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The Hungry Ghost of Addiction Took Our Daughter

My daughter Ann was forty-seven, beautiful, funny, hypersensitive, and creative, and she loved her family, including her extended family. She kept all those who had ever loved her close in her heart of love—which was the reason she tried so hard to remain clean and sober. She didn’t want us to worry or be sad or mad, and she didn’t want to risk to losing any of us if we were to give up on her. She wanted our patience—even as she knew that, despite how much love we held for her, we were worn out. We were all bone-weary. The ghost of addiction was taking its toll.

Our daughter didn’t want her fifteen-year-old daughter to have to drag her out of bed each morning before going to school, or to have her family intervene last Christmas by encouraging our granddaughter to move in with relatives. No, Ann wanted the clean and sober life more than anything in this world—but that possibility remained as elusive as holding a ghost in her palm.

Why, oh why, you may ask—as Bill O’Reilly did as he ranted after Whitney Houston’s death—didn’t we, the family, intervene? Insist that she stop drinking and drugging, put her in treatment, do something—anything? O’Reilly all but yelled, “Just MAKE her stop.” Anyone who has ever tried to make an addict stop, however, understands how hard—how impossible, really—this is.

Let me briefly recount the ways that our family (and most every other family who has lived with or near an addicted loved one) has tried to intervene. Over the years we have pleaded, reasoned, coerced, bribed, shamed, and even threatened to take away her children, call children’s protective service, and force her into treatment centers. This past Christmas, after she and her new boyfriend arrived for dinner two hours late and stoned, I even went so far as to refuse to spend any more of my vacation time with her. It broke her heart and mine.

After the holidays, she tried again—for the millionth time—to get clean and stay sober. She even gained five pounds, which on her size 0 frame made a noticeable difference. She tried, and we tried, too, Mr. O’Reilly. What you have to understand is that the disease of addiction is more powerful than any force on earth, including the love of family. That is the nature of addiction. Once it takes hold, the most common prognosis is death, jail, or insanity.

My daughter, like Whitney Houston and Marilyn Monroe, might not have been using illegal drugs at the precise time of her death (if you believe that you can’t count a few or even several glasses of wine as a drug)—but it is the cumulative effects of the protracted use of alcohol and drugs that kills. It is rarely the sensationalized one-time overdose that ultimately kills; it is the long-term effects that wear out the mind, body, and soul of the addict. Addicts typically think they are different, that they can handle the drugs they use because they are unique. Addiction is a disease of uniqueness.

What will it take for families of addicts to get this? I know, I know, it’s a dumb question—the truth is, they won’t get it. Hope and desire blinds them to the depth of the disease. The ever-present, ghostly hunger grows with every relapse; often all it takes to give in is that first, innocuous glass of wine.

Our daughter was so proud two weeks ago when she called saying that, even though it had taken her twenty years, she had just received her associate degree in the mail. We cheered. She was trying so hard to better herself. The addict says to himself or herself, “When I get through this situation, then I will stop using and abusing drugs and alcohol.” But there is always the next thing to get through, and then the next. The hungry ghost of addiction waits in the night, more patiently than the most ardent of lovers.

I can’t stop staring at the huge Albert Einstein picture that hangs in her living room. This morning, I used her favorite coffee mug, and old Albert’s eyes stared back at me. Even he looks sad.

When clean and sober, my daughter, you were so inspiring, inquisitive, and funny, and you were the most loving creature I have ever known. Remember last year, when we went on that cruise to celebrate women in sobriety? Even though you were not entirely sober, I thought you would be inspired. You were, but . . . it wasn’t enough. But we had such a wonderful time. Oh God, how I will miss you.

When we arrived at your house two days ago and your father walked into your bedroom, he stopped dead in his tracks, startled by the colorful array of clothing inside—never again to adorn your body. I heard him suck in his breath while his heart cracked wide open. Ever so softly, he uttered, “Oooooooooh.”  There are no adequate words to describe such an utterance, but one’s heart knows that sound instinctively. I bit my lip to remain silent, to keep from reacting to the depth of his despair. We were already weary after traveling so far and listening quietly to our granddaughters arranging the memorial. We thought we would die choking down our sobs while trying to be supportive of the girls. The pain is so palpable for everyone. You were loved beyond measure.

So now, my darling, I look to John O’Donohue’s poetry to say some of the words that are flooding my heart.

“Let us not look for you only in memory,

where we would grew lonely without you.

You would want us to find you in presence,

Beside us when beauty brightens,

When kindness glows and music

echoes eternal tones.”

