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Parenting --Teens/Emotionally distant daughter after many years


My daughter is 20 years old. The past ten years has been a struggle for her and our family. It all started when she was around 9 to 10 years old. She started to act out, do poorly in school, and even gotten suspended from school for fighting. We decided when she was 11 to switch her schools thinking it was possible she was being bullied.

Everything was going great for the first half, when we caught her with a bag of marijuana shortly after her 12th birthday. Around this time, she started to act out. We sent her to see a therapist thinking something was bothering her. After a few sessions she flat out refused to go saying it was a waste of time because nothing wrong with her. She started to get into trouble at school again. I was getting phone calls home about her disrupting class, her locking herself in the bathroom at school and for getting into altercations with other students. We took her to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with social anxiety. She was prescribed atenolol.

Her teachers and we began to see a huge difference in her. She was paying attention in class and she stopped fighting with her classmates. At home, she still spent a lot of time alone in her bedroom, but she stopped acting out and would spend some time with her family.

Everything started to fall apart again when she started high school. She met this boy; at first, we thought he was a good influence. He was a year older, on the basketball team, his parents had decent jobs, and he did well in school. It wasnít long before I noticed her changing. She started to skip school, and her grades began to drop again. It was a few weeks before her 15th birthday when I caught her snorting cocaine. We immediately grounded her, taking away her phone, computer, and all forms of entertainment.

Things didnít get better. She continued to skip school, break curfew, and emotional shut down over the next year. By the time, she reached grade 11 she just dropped out completely. We started to really lose authority over her. She wouldnít listen to anything we would say, sneak out and stay out all hours of the night. We even reported her missing once when she didnít come home for two days. She started to abuse marijuana again.
By the time, she was eighteen we suspected she was smoking marijuana or snorting cocaine daily. It wasnít even six months after she turned of age that she began to use heroin. Any ambition or goals she had left were gone. She spent all her time getting high or finding ways to get high. Over the next eighteen months we had to kick her out four different times and each time she came back claiming to be clean.

This last time she returned after being in minimal contact and said she was on the methadone program. It has been almost six months and she hasnít touched any drugs not even marijuana. The problem is she is so emotionally distant. She doesnít appear to show any emotion. I havenít really seen her happy, mad or even sad.  Two months ago she did start to see a therapist once a week. When asked what is wrong she shuts down and says she doesnít want to talk about it. I am at a loss of what to do? I just want my daughter to be happy and not so emotionally defeated.

Dear Ariel-

I am so sorry. This is the path of the drug abuser, and it happens over and over and over again. I wish your letter could be read to all kids at about age eight or nine. At that age I remember my mother showing me photos from Life Magazine of young heroin users. She said, "This is dope. Do you know why they call it dope? Because you're a Dope if you ever try it." For some reason, that was enough for me, and I stayed far away from it.

Kids do not usually start drug use alone. There was probably someone she loved or respected who started her down that dangerous road at such a young age. A grandfather or uncle; neighbor or family friend; even a beloved teacher could have had sinister intentions and started her down the funnel of doom that is drug abuse. Kids brains are still growing, and when they start that early, a change occurs that can sometimes never be reclaimed.

She may open up in therapy; she may not. Six months is early yet. Give her time. You will probably never have the daughter you could have had without this demon in her past, but you can love whatever part of her remains without judgement.

Whenever you see her smile, let her see your pleasure. Don't say, "I'm so happy to see you smile again!" or make a big deal; just let her know in subtle ways how happy you are when she is able to show emotion. If she accepts it, hug her-long and often. Human touch can work wonders.

You can't do anything to rush her. Think about what she is facing. She has probably realized how much of her life she missed in a fog of drugs. She may have friends going away to college, or marrying or even having children. She wonders if she will have or ever be able to have that sort of normal life. If anyone will accept her past and be supportive of a clean and sober future for her, it would be great, but she probably knows there are hundreds of girls who are smart, pretty, intelligent, and without a past like hers. She may even know that if she finds someone who loves her in spite of her past, he may turn out to be a controlling jerk who wants to "save" her for his own ego. She probably knows she may spend the rest of her life living at home with you, and that is a tough one to face. Nobody wants to be dependent or feel a burden, and living at home with the folks in your 20's is a sure sign of failure. If you get a chance, let her know when you see any sign of improvement. She needs to feel absolutely that she is capable of recovery.  

Try not to dwell on these future events, but to take things one minute, hour and day at a time-as they come. Live in the present. The future will unfold as she does.

Some people benefit from finding religion. Others get into exercise, running, or natural herbs to cleanse and refresh a body torn by drug use. Some read and enjoy Eckhart Tolle, who speaks a lot about acceptance of the past as a learning tool, but moving and living in the Now. I highly recommend his book, A New Earth. If you haven't read it, it could help both you and your daughter.

Wish I had a magic formula, but only time will tell. The good news is, she has not used for six months. That alone tells me she is aware, and fighting desperately to change, and that's a very good thing. Any move in the right and sober direction is a good thing.

May you be blessed.  

Parenting --Teens

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My own dysfunctional youth in an alcoholic family helped me decide to raise my children with love, acceptance, and honesty. It must have worked. We`ve got terrific kids. Those I've answered on this site usually feel I've been helpful in their unique situations. Our world is so much better when we lift instead of crushing. Every child is worth more than any bank can hold. If I can help at all, it will be in teaching both parent and child of their own personal value to humanity, and how to punch through the noise of the moment to find their greater purpose. Together, we can all make a better world.


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