Out of Tears: A parent’s perspective on addiction

By on June 22, 2016
Captured Memories Photography

Captured Memories Photography

“Out of Tears” is one story in a monthly series on the addiction crisis facing our society. The series is written by Janice Ballenger, who works at Retreat at Lancaster County, a premiere 160-bed addiction treatment center in Ephrata. Working closely with addicts, she has a burning passion to raise awareness and offer hope to all. While “Out Of Tears” is a true story, some names and locations have been changed to protect the family involved. Too many grandparents are raising their grandchildren because of addiction. Ballenger has been flooded with stories from grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. This case is just one of the many gut-wrenching stories shared with her. Reach out and help these struggling families if you can. Get the parents into rehab so that they can become a part of their children’s lives. Don’t end up burying your children. Never. Lose. Hope.

Men don’t cry. I vividly remember falling off of my bike when I was about five years old and my mother yelling, “John, boys don’t cry!” Well, I have cried more times than I can remember. I cried at my wedding; when Jane and I settled on our first house in Rothsville; when I first held our beautiful newborn daughter, Holly; when I held my granddaughter, Amy; and many other times during my life. Those were tears of joy. Slowly, those tears of joy turned into tears of startle, sadness and disbelief. I am out of tears. I am numb, and I’ve shut down emotionally from dealing with Holly’s crisis and eventual death from alcohol addiction. Jane told me, “We must pray for Holly, but we can’t make her walk with God, only she can make that decision.” I had no response. Living in constant fear, sorrow and frustration, all I do is cry when I can. They say crying is cathartic and crying bouts last an average of six minutes. They say tears most often are shed between 7 and 10 p.m. They say crying has positive results: releases stress, lowers blood pressure, removes toxins from your body, all meaning you are human. Well, I want to know who “they” are because I don’t feel human! “They” don’t know that I’ve cried too long at times that my body ran out of water and I became dehydrated.

Captured Memories Photography

Captured Memories Photography

Looking back, I wondered over and over what we had done wrong. We have always been very active in our church. Responsibilities and moral ethics were drilled into her. I cried when I saw her in her beautiful purple senior prom dress. I cried when she stumbled in the door, drunk, at 4 a.m., with vomit on her dress. Jane grabbed the Bible and began praying. Two months later Holly was packing for college. I asked her if there was anything she had forgotten. Casually she answered, “Yes, I forgot to tell you that I’m pregnant and no, I don’t know who the father is.” Once again, out came the Bible. This time no tears came. I was angry. I started punching her wall, which left damage to my hand, but not even a scuff on her pink wall. Jane yelled “You’re pathetic!” I didn’t know if she meant me, Holly, or both of us.

Abortion was mentioned, but quickly shot down by Jane. “We will build a nest for her broken wings,” Jane proclaimed. Despite arguments, I insisted this nest required professional help. We knew she had been drinking, which we figured was normal. We were just grateful that she wasn’t doing any of those “bad drugs” we read about. We met with a counselor where Holly admitted she was a functioning, pregnant alcoholic. Holly admitted she was drinking at least a case of beer daily. The counselor stated that Holly met the criteria for a diagnosis of “Alcohol Use Disorder” and that most people with AUD can benefit from treatment. The sobering fact is that most alcoholics deny their problem and don’t seek treatment, but again she reinforced the fact that alcohol dependency is largely treatable.

Holly shouted at the counselor, “I hate what I did to them, but wouldn’t you drink your problems away if you had parents like mine? I know they love me, but they love me too much. Dad even tries to dress like my friends. He did my homework for me, believing me when I said I was too tired. I wasn’t tired, I was drunk! They always gave me anything I asked for. People think alcoholism isn’t a disease, but it is. They made it too easy for me not to drink!”

The counselor made one phone call and Holly and her college bags were taken to a rehab facility where she went through detox and four weeks of rehab. That was the trade off for our paying her college tuition and hopefully having a healthy grandchild enter our traumatized family. I will always give Holly credit for completing rehab and keeping her drinking under control until the birth of our granddaughter. While Holly was in rehab we purchased a new house in Lititz. It was a cute house that would be large enough for our new family. I started gaining weight and always wore a baseball cap. Of course Jane did not approve of this. She felt we had to look more presentable in our new neighborhood. I didn’t care.

