Still Saving my Teenage Junkie—Part 2

By Meredith O'Brien 02/19/16

Back in 2014 Meredith O'Brien wrote about saving her addicted daughter. 18 months later, the story continues.

Still Saving my Teenage Junkie

Faux sober. 

That describes my seventeen-year-old daughter Haley's approach to navigating her way through her fourth rehab. 

She had been there 93 days. It wasn't long enough. I know that. I had been told, three to six months minimum, upon her admission. Yet I could sense from my several sporadic phone conversations with her social worker that Haley's exit strategy was in full swing.  

This scares me to death. Taming this beast of addiction has been a series of failures thus far, and the thought of Haley resuming a normal life is terrifying to me. Temptation is everywhere. I have seen no substantial proof that Haley is ready to face that.

Other than two family therapy sessions and a few parental visitation days, I had little contact with the rehab, despite quite a few emails and phone calls. Their lack of communication was frustrating. This was Haley's last resort, at least until she turns eighteen. I didn't want to be overly pushy and appear to question their process and give them more of a reason to offload Haley, who I'm quite sure is less than the ideal patient. 

But I could see her faking her way through the system once again. 

She executed this strategy with the experience and artfulness of a seasoned pro. If only she could use this skill set to pursue useful life goals. 

Though I believe this, I refused to tip my hand. It's unproductive and would be perceived as undermining the process I have put my faith in. I forced cautious optimism. It doesn't come naturally. I couldn't help but feel like Haley's long-term sobriety seems like a ridiculous long shot.

Through the various rehabs, I have met many other parents dealing with these seemingly never-ending battles to save their addicted children. A lot of them do get to the other side, somehow. Their kids go on to lead normal, happy lives that aren't defined by a brief tryst with addiction. 

It was yet another parent visitation day. In my mind, I spent the day kicking and screaming. I just did not want to go. I was pissed as hell that it's my job to save her. My instinct was that I was falling short once again. Parents were asked to bring a potluck dish. I completely forgot.

Then I saw Haley. She was standing at the end of a long hallway leading into the teen unit, wearing a flannel plaid shirt that was definitely not hers. She looked icy, cold, distant. Judging by the annoyed expression on her face, she wasn't excited to see me either.

We filed into the social worker's office. April, the social worker, motioned for me to sit on her couch. There were holes in it. With long, stringy hair and several hemp bracelets on her arm, April had a bohemian edge she was clearly not trying to hide. I couldn't help but be distracted by the colorful flower tattoo peeking out of her blue thong sandals.

As I expected, I got a lot of fluffy lip service and exaggerated, thoughtfully embellished positivity. There are times I hate to be right.

"She is doing so, so well. She has come out of her shell and is making progress, I can really see it," April said. 

This family session was set up to assure me of Haley's excellent progress, and to tie up the loose ends of her journey to recovery into a nice, neat package. 

April continued on about how smitten she had become with Haley and how sad it will be to see her go. They were doing yoga three times a week together, she told me proudly. They had a great time last week on their beach outing. The two of them had gotten very close.

I hung my head, forcing myself not to laugh.

There was no relief in this. All I felt was a maddening disconnection from Haley and disbelief that she had successfully manipulated April, another supposed rehab professional, into her world. 

I saw the smugness in Haley's eyes. She thought she had done her time. She was ready to close the deal and go home.

Given the circumstances and less than posh environment, I'm sure she saw herself as having survived yet another rehab ordeal with courage and grace. After all, she made friends with the girls from the city, which couldn't have been an easy feat. She wondrously adapted to this inelegant environment with ease.   

"They don't hate me anymore, mommy. They said I'm so different than when I first got here. I'm not the snob they thought I was." 

Her Coach purse mysteriously disappeared before she made it through the first week. She threw a horrendous fit. Apparently she got over it quickly because I never heard another word about it.

The next topic of the session was a dual sales pitch on Haley returning to her old high school. They were dying to convince me. They were overselling it. 

Besides the fact that my only other option would be to homeschool her, there were no options. I considered a sober high school, but the closest one was twenty miles away in Philadelphia. 

Haley was quick to make the sensible but wildly impractical argument that resuming life as it was before the crisis would prove how far she's come and the depth of her progress.  

"Please, mommy, just give me a chance. I want to go back to my normal life and I can prove to you how strong I am," she whined, suddenly softening to me. 

"I'm growing up, please let me make this decision for myself. I know what I want. I'm better now," Haley insisted. 

April nodded in agreement, though I sensed an unspoken hesitancy even in her—as if she wanted Haley to be right on this one, but wasn't sure either. April was charmed enough by Haley's beauty and charisma that she could be sold on this idea along with any other racket Haley was selling. 

There was no way I was going to homeschool Haley. I was trying to put my career back together and become financially stable again. My career had been completely derailed. 