 As you view us beyond the veil of eternity, my precious one, I pray with all my heart that you finally see your worth through the love being offered to you. This is your legacy. Relatives from seven states continue to flood in; your daughters have made arrangements befitting a queen. Your ex-husband spent Sunday comforting your boyfriend, even as his own tears never stopped. The men sob in one another’s arms as the women stir their tears atop the kitchen stove. Dishes pour in, and the phone never stops. Everyone says, “Oh, my God, not Annie.” Then they whisper—but I’m not surprised. They understand that the hungry ghost has won once more.

 

Rest, my darling, rest.

 

 

 

Picture: Ann Louise Novotny Hardy, September 30, 1964 – Taken February 18, 2011

 

 

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Comments

  1. Susan Moberg says:

    Oh Dawn, I’m so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you, Michael and your family. May the angels surround you all and help you through this most difficult time.

  2. Wow. A very heartfelt and informative tribute. I pray for strength and peace for you and Milo. I am sorry I wasn’t available for you when you called. Tina & Wally

  3. Dear Dawn and family, My heart and spirit are with you. God will apply the balm. Love Helen

  4. Oh Dawn,…..makes my insides churn as I think of the loved ones in my life who fought and lost the battle of addiction. Mostly as I read your blog this morning I cried, for Annie and for my sister and my wonderful stepson. They fought the addiction battle, over and over again and lost. I miss them, especially I miss their love and their laughter. They loved life and loved ones so completely but they never learned to love themselves. I hope they now have a peace that they never had in life. Thanks Dawn for sharing, thinking of you and your family, Betsy

    • Hi Betsy,

      So ironic that when I wrote last week’s rant on all of the loved ones that I have lost to addiction I wasn’t thinking of my step-daughter. If anything, I was thinking of my son who continues to deny any type of substance abuse problem even as he plays revolving doors with jails. Now I worry about my granddaughter whose mother just died. I see the signs. This is such a baffling illness because everyone denies they have it until it’s too late. I am sure that Whitney Houston thought that she could handle her drugs/alcohol just as Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe thought that they could handle theirs. This is truly a disease that keeps on giving.

      Blessings, dawn

      • Dependency is always wrapped in denial until choice in no longer an option. and I wonder how people can say there are no devils. I afraid for loved ones in my life, too… ( and even now I work at being whole). There isn’t any magic bullet to intervene and make a difference. People who haven’t lived with addiction close up have no clue. Hugs,

        • Hi Betsy,

          You are absolutly right but part of the co-depencey aspect of addiction, or ignorence of addiction, is the illusion that the by-stander can/must do something to stop the out of control addict.

          Be well, dawn

  5. I am so sorry Dawn….I love you….

  6. So sad. Such a trauma for everyone. I can’t imagine how I’d deal with it; you’re so stoic Dawn and have clearly tried so hard. But you couldn’t prevent that hungry ghost from winning.
    My thoughts are flying over the seas to you and all your family and friends.

    • Hi Linda,

      Not so stoic. Broke out in a rash., can’t answer peoples questions half the time , just in high gear funtioning mode. Everyones words are so comforting. Thank you Linda. Dawn

  7. Lisa Shindler says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Dawn. My heart goes out to you and Mike. I too lost someone – on February 15th, my father passed away. He died peacefully ( I was at his side) at 87. A very different kind of death, but a loss and a raw awakening none the less. Spending time with my siblings this last week and feeling the healing power of family, in spite of our differences, was food for my soul. But I had that sixth sense that my brother was drinking again. He had been sober for a long time and it just kills me inside to see the signs and hear the denials and feel the fear. He was diagnosed with diabetes a couple of years ago and I dare not think of the cost his drinking will now have on his body. I found myself nagging and proding and worrying to the point that I could feel him pull away from me. Your words come at a significant time. There’s nothing I can do – I watch from afar as this person, whom I deeply love and was my hero all my life, plays blindly on the edge of a cliff.

    • I know that you too lost someone so very loved dear Lisa. So sad. it is always so sad. Your sister and my daughter had hearts that were way too tender for this world. Couple that with addictions and you have a leathel combination. Love to you, dawn

  8. Oh my dearest Dawn. Beautiful Anne… no words. Hugs are waiting.
    I love you and Mike…xox

    • Hi Chrysalis,

      I can feel the hugs and your support. You are right…..there really are no words. The service is Saturday. My granddaughters have arranged the most beautiful service that I have ever witnessed. We are expecting around 200 people. Many of Mike’s family and friends come from afar starting to arrive tomorrow.

