in the heartbreaking truth, my daughter and her children barely know each other.

The little family spent about an hour together. The visit was kept short for Alexandra's wellbeing – the counselors were keenly aware of how overwhelming this moment would be for her. I understand that approach. I agree with it. It makes sense. But it didn't change my feeling that again, the children were last on the priority list.

Nathan and Leilah had been so excited to see their mother. Nathan, I'm afraid, had visions of everything changing – that his mother would become his own now, and that she would be there to snuggle him good night and kiss him good morning. Of course I had explained Alexandra's situation to him – but he's eight. His hopes were high.

When the hour ended, Nathan was angry. He said he couldn't believe that an hour had passed. "It seemed like only a few minutes," he said, a few minutes that he had to share with his sister and toddler brother. Leilah just became quiet, then started meekly asking to "see Mommy again." There was no way I could explain, in a way that they could understand, why Alexandra couldn't see them again. She had looked well, and acted healthy – in their minds, she was making a choice not to be with them. Again.

But my daughter is not emotionally healthy yet. She's now thinking clearly, and beginning to realize how much of her children's lives she has missed. It's like she has awakened from a nightmare and discovered that life kept moving without her. Any day now, I'm afraid, the full extent of how she has damaged her son and daughters will hit her like a physical blow. It will be a devastating moment.

And it will make her determined to jump into motherhood. But she can't.

The best the best gift she can give her children and prepare for the demands of parenting is to continue working on her sobriety and learning how to take care of herself. Through that process, she can build the spiritual and mental strength she'll need to be a mother, a daughter, a sister – and a contributing member of society.

I'm nearly as impatient as Nathan, for a different set of reasons. I'm tired. I feel old. I'm ready to substitute the carefree joys of being a grandmother for the daily grind of parenting three young children. I love my kids – and believe me, I consider them my kids – but at this point, I'm also willing to share the parenting responsibilities with someone younger and more energetic than me.

Alexandra also had a reunion via satellite with her younger sister Katherine, herself a new mother now. Katherine looked beautiful and calm – and reserved. Now that she has young Paul, I think she more fully resents the choices her sister made. Learning to trust Alexandra will take time for her, and will fully depend on Alexandra being willing to prove herself worthy of that unconditional sisterly love. I hope both girls are patient enough to wait for that time to come.
 
One of my biggest fears for my daughter, Alexandra, is for her to relapse. One day last week, I was talking to Alexandra and she was telling me how she was cleaning up debris from the beach with some of the women in her sobriety group. Alexandra said she found some caps from needles. I asked her how that made her feel and she explained that although it brought back old memories of using, she had no desire to go back to that way of life. Good Answer!

A few days later I got a feeling I should call Alexandra again. When I reached her, she said she was by herself, was walking home from a meeting. I thought this was odd because my understanding was that no one is to walk by herself, especially during spring break on the Island. Come to find out, Alexandra walked home with a young man from the men's sober living group.

Alexandra was very defensive when I asked her about it, her stories didn't line up with what she told her counselors. Alexandra had been unaccountable for about an hour and that didn't sit well with anyone.

Apparently, Alexandra was held accountable for her actions. I felt my stomach drop. I couldn't believe my daughter, after all the work she has done, would do something to put herself at risk.

I was going to surprise Alexandra by coming to visit her the following week. That plan was canceled because Origin's felt Alexandra needed to process her choices. I feel like not allowing me to come see Alexandra was a punishment to Alexandra and me. Or maybe just me.

I am confident the amazing counselors at Origins will help Alexandra figure out what is best, even if that means taking away her phone. The good thing about her phone is that we can see whom she calls and when – like the father of one of her children, more than a few times. Thankfully, none of the drug dealers or addicts she used to hang with.

Although I felt sad about Alexandra's choices, I have to think about the positive and believe she knows exactly what she is doing. I hope and pray in my heart that Alexandra got it and continues moving forward in the right direction. I want to visit Alexandra soon; I miss her very much.
 
I tend to overanalyze my life. I make mountains out of molehills. When my girls were young, a single bad grade and I felt like a terrible parent.

In other words, I often fail to distinguish between real failures and small setbacks.

