When Addiction Isn’t The Problem

Based on a client at Retorno; names and details changed for privacy

Jenny was doing fine. Intelligent, witty, and pretty, she had many friends and dated occasionally. She was studying towards her BA, doing some tutoring to earn some extra money.

Sarah, Jenny’s mom, couldn’t put their finger on exactly when things started to change. Was it in her freshman year, when she got the first C in her life? Was it in her sophomore year, when she started dating that boy with all the piercings and tattoos? Or was it her junior year, when she stopped calling home except to ask for more money? Sarah wasn’t sure, but when Jenny announced she wasn’t coming home for spring break, Sarah decided to make a surprise visit to Jenny’s dorm. Instead of surprising Jenny, she got the shock of her life.

Jenny was still living in the dorm, but she had all but dropped out of college. Her room was littered not only with alcohol but also drug paraphernalia. Sarah dragged her home.

Jenny vehemently protested. She swore she was innocent, that everything belonged to her roommate. When confronted about her dropping grades, Jenny admitted she was having some difficulty with motivation, but that was all. She was still the same sweet, girl she’d always been.

Confronted with what she’d seen with her own eyes, Sarah demanded that Jenny take a drug test.

Jenny cried profusely, accusing her mother of not trusting her.

Sarah wavered. She had always trusted Jenny. If she was going through a rough spot, wasn’t it her job to support her and not accuse her?

Whenever Sarah and Jenny started to talk, Jenny folded into herself. When Sarah pointed out that Jenny was withdrawn and sullen, she turned it right back on her mother – she was the one who changed; she was the ones who’d put a wall between them.

Sarah watched her daughter as spring break melted away. Jenny didn’t talk much on the phone, and she barely went out. Her eyes were clear and she spoke coherently. Sarah began to think she’d made a terrible mistake in judgment.

They struck a bargain. If Jenny would bring her grades back up and agree to switch to a new dorm, Sarah would allow her to return to college.

Suddenly, the old Jenny was back. She started smiling again, started talking on the phone like all girls her age. She even went out one night with her old high school crowd.

When Jenny went back to college it was with promises of hard work and good grades. A warm farewell hug reassured Sarah that all was well with Jenny.

Five weeks later, Sarah was awakened with a phone call at two a.m.

Jenny was not fine. She had been arrested for selling marijuana to a minor.

The legal proceedings were only the beginning. Sarah insisted that Jenny go to rehab. At first Jenny refused. She moved in with some “friends” she’d met recently, and took a job in a seedy bar downtown. At some point, she called Sarah and begged to come back home. Jenny agreed to go to a 30-day detox program. She came home, ready to start fresh. Two days later she was back in the bar.

She left home. She came back. She went to another 30-day program…

Three years passed. Three years full of tears and hugs, arguments and promises, and much heartbreak on both sides. Both Jenny and Sarah were ready to try something different – and a rehab in Israel, away from all her using friends, is certainly different!

“Rehab is not detox,” Jenny explains, “and detox is not rehab. I thought I needed to get clean. What I really needed was to understand why I was using in the first place.”

It was in rehab that Jenny was able, for the first time, to put certain experiences into perspective: her parents’ divorce, the bullying she’d been victim of, a neighbor’s sexual harassment. These experiences colored the way she felt, changed the way she perceived the world. She realized that her relationships tended to be extreme – either total immersion or complete disconnect. She also understood that she’d been acting the perfect child for so long because she was terrified of disappointing her mother. She discovered that just like she’d withdraw sharply from relationships when there was conflict, she used alcohol and drugs to withdraw from life.

Jenny’s drinking and drugs were not “the” problem; they provided an escape from her deeper issues. When Jenny took the time to heal, she was able to see herself in a much better light. She started to believe in herself, and see herself as someone worthy of loving and being loved. She was able to learn ways to cope with her pain instead of blot it out. She also began to find balance in relationships.

Two years ago, Jenny married. Six months ago, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

Jenny really is doing just fine. She’s not just “clean.” She is happy, fulfilled, and optimistic.

About the Author
Shoshana Schwartz is an addictions counselor and EFT practitioner, and a therapeutic horseback riding instructor at Retorno. She is the author of four books and is a weekly contributor to Mishpacha magazine.
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