Dear Daughter,

I have lost you. Gone is the baby girl I held in my arms while whispering words of adoration. Gone is the little girl whose fingernails I painted a soft, innocent pink while we sang, “I love you, you love me.”

Gone for now are the dreams I had for your life as I watched you walk into your kindergarten room on the first day of school. Dashed are the hopes that swelled up in my heart when I saw you sing in your school’s choral concerts, as you went on your first date, as you walked down the aisle with your high school diploma in hand. How could I fathom I was watching you march toward the devastation called addiction?

I shared in your excitement as you, with a gleam in your eyes, told me about the man that wanted to date you. “This could be the one, Mom,” you said.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Heroin Dependence and Abuse in U.S.” source=”CDC”]Increased 90 percent between 2002 and 2013|Has led to a quadrupling of fatal overdoses since 2000|Has been climbing among all demographic groups, including women and the more affluent[/lz_bulleted_list]

He was the one — the one who injected a vein in your arm with your first dose of heroin. How many times he did after that, I don’t know, but you were hooked. You eventually overdosed and even once clinically died. In a twisted sense of irony, he was there to resuscitate you.

I’ll never forget the call I got from the hospital, late at night. You were there, recovering; but they released you before I arrived. You ran back into his arms, and you both ran — and I began the mad search for my daughter who had suddenly become a stranger to me. Shock turned into denial, which evolved into anger and then unimaginable sadness and loss. My little girl was gone.

The night you overdosed, I started looking for you at your house. I let myself in, only to find the police had been there before me. I saw papers strewn around your floor, drawers wide open and your favorite childhood stuffed animal lying abandoned on the kitchen floor. Clutching it to my chest, I sobbed and slowly walked through every room.

Your bedroom, where all the drugs were found, was cold. A window was open, and the frigid January wind was seeping in. “Where are you?” I sobbed as I left.

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Life would never be the same.

We soon discovered it wasn’t just heroin — you relied on meth and prescription pills to numb your insecurities and life’s pain. I thought I could fix it all. I thought it would be simple. I had no idea what our family was up against.

I eventually found you, and managed to get you into treatment, thinking six weeks in rehab would bring you back. But I was wrong. You always went back to him, back to the needles, spoons, fine white powder and brown liquid in your veins. The battle to get you back is far from over. It’s clear to see how much the drugs have altered your old persona and brain, and I’m now dealing with a new person.

Your family and friends have seen you lose weight as your health deteriorates, your body unbelievingly still functioning despite all you’re doing to destroy it.

We’ve seen you turn into a liar and master manipulator. You’ve learned how to twist and turn facts and situations to where we are hanging onto the string of hope you dangle in front of us. In the beginning, we gave you money, bailed you out of drug-induced debt, gave you rides — always giving you the benefit of the doubt because we thought you were on the road to recovery. We later learned that what we were doing was called enabling.

[lz_bulleted_list source=”” title=”Signs of Heroin Use”]Dirty spoons and lighters|Powdery or crumbly substance|Sticky black substance|Belts or rubber tubing|Nodding off suddenly|Slow breathing|Constricted pupils|Unclear thinking|Loss of memory|Itching, nausea, vomiting[/lz_bulleted_list]

We’ve talked to you through jail phones with a glass partition between us. We’ve seen you stand in front of a judge multiple times, taking his lenient sentences. You promised you’d never go back to the drugs again. You snowballed even him.

In the beginning, losing you consumed all of us. We cried every day. We couldn’t put in a productive day at work. At first, our co-workers showed us sympathy and understanding, but as time wore on, even they got tired of the long journey, saying you belonged in jail. We went to support groups, but found that sharing our sorrow didn’t change anything.

Losing you to the drugs has been like experiencing a death — the grief has been overwhelming. I tell you this, but you look at me expressionless, worried about your next hit. If I could sit by you while you’re using, I would tell you what each syringe does: This dose will send your mother into despair and fits of sobbing; your next hit will throw your father to his knees as he cries out in pain, “What did I do wrong?”; the next will saturate your little brother’s pillow with tears of anguish, fear and disappointment; and the next will rock your little sister’s world, as her young brain tries to comprehend the concept of addiction. You’ve lost your license, your car, your house and friends.

When I do get to see you, I hold you and close my eyes as I give you a kiss. For a few seconds I feel like I’m once again kissing my little girl’s smooth, soft cheek — and there is hope. But when I let go, I look into an addict’s eyes, and we both know it’s all changed.

I don’t know where it will go from here. I see you taking promising steps forward, then leaps backward. Our family’s shock and sorrow have evolved into a fight to keep you off the streets — and breathing.

We have been dealt a devastating hand that we will never understand. But until the day I die, I will fight to get you back and live the life I dreamed for you as you were growing up.

I love you, you love me, forever my baby you’ll be.

Ella Crosse (not her real name) is a mother from Wisconsin who hopes that sharing her story will spare others the pain of addiction.

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