      Hugs to you. Dawn

  9. Judith Churchman says:

    Dearest Dawn,
    I know you are processing your grief for the loss of our beautiful Ann by writing this piece for your blog. I feel the weight of your and Milo’s loss from your eloquent writing. This piece is masterfully written and shared. I felt as though I were in Anne’s bedroom with you and Milo.
    Love Always, but especially now,
    Judith

    • My Dear Judith,

      You have walked beside me for 35 years. It comforts me to know that you know all of the ways in which we have tried to intervene in our children’s addictions once we attended to our own drinking problems some twenty-seven years ago. Having had my own struggles with addictions fosters both humility and compassion.

      Packing up all of Ann’s belongings for homeless shelters (her daughter’s wishes) in preparation for renting/selling the house has been both hard and the beginning of healing for us all. I suppose it’s a type of forced closure. Along the way I have been mindful of rituals. For example, I have kept religious candles burning around the clock and every day I smudge all of the rooms with sweetgrass gathering up Ann’s energies to send her way. When my sister in law died a few years ago, I did the same sweetgrass ritual throughout the house with my brother who is agnostic, he wept.
      I am surprised that I wrote the blog about Ann. It is not like me to post spontaneous blogs. My blogs are written and scheduled a month in advance. It truly was a coincidence that I “just happened” to be writing about addictions.

      I love you. Dawn

  10. Brenda Cantelow says:

    I could hardly finish reading thru my tears and how scared it made me feel for my own son an his addiction. Oh how allusive that ghost is. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your goodby with all of us. You & Mike are an inspiration to me sending my love. Hugs Brenda

    • Dearest Brenda,

      It must be human nature that makes parents scare for our children magnified like no other scare. In some ways the allusive ghost of addiction mercifully took our daughter by death while my son floats in a delusional fog of mental illness while arguing for his right to use drugs/alcohol.

      Blessings and peace to you Honey, dawn

  11. Bill Morris says:

    Dawn,

    My deepest sympathy.
    You know my addiction history. I was a highly functional alcoholic many years and was convinced that I didn’t have a problem. We have a son that used drugs and alcohol. We know he still uses alcohol and expect the same tragedy. The last time we talked, he said that he wasn’t ready to quit. I realized that if I didn’t, I would soon be destitute or dead.
    Take care of you. Multitudes cherish you. I am only one among them.
    Godspeed and hope to see you soon,
    Bill

    • Dear, Dear Bill,

      Thank you for your kind words of comfort. If I live to be one hundred, I will never understand why some of us are granted the grace of abstinence while others are absorbed by the hungry ghost of addictions. Abstinence is truly a gift that I pray I will personally will never forget.

      See you next week. Dawn

  12. Colleen Harrison says:

    Dear Dawn,

    I hardly ever get on fb, but this morning there was such a strong impression to do so and as I scanned through my friends postings, here was this from you. I am so sorry, Dawn. I am certain there is peace for Annie on the other side of the veil. Phil and I both want you to know our hearts are with you. So many feel like you are family to us–you share so much with us. Thank you for sharing this post. It is exquisitely written.

    • Hi Colleen,

      Thank you for your comforting words. I know the devistation that you experienced when you lost your daughter. There really are no words.

      love to you, dawn


  13. Dawn,

    While I am sad for your loss, I am heartened by knowing your strength is a string of coherence that holds so much of your troubled family in existence. Every one is blessed by your presence.

    Ron

  14. This just sucks Dawn. The desire so great that it over takes all. Losing Jeff to addition gives me insight of what you might be feeling and my heart aches for you and Mike. I still don’t get it. Why? I believe that Annie is in a place where she no longer hurts and is not tortured by her addition. My hope for you is that you take comfort knowing you are loved and have many that will listen or not, depending on what you need. My love to you and Mike.

    • Hi Karin,

      What sucks is thinking of your daughter and my granddaughters. They are way too young to lose parents in this way. The addict always leaves their loved ones questioning if they could have done more or less or better or something. With all of my years of personal and professional experience in addictions, I have second guessed myself many times these past twelve days. Thank you for your loving support. It truly helps left me up as I lift up others that are so devastated by this loss. Much love, dawn

  15. I just found your site through a Twitter follow. I’m so sorry. This is one of my biggest fears with my son. I feel the weight of guilt at my powerless state to do anything. I spend too much time thinking about if there was some way that I could have raised him differently and he wouldn’t be drinking. You’re right that people don’t understand addiction very well. My brother drank and drugged himself to death by the age of 39. He died in his daughter’s senior year. The effects of drinking, being around drinkers, and witnessing the destruction is difficult to get through. Sending healing thoughts your way.

    • Hi Maery Rose,

      Thank you for writing. I am so sorry about the death of your brother. I also understand the feelings of guilt and powerlessness. Thank God for programs like A-lAnon.

