Ep 50 Three Things I Wish I Did Differently Last Year

Living With Your Child's Addiction Podcast
Living With Your Child's Addiction Podcast
Ep 50 Three Things I Wish I Did Differently Last Year

Even I struggle with fears of enabling. For many years I was a student of the tough love approach, trying to control, and beliefs that didn’t serve me about addiction. No matter how much time I put into creating beliefs that serve me and learning healthy ways to support Helanna, the fear of enabling rather than helping her was always there.

As the result of much introspection about where things went wrong and insight from Helanna’s journal, I want to share 3 things I wish I did differently last year and why I wish I had done them differently.

This is not about blame. It’s about being open minded and learning from the past.

I went into this episode with intention and 3 important factors:

1. Tons of self compassion

2. Knowledge that I could have done all three of those things differently and Helanna still could have died

3. Hope that sharing my experience will make it easier for you to make the best possible decision for your family when faced with similar situations

I can’t change what happened, but I can use it to give you perspective in the tremendously difficult area of navigating your child’s addiction.

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This transcript has not been formatted or edited.


I’m Heather. After many wasted years trying outdated approaches to my daughter’s addiction that felt wrong to me, harmed our relationship, and didn’t help my daughter, I finally found an effective evidence-based approach that repaired my relationship with her, helped me create my own peace of mind, and made me an ally in my daughter’s recovery. I teach you a loving and compassionate approach.


to help you encourage change and create connection. Addiction impacts the entire family system. Family recovery is the answer.


Before I get started today, I want to share that I’m doing my first ever free workshop. I’m so excited about it because I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while, but I could never decide how I wanted to do it. So I’ve been just waiting for inspiration and it came to me really clearly recently.


is I was preparing to interview Nicole for episode 49, which if you haven’t listened yet, make sure you listen to that one next because it’s pretty amazing. But I was preparing for that episode. I did a lot of research on craft and I also spent a lot of time rereading the book Beyond Addiction, How Science and Kindness Help People Change and I also looked at the Parents 20-Minute Guide a lot. And as I was doing that,


I had one of those memories that was very clear and strong. And I just remembered so clearly how I felt at that time. And that feeling really struck me. The book and craft spoke to me when I read the book. They were the first things I found that really felt right to me. I was so sick of the tough love approach because it didn’t feel right and it wasn’t working.


In fact, it was completely disastrous. So there I was with this book that really resonated with me, but I had this huge mental block to implementing it. I felt completely overwhelmed by it. Plus, while the book is full of great examples of putting craft into action, I was focused on how those stories were different from mine. So I felt like my situation was so much worse than their examples.


so that would never work for me. I was constantly doubting it. I was doubting my own intuition that was telling me it would work. I just didn’t trust myself yet. And then I started just reading passages of the book over and over again, trying to implement it. And over time I did, but it would have been so much easier if I had surrounded myself with more resources and help. And that realization,


of how much harder it was than it had to be is what inspired me to do the workshop. I know that many of you feel the same way because I hear it from you. You tell me that. We’re dealing with human behavior in a lot of gray areas, so there’s no step-by-step instruction manual. You have to take these guidelines and concepts and beliefs and make them a part of who you are.


Since I did that, and I know that Beth Syverson from Safe Home Podcast has done that, I asked her to join me to put on this workshop. We’re going to use the Parents 20-Minute Guide as a tool to learn from. Beth and I will share our experience with a different section from the 20-Minute Guide each week, and then we will spend some time helping you implement it.


We want to help you move past all those doubts and fears that come up and keep you from trying it. So there’s a link in the show notes that will take you to the page where you can get all the details to sign up. Okay, I’m with today’s episode. Today, I’m going to share something, some things that I wish that I had done differently. This is something that…


I’ve wanted to share for a while, but I also needed to give myself some time to digest it and process it first because it’s very emotional. And I really wanted to make sure that I had perspective before I shared about it with you guys. And I want to be very clear that this is not an exercise in beating myself up. It’s really an exercise in open-mindedness.


to look at things with a different lens and learn what we can from the tragedy of Helena’s death. I’m going into this conversation with extreme compassion for myself and one really important understanding. I could have done everything I’m about to share that I wish I had done differently, and we could still be where we are today. We’re dealing with humans.


powerful addictions and free will. So nothing can predict what a human will do 100% of the time. So again, I think it’s really important to point out that the what if scenarios become a problem if we use them to traumatize ourselves and we fail to acknowledge that we assume those what if scenarios will work out like we want them to. We have no way of knowing how things will turn out.


