For eleven years I had the pleasure of helping raise 14 kiddos as their nanny. I was present for endless precious, sacred moments in their lives. I was an extension of the family. I not only cared for the kiddos, but the parents as well. Every holiday, every birthday, every anniversary, every day I was there.
As you can imagine, I was a witness to the good, the bad, the ugly. Sadly, this included what happened behind closed doors. I saw firsthand the struggles of becoming parents. The struggle of being parents while still being very wounded from childhood. The desire to not repeat what they endured. The false hope that drinking would solve it all. That the vodka would take the pain away forever. That the nanny wouldn’t know that the vicodin wasn’t prescribed, but stolen.
I can’t even begin to describe the relief and guilt I felt when I had chosen to leave the position for my own sanity. With every visit to see the kiddos that I loved and missed, my worry for them and their parent grew. My worry grew for the other parent who had to live in a certain level of denial in order to survive and hold up the family.
When I had to completely cut off communication with the sick parent- a person I had looked up to, who I had hoped to be like when I grew up- it was nothing short of heart wrenching. I ached for them and our friendship. I also hated them for being so sick that they couldn’t see what their actions were doing to their family and everyone around them.
When I found out about the overdose, I was horrified. I had an ache in my heart that I had never felt before. I cried and howled for the kiddos. I cried and howled for the lost soul. I cried and howled for the other parent who had long taken the kids doing everything they could to keep the kiddos safe knowing they would be left to pick up the pieces.
I wanted to rescue the kiddos. I wanted to hold them and protect them from the sadness and the hole they would feel in their hearts. For the eldest, I knew this would rock them more than the younger one- the youngest never really knew their parent as we did. This realization hurt.
I went to them. I listened to them. I hugged them. I rocked them. I mourned with them.
When the funeral came, I stood in front of everyone and spoke my truth. I cried like I had never cried. I shook with grief and sadness and anger. God I was pissed. How dare this parent do this to the kiddos. How dare this parent do this to us. And then, I understood. The pain was so deep. The trauma had taken over. It had become paralyzing. The vodka, the pills, the chaos was the comfort.
Today is the third anniversary and my heart still aches. Every so often I am reminded of this loss and it brings the cold pain back in my heart. I think more so about the kiddos. I think about how this will impact them and their world. I think about the beautiful words the eldest wrote for the funeral and how I knew that these words were filled with truth. I also think of their resilience and how that is going to be such a strength for them.
None of us knows what the future holds. I can only hope that their future, their reality will be better. What I do know is the kiddos are extremely loved. What I can do is continue to be a loving presence in their lives.
Although this is my story and experience, I know this is a familiar story for so many. The confusion and conflicting feelings can make a difficult situation even more difficult. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please know you are not alone.
For support, please contact:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 1.800.662.4357 (National Helpline)
The Arapahoe House (Colorado)
Betty Ford Center (Los Angeles)
I am also more than happy to offer any referrals to therapists who could support you as well.
Until next time,
Disclaimer: this was an incredibly tough position to be in as a young adult. It was years before I really knew what was going on. At that point, I was leaving for my sanity. I trusted that the other parent (and their support system) was capable of caring for the kiddos and keeping them safe. Had I questioned that, I would have stepped in or asked others to step in.
Dr. Lily A. Zehner, MFT-C is a therapist who specializes in sex, intimacy, and relationships. Her private practice is located in Denver where she helps others reach their fullest relational and sexual potential. To learn more about her and her services, please feel free to take a look around her website.