My daughter and I are both in recovery right now. Alexandra is in recovery from her addiction to alcohol and opiates – and I am in recovery from my addiction to preventing people from being their true selves. In this way, my own behavior has contributed to Alexandra's drug abuse. I know this now, and it has been a bitter pill to swallow. But I understand how my obsession with perfection has contributed to the failures and weaknesses of everyone around me. If Marty is late coming home from work, for example, I worry he doesn't want to be home at all, and I accuse him of that, which leads him, of course, to not want to be home. If one of the children throws a tantrum wanting a toy, I tend to get the toy to preserve the peace, which teaches the child that misbehavior has its rewards.

So my "enabling" behavior often creates bigger problems. And while I'm trying to change, sometimes I slip.

Recently, Alexandra asked us to send her a cell phone for her birthday. She had successfully moved from treatment center at Hannah's House into the transitions house, and she wanted the convenience, she said, of being able to talk to her children whenever she wanted. It made sense to me.

More importantly, though, I knew it would make her happy. And making her happy is a big payoff for me.

Within days of receiving the phone, Alexandra's recovery hit a speed bump. She began calling some old contacts, and trying to hide that from me. I was so tempted to start tracking her calls and obsessing about who she was reaching out to – but I stopped. I remembered that Alexandra's journey is not mine – she will have to steer herself down this road by herself. Instead, I let go and let God. She will have to figure this out on her own.

I wish this recovery process was a straight road – a START HERE X followed by a long line and a FINISHED X. But it's more like a treacherous mountain path marked by fallen tree branches, narrow passageways and the occasional falling rock. It's literally step by step, though. Alexandra and I will make mistakes – I know this. Sometimes I have to make mistakes over and over before I finally get it. Why my mind works that way isn't important – I would love to understand it, but I don't. What's more important is trusting the process, and trusting that there's a Higher Power that relieves me of having to orchestrate everything and everyone in the world. In my case, that Higher Power is God.

It has taken me a very long time to reach this place of surrender, and in that time, my need for control has caused unnecessary struggles and suffering among those I most love. I denied my daughter the right and dignity to make her own mistakes and learn from her mistakes; I denied her the right to grow up. I am learning that life isn't a bowl of cherries after all. It's messy and disorganized, more like a bowl of tangled spaghetti noodles, and that's just fine. I hope to approach the future with a calm patience that I haven't always felt, and in this way, I will breathe light and assurance into Alexandra's life instead of darkness and control.

I am letting go.
 
I sleep better at night knowing Alexandra is safe, safe for the first time in many years. Do I miss Alexandra? No, I don't miss the Alexandra that entered treatment 120 days ago, the addicted, manipulative, dishonest, immature child I left in the hands of the amazing people at Origins.

Truth be told, since Alexandra became pregnant with Nathan, our relationship has been strained at best. Sadly, I have not missed the old Alexandra, although, I am anxious to spend some quality time with the sober Alexandra. I want learn more about the healthy, recovering, articulate, smart, funny woman Alexandra is becoming through her recovery at Origins.

Living in Transitions, a step-down living facility before sober living, is helping Alexandra ease back into the world. Transitions gives Alexandra the opportunity to test the waters of life while maintaining accountability to Origins.

Alexandra is creating a new and healthy life and I feel a sense of inner peace knowing my daughter is safe and is beginning to enter the world equipped with the proper coping skills.

Alexandra talks with her children once a week via Skype, which is helpful to Alexandra and her children; giving everyone a chance to get know each other again. Leilah and Nathan vie for their mommy's attention by shoving each other out of camera range. Michael throws things – like his diaper – at the computer screen.

For her 24th Birthday, Marty and I gave Alexandra a phone. Now we speak several times a day. Usually, I am very busy corralling the children, cleaning, doing laundry, etc, so Alexandra gets to hear my busy day! My day is not particularly exciting or adventurous and sometimes I feel so tired, I feel like I could sleep for a week. Then Michael gives me a big smile and throws something hard at my head and I wake up!

Although we can't see into the future, and we must "Take One Day at a Time," I am also looking forward to Alexandra helping out with the children!
 
120 days! Alexandra writes the day of sobriety at the top of each letter she sends. It is amazing how much a handwritten letter can mean so much more than a text or email. Waiting for Alexandra's letters to arrive, I am filled with anticipation and hope.

I am not counting the days or minutes of Alexandra's sobriety, but rather the moments of clarity and the amazing epiphany's Alexandra and I both encounter. Like realizing a root cause of an addiction and being able to see the pattern and stop before it becomes a problem, that  "Ah Ha!" moment.