I’m only going back less than one year to review what happened because if I go back any farther than that, then we get into a time period where Helena wasn’t living a sober life yet. And this is about how I supported her in her sobriety and some things that I wish that I had done different knowing what I know now.


So I’m focusing on the time that Helena was actively seeking sobriety from July of 2021 when she finished rehab until she died December 2, 2021. So it’s only a five-month period. The biggest battle for me during those five months was figuring out what was healthy, supportive behavior versus what was unhealthy and meshed behavior.


Was I reinforcing wanted behaviors in her or unintentionally contributing to unwanted behaviors in her? I know every parent who is listening can identify with that. Even without addiction, all parents have fears of ruining their kids and making their life harder in some way.


As much work as I’ve done on studying and working with addiction, I still grapple with all the fear and stigma around enabling. As a mother, it was still always in the back of my mind. I wanted to do the right thing, but I always had what I refer to as the Elanon police in the back of my mind. Even though I’ve given it that term to…


really what I’m referring to as a lifetime of conditioning from all sources, not just 12-step programs. It includes all the stuff that I read about tough love that just never felt right to me, but I was told was the only way. And that’s what the experts were telling me. Some beliefs, especially ones that are really emotionally charged, become like superhighways in our brain.


adult life was affected by addiction because of my marriages and my daughter. There was a lot of emotion associated with my beliefs about addiction and how to approach it. And those deeply held, highly emotional beliefs are hard to overwrite sometimes. And it can still be there lingering even though you’re actively creating new beliefs. It’s one of the reasons that change can be so hard. Another part of what I’m sharing today is…


what I read in Helena’s journal after she died. It gave me some really important insight. There was only about 10 pages written in her journal, but those 10 pages made a big impression on me. I’m going to start with something that I’m glad that I did, because until now, this is something that I’ve only shared in my Facebook group, but it’s an important part of the story.


When Helena finished rehab, she was living in a small apartment building. So this is going back to April of 2021. She was living in a small apartment building that the rehab owned, and she was doing the last phase of their program, which was IOP. She loved living there because she just loved being around other people who were sober and having sober friends, because she hadn’t had that in so long.


And she didn’t want to leave there. She didn’t want to move out once her IOP program was over, but that was just how it worked. In the last three weeks that she was there, so many people got COVID. And she had already had it. So she was the only person left in her apartment that normally had four women. So she’s in there alone. And really, in the whole building, there were very few people. So things got a little bit sketchy there. This is the second time she fell through the cracks in the system because of COVID.


She got COVID early in her rehab stay when she was in the partial hospitalization program. So they moved her to an apartment where Helena and her roommate, who also had COVID, were isolated. And they only had access to a couple of online meetings a day, and Helena went from doing really well to struggling in the isolation. She made it through that period, though, but the second time, when there weren’t many people living in the apartment building because of COVID,


her emotional state really declined again. She was scared about moving. She knew that she could stay sober in those apartments under those conditions, but she didn’t know if she could do it somewhere else. I can only imagine how scary it is to be newly sober and fear losing your sobriety before you build that confidence in yourself that you can do it.


And Helena was supposed to be finding a sober living house to move into, but she was not doing it. There were two challenges that she was facing to finding a sober living home. One challenge was that she had her emotional support dog, Honey, with her at the rehab and wanted to have her at sober living. And the other challenge was that she was on Suboxone. Not many places allow dogs and even fewer places allow Suboxone.


So there were a lot of discussions with her doctor and counselor about trying to remedy the suboxone issue by putting her on a shot called Sublicade. So suboxone is a medication assisted treatment that requires a prescription. It reduces the severity of cravings and withdraw symptoms from opioids.


It also blocks the person that’s taking it from being able to get high on opioids. So it has more than one effect, but it’s highly regulated because it can be abused. And it has to be taken every day. I think that Helena took it twice a day. The sublicate shot is something that you get once a month and it’s administered by a doctor. Helena chose not to get the sublicate shot and stick with the suboxone. I’m sharing this because it’s another important


part of the story later, but we’re gonna come back to that. So those were her two main barriers to finding sober living to move into, the dog and the suboxone. So I stepped in and helped her. I helped her find a sober living place that would take the dog and allow the suboxone, and I stand by that. I think it was the right thing to do. There are many people that would call that enabling and say that she should have done it herself, but I tried to put…


myself in her shoes and think about what I would need in that situation. And at the time, I was struggling myself because I had just had my second surgery, less, you know, it had been less than 30 days since my first one. That’s back when I was going through breast cancer and I needed a lot of help. I was easily overwhelmed. I had been under anesthesia close to eight hours between the two surgeries.


