Out of Tears: A parent’s perspective on addiction

By on June 23, 2016
Photo: Captured Memories Photography

Photo: 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.

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.

Photo: Captured Memories Photography

Photo: Captured Memories Photography

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.

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