      Kind Regards, dawn

  16. Rosemary says:

    Hi Dawn,

    I’m a friend of Helen’s and found your writing through a link on her fb page. I send you my love and support and I want to thank you for taking the courage and time to write this. You are an incredibly wise woman and a very gifted writer. May God bless you a trillion times for teaching people about addiction through your own pain. I’m so very, very, very sorry for your pain. I’m so grateful that you know the truth about addiction. Love with all my heart, Rosemary

    • Hi Rosemary,

      I am not surprised that you and Helen are friends, you sound alike in your warmth and compassion. Thank you for your trillion blessings, I got everyone of them. Dawn

  17. Tom Shindler says:

    Dawn,

    Having heard all your stories of your daughter, of personal and relationship struggles, I feel like I know her, and so I feel her loss and yours as my own. As my neighbor said when his son died of liver failure after a life of alcohol struggle – “A man shouldn’t have to bury his son.” Nor any parent their child. I wish you strength until we see you next week. (If you can still fit us in?)

    Tom

    • How sweet of you to comment Tom. Everyone’s words have been so helpful.

      Thank you again and I will see you soon. Dawn

  18. Jessica says:

    Wow, thank you for writing this out so beautifully and expressively. I am grateful to know you and hold you and all of your family in my heart. As the mother of two kids who are still little, not involved with addictions but definitely at high risk, I feel both gratitude and fear. I know they each have their own journey to take, as Anne did, as all of us do. And I know they will not be aware of how much we want to help them avoid the grasping, yawning pit of addictions. How lucky we are to have each other, and to have others out there with some recovery, too, to hold a space for our loved ones who struggle and suffer and to hold a space for us. I feel especially emotional writing this realizing it’s the day of Anne’s service. Holding you in my heart and grateful we get to be present for every minute of this life. Your example of a feeling, responding, present person, free of addictions and masks, is a powerful healing force. So glad you are here!

    • Oh Jessica,

      So many feelings, so few words, it will take awhile to sort through them all. Yet in the midst of my families suffering I think too of the high school students tragically killed last week just being in school. Those parents will never get to see their children grow up. I think of all those who lost loved ones during the horrific tornadoes last week whose lives will never be the same and I know that I am not alone in my sorrow.
      Thank you for your words Jessica. They have helped more than you know.

      Blessings to you, dawn

      • shorline says:

        When addiction robs us:
        People come into our lives like pebbles hitting the pond. They create ripples and sometimes these waves feel as if they are going to tear us to shreds and sometimes the waves do take away our joy for awhile. But the universe or god or science or grace or love or magic or whatever you want to call it, dictated long ago that the good waves will always and immensely outnumber the bad ones. That’s why we loved these people because whether we know it or not they will help us create more joyful waves. So make waves. Lots of waves. The universe will sort it all out.

  19. Dear Dawn and Mike,
    My heart goes out to you both as I feel the strength and love you have for your daughter, each other, and all of us who are reading your blog.
    Thank you for your generous beings!
    with love and empathy, Dorothea.

  20. Kelly Phillips says:

    Dearest Dawn,
    I have had several friends, all of whom were under 35 years old die from alcohol and drugs. I would like to share with you something I wrote after hearing that my friend, Nicola, died a drug-related death. Even with the ones where it was clearly apparent death was near, never was I prepared to hear such saddening news. I always kept hope. My heart aches for you. But I have such faith and trust in your ability to carry on. You are a true miracle and a gift.

    We tend to think of alcohol and drug related deaths as something that can be avoided…but how? Just as we were not given a choice in whether or not we were born with the disease of addiction, isn’t it possible that some never feel they have a choice to live their lives in recovery? Their hearts may want it as much as we want it for them, but their heads cannot find a way around this disease that continually haunts the mind. So the ultimate surrender is to find peace with the hearafter, the eternal love that awaits us all. We, loved ones, are left to make sense of it, but it defies reason or rhyme. We must remember that they didn’t want to hurt us or leave us this way – it is and never was about us. Which is why we couldn’t save them from it. So, we continue to love them and find solace in knowing they no longer have to fight the fight. That they have finally found everlasting peace.

    I am so happy to have found out about your blog, Dawn. I hope to see you Monday. Holding you and your family in my thoughts and prayers…
    Kelly

    • Hi Kelly,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      You are absoluly correct that our daughter may not have had a choice any longer in that she was way too far into her addictions.

      Kind Regards, dawn

  21. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your sites
    really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back in the future. All the best

    • Hi Valarie,

      I’m not much of an online reader myself so I totally get your comment. Thanks for bookmarking my website anyway. lol.

      Blessings, dawn

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