Holly had baby names ready and a relatively easy delivery. I cried when I held baby Amy, who weighed five pounds, four ounces, had a head full of brown hair, and was healthy. Holly held baby Amy briefly and then said she needed to rest. But in less than three hours after Amy’s birth, Holly ran out of the hospital. We knew she left to go drink, but would she come back? Shifting from awareness to action, we had critical decisions to make. With emotions ranging from humiliation, stress, happiness, anger, resentment, and fear, we took baby Amy home with us. We certainly weren’t expecting to be raising a baby at our ages, but we loved both of them. After spending every moment searching and waiting for Holly to return or to get that dreaded phone call, Jane announced that we were taking this matter to our church family. We needed emotional help. Amy needed comfort and support. Our church turned out to be the blessing we needed.

Church members knew of many other parents raising grandchildren. Through them we found a support group in Leola. We shamefully admitted we were living paycheck to paycheck, but learned we were not the only family doing that and there was no shame in it. We listened to horror stories of children stealing from their parents and living on the streets; many said their children were all skin and bones. But they all felt the same way we did. Their grandchildren deserved better, so they did what they had to do for their grandchildren’s sake. They connected us with SNAP, CHIP, Parent Center, ThinkFinity, AARP, Casey Family Programs and many other resources to help us. “GrandFacts” told us that in Pennsylvania alone approximately 8.6 percent of children under the age of 18 live with their grandparents, and 38 percent of those children have no parent present.

Sadly, we accepted the fact that the many times we thought we were helping Holly by giving her money without any questions, we were actually enabling her to purchase alcohol. We unknowingly allowed her to become a functioning alcoholic.

Jane and I were adjusting to our new roles. We had searched, prayed and cried for Holly for three years, to no avail. Amy was still young enough to think this was all normal. One Saturday summer afternoon we were sitting outside, enjoying watching Amy play with her new Frozen character doll. Our door bell rang. We both tried not jumping to answer it. There was Holly, wearing a smelly, torn hoodie, pulled up and nearly covering her face, reeking of alcohol. She stumbled towards Amy, who ran into her bedroom crying and screaming, “Make that ugly girl go away!”

While Jane prayed with Amy, I tried reasoning with Holly, “Please try to understand that Amy doesn’t know who you are. Let us take you back to rehab. We’ve heard people do relapse, you can do this again and become a good mother for Amy.” More tears fell. Holly was obviously too drunk to listen to anything that I was saying. She turned toward the front door and slurred, “Forget it! Forget about me! I know where a train comes through at 5:30, and after that you will never see me again. I’m done!”

I yelled to Jane that I would be back soon as I followed Holly to the train tracks. I tried everything I could think of to stop her. She had beer cans stashed in her bag and was chugging them as we walked. I tried to get the police to have her committed, as she had implied self injury, but they said I was over-reacting and left. Holly started throwing her empty cans anywhere she wanted, including at me. We got to the train tracks and she finished her beers. It was 5 p.m. My alcoholic daughter was about to commit suicide and she was going to let me watch. The disease had won. For a split second I thought about sitting next to her, but then I thought about Jane and Amy. I wished I had Jane’s Bible with me.

After my final attempt of pleading with her, I told her that we loved her and would take good care of Amy. With my head hung, I turned and walked away. That day, walking away from my emotions, and knowing what was about to happen, was the hardest thing I have ever done. I kept thinking about the times we thought that only drinking alcohol wasn’t really that bad. I couldn’t fight this battle anymore, nor could Holly. I was out of tears.

Janice Ballenger can be reached at janiceballenger@yahoo.com.

Readers share their stories of drug addiction
The following two letters were submitted by local readers. Their names have been removed to protect the families involved:

Letter No. 1.

Janice, this is my story. I need to share it.

