Saving My Teenage Junkie

By Meredith O'Brien 09/05/14

Haley doesn't understand her own mortality. She could be one careless combination of substances away from death. If she was home, I lived in a continuing state of fear. I realized she had to be in long term treatment, I couldn't allow her to destroy herself as well as the family.


We stood outside the entrance doors. Three to six months at the minimum, I had been told. I was numb, emotionless, tired from this long crusade. This is her fourth rehab in nine months. I wanted to be on my way home, speeding down the NJ Turnpike, done with the dispassionate and tedious process of admitting my teenager to yet another rehab. Craving a morsel of fresh hope before I walked away, I told her,

"Haley, you have to go down this road alone. I can't come with you. Please get better this time, please,” I pleaded with her. 

“I am by your side no matter what," I tell her.

She looked at me spaced out, distracted. Her dark brown eyes were glazed over and bloodshot.

"How much longer is this gonna take? I'm exhausted and crashed. I need my midday dose. I can't be late. The nurses in the hospital were right on time. I can't wait any longer." 

I knew better. There’s no room in her mind right now for heartfelt sentiments. But I couldn't help myself. 

It's the Ritalin she manipulated some doctor into prescribing that she is itching for. Smart. Feed the junkie drugs. But she had managed, as she always does. 

Finally, a peppy twenty-something girl called us into a small, dark room to go over the paperwork. The process was very straightforward and impersonal. 

“Sign here, sign there, here's your copy,” she instructed me, whizzing through the stack of paperwork like a well oiled machine. 

I waited for the part where I could tell her about Haley’s history and my reasons for making her start treatment once again. It didn't happen. 

It felt irresponsible to not have a conversation about her condition but she instructed me that the therapist would be in touch on Monday. 

“She handles all that, I just do admissions,” she informed me. 

After all, she was transported there in an ambulance straight from her two week detox stay at a local hospital. Haley was carted out of the ambulance with her Coach purse on her lap and looking like a space cadet. She had just thrown a fit as they were prepping her to leave the hospital. It was another panic attack. What a really solid attempt at gaining just one more dosage of Klonopin before the drought started. 

After the paperwork, the admissions robot announced it was time for goodbyes. Detached, Haley gave me a weak, halfhearted hug. 

Walking away from her, I felt a surge of guilt but I had to keep going. I forced myself to show no sign of hesitation. Despite wanting to look back, I didn’t. My daughter could smell weakness on me from a mile away. I focused on getting to the car. The blackout period had started now and I couldn't see her or talk to her for seven days. A much needed temporary reprieve.

Haley is a challenging case no matter where she goes. Her long, lean body, sharply intelligent mind and charming people skills make her a force to be reckoned with. She's a 17-year-old mini doctor, very well read on every kind of controlled substance and antidepressant and their effects on specific neurotransmitters in the brain. At times I've been embarrassed by the breadth of her knowledge. Sitting in her cave of a room drawing diagrams and making detailed lists, she devours any piece of scientific information on drugs and their interactions, side effects and symptoms needed to obtain them. She hides her knowledge disguised under the perfect recipe of symptoms to get the coveted blue piece of paper that meant her temporary mental freedom and ability to trade for other drugs.

Xanax is her drug of choice but it’s clear from reading her texts that she does not discriminate and will take anything that will give her a buzz or get her high. Cough medicine, alcohol, decongestants are all on deck if controlled substances aren't available immediately. She seems desperate, begging the druggies to please hook her up, she’s ready to sell her soul for one more pill.

Haley was expert at complaining incessantly about every kind of physical ailment that could aid her in obtaining a drug that could take her away from her inner pain. This was a hollow, dark anguish that manifested itself in uncontrollable moods, compulsive lying and nonstop manipulation of every person in her life. In a bizarre dichotomy, it was this wretched, unshakable teenage angst coupled with her motivation for success that made her the junkie she is.

The large high school in our town evidently supplied a buffet of every kind of illegal substance with an emphasis on prescription drugs. Benzos, opiates, stimulants, marijuana, it was all a connection or two, at the most, away. Even without actual friends, it was that easy to obtain the stuff. The high school was a booming black market for drugs despite police on duty at all times. 

The sad fact is that my daughter had few real friends; she lived an endless cycle of brief acquaintances never lasting more than a few months. 

Earlier this year Haley fell into lust with a short, twerpy boy (a dead ringer for Eminem), one grade below her. Apparently, Jason was well equipped with major drug hookups that compensated for his lack of charisma.  

Andrew, Haley’s father, was mostly nonexistent in her world. He showed short, intermittent bursts of interest in her occasionally. That part of my daughter’s life was a continual heartbreak. It definitely played into the birth of her habit in a major way. Sadly, I had to take stock of my own failures and missteps, too. Like most parents, I have to shoulder some blame in the addiction. I won’t ever stop questioning myself and my responsibility in this nightmare that became her life.