Alexandra knows each new day is precious and full of possibilities. Unlike several months ago, when I counted each day of her addiction, wondering if the next phone call was filled with terrible news. I would pour through her Facebook friends to see if anyone was arrested, hurt, or worse, dead.

These were all signs of my illness. Addiction doesn't just affect the addict. Addiction affects people close to the addict as well. I am sure I carried my diseased way of thinking and distorted coping skills into my marriage and how I raised my children. My parents were alcoholics and I learned survival skills very early. Skills that worked for me when I was 5, 11, 15...But those skills became warped and non-functional as I grew older. 

In my effort to "help" Alexandra, I denied her the right to make her own decisions and live by those choices. It was always my way, because I knew better than anyone in the world!

The success of Alexandra's recovery and sobriety depends on Alexandra. Her family can also either contribute to her success or make it harder for her. Alexandra has changed and every day she is taking careful and very purposeful steps to maintain her sobriety,

How can I make her sobriety harder? If I remain the same and do not make changes as well, her sobriety will be challenged when she is around me.

Learning to "Let Go and Let God" feels risky to me. But, I am learning to trust God and Alexandra. Even if Alexandra makes choices I don't like or disagree with, I will not deny her the dignity to choose and succeed or fail for herself.

I am looking forward to a healthy future with my daughter. A future where we can disagree and have a discussion about the disagreement and it is OK! I realize how important it is to be clear about my feelings and listen carefully to Alexandra without judgment.
 
Tomorrow morning I will see Alexandra for the first time in years.

I know that seems strange to say – I saw her just two months ago when I delivered her here to Origins Recovery Center. But that was just the shell of my daughter – the skin and hair and face hiding a body nearly ravaged by drugs. I left her 60 long days ago, and she cried when she learned I had gone. She was a broken child with an adult dependency that was stealing her life away.

No more. Tomorrow I will see the real Alexandra, my little girl, now clean and sober and learning to live again.

I don't think I will ever understand the emotional and physical pain she has endured during this initial battle to get clean. I am so proud of her – prouder than the day I brought her home as a newborn. And in some ways, it's a similar scenario, for Alexandra has been newly born again into a life without drugs. Starting now, she will walk slowly toward adulthood. She carries a lot of baggage, of course – but piece by piece, I expect her to drop those burdens on the side of the road, and reduce them to nothing more than memories. I know she can complete this difficult, necessary journey. I know it; I want her to know that I know it.

During these past two months, we have had brief 10-minute phone calls once a week. It was impossible to delve into subjects of any consequence. We only had time to listen to each other's voices, and assure ourselves that we were both committed to seeing this through. So the prospect of seeing her tomorrow – of hugging her, stroking her hair, and wiping her tears – I don't even know how I'll sleep tonight. My impulse will be to never let her go – but if I've learned nothing else over these past years, it's that impulse control is key. I cannot take her away from this healing, sober place; I cannot tell her what I think she should do; I cannot criticize anything, in fact, not at this point. What she needs in abundance is my love.

Over the next few days here at Origins, we will learn how addiction not only sickens the addict, but the addict's friends and family as well. We will learn how to better communicate with each other, and how to heal ourselves. I need to learn how to – there's no other way to put this – I have to Shut Up. I have to admit to myself that I don't know how to do this. I can change diapers, cook dinners, fold laundry, run a household – but help my darling daughter learn to live a sober life? I have everything to learn, and I intend to take advantage of this generous opportunity to learn it.

So I listen and learn, and I share my heart openly with my daughter for perhaps the first time ever. I'm not perfect, and I want to make sure Alexandra understands that we'll be feeling our way through this maze together.

Knowing how important it is for Alexandra to have the support of her family, I'm sad and disappointed that Marty decided against coming. He said he couldn't take time off work, but I know it's more than that – it's hard stuff, this recovery business. In a way, it's a woman's work – sharing, talking, emoting – all the traits so difficult for men to successfully carry. I think Marty dreads talking about his role – our role – in Alexandra's addiction, and certainly he doesn't relish delving into some of the toxicity that at times has tainted our marriage and our family.

The old Erin would have browbeat him into going. But I now understand that it has to be his decision. I assured Alexandra that her father loves her and wants to help her, but I left it up to her to interpret his reluctance to visit.