I was adopted at the age of one month old. I state this because I find it interesting how many people I have met over the years of active addiction and recovery that start their stories with those same three words: “I was adopted.” It was a hard concept for me to wrap my head around while I was growing up. I was raised in Lancaster County by the most beautiful parents in the world. No matter how hard they tried to give me the “perfect” life, they could not erase the feelings of abandonment and rejection that being adopted left me with. I was left with a void that I could not fill.
At the age of 20, I was put on Percocet and Demerol for an illness. I immediately fell in love with the way I felt after taking these pills. The void was filled. I felt like I could conquer the world. I didn’t realize at the time that I was flirting with the devil and soon to become his slave. The doctor realized after some time that I was abusing the pills and cut me off. I spent the next few years driving from county to county, state to state, going to emergency rooms and doctor appointments just to get enough pills to keep me from getting sick. That “wonderful” feeling that I first felt was long gone. I was no longer taking pills to get high. I was taking them to avoid the painful withdrawals my body would go through when I didn’t have enough pills. I began stealing prescription pads and forging scripts. A script of 100 pills would only last me two days. That may seem extreme, but after I kept taking pills, my body demanded more and I had to keep increasing my dose or else I would be physically sick.
After my first arrest, my family and I decided that it was best if I went to detox and rehab. I, of course, felt as though I didn’t belong in a detox with a bunch of junkies. I was appalled when the counselor referred to me as a “junkie.” I stayed in that rehab for 30 days, and while I was there I met someone who was also from Lancaster County. We went home the same day and he explained to me that I was going through way too much trouble to “get high.” I went home with him and shot heroin for the first time. I then realized that I was a junkie long before I was introduced to the needle.
I spent the next 11 years shooting heroin in any vein I could find. I was in and out of many treatments centers and detox units. For the first few years I had great enablers, my parents. I was stealing from my family! I had turned into my own worst nightmare. I started going to jail and that became a revolving door for a period of time. My mom went to counseling to learn how to deal with me, and that was a turning point for me. It didn’t seem like it was at the time, but it was. I would have never believed that my parents would ever kick me out of their home. I would have never believed that my parents would have ever turned me in to my parole officer to get me put in jail, but they did. This helped me reach my bottom. I became homeless and was living on the streets of Lancaster. Those people you see standing on the corners with signs; that was me. My existence became waiting for daylight to figure out what hustle I was going to use that day to earn the $250/day I needed to support my habit. Then I would cop enough drugs to keep from being sick. I would wait for morning to come and do it all over again. I remember begging God to take me. It was a horrible way to live. I used to watch people driving to work in the mornings and cry, wishing I could have a “normal” life.
I am happy to report that I am now one of those people driving to work every morning. After countless detox facilities, rehabs, hospitals, and jails I finally reached my bottom. I recommitted my life to God and got clean 15 years ago.
I have since gone to college and earned my bachelor’s degree in network administration. I am in the process of applying for a pardon from the governor for my felony charges so that I can move further in my career. I have been blessed by God and thank Him every single day for keeping me clean. It is only through the grace of God that I am alive and able to write this to you!
Thank you for writing the articles you are writing. So much needs done to help fight this disease of addiction. Awareness is a big step.

Letter No. 2

We live on the outskirts of Lititz. I have read all your articles and can so identify with all of your stories. I am hoping all parents read them also.
My daughter, years ago, was addicted to pain medications from a doctor for a severe illness. You know after a while of being on the pain medications, the body wants something more and better. As parents, or I should say me as the mother, who was co-dependent, became addicted to her addiction. The addicts are very good at manipulations and lies. It was only after some very deep counseling that I had finally learned the word “no.”
“No” is one of the hardest words in this situation. After several jail times and lots of rehabs, not letting her come home anymore, street living and half-way houses, by the grace of God she was set free from the hands of heroin.
Just wanted to let you know how much the articles have helped, and they are so interesting and real. Keep up the good work, because heroin is so at-hand, and some parents are closing their eyes to the epidemic and saying my child would not do that because he or she comes from a good home. Hello! An addict does not grow up from being little and saying “when I grow up I want to be a drug addict.” Only the grace of God can carry the both of you through this painful experience, and it does destroy or affect the whole family.
SupportMembers ASAP

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