My journey as a mother to Victoria began on a rainy January 14th at 7:35 AM in St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver. Holding her in my arms, I promised her I would protect her from harm and love her to my last breath. Twenty-five years, 9 months, 15 days and 11 hours later I am back at St. Paul’s, sitting at my daughter's bedside, holding her hand, staring at her in a coma—tube down her throat—watching machines keep her alive.
I knew this day would come.
Victoria was a beautiful, funny, special child—sensitive and attuned to others. Everyone she met was instantly drawn to her. She was popular, loved, and respected by her peers for her perception and her unusually mature reasoning. She was sought out as a counsellor by her friends...and even my own. She began playing soccer at nine and that was the start of weekends filled with sports. When soccer was over, field hockey began. She was good and was even scouted while playing in the rep soccer league as a teenager. Offers of full scholarships from universities came in. At 18 she was taking her prerequisites to start a bachelor of science degree and regularly achieving 100% math scores. She worked hard. Her employers loved her and she was spectacular at saving money and planning for the future. She taught herself guitar. She was a very bright and beloved girl.
Sounds like a pretty great life so far, doesn't it?
The Real, Real
But while all these positive things were happening, every day and every minute Victoria suffered extreme anxiety and depression. I tried hard to seek relief for her. And, it seems, so did she. The Dr. Phil producers called one day. Victoria had written to them pretending to be me and selling our family as ideal for the show and thus eligible for free therapy for a year. I declined the offer and kept searching for help. There was none. One day in May 2009 Victoria left the house for the day. She didn’t return for the entire weekend. This was completely out of character for my responsible, caring child. She started disappearing regularly.
Then she started to miss work. This was the biggest sign that we were in trouble. Friends and family were gobsmacked. People tried to comfort me saying Victoria was going through a stage and she would come to her senses soon. But she didn’t come home I knew this wasn't a teenager’s seeking thrills. It was her fight to quiet the agony in her mind and nerves.
Victoria has only shown love to her family—this beautiful daughter of mine keeps all her hate and shame for herself. On the street, she finds comfort with the marginalized people, some of them from families that only harm and abuse. She shows them extreme compassion. Victoria feels free from any expectations or judgment when she is with them. But during her time on the street, she was raped, hurt. I may never know how hurt. She found relief from the pain in drugs and alcohol, and about eight months ago, Victoria found her perfect haven from the agony—heroin.
Heroin wraps her in a warm embrace where she feels safe and everything is good. Except this escape has another way out: death. Death answers when you seek permanent release with heroin.
Fighting for my Child
When the ICU medical team told me she had been out of oxygen for over an hour and that, if by some miracle she woke up at all, the likely prognosis was severe brain damage, all I thought was, “Thank god! I'll be able to bring her back to safety. I can hold my daughter and bring her home. The nightmare will be over.”
But Victoria defied the odds. She woke up from her coma. She sat up. The breathing tube was removed. She spoke. She was back. She hasn't escaped brain injury. Her heart is damaged. And there are other consequences we won’t know about until later. But she is alive. For now.
It's Not Over
She was released from the ICU and transferred to the 10th floor—the addictions, HIV, and infectious disease unit at St. Paul's. She has been certified under the mental health act. This is keeping her here. She wants her drugs but she is trapped. I sleep beside her. I have been with her 11 days. Watching my daughter teeter back from death so that I can hold her again.
As I write sitting on my mattress on the floor, I am under no illusion that Victoria will snap out of her addiction and say, “Mom! I want treatment. I need my life back!” She is too entrenched. Her brain is too hardwired with the compulsion to medicate.
But something else is happening. She hasn't bolted. She stays because deep down she knows she needs help. This is a slight hope. I can’t hope too much. Too much hope is exhausting. But I will not leave her side. I promised her that over 25 years ago.
The art of detachment.
Right now Victoria can't run away from my love, her dad’s love, from the love of her sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, and friends. She is kept in one place to witness this love. Maybe she is starting to see herself through their loving eyes. Just a little. This is very good. Maybe when she gets out, she can let this love be recalled and sink in to warm her. To find comfort. To find her way home to herself.
I know she isn't doing this to me but nothing is more painful than seeing your child doing this to themselves.
I have a long fight ahead with Victoria. I can't let it kill me when she walks away. I have to be there for our three other children. I have to let go of sadness and shine with love.
Someone Please End the Madness
Addiction is killing us. The front-line teams of medical, addictions, and psychiatry in this hospital are fighting a heartbreaking epidemic. It is a crisis and the casualties just keep coming in. It's a revolving door. I don't know how these professionals do it.
They have said that my being here by her side, constantly fighting for her, never happens. Why? Because we need to end the stigma. Normalize this disease that affects every single person in our country and across the globe. They wage war against our children when they declare war on drugs. Legalize drugs so that we can get the supply out of the hands of organized crime. We need more research. We need funding for every town across our country to be able to offer evidence-based treatment and harm reduction.
Let the lost and hurt be guided to other ways to handle their pain while being given solace in the open by professionals.
Why is this so impossible for government to understand? Maybe it is because the powers that be are lacking empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In a way, I hope so. Because if they truly do understand and do nothing...it is unforgivable.
Sarah Rae, Pender Island, BC