Parenting from a place of openness and support instead of punishment and stigma helped rescue my daughter from a dangerous spiral I knew all too well.

By Robert Kanter
January 20, 2021
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An image of a man and his daughter.

In 2016, during her last year of high school, my daughter Sasha started acting out. She was missing homework assignments and skipping classes. She was irritable, angry, and she seemed to have no interest in a relationship with her parents. 

We chalked it up to senioritis. But then we noticed that she had started stealing money from us. School reports also revealed she was getting into physical fights with other students. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Sasha had fallen into the wrong crowd. She was spiraling out of control. 

It was, as my ex-wife and I would come to figure out, the beginning of her decline—a decline I personally knew all too well. After all, for years, I too had battled the life-threatening illness of substance use disorder. 

The Substance Abuse Spiral 

When Sasha left for college, I almost regret saying that I felt relieved. The last few months she had been home had been a huge struggle for our family. We reprimanded Sasha constantly. We cut off her funds, ignored her phone calls, and at times even told her that she was not welcome in the house. My wife and I grew apart. 

I thought that her leaving would give me breathing space. I hoped that my daughter would find her way. But once she left, my relationship with her practically became non-existent. 

Soon, things got worse, too. One day, one of Sasha's friends called us expressing concern about our daughter's life. We learned that Sasha had dropped out of college and moved in with a boyfriend who was dealing drugs. Her friend informed us that Sasha had been consuming large amounts of opiates and heroin herself. 

It was news to my ex-wife and me, but I was not completely surprised. Deep down, I had been worried that Sasha would try to replace her family and friends, as well as the intimacy she was lacking, with drugs and alcohol like I once had.

I knew that if her spiral continued, my daughter could overdose and die, becoming one of the tens of thousands of Americans who lose their lives to substance use disorder every year. 

We pleaded with Sasha's friend to convince her to meet us at a diner near her home just to talk. 

She obliged. 

An Open Approach 

When I saw my daughter in the diner that day, I was relieved that she was alive, but she seemed disoriented, high on heroin. Looking at her face for the first time in months, I could tell that she was suffering from the same illness that I had battled years before. I could remember the shame and loneliness that the addiction brought. I could tell that she loved and missed us, but that she was scared by how we would react to seeing her hit rock-bottom. 

I started beating myself up over the ways I had treated her. Without knowing better, our parenting had come from a place of punishment and stigma. We showed no care about her well-being. I even called her an embarrassment at one point. We did the worst thing one can do to someone going through substance use: We disconnected from her.

So I decided to try something new and do something I had never done: tell my daughter about my own journey of substance use and recovery. 

I told her that years ago, I had turned to drugs and alcohol. I kept dark secrets, I stole, I got arrested, I locked myself in my apartment, and consumed drugs. I survived near-death trauma and was unwillingly admitted to 11 emergency rooms and five inpatient rehabs. At one point, my doctors asserted that I was at risk of death.

I told her that eventually, I detoxed at an inpatient rehab facility but that after my stay, I was homeless and broke. I told her that through professional help, my life started to take a turn; things improved. I built an amazing support system, became healthy, found a career, abstained from drugs and alcohol, and most importantly, found peace and happiness. I told her that I have been sober from opiates, cocaine, and alcohol for 15 years.

As I spoke, I could feel the rift between us lessen. When she looked me in the eyes, I saw hope. 

My ex-wife and I told her that she was not an embarrassment and that we were prepared to help her. I emphasized that the journey through recovery is not a one-person affair, but rather one that requires support. We discussed treatment options—detoxification facilities, inpatient rehabilitation programs, 12-Step fellowships, therapy, and medication. We even offered to drive her to a detoxification facility with the promise that the choice to stay or leave would be hers. 

To all this, she responded that she would go home, consider the options, and discuss them with her boyfriend. My heart sunk, but deep down, I knew that if we wanted to help Sasha, she had to make that decision to get better for herself.

We told her we'd stay at the diner if she wanted to come back and two hours later, she did, holding a black plastic bag filled with tattered belongings. She told us that she had broken up with her boyfriend and that she was ready to get her life back together. 

The Path Forward

After our conversation, Sasha admitted herself to an inpatient rehab facility—the same rehab facility that I had stayed at 12 years earlier. I helped her move in.

Throughout the years, she has succeeded in rebuilding her life. Our parenting approach of love, support, and meeting her where she was—and not where we wanted her to be—worked.

Today, three years since that day in the diner, we talk and see each other regularly. My ex-wife and I remain involved in her recovery. She has a new boyfriend, a new job, lives in a sober community, and most importantly, she is happy and healthy. She has been sober for over two years.

My ex-wife and I, once butting heads regularly, are on good terms. Our family has never been closer. I sleep peacefully at night, thankful that Sasha and I are both sober.

My daughter and I continue to share our stories of recovery with the world to address the opioid epidemic. We want our words to be the ray of hope that someone in the darkness of addiction needs to recover and find peace.