"I WAS A HOPELESS RESCUER" - NORMA'S STORY
The most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced as a parent was looking into my 22-year-old daughter’s eyes and not recognizing the person looking back at me. As I took in her expression, both vacant and filled with feverish intent, I realized I was staring right at her and yet had no idea where she was.
I can recite in painful detail the particulars of her various struggles with drugs and mental health, of how our theories about what was wrong evolved over time, of every effort I made along the way. But instead I’m going to skip ahead to the moment I called Lifeline for help.
I knew before I called that my daughter, being over 21, would need to ask for help herself; I wasn’t going to be able to do it for her. But as was my M.O. at the time, I thought that if I begged, pleaded and raged enough, I would be able to solve her problems for her. What caught me off guard was when the staff member asked me if I needed support for myself. My knee-jerk reaction? “Of course not!” I was trying to rescue my daughter, not myself. I thanked the staff member for his time and hung up.
Later that day, I thought of the first time I traveled with my daughter by plane. She must have been around three. For the first time, I listened intently to the pre-recorded safety message they play before takeoff, particularly the part about the oxygen masks. In the event of an emergency, you’re supposed to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then put one on your child. On an instinctive level, this seems almost monstrous — any good parent is always supposed to put their child’s well-being first. But there’s an obvious reason to put your own mask on first: you have to be able to function if you’re going to be of any use to your child.
I called back the next day and told Lifeline I needed help. For myself. After doing an intake and assessment, I joined a weekly group designed for family members of loved ones struggling with addiction, run by Lifeline’s Clinical Director and Family Counsellor Karen Bresinger. Surrounded by other people who felt powerless in the face of a child or parent or sibling or partner in crisis, I learned about the importance of establishing healthy boundaries and communication. I learned how not to reduce myself to a cog in her dysfunction, because at the end of the day that wasn’t helping anybody.
My daughter is now in treatment for her addiction and mental health issues and is making good progress. I know in my heart that I would not have been able to really be there for her throughout the process had I not received the support I needed. And please believe me when I say this: the support I received was nothing short of miraculous.
*Names and details have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved, as the story was adapted after being told to a Lifeline staff member, who was given permission to share. Additionally, we would note that the reason we were able to attend to Norma immediately is because we are regularly expanding our staff in order to meet the growing demand for our services. As Chabad Lifeline is sustained through private donations, this entails significant fundraising efforts. Making a donation can help ensure that we can continue to provide timely care that can ultimately save a life or set a family on a better course, creating a positive ripple effect on future generations.