Andrew and I had Haley at nineteen. Andrew was an immature, ambitionless kid who I briefly believed I could help and possibly change. At 20, my naive idealism was never so alive and kicking. Having had a disappointing childhood left me longing for a family of my own. I wanted to be the mom I always wanted. 

Haley had spent two months at the third rehab in West Palm Beach. I was adamant that I had to have her in the best institution I could possibly find. Foolishly, I believed she should get well in a beautiful, sunny place to escape the nasty New Jersey winter and the environment she had corrupted herself in. I never wanted rehab to feel like jail time or a punishment. I only hoped that the right spot would be her turning point. I had been advised repeatedly to send her to a local institution, but none of them seemed nice enough. I borrowed every dollar I could to get her there. I was beside myself that I had to let her go. The facility was meeting her at the gate in Florida. I couldn't afford the plane ticket to go with her.

Much to my disappointment, Haley played me again. Full of relief and excitement, I had picked her up at the airport in Atlantic City. Though she looked healthier and had gained a few pounds, sadly, she seemed high. She had probably stolen some pills or shoplifted cough syrup from the airport gift shop.

Haley's drug crisis interfered with my shaky career despite my best attempts to go to work and close the door on my chaotic personal life. There was a constant stream of phone calls, therapists, doctors, nurses who all needed to talk to me now. I was nervous all the time, in a habitual state of sleepless adrenaline. I was drowning before I even brought my dire financial situation into the picture as well as my two younger children and husband. 

Inside my heart, it was a struggle to love her. I couldn’t be resigned to the fact that my little girl was gone. There has to be a way for this to stick, for Haley to genuinely buy into the treatment, I keep telling myself. This had been the real roadblock all along. She faked her way through the last three rehabs, feeding doctors and therapists exactly what they needed to hear to send her on her way. Returning home, I would hear the same meaningless declarations that yes, she had learned her lesson. This time is so different than the last. 

“Trust me, trust me, mommy. Please, I promise you.” She was so emphatic that this was it.

Within days of returning from her 62 day stay in Florida, she was texting her old hookups.

“Dude, I did my time. Ridiculous! I even learned how to get drugs in rehab,” she bragged. 

Once again I found her barricading herself in her room telling me the same whiny sob story. She was just so worn out, not sleeping at all, just had to have some rest. I bought into it because I believed there was no way she still wanted to be a junkie after three rehabs and nonstop therapy. I wanted this horrendous gut wrenching chapter in our lives behind us with confidence. But it wasn't.

I had rummaged through her room, an unwanted duty I had to do. The broken Adderall capsules, the Xanax hidden in a mint tin, the empty baggies, the stench of alcohol in her trash, the empty bottle of Nyquil was evidence I couldn't ignore. She was worse than before Florida. 

Haley doesn't understand her own mortality. She could easily be one careless combination of substances away from death. If she was home, I lived in a continuing state of fear. I realized she had to be in long term treatment, I couldn't allow her to destroy herself as well as the family. I had already been fired from my job for absences and poor performance. I badly needed the insurance for her treatment. My life was in shambles, I had lost control of it in my quest to keep her sober and finally fix the problem.

So there was no option. Haley had to go a fourth time. This time, I sent her to an institution an hour away, in a rural tucked away north Jersey town. There were no bells and whistles. It didn’t matter. There weren’t many choices left. Knowing that this was long term, I wanted to be able to see her as much as possible.  

But, inevitably history has this wicked habit of repeating itself. I got the phone call from the therapist on her third day there.

“Haley isn't acclimating to the environment. She's not making friends and alienating herself with a bad attitude,” the therapist informed me.

She insisted Haley had to speak to me despite the blackout period. 

"This place is an absolute nightmare, I cannot stay, Mommy. You would die if you could see how dirty it is and the gross, trashy people here. I have low blood sugar, they won't let me eat. I'm telling you, I gave it my best. I'm sorry, it makes the second rehab (a mental hospital that she was transferred to because of suicidal gestures) look like a country club. Get me out of here now," she sobbed.

I spoke calmly to her. I had grace unbeknownst to me, in that moment. 

“I love you dearly but you are staying,” I told her. "We are out of options and you will die if you come home. That’s all there is to it, Haley.” 

She said nothing, just threw the phone down.

I asked the therapist how long it usually takes for these challenging cases to finally concede. 

“They're all different but usually they break,” she told me with ease.

It's the instinctual love I have for Haley that keeps me believing that she can and will get better. I tell her my love for her is unconditional. "I won’t give up on you. Love is when you don’t leave.”

Haley doesn’t understand this now. She will one day.

There is an awesome life ahead of her, full of dreams she hasn’t realized yet. College is a year away. Keeping her alive and safe long enough for her to see that and actually want it for herself is all that matters. I’m petrified of the alternative.

Today, I want her sobriety much more than she does, if she does at all. I’m buying time until the moment of clarity hits her. I have to believe with all my heart that the footprint of her life hasn't even taken shape yet. I pray. 

Meredith O'Brien is a writer and runner living in New Jersey.

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