I’ve been on muscle relaxers and pain pills. My brain was really foggy between the muscle relaxers, pain pills, and all that anesthesia. And I thought, what if nobody would help me? Like, what if everyone was like, figure it out on your own, Heather. If we enable you, then you’ll never get better. Like, I can’t even imagine. But because of the stigma and misunderstanding about addiction, we do that a lot. Recovery isn’t easy. And I thought, like, she’s doing the work.


She’s got a job, she’s saving money, and she’s really trying, so I wanna help her. And I’m so glad that I did. I mean, it took like 50 phone calls and endless conversations to find a place for her that would take the dog in Suboxone, but again, I finally did it. She paid all of her own moving expenses. She paid her rent to move in and her deposit. But if she couldn’t have done that, I would have helped her anyway, because…


Whatever she needed, it was an investment in her future. And she was just getting started. When she got to the sober living house, she had to find a new doctor to prescribe her suboxone. She was in a different town, and the doctor she saw before was through the rehab she was at. So she couldn’t see them anymore.


And like I said before, suboxone is highly regulated, so only certain doctors can prescribe it, and a lot of them don’t even take insurance. So there can be a lot of barriers to having easy access to this really important and helpful medication. Once Helena found a doctor who would take her insurance and can prescribe the suboxone, she ran into another problem. Remember the sublicade that I talked about earlier? The rehab had ordered it without Helena agreeing to take it.


and they never sent it back, so the insurance wouldn’t pay for the Suboxone because it was like paying for the same prescription twice, even though she hadn’t taken it. So in the middle of all this, I’m heading into my third surgery because I was having more complications from the first two surgeries and Helena was running out of Suboxone. If she ran out of Suboxone, she would immediately go into withdrawals, so it was a really stressful situation.


But the person who owned the sober living house was helping her, so I didn’t get involved. I wish that I had gotten involved or asked someone to help Helena though, because the insurance problem started to cause other problems. I mean, if that hadn’t come up, then maybe she would have stayed on the Suboxone if it had been easier for her. Instead,


She tried getting it from the health department, which took about six hours of bus rides and waiting at the health department every week. A lot of times you can get a 30 day prescription, but at the health department, you can only get a weekly one. On top of that, she was having a hard time finding someone to sponsor her because she was on Suboxone. So she was on a medication that was helping her cravings.


and giving her a chance to rebuild her life, but yet she was experiencing barriers to housing, barriers to getting the medication easily, and also stigma for it within the recovery community. This led her to do something that I considered dangerous, but of course I couldn’t control. She tapered off the Suboxone over a period of weeks rather than months.


and she did it without a doctor’s care. And in my opinion, she did it way too soon. If she had waited longer, she would have given herself more time to stabilize and build more healthy habits. She talked about what that was like for her during the second interview that we did on the podcast, which was episode 44. She said that it was rough and she didn’t recommend it. In fact, I think she said it was like hell or something.


The other frustrating part about it was that she shouldn’t have been able to taper without a doctor’s care. It’s against the rules in the sober living house, but somehow the owner allowed it. Now I want you to just think about facing that situation and all of those barriers for a minute. She had just turned 21. She had been doing drugs since she was in her early teens. She hadn’t worked.


or been to high school or had any kind of normal life experiences since she was 15. She was very newly sober, trying to get her life together, and she was facing all of these barriers and stigmas. That’s heavy. I’d be struggling too. I’d probably make some poor decisions. I might want to give up.


The road to recovery has so many natural barriers and hurdles. If your child is telling you that it’s hard, maybe it is. We don’t have to do everything for them, but we can certainly help them along the way. And I just want you to see that enabling isn’t black and white. There’s so much gray area. So we have to be in a place where we have an educated, solid belief system to make decisions from.


After Helena tapered off the suboxone, she did pretty well until October when we went to Oklahoma to take care of some legal issues. She had missed a court date for a misdemeanor ticket when she was in rehab, so there was a warrant out for her arrest and a bail bond zone was looking for her. In fact, right after her and I finished recording her first interview on the podcast for episode 41.


I had all these emails and messages from the bail bondsman on all of my social media accounts. And it kind of put me in a panic because here I was on cloud nine after spending that time on zoom with Helena and then facing her having to go back to Oklahoma where she had used all of those years where she would probably be very triggered where she had experienced so much trauma made me really nervous and she was nervous too.


