By J.D. CREER
Special to the Journal
Drugs are an equal opportunity destroyer. After all, addiction knows no geographic, economic, racial or religious dimensions and doesn't consider a person's creed, age or whatever. It is a cancer with an insatiable appetite.
One parent in the Salem area echoes sentiments likely felt by so many. Joe, who asked that his real name not be used, has a story that resembles so many. He saw his child, a college-age student, dissolve from an attractive young woman with confidence, ambition and focus into a lying, disrespectful thief in a matter of months. Her emotional, physical and spiritual decomposition was directly linked to increasing drug and substance abuse.
"There are always telltale signs," he said. "Sooner or later, that figurative blanket an abuser creates to hide him or herself gets slowly pulled away as their addiction becomes exposed. It gets to a point where they can't rob Peter any longer to pay Paul," Joe said. "Peter is actually no where to be found. He's been cleaned out. They can't stay ahead of the piper - or even themselves. They arrogantly think they can still balance everything in the lives, even while on drugs because drugs do create a false sense of confidence. Sooner or later, balls get dropped and lives crumble. The pitiful irony of it all is that they often are the last ones to know that others are on to them including the law. It can become outright pathetic."
Joe said his daughter went from a 3.7 grade point average in college while employed, to skipping classes. She then abruptly quit school, leaving in her wake incomplete classes and student loans. Her credit was destroyed. There were nothing in her life that went unscathed, he said. For instance, she blatantly ignored a hot engine due to a cracked head gasket and nearly ruined her car. She had utter disregard for everything, her father explained.
All the while, she was bouncing from job to job. Joe later deduced the checkered employment was due to her presumably stealing from her bosses - staying ahead of the posse by shifting around. Oftentimes too, an employer will just get rid of a worker believed to be stealing rather than to prosecute them, avoiding the inherent hassles that go along with that, which is actually a roundabout form of abetting an addict, Joe said.
Reflecting, Joe realized roots of his daughter's addiction surely developed while she was in high school. They manifested when she was introduced to harsh drugs. Heroin was her calling - and she kept hearing it loud and clear. There were other abuses, including alcohol, but heroin was the primary culprit, her dad explained. It's a readily accessible and cheap high.
"I firmly believe in the adage that you are the company you keep," Joe said. "Being in an environment with parents living apart makes it easier for addicts to do what they have to do. That was our situation. A parent never knows everything going in a child's life, who they are hanging around with especially during those times when she is not around. Trust me on that one. Then they will resort to any lie imaginable, any means available, to get you to believe what they want you to believe.
"Admittedly, there were times when I ignored the obvious because I did not want to think my daughter had disintegrated into what she had become. You know, the whole 'my child would never be involved with something like that!' If you have even the slightest of reasons to feel that a child is involved in wrongdoing, chances are they are. Accept the realities instead of the excuses. Those so-called friends of theirs are likely addicts and enablers. Addicts are con artists. Master manipulators. Their cleverness is boundless. They can convince most people that the sky is green and grass is blue. I fell for her disguise, too."
Or, as another affected parent adroitly phrased it: they not only steal from us, but steal pieces of us, too.
Joe said he was stunned to realize, then accept, how overwhelming her addiction had become. The single-mindedness was staggering. "There came a period when her sole reason for living was to score her next high," Joe said. "They simply do not care about hygiene, health and appearance, responsibilities, absolutely nothing at all save for getting a next batch of drugs. They don't care about dirty needles or any consequence. I could not begin to count the nights when I was wide awake at three in the morning wondering whether my daughter was in some (darn) drug den, in jail, a ditch or in a morgue. Countless nights.
"This was the same child I remembered teaching how to throw a softball and reading fairytale books to and all that wonderful stuff that comes with raising children. She had not only resorted to lying to me, but stealing from me. Children aren't suppose to steal from their parents. She turned on me. My heart was broken into pieces. That is how (darn) bad those drugs and the holds they create are. When they run out of money and all avenues for getting money as far as family, friends and acquaintances, then the crimes really show up."
