Merriam-Webster defines drowning as 1: to suffocate by submersion esp. in water 2: to become drowned 3: to cover with water 4: overpower, overwhelm. Lifeguards go through hours of training on prevention of drownings and how to rescue a drowning victim. EMT’s and Firefighters are skillfully trained on resuscitation in the event of a drowning. As a mother, I am vigilant about my children’s safety when we are in the presence of water. So what do you do if someone you love is drowning? Jump in and save their life, right? What if you can’t? What if you are stuck?What if you are forced to sit on the side of the pool and watch your loved one drown?
On a beautiful April evening, my niece Annie, came speeding into the world. Having received the phone call that she was on her way to meet us, I took a shower and quickly headed to the hospital. She was my sisters first baby, so I had plenty of time. WRONG! When I walked into the Labor and Delivery section of the hospital, there was her Dad proudly showing her off to the world. Bald and beautiful. She captured everyone’s heart immediately. Not yet a mother myself, I had no idea what adventures awaited my sister, but she welcomed them with an open heart.
Annie was a spit fire of a little girl. When told she needed to clean her room, she responded by saying she was too little to clean. While babysitting her once, I caught her eating french fries off the floor with my cat! She hid keys in her toybox, and put food in the VCR. She was a daydreamer and had a wonderful imagination. She loved to play dress up and take care of her baby dolls. Later she would become obsessed with painting her nails and perfecting dance moves.
In 2008 my sister remarried. By this time, Annie was twelve and had two little sisters. Her sisters were thrilled to have the love and stability that this union brought. Annie was not. Having had only her mother as a parental figure for most of her life, the marriage made her angry. At first her behavior was easily written off as adjustment pains and teenage behavior. Things quickly escalated and she became obsessed with getting out of her home. She pulled knives on her stepdad, told lies to DCS (Department of Children’s Services) case workers and teachers, she begged them to hit her so she could “get out”. She spat in her mom’s face and called the police on her mom and stepdad. When she attempted suicide, my sister and her husband sought out the best help that they could find. Somehow, that wasn’t good enough. Because Annie had caused so much trouble and had a record with DCS, they were contacted about her suicide attempt. DCS hastily deemed that Annie’s insurance coverage was insufficient for the treatment they said that she needed, and removed her from her home.
Annie bounced from group homes, to foster homes, to recovery centers. Every new home brought new attitudes and more anger. On one visit that I had with her, I brought her a bible for teenage girls. Hoping, praying that she might open it and find some peace for her soul. She threw the bible to the side and went through the candy that I brought her. Her youngest sister begged her to be good and come home. She started smoking and sneaking out. We knew that she had lost her virginity. Still, we always made it to celebrate her birthdays and Christmas. Family is everything to us.
When Annie was in high school, her paternal grandmother took custody of her. Hoping that spending time with her grandmother and her father and his family would bring her peace, we all breathed for a second. Rumors of drugs and alcohol began to slip into our lives quicker than we could exhale. My sister confronted and talked to Annie and her grandmother but was met with lies and manipulation. Then came the early morning phone call that Annie’s father had overdosed while she was in the room. As if we could imagine things getting worse, they did.
Annie met a boy and in her vulnerable state, he took total control of her life. They began stealing for drugs and distancing themselves from everyone who was a good influence (in other words, people who would tell them the truth). The grandmother lost total control of Annie and my sister could do nothing about it. The grandmother had custody. My sister tried calling in the help of Annie’s fathers family. Nothing. She tried calling the police for help. Nothing. The only thing that she was able to do was find out that Annie had in fact graduated from high school.
In 2014 Annie got so sick that she couldn’t breathe or hold down food or water. My sister ran to her side (a two hour drive) and rushed her to the emergency room. She was severely dehydrated and her heart was enlarged. She had a lung infection and she tested positive for drugs. The doctor who saw Annie told her and my sister that if she didn’t stop smoking and doing drugs that she would be dead…quickly. The doctor wanted my sister to press charges against the grandmother for not getting her medical care, my sister focused on getting her daughter well. Annie went into rehab immediately and started looking better in days. We were all hopeful, once again.
A week later, she was gone. You see, prescription pain medication abuse is rampant here in Tennessee. Between my husband and I, we have four addicts within our families. Oxycontin, Phenobarbital, Xanax, Valium, Ambian, Percocet, Roxicodone, Percodan, Vicodin, and even Adderall are all drugs that I had heard of before my niece’s addiction, but never did I understand the hold that they have on that addict. One doctor we spoke to described her need for more drugs to be equitable to mourning a dead lover. She felt she would die without them. We know that she will be dead with them.
So now here I sit in August of 2015. Annie is barely 19, an addict, married, and pregnant. The baby will be born addicted to drugs. They have no home, no real employment, and there is nothing we can do. If she were giving the baby drugs in a bottle, she would be arrested and the baby taken away. While the baby is in utero, she has more rights than the baby. She can knowingly take drugs that weren’t prescribed to her and there is nothing we can do. She was told that if she didn’t stop, she would die. Nothing we can do.
As a Christian, I know I am not supposed to question God. I am supposed to give this over to him and pray for her. Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5. As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust him. 2 Samuel 22:31. For thou are my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth. Psalm 71:5. It’s there, all throughout the Bible, how we are to trust in God if we are believers. How do we do that? How do we relinquish control?
Last night I nearly finished the quilt that I am making for Annie’s baby. I know that the baby may never see the quilt, but I had to make it. Not for Annie, but for this innocent baby. Maybe someday she will wonder who loved her enough to make it. This morning I received a text from my sister. It was a forwarded text from Annie. Knowing that the baby is coming soon, they are getting desperate and scared. They are preparing to run. They are severing ties. She told my sister to tell me to never text her again. My last text to her had simply said, “I love you kiddo.”
So I am going to do what my God tells me I have to do, I am going to trust him. I am going to pray for her heart and for the health of her baby. Even if that means I have to watch her drown in drugs and deceit. This is the lesson that I have learned in all this. I am not in control, I can’t love someone into doing better, I am not the healer. I am not her lifeguard. I am sending her another text (whether she likes it or not!). It will read, “I love you. I always have and always will. I am praying for you everyday. Aunt Jen.”
*Annie’s name has been changed to protect her baby