My oldest daughter, Genna, has suffered with a substance use disorder for years. As so many other parents who’ve been through this know, it takes time to wrap your head around what is going on with your child. Then when you do, you wish it wasn’t so, and you find yourself drowning trying to figure out how to help your child.
Genna’s story is one of far too many. She has struggled with her recovery since 2014. Who knew recovery would be so hard! I admire all of those in recovery because every day, not only are they working to avoid substances and follow their recovery plan, they are also working on themselves to become a better person. The second part is something I believe we all should do, with or without a substance use disorder. Genna has been substance free for more days than not since entering treatment for the first time in November 2014, and the last 15 months she has had a consecutive recovery.
When Genna’s recovery journey first began, I didn’t realize that relapse was normal, even to be expected. But I’ve come to realize that relapses are stepping stones that one must walk along. When we think about the stigma we have all felt due to our loved one’s substance use disorder, it isn’t just tied to their initial diagnosis—often, that stigma is multiplied by each relapse. When people ask how Genna is doing, I always say, “at the moment, she is good.” I have learned to not take life for granted because addiction can affect anyone. It has no preferences.
Genna recently came home for an overnight for the first time since December 2015. I won’t say there wasn’t some PTSD, because that would be a lie, but I put my trust in all the hard work of her recovery—and it was priceless. She was engaged and present, and I can see the young woman she is evolving into.
Some days my hope has been tested, and I know this might sound crazy to some, but I can honestly say that Genna’s substance use disorder, relapses and all, has made me a better person. I am more understanding and accepting, less judgmental of others—both those in my innermost circle and those on the outside.
Something I heard at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting helped me a lot: “I don’t have to like the situation I am in, but I can like the person I am in that situation.” Wow. I have tried to live by that since hearing it. Our loved ones struggling with addiction feel so much stigma that it helps them tremendously if we can move past our hurt and judgment.
It has been a mix of various things that I think has gotten Genna to where she is. Her hard work and determination. The right program, paired with love from her parents without enabling her. In May 2016, as Genna entered her last in-patient program, she looked up at me and said, “I’m sorry I am such a disappointment.” In that moment, my heart was breaking for my sweet, sweet girl. I made her look in my eyes as I told her, “you are not a disappointment and never could be. You are loved beyond belief. Go walk through those doors knowing that.”
I have been fortunate to have my husband, Genna’s dad, with me during this time. Together, we tell Genna to look forward, not back. We tell her to know that she is loved. Because no matter what, when our loved ones with substance use disorders know that they are deeply loved, it will make a difference in their recovery. Even on the days when they think or we think it doesn’t.