The phone rang at 6 a.m. on a Sunday, one of those crack-of-dawn calls that can never mean good news, especially when you’re the parent of a teen or young adult. It was my 24-year-old daughter on the line, her voice shaky, her words hesitant. “Mom, I need to tell you something,” she said. “I relapsed.”
My initial reaction was concern and a touch of frustration. She’d been in treatment for alcoholism since the previous year, had recently celebrated one year of sobriety, and had moved out of sober living and into an apartment. I knew she worked at a restaurant/bar and figured maybe someone had talked her into going out after work. Alcohol is such a social thing, and it’s so easy to convince yourself it’s OK to have “just one.” I was sad but not terribly surprised.
“You went out drinking?” I said.
“No, Mom. It’s not alcohol.” The phone went so silent, I thought she’d hung up.
“What? What do you mean?” I said.
“It’s meth. I’m doing meth,” she whispered.
Concern and frustration were washed away in an adrenaline-filled wave of pure fear. Suddenly my legs would not support me. My vision went blurry and I wasn’t sure if I was going to throw up or pass out. I found myself on my knees, head bent to the floor, phone still pressed to my ear. Her voice sounded like the far end of a tin-can walkie-talkie.
“Mom?” she said. “Mom, I’m so sorry. I need help. Please.”
In that endless moment between trying to breathe and calming my mind, I did a quick mental calculation. She wasn’t quite 25 yet, which meant she could get another year of treatment under my insurance plan or her father’s. Thank God, I thought to myself, even as I fought back the hysterical sobs rising from my throat. Thank God.
My children were in their late teens when the Affordable Care Act was implemented. When I found out that I’d be able to include them on my insurance until they were 26 years old, owing to my extremely lucky circumstances of having a job that provided decent insurance, I was grateful to be able to pass that gift onto them. It gave me peace of mind and I felt like it would provide some breathing room for them to be able to further their education, travel, or seek out those jobs that might benefit their futures but didn’t provide actual benefits. What I didn’t know then was that the ACA would be more than just a safety net for my children. It would be the difference between life and death.
My daughter is my ex-husband’s child from a previous relationship. I adopted her when she was small, and I loved her with the same zealous intensity with which I loved my biological child. I knew she might have some problems down the road, as there were genetic predispositions toward mental-health issues, alongside drug and alcohol abuse on both sides of her family. I was foolishly confident in my ability to love her enough to overcome any of those things. The fact is, love is never enough when it comes to these things. Love, in fact, can be the very thing that kills.
Her teen years were tumultuous, and my decision to divorce her father left her angry and resentful. She and I couldn’t be in the same room without bickering. When she was eighteen, I told her she could live with me as long as she was respectful and considerate. That didn’t last long. After months of dealing with her stumbling in late at night, drunk and belligerent, I told her she had to move out, which made her even angrier. We stopped talking. I sometimes didn’t know where she was. Months would go by in between contact. She only called me when she wanted something, and I was enough of an enabler to give it to her. I loved her so much, and I needed her to see that. I kept thinking that if I just showed her more love — which for her usually meant money — I could help her.