With an addiction out of control, his daughter hit rock bottom with a resonating thud. Running with bad company, Joe said she fled during a botched shoplifting attempt at a local retailer. An arrest warrant was issued. Days later she was arrested at a convenience store parking lot by an attentive cop checking on outstanding warrants. Drug paraphernalia was discovered. She was booked and spent a night in jail. She was to appear in court, facing a likely sentence and fine and the stigma that comes with being a convicted criminal.
A bleak future lay ahead.
Then something happened. Shortly after Joe's daughter was arrested, her ascension began. Realizing what she had lost and what she was facing, Joe said his daughter had an epiphany. She decided on the spot to get better, to become sober.
"Unbelievably, given the circumstances, she took it upon herself to at least attempt recovery," Joe said. "She took a personal inventory and realized what she had become. Many addicts don't ever do that until it's too late. Thank God, she did."
His daughter sought help. She had tried it before as an outpatient. That did not work. He said she knew she had to seek a long-term rehabilitation center.
She found Quest Deliverance House in Canton, calling it salvation.
Joe said his daughter was accepted into the facility shortly after her arrest. Fortunately, the Columbiana County prosecutor's office and court accepted her treatment with contingencies in lieu of jail time and fines.
The aptly-named Quest, like many other quality rehab centers in our area, is a no frills, hands-on treatment process. "They apply full-court presses to their patients," said Joe, who was active in his daughter's recovery. "The qualified staff there peel back the layers and expose the vulnerabilities of an addict; trying to determine the whys of drug abuse compulsions. There are countless hours of analysis and counseling, both one-on-one and in group sessions. There as many rules and regulations.
Joe's daughter spent well over a year as a full-time resident of the facility. Joe said she reinvented herself. Pride replaced shame. Spirituality became a companion. She poured her soul into letters - letters that he said he now treasures.
A graduation of sorts is held at Quest when an addict completes all the steps, accepts all the guidance and direction and is deemed ready to re-enter society.
"It was emotional, as emotional as I've ever been," said Joe of his daughter's ceremony. It was then that she received her final recovery coin, symbolic of a long road traveled. "There were a lot of tears, happy tears and smiles and hugs. I kept thinking of all those middle-of-the-nights wondering is she was dead or badly hurt somewhere. I kept thinking of the heartaches. I would not wish those dire moments on any parent. Now she was healed, not completely healed, but so much better.
"Parents and loved ones do have to realize at some point there has to be forgiveness and understanding. Realize, too, that you might be part of the reason for an addiction. If you can't accept that possibility it will not benefit anyone. Yes, it can be grueling and agonizing. Can you completely forget and forgive? Perhaps not, especially at first. In my case it got better. But ultimately you have to decide how much you love that child, the same one you cuddled and read fairytales to. Do you love them enough to take them back, to embrace them and commit to them? For me it was a no-decision. I'll never stop loving any of my children, regardless of any circumstance."
Upon completion of her long and productive stay at Quest, Joe said his daughter proudly appeared a final time in municipal court before Judge Carol Robb. Her progress from the initial court appearance to the final one was staggering. She had come such a long way. She now speaks at encounter groups and offers guidance to others who are struggling.
"Judge Robb was supportive through the whole process as was the prosecutor's office and attorney Constance Lodge Witt," Joe said. "They helped prop up my daughter and gave her a goal to pursue as far as getting charges dropped and having a clean legal slate. They held up their end of the deal and so did my child. People have to understand that prosecutors and judges want people to succeed. They want to work with offenders and help them too. They get sick and tired and frustrated of the drug mess, especially seeing repeat offenders come before them."
It has been 28 months and counting since his daughter's arrest and she remains sober, he noted. She has a full-time job and just started back to school the first of June.
"At first she took baby recovery steps as all addicts do upon re-emerging," Joe said. "But she has come oh so far and has shown no sign of a letdown. That is encouraging. We were told at Quest that some 80 percent of addicts will fail, even after extensive rehab. We know she is not living her own fairy tale. The reality is her personal quest will be a lifelong challenge. We are acutely aware of that. But there just could be a happy ending."
Ironically, Joe now keeps her recovery steps coins in the same holder at home that once held some old, prized coins that his daughter had stolen from him to support her habit. He said the recovery coins are more precious. He often carries his favorite one for good fortune. It's a reddish coin the first one she earned signifying her first critical month of recovery. She gave it to him as a gift. It reads: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference."