But for the grace of God

But for the grace of God

A mother looks at her daughter’s continuing fight against addiction

There but for the grace of God…

It’s a common expression, one people generally use when they realize that something terrible has happened to someone else and that it could just have easily been them.

I am finding that over the last several years, I have been using that expression time and time again.

About 2 1/2 years ago, our daughter, at the age of 22, checked herself into rehab in Florida after struggling with the disease of addiction and realizing she needed help. It was a long, painful, and grueling journey to get to this point, but that is background that is not so relevant, except to give some context.

When our daughter entered rehab, I am sure that she was somewhat emotionally ambivalent and mentally compromised. Addiction has so much power and control over sufferers’ brains that they are unable to evaluate choices rationally and make sound decisions. What was once important is no longer so, as addiction hijacks the brain and the body.

I am sure our daughter had the best of hopes that she would be able to commit to the long road of recovery, but it is extremely difficult to get sober and start putting things back on track. She met a friend in treatment and this friend convinced her to leave the facility, so the two of them left, against clinical advice.

What followed were three days of absolute torture, because our daughter had no phone and no place to live, and we had no way of finding or reaching her. Do you remember the commercials “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” That commercial popped into my brain, and I realized that one of the worst things parents can endure is not knowing where their child is.

Thankfully, because she and her friend decided to go to another treatment center, we knew, after about 24 hours of hell, that she was still alive. But we know only because the insurance company contacted us about her prospective admission. It took another two days, but she and this friend admitted themselves to this next facility.

Sometime during treatment, this friend once again tried to convince our daughter to leave, again against clinical advice, but this time she opted not to. What drove her to stay put and follow through with the program we may never know, but I am thankful that she chose that path rather than the one her friend chose.

Last year, we were on one of our periodic visits to Florida, on our way to taking our daughter out to dinner, when she asked us if we remembered that girl with whom she left treatment. “She died last week,” our daughter said.

My husband and I felt our minds go blank and our mouths drop open, and we asked what happened. Unfortunately, this girl’s struggles with the disease continued. She had returned home for a time, but she realized that she still needed help and came back to Florida for treatment. Unable to control herself, she used drugs one more time the night before her admission, before getting clean as she intended. Tragically, she overdosed.

There but for the grace of God…

This is not to say that our daughter has not had her ups and downs and slips. Recovery is extremely hard and takes an incredible amount of effort and strength. Our daughter had one significant slip after treatment, after many months of sobriety. She had moved out of sober-living with a friend. They thought that they were ready to be on their own. This turned out not to be the case, but while our daughter opted to return to sober-living for much-needed support to get back on track after this episode, her friend decided to move in with her boyfriend, who also was suffering from addiction.

Sadly, months later, this friend is still drinking and using drugs, she has distanced herself from my daughter and their other friends, and she continues on this dangerous and destructive path, which sadly may not have a happy ending (although we hope and pray she will turn things around and get the help she needs). Our daughter had the same opportunity to ignore the signs that she should push harder for recovery, to give up and submit to the disease, but she chose not to.

There but for the grace of God…

We may never know what caused our daughter to go one way and her friends to go the other. We do know that there are certain protective factors that can help a sufferer improve. The support of family and community is an extremely strong factor. Awareness and education, destigmatizing the illness and embracing sufferers, creating dialogue and a supportive environment are all ways of encouraging those dealing with addiction to walk on the healthy side of that razor-thin line.

Our daughter has known more death in her now 24 years of life than my husband and I have known in our combined 100+ years. We talk about “epidemic” and “overdose” but there still is a large segment of people who truly believe addiction could never happen to them. But, like cancer or any other disease, addiction can affect anyone, regardless of race, age, religion, or socio-economic status.

It can happen to anyone and we need to open our eyes to that reality.

Recently, Rabbi Zvi Gluck, the director of Amudim, a not-for-profit organization that provides counseling services, referrals, and support for sufferers of abuse and addiction, published an article talking about 32 overdoses that occurred in Jewish communities over a period of three weeks. Sadly, nine of the people he discussed, who ranged in age from 16 to 64, died. Rabbi Gluck emphasizes that these people clearly demonstrate that this illness can strike anyone, and that sufferers come from families, communities, and backgrounds just like ours. Thankfully, because of organizations like Amudim, people do not feel they have to suffer in silence anymore, and they are reaching out for help. The more aware we are, the more we talk about this rampant issue, the more people can get the support and help they need. And the fewer people there will be who find themselves repeating the mantra, “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

Our daughter is now almost a year and a half sober, working a full-time job, taking college courses to finish her degree (which was interrupted by her struggles), sponsoring other sufferers, and talking in various forums about her experience in an effort to share her experience and help other people. We thank God for every day that she makes the incredibly difficult decision to continue her recovery and stay on the path that thankfully she has chosen.

Lianne Forman, who has lived in Teaneck for more than 25 years, is of counsel to Moskowitz & Book, LLP, a New York-based employment and corporate law firm. Lianne and her husband, Etiel, are the proud parents of five children (and grandparents of one grandson), including their daughter, Elana, now in recovery from addiction. Through their family’s struggles, they founded Communities Confronting Substance Abuse, a charitable organization committed to community education, awareness, and prevention of substance abuse and addiction.

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