This part of the story is important because it plays into some of my decision making when she relapsed at the end of November. I was so excited to spend time with Helena on that trip to Oklahoma, but at the same time I was also worried for her sobriety, of course. It’s hard for me to believe that she had less than two months to live at that time.


The first night that we were in Oklahoma, Helena spent the night with a friend. He was a close friend of hers that she had lost touch with because of her addiction, but since she had gotten sober, they’d been talking a lot, so she was excited to see him. I wanted to keep her with me at my friend’s house, but of course she wanted to stay with her friend. I called her early the next morning to make sure that she was getting ready so I could pick her up to go see her lawyer.


And as soon as she answered the phone, I knew that she had used. My heart sunk, but somehow we made it through the day. It was rough. We saw her lawyer and we got the bail bond and weren’t taken care of. Then I took her to her brother’s house so she could spend a few days with him and her dad, and I went to spend a few days with my friends. We really didn’t talk much about her using that day. I had asked her about it, but she said that she just drank.


I knew that that wasn’t true, but I gave her the space and the dignity to come to me with the truth rather than trying to force it out of her. The next day she called me and told me that she called her sponsor in the sober living house and told them that she had used, and she also told me what she had done. She told me she threw out the drugs she had left the next morning when she woke up.


the day that I called her to take her to court. She said she was absolutely disgusted that she had used and that she wasn’t going to use again. She also said she wanted to stay with me until we left rather than going back to her friend’s house because she didn’t trust herself. I was so proud of her for taking responsibility for what she did and making the right decision to stay with me instead of a friend. After that trip, she went back to sober living.


and everything was fine until November 8th when things really started to unravel. Just before that, Helena had been complaining a little that the owner of the sober living house had changed and was no longer supportive and was talking down to the residents. But I kept encouraging her not to let it bother her so much, and I wondered if Helena was being sensitive until I saw some demeaning text messages between the owner of the home and the residents.


But on November 8th, the owner kicked Helena’s best friend out of the house for asking a question that she considered rude. Looking back, I can only imagine how unsettling that was. When you’re in sober living and you get kicked out for no reason, yet you probably feel like it’s your fault and you have nowhere to go, what are you supposed to do? It must have been very unsettling when you’re in that situation.


and now not sure what’s going to happen. I’m sure Helena’s thinking, what’s going to happen now? When am I going to get kicked out? And Helena’s friend relapsed and almost died in a car accident after that. And Helena was beside herself without her friend. And on top of that, the uncertainty of knowing that she could be kicked out next for absolutely no good reason, and it was really bothering her.


Reading about it in her journal after she died was really tough for me because I had told her to work through things to try to figure it out. Looking back, I can see how the erratic behavior of someone in a position of authority, someone in control of you having a place to live or not, that would be very unsettling.


And as things started getting worse at sober living, Helena started to realize she wasn’t going to be able to find a sober living house she could take her dog to, so she asked if my mom and I would take her dog for a while. We reluctantly agreed. And I say reluctantly because we were scared of what would happen if Helena didn’t have her dog. That dog was her emotional support. She was like a child to her. She took care of her dog even when she didn’t take care of herself.


So first she loses her sense of safety and security in her home. Then she loses her best friend who is in the hospital on the other side of the state. And now she’s losing her dog. I made a spreadsheet of houses and sent it to her, but this time I wanted her to make the calls. I wanted her to take the initiative. Looking back, I wish I had made the calls for her and helped her get out of that unstable environment, just like I had the first time when she was leaving rehab.


It was only after I read her diary that it really sunk in how much the situation was affecting her. And as I share this with you, with the knowledge of what was to come, I really can’t believe I didn’t see it in step in. But in my mind, I was trying to be a good mom. I was trying to help her grow. I was trying to give her the dignity, figuring things out on her own.


And under different circumstances, that might have been the best course of action. But in this case, with all the things that were happening, she could have used more support. And some people might say she should have asked for support, but we all know how hard it is to ask for help when we need it the most sometimes. So this is what part of what she wrote in her diary on November 24th of 2021. And this was just one week before she died.


I’m changing the name of the sober living homeowner as I read this, I’m gonna call her Alice. At the top of the page, she wrote fuck in all caps and really big. She drew a picture of a person with a sad face sitting alone under a tree. Helena wrote, I’m crushed that I have to get a new roommate. I hate being here and Alice is so fucked in the head.


I dread coming home and never want to be here. The thought of using pops up a lot. I’m just exhausted. A major difference from what she had written September 15th of 2021, just two months earlier. At the top of the page, she drew a picture of the sun coming out from behind the clouds. She wrote, I’m starting to shower myself with healthy habits to set myself up for success.