When I arrive home, Marty quizzes me on every detail of the visit. I'm exhausted; he can't conceive of how emotionally raw I feel. I tell him what I can, and I know he's frustrated that I won't say more. But really, I can't say more. Words can't describe the catharsis of re-learning how to raise a daughter who's already grown. I can't tell him how to do it. He has to learn it for himself. I hope and pray he'll figure that out soon.

Alexandra calls the next Sunday and mentions wanting to come home to Florida for her sober living transition time. Of course I want her near me – but I know that will be beyond dangerous. Her "friends" – fellow addicts – are not making changes. It's much easier to pull someone down than to pull someone up.

I don't know how to answer her, so I don't say much at all. Part of me wants to say, "Of course you should come home." But the realist in me is practically shouting: "You can never come home again."


 
Alexandra calls me asking for money, food, and a place to sleep:  "Just 20 dollars, Mom. PLEASE!"


It's hard for me to say no. I imagine my little girl hungry. $20? I'd give her $20,000 if I thought it would fill the void in her belly. But she doesn't want food. She wants to get high. So I say no, again and again, and my heart breaks a little bit more each time.

It's the addiction talking, I tell myself. The addiction wants $20. My sweet Alexandra wants me to scoop her up and whisk her to safety, and that's what I want to do. But I have to wait until Alexandra is ready to ask for it.

One Saturday morning, Alexandra calls three times, asking for this and that. The fourth time, I sigh. I don't want to pick up that phone. I'm tired. But I answer it, and my jaw automatically starts saying, "No."

But this call is different. Alexandra tells me she is ready to check out Origins, the treatment facility Dr. Phil has recommended. I almost drop the phone, my heart pounds and my mind races, remembering Dr. Phil's warnings: "You must have a plan, a well-thought-out plan, so that if and when she agrees to go you are completely ready to act."

The plan! What is the plan? I take some deep breaths, and speak confidently. I tell Alexandra I will see her within an hour. Then I jump in the car and drive, terrified she will change her mind before I arrive.

I pull into the parking lot of a seedy motel, and see Alexandra pacing. She is thin, her skin is grey, she has the shakes, and her clothes – not her own - are dirty and too big. I am shocked and overwhelmed with sadness for what my child has endured, for the fact that she had to reach this place before she could begin to leave it.

I hug Alexandra and tell her how proud I am of her for making the huge decision to consider treatment. Alexandra she smiles at me, appearing almost hopeful, I'm relieved when she gets in the car and allows me to drive to the airport. But I know we are not safe yet.

We fly to Texas, where Origins is located. Some wonderful Origins staff members meet us at the airport, and a burden lifts from my shoulders as I hand my sick child over to the people who know how to help her.

Getting Alexandra to agree to stay just one night at Origins is very difficult. She's afraid of sobriety and detox. Alexandra knows what detox will be like, and it's not pretty. She's terrified. But the people at Origins manage to convince her that a hot shower, some good food and a decent night's sleep are what she needs to start regaining her strength. She checks in.

I leave the next morning, before sunrise. I feel a bit guilty about leaving without seeing Alexandra. But I know if she sees me she will beg me to take her home. And taking her home will kill her.

The week of detox is physically hard on Alexandra, but I didn't expect it to be so hard on me. She calls me sobbing, upset that I left without saying goodbye, begging me to come get her, screaming at me to help her. These cries are not the addict talking; finally, I hear my daughter Alexandra again, but I know I can't go to her. The best way to help her, I know, is to leave her where she can get well. So I just listen, and I sob.

When she calls, she sounds like she's a small hurt child – and I don't have to search my memories for those days. I see my 4-year-old Alexandra every day, blond hair, blue eyes and all. Her name is Leilah, and she misses her poor sick mother.

The stress of Alexandra's detox week is so hard on me that I lash out at everyone. I even lash out to Dr. Phil, who calls me to share his thoughts on Alexandra's decision to stay at Origins and what we can expect over the coming weeks and months. But as I listen, sitting 1,000 miles away from my sick, hurting child, I can't focus on the future. All I can think about is the now, and the terrible agony my daughter must endure if a future is going to be possible.


I can't imagine how she bears the pain. I can barely stand it myself.
 
