It was just three days after my amazing beautiful wedding and here I was again. Unbelievable.
It was 2011, and I sadly sat next to my husband as he drove the car down the main highway in our town. Very carefully I balanced on my lap a gallon jug of Hawaiian punch along with a new stack of missing child flyers. There was a half eaten pizza, still in the box, that was now lying in the back seat along with crumbled napkins and a discarded tissue box. We were heading towards Atlantic City, stopping along the way to hand out flyers with the picture of my 16 year old daughter. I hadn't slept in 24 hours and was going into a now very familiar panic mode.
Back during that time period I was truly broken, broken both as an individual and as a mother. Our family was shattered and I was unsure of how my new marriage would survive. I was also very uncertain about my daughter's fate and if she would live or die. My emotions ranged from being worried, ashamed, embarrassed, filled with anxiety, confused, desperate, angry, and depressed.
The stigma that was presented to me back then of what addiction looked like, who it belonged to, and what type of family it would appear in just simply did not fit in. Could this really be happening to me and my family?
I did not understand. My daughter was beautiful, smart, and funny. She had a great home, her own horse to ride in the summers, and a mountain house to go skiing in the winter. I was a corporate sales executive and my new husband was the most kind and generous hard working man. This was not the family picture I associated back then with addiction, with heroin. No Way!
But as I sat at the police station, the county youth shelter, the school nurse's office, and many rehab waiting rooms, it all became quite clear. This was my daily life with addiction in the family. I was not handling it well and did not get much help from any of the community resources that surrounded me. The horror of it all was bad enough, but to make things worse it was so complicated. Everything about getting help was an unbelievable process! If my daughter had any other mainstream disease I know it would have been easier. But addiction, drugs. . .and oh the comments, the questions, and the ludicrous advice, "Is your daughter being good or bad these days?" "You need to take control, be a better parent!" "Maybe you should enroll her in some sports." "Take her to a doctor and put her on medication."
Ridiculous suggestions from neighbors, family members, school, police, and doctors never helped. Did no one understand addiction? All the advice I received in those early days was just wrong. And to make the whole experience much worse, I often would receive those classic sad nods, from work colleagues, and others that I knew were secretly judging me and my parenting skills, thinking this was somehow all my fault.
And so my journey, which coincided with my daughter's addiction, continued up and down like a never ending rollercoaster, until one day I walked into a family group room filled with understanding faces and a very knowledgeable counselor. I remember those early meetings. I sat in the back and cried through most of the two hours. It was hard to listen and even harder for me to speak, but the families kept hugging me and they kept telling me to come back.
And so I did. I came week after week and then year after year. I learned so much and found out that all the preconceptions so many of us have about addiction and recovery is simply not true. It wasn’t until I found "my meeting" that I started a long healing process and gained an education that I now treasure and share with others. I found that as families recover their loved one also has a better chance of finding recovery.
I kept attending this meeting and working on my own recovery regardless of what my daughter was doing at the time. I continue to attend to this day so I can be one of the kind faces in the room that I once encountered. I go to give a hug, and I go to share a story of hope. I go so new families understand that the stigma is not true. I want them to know who I am, who my daughter is, and how we can recover as families. I want them to understand that addiction is a disease and it can affect anyone, it can impact any family and at any time.
I want to spread the word to the individual and the family that there is hope and we all can recover. So here I am today, right now, so much stronger, educated, and humbled! I am passionate about recovery and hope for families. I recently assisted with the opening of a local recovery center in my town and I’m an active advocate on recovery issues. I speak and share my story often so others can learn, so others have hope, and I still go to "my meeting."
My 16 year old daughter is now 19 and almost 2 years clean and sober. She was able to graduate high school and attends college now to be a counselor. We have a better relationship than ever before and I find her friends in recovery, the recovery community; including families and individuals, to be some of the finest human beings I know.
Kayla, my daughter, who is very spiritual now, recently said to me, "Mom I know it was really terrible, but you think maybe God had a plan for us all along to go through this horrible experience so you could help other families and I could finally be happy and also help others?"
Yes, Kayla, God had a plan.
My name is Tracy Smith. I am not anonymous and I am here to tell you that you can recover, families can heal, and our loved ones can achieve and maintain recovery. There is HOPE.