Maureen Cavanagh is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings, a non profit nationwide peer support group for those affected by substance use disorder. Her memoir, "If You Love Me: a Mother's Journey through her Daughter's Opioid Addiction" was published in September 2018.
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I think as mothers, we feel like it's our job to fix everything because that's what we do. From the time that they're born, we carry them in our bodies and we take care of them.
And fathers feel this way. But I'm a mother and I can only speak from my own experience.
I felt that everything that happens to them because they're vulnerable and they’re children-- it's our duty to make better.
You spend years and years of doing that, and then you come up against something that you can’t fix.
So even if you're trying to do that slow release that we all do when kids become young adults -- when it's something that can kill them?
Well, all bets are off! Then you jump back in there just like if they were two.
Katie always felt like she sort of didn't fit in. And I think a lot of kids feel like that. I believe that drugs made her feel like she fit someplace. That there were doubts and struggles that she had that she numbed with drugs. Before she knew it, some recreational use, some fitting in, turned into addiction. Then she could no longer control whether she wanted to use or not.
So many things happened that she felt like she wasn't worth saving her own life.
This is often how people feel. I work with a lot of people and try to get them help. And there’s this feeling that even if they get well, what's the point? It'll never be what it could have been. They'll never get their relationships back. They'll never get their life back. Sometimes there’s criminal records. Sometimes there's damage to their health. There's all these lost years and what's the point?
At my age now, I know that there was some really low times, and times when I couldn't picture things being any better. And then they were. But these are very often young people that haven’t had that experience yet.
So very often, and it certainly was Katie's case, that she never believed that she could ever have any kind of life worth living again. She got stuck in this cycle of trying desperately to recover. But going down the tubes again, over and over again.
This is something that I couldn't fix. It was not mine to fix.
Katie and I were both on a journey, and for a long time I thought we were on the same journey. And we weren't.
I was on mine and she was on hers.
Although I tried very hard to be on hers with her. And I acted in a variety of crazy ways. Some were helpful and some were not. But you do whatever you think you have to do in order to save your child.
I sectioned her, which is a civil commitment in Massachusetts, when I thought she was beyond getting help herself, and she was a danger to herself.
We once had her arrested in the lobby of a treatment center as she was leaving, so that she wouldn't be able to go back to the person that was putting drugs in her hand.
And I would still do those things again.
But it was hers to fix. And about the time that I realized that, she started to take control of her own recovery.
The thing that helped her is knowing I was there if she needed me. And I armed myself with an unbelievable education in everything I could possibly know about the disease model. So I wouldn't blame her. And it was hard in the beginning because everybody's angry.
I hear people say this, How could they do this to me?
Well, I learned very early on that she was not doing anything to me. She was doing it to herself and if she could stop, she would.
People would ask me, Is what you're doing helping?
And in the very beginning I would probably have said, Of course it's helping! Everything I do is helping because I'm trying to save my child.
And I have to be on high alert all the time.
And I have to answer my phone 24 hours a day because it could be her.
And I have to go through the streets in my car looking for her because that will make the difference -- if she just sees how much I love her. And maybe if she just sees how I'm making myself sick, she'll see how much I care, and then she'll get help.
And that was not true.
I was so consumed. All these thoughts were constantly swimming around in my head. But I know I wasn't doing anybody any good. I was making myself sick and I was ruining everything else in my own life. And I wasn't helping.
And it was really my boyfriend, Randy, who kept saying that to me -- that I'm just like a ghost walking around in my own life. And that’s exactly how I felt.
But I also felt like, this was a problem caused by drugs and I'm not solving it with drugs.
But I just couldn’t get it together. And finally, I gave in, and went and talked to a psychiatrist about medication.
She said to me something that I'll never forget. She said, "The things that have happened to you in the last years, the pressure you’ve been under, the pain that all this has caused -- these things cause chemical changes in your brain. So you may not have needed this before, but you may want to see if it would help now."
I wound up on a small dose of an antidepressant of Zoloft. And it didn't take long. It took a couple of days, and all of a sudden I was having clear thoughts. And I was able to finish a conversation. I was afraid it would make me different, but what it did, it returned me back to myself. And this is what medication is for.
I always tell parents three things: The first is to get educated. To learn everything you can, not only about the resources that are available, but to understand what's going on in your child's brain. And how drugs are keeping them from understanding that they can stop. And that's what happens in addiction is they don't think they can stop.
The next one is to connect with other people, people that can offer you support, and can offer you a direction.
But the third thing: always tell them that you love them. I made a point of every single day of my life somehow getting to her that I loved her. Whether it was a Facebook message or a text message or a phone call that she wouldn't answer and I left a message or what ever it was.
And I never left her without saying that, no matter how hurt I was, because I really never knew if I would get another opportunity. She overdosed over 13 times that I know of. And I knew that no matter how I felt about what was going on, I would never regret that being said.
There’s a hopelessness that comes with this disease. What did I do wrong? What could have been different? What could I change?
And all of those things that we have to learn to put aside, and start every day, as silly as this may sound, with hope that it could be different.
Because it can be different.
And I say that because I see it all the time.
I'm a little delusionally optimistic most of the time anyhow. And I think that's a fabulous quality for what I do. It's exactly what's needed.
You have to have hope that it can be different.
Because if one other person in the world has done it, you can do it too.
I’m Maureen Cavanagh and this is my story.