It was June. Fresh faces sprouted throughout our community newspaper. High school graduates who excelled in academics, sports and community service were honored daily with photos and short articles recognizing their accomplishments. I read the accounts with joy — and a heavy heart. How wonderful to see hope sprinkled among the daily tragedies. Yet I grieved as the ideal portrait I’d painted of my own teen faded into reality.
“Bright, beautiful, full of energy. Can be a delightful teen.” I paused a moment to ponder. “Could have made it, but she stumbled and fell short of the finish line.” It began as a little rebellion. A desire to be hip.
She smoked her first cigarette behind the church. Drank her first beer in junior high. I thought, She must be someone else’s daughter. It couldn’t happen on my manicured cul-de-sac, in our church. But, it did.
Our suspicions had been confirmed an early spring afternoon the year before. It was one of those unseasonably warm days I usually rejoiced in. Rain and sunshine mingled in the air when I answered the door to find the mother of my daughter’s best friend. Worry covered her face, and her rapid words tumbled over themselves. “The girls skipped school again — I think they’re high — my daughter refused a drug test.”
We turned to my sullen girl. Standing by the kitchen sink, she casually downed another glass of water, hoping to dilute the results of any analysis. Sarcastically she denied all allegations. “Let’s go, test me right now!” she demanded, apparently feeling safe in dishonest compliance.
For months we had been checking off a mental list: a rebellious attitude, dropping grades, unexcused absences, secretive phone calls, new friends replaced the church pals she grew up with. Sometimes we imagined the worst. Yet the excuses were convincing, and we hoped for the best. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 80 percent of high school seniors have used alcohol, and 5.1 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 are binge or heavy drinkers. Why did we think it would never happen to us?
Once confronted, the girls ran. But after 10 days in California, our daughter returned, and a drug/alcohol assessment revealed the beginning stages of an addiction. Our plans, our hopes were put on hold. We had a war to fight. Goliath couldn’t have been any more terrifying. I feared for my daughter’s life. An addiction to drugs and alcohol could keep her in bondage for years, should she survive her teens.
After the disbelief and “why me’s” subsided, I realized I had to choose faith or fear. I imagined I was David: “Who are you that you seek to destroy my child? You may demand bondage, but I come against you in the name of the Lord.”
Then, with God’s help, we hurled these five stones at the enemy:
Truth. Denial is just as strong as the street drugs we fight. Truth didn’t allow the “kids will be kids” mantra to lull us into complacency. Research indicates that addiction can occur quickly in those predisposed by heredity. Also, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those who begin at 21.
Love. Paul wrote to the Corinthians who struggled in a corrupt environment: “Love … always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:6-8). During confrontation God directed our response. “We love you, we care about you, but we will not tolerate this behavior.” We were comforted knowing God loved our child more than we could and that whatever the outcome He would beÂ with us.
Prayer. I knelt beside my sleeping girl’s bed and petitioned God for her safety and deliverance. Some days, however, I ran out of prayers and despair hovered overhead. I called the youth pastor, our church prayer chain and asked friends and family to pray for us.
Support. Teachers, counselors, our family doctor, the police department, courts and Alcoholics Anonymous offered support. We asked questions, listened and prayed for discernment.
Consequences. Washington state offers a Youth at Risk petition allowing parents to ask a court to intervene. Soon a judge told our defiant teen that she would go either into treatment or jail. With God’s help, we let her suffer the consequences of her choices. She spent some time in jail. A court order separated her from a friendship that encouraged her rebellion. Driving was a privilege limited to treatment, school and work. We prayed she would continue to get caught if she chose to do anything illegal. We wanted her to experience enough pain to discourage her destructive behavior.
Her difficult recovery began. She exchanged high school for rehab, football games and dances for AA meetings. She’ll never get back her senior year, and I grieve with her; but now she’s working, enrolled in college and committed to staying sober.
I folded up the newspaper and glanced outside. I reflected on the day my daughter asked God for the strength and courage to join the fight. Misty daffodils have yielded to rosebuds, and the beauty of rebirth nourishes my soul. Despite lingering disappointment and pain, a new portrait emerged. Same tousled honey hair and mischievous smile, but now her blue eyes glisten with hope.