I’ve been swallowed whole by my daughter’s drug addictions.

TORONTO – November 19, 2013

As I watch the daily circus and the madness surrounding Mayor Rob Ford, I envy the people of Toronto, who get to watch this on television, read it in the newspaper and listen to it on the radio.

They quack about it on Facebook and laugh about it on their daily travels. I envy them because they can change the channel, stop talking about it or turn it off. In my life this is not an option.

My daughter is 23 and she has been an addict, in one form or another, for seven years. She has been sent, at government expense, to rehab centres in the United States and has had a number of hospitalizations in Toronto. She has been to the best psychiatrists, psychologists and various and sundry other therapists, who have all done their level best.

She has snorted drugs, shot them in her arm, smoked them and taken pills. She has had her own version of the “drunken stupor,” and she has even been found with vital signs absent by paramedics.

She has attended 12-step groups, six-step groups, no-step groups. She has tried alternative treatments in various countries. We have shelled out more than $150,000 in treatment costs over the years. Everything we own of value has to be placed in a safe, or it will be stolen when she “slips.”

Contrasted to this is the very bizarre fact that our daughter is also a university student who pulls A grades in every subject.

What she desperately wants is to be well. When addicts, especially female addicts, are desperate they resort to many desperate measures and are often victims of sexual assault. Some suffer from co-morbidities such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and it is from these memories that many relapses occur.

The family, if the addict still has a family intact, is swallowed whole and suffers immeasurably.

Our son is consumed with hatred and depression because he only gets our leftover time, as he sees it, even when the time is a good time.

Everyone in the family lives in suspended animation wondering what the next day, hour or moment will bring. We can have a happy family dinner one day, and the next be robbed of our credit cards.

We have found that there are very few facilities for young-adult addicts in Toronto, and the problem has spiralled out of control.

Hard cases involving a dual diagnosis, such as a mental illness co-existing with addiction, end up being shipped out to the United States. Many of these U.S. centres offer substandard 12-step programs with a very poor success rate.

What is worse is that these facilities are in upper-middle-class, pseudo-resort communities complete with pools and, often, beach access. Everyone in them seems the same, part of a new subculture of the young, addicted and entitled – albeit with angst.

Upon completion of up to six months of “therapy,” these young clients are encouraged to live in the city where they were treated and become part of a “sober community” there. This actually works for many people, but not for Canadians because we cannot work in the United States.

I find it appalling that Ontarians are shipped out to foreign countries for treatment and that our health ministry is paying up to $20,000 a month for that treatment. Why don’t we create our own post-treatment centres in Ontario? It is inconceivable that we entirely miss the crucial step that, after treatment, people need to live and work within a safe and supportive community.

I have not been back to work for several years. My husband I take separate vacations. We can never leave our home and our daughter alone.

We love her, and we are not enablers. The only time we kicked her out of the house was at the behest of a psychologist who assured us she would go to a shelter and be home within days, contrite and ready for change. Instead, our daughter ended up in the clutches of someone who is now in prison for violent crimes.

We are her family, even if we haven’t always made the best choices or said the right words. We will never give up on her, and so far she has not given up on herself.

Addiction is a very complex issue, but until we learn to walk away or to protect ourselves, the addict is always in control of our very lives.

The City of Toronto and its people are in a very tough situation. But at least, for now, they can change the channel. Lucky them.

Marlene Burdon (a pseudonym) lives in Ottawa.

from the Globe and Mail online