One of those habits being self-love and care of the mind, body, soul, and love for my mere existence. Facing my fears, demons, and overall darkness is essential for me to move on. Actually, this time, I’m sure as hell going to try. It’s going to start with true authenticity in my thinking, rationalizations, and reservations. I need a safe, solid plan for my warrants.


Yes, I fucking miss my family and Matthew to a point of crippling sadness, but those relationships can never begin to flourish unless I take care of myself and set myself up for success mentally, physically, financially, etc. I can and I will do this because I love myself.


You can see the difference in where her head was in such a short period of time between September and November. So it really sank in as I read this that she needed more support. And there’s more that I’m not reading, but those two parts just really show the difference. I wish I had gotten her out of that environment when she started expressing how upset she was about what was happening there. A few days after on November 29th,


Helena rented a car and drove her dog up here. While she was sad about leaving her dog, she seemed to be in pretty good spirits while she was here. She spent the night, we had a great visit. We talked about her finding a new place to live, me making her a budget so she could buy herself a car, and that when she had a car, she could find her own apartment or some place that she could live with her dog again. And she was planning to come back in a few weeks for Christmas to be in her cousin’s wedding.


And I told her to think of it like when she was little and she used to spend holiday breaks with her Nana, that her dog Honey was spending a short holiday getting spoiled by her grandmother and great-grandmother. So when Helena left here, she went to spend the night with her friend. But after she got to her friend’s house, she called me to say that she had relapsed before she brought her dog here and that she wouldn’t be able to go back to sober living.


The plan was for her to go back to the town she lived in the next day, get a hotel, go to work, and find another sober living to get into. She was also supposed to talk to her sponsor, but she never reached out to her sponsor. As I’ve shared before, my main fear was an overdose because her tolerance was low. That’s when people are at the most risk is when they relapse.


And I was afraid that she would say F it because she had screwed up. Fentanyl wasn’t even on my radar. When we had her memorial service, someone from her work kept asking me, why was she alone in the hotel? Why wasn’t somebody with her? It’s such a vulnerable time. She shouldn’t have been alone. And he was right. That’s something else that I would have done differently.


I wouldn’t have even asked her if she wanted me to come down there because she would have acted like she was fine. She would have wanted to appear stable, even though she didn’t feel that way. I wish I had just gone down there. It would have been, you know, a three and a half hour drive. I could have gone down there, stayed with her in the hotel for a few days. I could have even worked down there and I could have worked on finding her a place to live, a new sober living house.


I know relapse is a vulnerable time, but for some reason in my mind, I was thinking of how things went when we were in Oklahoma. What I wasn’t accounting for though, was in Oklahoma, she was with her family. She still had a place to live. She still had her dog. She hadn’t just been through a huge traumatic experience, almost losing her best friend and losing her stability and security in her home. Looking back,


I can’t even begin to compare the two situations. Yet at the time, I didn’t distinguish the difference between when she was in Oklahoma and supported and being down there alone. And I can only imagine how she felt being in a hotel alone without her dog. I’d imagine that just being in a hotel would be triggering considering she had lived in them many times while she was using. But I also have to acknowledge.


The other side of that is I could do everything or could have done everything that I’m saying I wish I had done. And I could have gone down there and I could have thought she was okay and went to sleep and woke up to her death because she used any way. I don’t know if any or all of these things would have made any difference and there’s no way to ever know.


But what I do know for sure is knowing these things can make a difference for you. Maybe it will help you see more gray area instead of black and white. Maybe the next time you choose to help your child, you’ll just enjoy helping them feel how good that feels instead of beating yourself up the whole time because you aren’t sure if you should or you shouldn’t do it.


and none of this is ever to tell you what I think you should or shouldn’t do, it’s just to give you perspective. What’s most important is does any of this resonate with you? Does it feel like something that you should do? If it doesn’t resonate, please keep looking until you find something that does resonate with you. Because when you’re dealing with a child’s addiction, you will eventually be faced with these same decisions if you haven’t already.


and you know that they will probably happen over and over again. What will you do? Okay. That’s all I have for today. I hope I see you in the workshop. I recognize a lot of the names of people who signed up already, so I’m so excited to put faces with those names and the link to sign up is in the show notes. I hope I see you there.


Thank you for listening to this episode. If you want to learn more about my work, go to Heat If you want to help other parents who are struggling with a child’s addiction, you can do it two different ways. First, you can share the podcast with them directly or you can share it on your social media. Second, you can leave a review. Talk to you next week.