Addiction is NOT a choice. The addict may have chosen to use in the beginning. I lost my Grandmother, Mother and Sister to addiction. Right before she died, Mom said: "I never thought it would kill me!" Addiction controls the addict. Addicts are NEVER in control of their addiction.

Yes, addicts lie, cheat, steal and do whatever else it takes to keep their addiction from screaming.  The best help we can give them is to not enable, learn about their specific addictions, attend a group like Al-Anon (the counterpart to Alcoholics Anonymous), and stop judging.

Addiction is a cruel brain disease.

Would you treat yourself or a loved one with the cancer treatment technology of 1960?  The standards and methodologies of treating addiction have remained the virtually same for the last 50 years.

The advent of Cat Scans and MRI's has helped doctors develop a better understanding of how our brain works. Resulting in improving treatment for addiction. But, the process is slow.

We have a stigma associated with addiction; we think addicts can control their addiction. I think controlling addiction is like controlling diarrhea. Seriously!

My heart breaks for my daughter. I wish I could just fix her up and make her all better. My methods have failed miserably. I am thankful she has opportunities to receive help when she is ready & willing. I can only hope and pray 'ready' will come sooner, not later.

Blessings,

Erin
 
"Patient"
 
My daughter Alexandra and my sister Erika share a plethora of family traits: a clever sense of humor, a friendly demeanor, a love for animals and so beautiful.

And they also share the trait of addiction.

Or they did, I should say. Last Wednesday afternoon, just a day before my daughter Alexandra told Dr. Phil and millions of viewers that she doesn't have a drug abuse problem, my little sister Erika took her last breath. She was 39 years old.

Her official cause of death: Cirrhosis. But in layman's terms? Addiction. She died from a lifetime of alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. Her liver deteriorated; she bled out. It was a painful, insidious death.

As parents, we revel in our children's likeness to us and our forefathers. We love to see family traits passed on - a musician's ear for rhythm, or an artist's eye for beauty. I loved that Alexandra was born with her father's deep blue eyes; I always thought the stubborn streak she got from me would serve her well in life.

But I didn't count on the one gene I wish she would not have inherited, and that's the gene of addiction.

Alcoholism and drug abuse have plagued my family for generations. My mother. My grandmother. My sister. My brother. Aunts, uncles, cousins. All have succumbed to addiction - sometimes with deadly consequences.

I wanted Alexandra to travel to California with me so she could see her Aunt Erika one last time - a chance to say good-bye - to see how precious and short life can be. I also hoped it might trigger better choices in my daughter's life. But she wouldn't go, and in some ways I don't blame her - I don't believe she thinks of herself as having a "disease."

Alexandra contends she takes prescription pain pills for a back injury. Once a month, she travels 119.85 miles, four hours round trip to her "doctor, who gives her enough opiates to keep her high for a while.

Dr. Phil had experts from Cedars-Sinai Hospital examine Alexandra, and they told her that they could help alleviate her back pain. They said they could help alleviate her pain - if she goes through detox. But Alexandra said no - she said she is happy with her current pain management plan.

But it's not a plan. I worry that it's more like a road map for slow and certain death, and it weighs on me day and night. A road map my grandmother, my mother and now my sister followed to their grave.

The fact that Alexandra won't allow the best physicians in the country to help her is a symptom of her disease. A friend told me after Thursday's show that Alexandra was stubborn. And she is. But that's not what's holding her back - she's refusing treatment because she doesn't really believe there's anything to treat.

And yet the facts remain: I am taking care of all three of her children. She's lost custody of two of them...so far. She's broke and unemployed. Her boyfriend, the father of her third child, is a convicted felon. Some of her "friends" were recently arrested for making and selling methamphetamines, although my daughter denies knowing them.

Alexandra inherited a deadly disease, but it's not always fatal. With a phone call, with a single word, Alexandra can have treatment at her fingertips. It wouldn't be easy and it wouldn't be fun - but she could live. She'd live a better life, a healthier life and a happier life.

So many times the addicts in my family didn't know they were addicts until it was too late. I'm desperate for Alexandra to learn from my family history, to look at Erika's life and see how it led to her death. I do not want to stand by my precious daughter's side, holding her hand, while she is dying from her addiction, like my mother, like my little sister.

My darling Alexandra. She is so smart, and funny, and independent. She loves people, and she is greatly loved.

She's so much like her Aunt Erika. I miss them both so much.  
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