Ever since I was a girl I wanted a family. As a young woman it was the most important desire in my life. Imagine my delight and excitement when I found out that I was pregnant with my daughter. But then a peculiar thing happened shortly after her birth. l began to fear that I would somehow lose this most precious gift. As Erica grew older and more independent my fear became more powerful, overwhelming me! I imagined everything from her becoming deathly ill to her running away, to her being killed.
Two years ago, just before her 18th birthday, Erica was involved in an auto accident. Driving in a fit of rage, too fast down a winding mountain road, she lost control and rolled her car over a cliff. Although her little red Toyota was totally destroyed, she miraculously walked away virtually unscratched.
Six weeks later Erica announced that she was not going to attend the prestigious LA design school which had just accepted her. This was something she had dreamed of doing for years, and now she was turning it all down! Then one week later Erica told us she had dropped out of high school, four months before her graduation, an event she had been anticipating with excitement since her junior year.
Four days after this startling decision, Erica had a fight with her boyfriend, then went to her girlfriend’s house who wasn’t home. However, there on the table next to her friend’s bed were some pills which Erica picked up. She then drove slowly out to a place near our home, a place as barren as she was feeling. As she sat there alone in the dark she deliberately and intently swallowed one pill at a time. As soon as all the pills had been consumed Erica drove home and told me what she had done. Before she even got to the part about taking the pills, I could feel the fear choking me. I couldn’t breathe. Within moments I became blind with rage. I was hysterical. The rest of the evening was a chaotic blur. I was of no help to Erica or anyone because I was so hopelessly lost in my worst nightmare – the loss of my most precious gift, my daughter. Thankfully the pills were not lethal and Erica’s life had been spared.
By this time I was a total basket case. I sunk into a deep depression, not sleeping or eating, and unable to work. I cried all the time. I was worried sick about what might happen next. During this time a friend gave me a book written by Barry Neil Kaufman, emphatically urging me to read it. The book stated that by simply changing our beliefs we could become happier, more loving individuals. It talked about making positive changes in our lives by changing the way we see things. I consumed the book!
One week later Erica came home obviously very angry. She stomped down the hall into her room, slammed the door, and proceeded to hurl things against the wall. When I knocked, she screamed at me to go away which I did. Then an ominous silence fell over the house and a moment later a small, scared, childlike voice cried out, ‘Mommy, can you come here.’ Fearing the worst, I walked down the hall to her room where I found her curled up in a blanket with a note lying at her feet. The note outlined everything she had just ingested, a virtual drugstore. It also said she loved me very much and that she was sorry and good-bye. As I stood, not wanting to believe that this horror was taking place, I kept remembering Mr. Kaufman’s words that we do indeed have the power to consciously choose to view tragedies as opportunities. So, in that moment I chose to not give into the fear and to, instead, look for the opportunity.
As I rode in the car behind the ambulance, I was aware of the familiar feeling of fear wanting to wash over me. Instead of giving into the fear, as I always did before, I chose to become comfortable with myself, to feel love instead of fear and anxiety. I repeated this again after finding out that my daughter had consumed a lethal dose and, if she did not die, the chances were strong she’d sustain brain damage.
I was amazed at my own ability to stay calm, even as I talked with the doctors, convincing them to let me go into her room, something that, at first, they strongly opposed. When Erica woke up she tearfully asked if I was angry. And to my amazement I realized I was not. Then I seized the moment, creating an opportunity for myself, and possibly for her too. I asked her why she thought she did this. To my utter amazement and total delight, we began a long conversation, me gently and lovingly asking her questions and she answering, not so much for me, but mostly for herself. We talked for hours when Erica came to the conclusion that she didn’t want to die, but that she really wanted to live. And finally, the lab report came back, and miraculously, as if by the sheer grace of God, there was no permanent damage.
Today Erica is in college, and happier than I have ever seen her. She has a new passion for life! I believe this begin with the opportunity I created that incredible night almost two years ago in her hospital room. By choosing love over fear, I was able to give Erica the help she needed to change her view of herself and of her world. As for me, I have incorporated this simple yet profound concept into my life and as a result, my life is profoundly happier. I no longer fear loosing Erica, but instead have learned to let her take responsibility for her own life. I have replaced fear with a deep inner peace, something I once thought could not exist for me.
Lee B., Director, Women’s Resource Center, Colorado