I looked at Haley, hoping to see some semblance of my little girl. She was somewhere else, somewhere I couldn't reach her. The deadness in her eyes, the flatness of her voice, the attempts to feign minor interest in me were all in vain. She was trying to be something she's not. 

God, I really miss my daughter. Two years ago, we had the best of times together. Life was always a funny adventure with Haley. 

Those times are gone. At least for now, I tell myself.

Wishing for some kind of guarantee that this recovery was real was all I could do. If only such a thing existed.

Deep down, I know there remains a beautiful, caring girl who is too afraid to let the world see her true self. This is what keeps me holding on. 

Haley has lost sight of who that self even is. Drugs have become her security blanket. What she doesn't realize is that it's only herself that she's running away from. 

Even in rehab, as I have seen too much of before, she plays a role. The role of who she believes she is expected to be. Her act is so good, she herself may believe it. For now, Haley is deeply immersed in her role as the fast-tracked, regretful addict. Broadway could use a talent like this. 

Four days later, Haley was discharged. It wasn't a conversation or decision for me to make. Her time was up. They had done what they could do for her.

I cried the whole way to picking her up, knowing that Haley was a ticking time bomb. I hated myself for feeling that way. 

Predictably, less than a month later, Haley's return to school proved itself to be a terrible choice. 

There was an incident. Haley was put on a one-week out-of-school suspension. I was summoned to meet with the guidance counselor. 

The ladies in the front office nodded at me solemnly as I signed in. Word spreads quick in these parts. I couldn't blame them for talking about this hopeless junkie student. I felt their pity and it made me uncomfortable. I don't feel worthy of it. It's not cancer. Haley wasn't dealt a bad hand in life. 

"How is she?" one of the secretaries asked me in a hushed whisper. I never know what to say to this question, though I can tell you my response greatly depends on the strength of my current state of mind. 

The truth will never be appropriate, so I tried to let the person off the hook with a smile, and said, "Oh, much better. Thanks very much for asking." A less stable state of mind might leave me vulnerable to more honesty, which is the exact reason I try to avoid these kinds of interactions. 
Haley has grown up in the same school system and our town isn't that big. There is nowhere for her story to hide. 

Miss Parker was a nervous, mousy lady with a warm heart and a frumpy pantsuit. Right away, she was talking fast. She wanted to get this over with. She was in way over her head dealing with the complexity of my daughter. This gave me stronger conviction in my cynicism. Like I could handle more of that. 

Miss Parker had emailed me that I needed to come to the school and withdraw Haley. Since she cannot complete the school year, it was clear that she wouldn't be back. Ever.

But we both knew that Haley was caught trading Xanax and Adderall in the bathroom. That was the real reason she was politely being asked to leave. 

I can't blame the school. The last thing they need is one more junkie polluting the place, never mind a well known rehab patient and legendary drug seeker.

"Haley should start studying for her GED," Miss Parker solemnly informed me. I said nothing. This was a whole new twist on failure. 

I reluctantly scribbled my name on the withdrawal papers. 

She told me to follow her to Haley's locker.

Her locker was overflowing with mounds of crumpled papers, clothing and trash. Good thing I brought two trash bags. I start heaping her crap in as quickly as possible, hell-bent on getting everything out of her locker and staying as low-key as possible. 

I wasn't sure what to say to Miss Parker when she walked me out. 

Both of us knew that Haley was going down a bad road. There were no easy answers. I thanked her for her time and awkwardly carried the trash bags across the parking lot to my car. 

I got choked up when I finally made it to the car. Angry tears of embarrassment. A GED? Haley used to have so much passion for going to medical school. Ironically, she always said she wanted to help people get better. 

Haley was readmitted to the outpatient day program she had been to twice before already. The doctors there know her well.  

I don't understand what has happened or where I lost control, but I feel responsible. Four rehabs hasn't been enough to keep my daughter clean. She sailed through their treatment plans and faked it till she made it each time. 

Rehabs aren't magical places, no matter how luxurious they may or may not be. I am grateful to the people along the way who have tried to help Haley. I admire their ability to get up everyday and continue trying and believing in their patients. The faux sobers aren't their fault. 

I am left to wonder how many former addicts actually leave rehab having been legitimately reformed. Walking away with a discharge plan they intend to use for sobriety. How many of these patients are just selling the doctors, therapists and staff a bad bill of goods to get the hell out of there? I understand this is a mindset simply manufactured for freedom. These patients see it as necessary for survival.

Yet I still have faith that most addicts in rehabs are trying to get well. My daughter is an exception to the rule.

The greatest level of expertise won't save an addict or convince them into sobriety unless they are genuinely all in. It's been hard for me to accept this limitation because I still want to believe there has to be a way to fix it. That's what parents do.   

I have no clue what it will take to make that happen, but so many parents and loved ones have gone down this road. They have had successes, even with impossible cases like Haley. 

I may have moments of defeat and despair, but as long as she is alive, I'm not giving up.

For now, I'm waiting to write her great comeback story. 

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

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