time to deal with whatever was going on. She became
verbally abusive and made it clear — often — that she
thought I was a terrible mother. Her words were so nasty,
so personal that I have blocked them from my memory.
But she shared her thoughts with her therapists and doctors, convincing them I was the problem. It was more
than I could bear. I had already lost a husband I loved.
Now, it felt like I was losing my daughter.
Finally, Charlotte told me what was going on: she had
been raped in her freshman year at college. I swung into
high gear, showing her a lot of love and trying to find the
help she needed. But when she started driving drunk, I
realized all the love in the world wouldn’t heal my daughter. Whether she suffered from PTSD or addiction — I
wasn’t sure — I knew she needed serious help.
One of the most important things I did during this
time was get help for myself. I worked with an amazing
therapist and joined a support group for people affected
by family members’ addictions. I also put clues together.
I went through Charlotte’s room and found about 50
vials of Benzedrex, cracked open. With a bit of research,
I learned that kids used the inhaler to mimic Adderall.
I called Charlotte’s therapists (on both coasts) and her
doctor and said, “I think there may be a substance abuse
problem here.” They dismissed my concerns. I was Satan
Mom. Charlotte had told them so.
Finally, I went to an outstanding interventionist in
Marin and she — along with my therapist — helped me
understand I needed to stop Charlotte’s verbal abuse,
ending conversations in which she was disrespectful. I
also had to cut her off from most of the money. She was
over 18, so I couldn’t force her to go to rehab. But I could
do everything possible not to “enable” the disease. And I
understood very clearly that she was suffering from a dis-
ease. Even when Charlotte was her most abusive, I never
thought, “Oh, this is Charlotte talking to me.” I thought,
“This is the addiction and trauma talking.”
I knew that somewhere beneath all that, my daugh-
ter was in there. At times I felt like she was crying out
to me, “Help me, Mama, I’m so scared and out of con-
trol.” But she wouldn’t let me near her, wouldn’t let me
help. And while all this conflict played out in our home,
Peter turned to alcohol and marijuana to cope. One day,
I walked into his room to find an enormous bag of pot
brownies lying on his bed. I threw them out, and let him
know once again that I was not “cool.” I redoubled my
efforts to spend time with him, letting him know how
precious he was to me.
Charlotte went back to college several more times,
and she found other ways to get money. And she continued to think I was evil. There was a three-month stretch
when we did not talk at all. I worried. I prayed. I didn’t
know what else to do.
Except I did: with the interventionist’s guidance, I
researched residential rehab centers that treated both
trauma and addiction. I didn’t care what the therapists
and doctors thought. I knew this kid needed treatment.
I wasn’t stopping until she got it.
When she arrived home the final time, I presented her
with a list of four rehab facilities and a choice: pick one
or move out. Within five days, she checked into a young
adult program at an Arizona treatment center renowned
for its trauma care. A week later, she told me she was an
alcoholic. She stayed for 45 days, at a cost — which we
had to pay up front — of $54,000. After this, she moved
to a six-month aftercare program, which was for women
only and where she began her true healing. She lived with
a group of women, most of whom had also suffered sexual
trauma (the link bet ween trauma and addiction is strong,
and startling). There, she learned to live life sober.
When Peter and I flew out to attend the aftercare cen-
ter’s “family program,” he came to me and said, “Mom,
I think I need treatment too.” This is how crazy this
disease is: I knew he was using but didn’t realize it had
reached this point. He then told me he’d been bombed at
Thanksgiving a few months earlier, having consumed
eight drinks in the basement alone. I had sat across from
him and detected nothing. Neither had any of my family
members. When he confessed he’d hidden his addiction
because of the toll that Charlotte’s struggles had taken
on me, I thought my heart might shatter. My child had
suffered in silence. To protect me.
So I found him help too. After one false start at an out-
patient program in Arizona (where the trauma care was
inadequate), he landed at an amazing three-month in-
patient/wilderness program just for young men in North
Carolina. That was followed by three months of aftercare
in San Diego. The costs — and the toll on our family —
were staggering. Even though insurance helped us with
some of the expenses, I’d estimate that my ex-husband
and I, together, shelled out at least $80,000 on our own.
But what an amazing way to spend our money. Our
kids are back in college now. Charlotte just celebrated
two years sober and Peter 18 months. Both are active in
Charlotte recently drove home from the southwestern
college she attends, and stayed a week. While she was here,
she and Peter laughed, bantering about the current politi-
cal climate in D.C. We ate meals together, lingering over
the conversation. It was such a relief to be a loving family
again. I’m aware of how lucky we are, and how tenuous this
luck is. I hang out in recovery circles now and I hear stories
of other kids relapsing, some for the final time. I never take
a healthy day for granted.
When our week together ended and Charlotte needed
to go back to college, she did not want to go. She wanted
to stay and be near me. I told her it was time, that she
had a life now. And as I watched her car fade into the dis-
tance, it didn’t feel like she was leaving. It felt like she
— and Peter — had returned. m
She stared at me
with eyes I did
those of a young
light — or spirit —
had gone out.