We moved to Texas from a small town in the north east. It was a tough move for our four kids, especially our 17-year-old daughter Ellie. It seemed everything she tried did not work out. After trying and trying and not feeling like God was answering, she was invited to a party. She discovered drugs and alcohol numbed her problems. After a while she confided in us, expressing her desire for our help. She asked us to basically put her under house arrest. We did everything she asked -no Facebook, no phone, no car- praying our way through each day. I found myself constantly saying 3 Things to Ellie.
- I love you, adore you, care for you
- I will never give up
- I will always have hope
Several months later, she decided it was too hard and ran away. We experienced such intense fear there are no words for it. Our 3 children also experienced things that night no child should. I had no idea how panic could be so immobilizing and mobilizing at the same time. After seven hours, Ellie was brought home – mad, belligerent, withdrawn. We found out this was not typical high school partying; this was hard-core drugs. She was having black-out periods and would wake up not knowing where she was. I looked at my daughter and thought, who is this? Again and again I would say to her, 3 Things Ellie. She would say “yeah, whatever.”
Drastic measures were needed. She was never out of our sight unless at school. We put alarms on windows. We started to research schools and treatment centers; all the while praying for a billboard from God to let us know when to send her. We bounced back and forth between a few horrible days, barely surviving and then a few good days.
October to December was terrible. Ellie was miserable, cruel to all of us with her words, skipping classes, leaving school early, cheating in school, incurring detentions. When is enough enough? I just could not get my heart around what was happening to my daughter. Then on January 17th our world was rattled beyond belief. Ellie had a group project so I took her over to a girls’ house, confirming with the girl and the mother about the project.
I texted over and over again about the pick-up time with no response. We were about to call the police when a white pickup truck pulled into our driveway. A young man walked to our door, “Mrs. Thomas, I have Ellie in my truck and she is intoxicated.” What? She was supposed to be doing a group project with parents in the home. We rushed her to the ER, finding out she had an alcohol level three times above the legal limit. I looked at my 5’10” daughter laying there and she looked so small, no color, so helpless. My baby, was she going to die, how can I save her? Don’t I know what is best for her?
God spoke to me in those moments when I was broken beyond my imagination. I pictured myself holding my daughter and laying her at the foot of the cross, asking God to hold us up. I knew in that instant Ellie was God’s gift to us, but she was not mine. I remember looking across the room at my husband who was praying and thinking. We were so beaten down. Our billboard from God was clear. It was time. We could no longer care for her because she was on a road of self destruction.
We had narrowed our school choice to two schools, and God led us through an open door. We met our youth pastor, her small group bible leader and a friend at our house and told Ellie she was leaving. We needed to do this to save her because she needed help. She cried and said no, but never put up a fight. We watched her crumble and give up. We left immediately to drive across the country.
As we walked up to this school, I felt a peace, but also an unexplainable ache. I was giving my daughter to strangers. I was saying I couldn’t do it, but could they? She said, “You are ruining my life” My husband said, “No El, we are saving your life.” She said, “You don’t love me” Again my husband’s reassurance, “We love you more than you know and this is why you are here.” I struggled with how to say good bye. I was trying so hard to be strong.
As we walked out, Ellie was standing on the porch between two staff people. She yelled, “Mommy!” I turned and she said “3 things Mom, 3 things.” The last words I heard my daughter speak for a month. I hung onto them, praying she knew I loved her, I would not give up and I would always have hope.
The staff was our lifeline to Ellie for a year. They loved her, wiped her tears, laughed and cried with her when we couldn’t. We are eternally grateful. For we know Ellie changed but these people helped her along this journey.
Alongside the staff, the girls at the school will forever be imprinted on Ellie’s heart. We realized these friends and the staff were her adopted family. At her graduation, we sat in a circle and each girl and family member said something to Ellie about what she meant to them. We watched as tears flowed, lips quivered and smiles emerged. We heard how the girls admired her in so many ways, how she learned to listen to them, how proud they were of her, and how she truly in her heart completed this program.
We all saw for the first time that our daughter, sister and granddaughter did change and is determined to keep changing. After this emotional time, Ellie spoke to each girl and family member. I watched her struggle to say words about her feelings. I watched her be vulnerable with her siblings, asking for forgiveness in front of all these people, asking them to help her, and telling them she loved them. This time was so precious and such an incredible ending of a chapter in all of our lives.
As my husband and I reflect back over the year, at times wondering when the nightmare would end, we see the blessings. We all would not be the people we are today if we had not experienced the things we experienced, learned the things we learned and realized the value of life. We learned to share our feelings, to show empathy, and what true love is. We know how to trust and most of all we know that no matter what, there is HOPE.
*The author’s name is a pseudonym.