Updated: Jun 25, 2020
| This is the 457th story of Our Life Logs |
This is the story of Maureen Fitzpatrick, an American writer and poet, as captured by the team at Our Life Logs®. While the following has been written to match the tone and voice of Maureen, please note that any discrepancies are creative liberties taken by the writer and agreed upon by the storyteller. Enjoy.
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“I’m only a little glad you are home. Life is easier when I don’t have to watch you die.”
-from Beyond Horizon Fall by Maureen Fitzpatrick
My name is Maureen. I grew up in a tiny town in New Jersey in the 1960s. My father was a math teacher; my mother was a supervising nurse. I was the oldest of six and loved running around our farmhouse with my younger siblings. We had pigs, sheep, goats, and we even had a horse. A shy girl, I spent a lot of time around the animals.
As I grew up, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. In 1984, I went to college and earned a business degree. I stepped off campus and into a position as a sales rep, selling cleaners to schools in the area. I loathed the job. And each day I saw the teachers teaching, I just felt like I belonged there.
So, I went back to college to become a teacher. That second start made me realize how much this path was meant for me. Teaching, preaching, writing, and interacting with students of all ages gave me a sense of satisfaction, and I was happy.
As I was making my mark as a teacher, I got married in the 1990s and started a family a few years later. I had five beautiful children who became my world. I always wanted to be the type of mother who was a support system for her children—and truly, it was easy at the beginning (as easy as it can be). We were a straight-laced family and we encouraged our children to thrive in school. My eldest daughter and I were very close and she was the apple of my eye. She never failed to make me laugh and she always spoke her mind.
In between raising my own kids, I also fostered a few children along the way. In the midst of trying to care for the house and the kids and their schedules, I lost myself. I guess that’s the way it is for every stay-at-home parent. Eventually, you just have to say, this is it for a while. Dreams and passions will still be there when this job is over.
When my daughter was in seventh grade, we had outgrown our old house. We just moved to a larger home that was around ten minutes away, but that meant a new school district for the kids. We stayed there for two years before we ultimately moved back to our original town. I didn’t think much about how it would affect my kids, especially my oldest. There’s nothing but hindsight to fill in the gaps.
Around the time my oldest was 15, she began to unravel. She didn’t want to go to school, which was odd, considering she was a great student and a star athlete. Maybe she felt out-of-place when we moved away, and out-of-place when we moved back. Still, she just laid in bed each morning with the pillow over her head. She’d scream like a crazy person. She’d lash out. She was acting outside the normal teenager behavior. My husband and I tried everything, really, just to wake her up, but it was like reviving a zombie. She was just miserable.
We tried helping by enrolling her in an online schooling program. She always loved animals, so, we let her continue her job grooming dogs and taking them to shows, but nothing seemed to bring the light back to her eyes. We took her to a therapist to help with her low self-esteem, but she’d just sit there, defiantly silent, only to tell me to, “fuck off.” I suspected that she was smoking marijuana. I smelled it on her clothes a few times before.
And then the slew of doctor visits. And tests. Maybe she had an illness. Maybe a learning disability. The doctors would dangle their findings in front of me and my husband, but due to strict HIPAA state laws, they couldn’t tell me anything about her blood work.
Finally, after seeing my tears of frustration, there was a nurse who waved me to a quiet hallway. Defying her oath, she simply said, “Your daughter has been taking drugs.”
You know that feeling. When your throat plummets to your stomach and your lungs are rendered useless. My husband and I were like two deer who weren’t quick enough, looking into the face of collision. When the nurse left, we were left to wonder. Marijuana? Coke? It couldn’t possibly be—Oxycontin? There was no way. She was 15.
Shortly thereafter, my daughter revealed her secret.
One evening, as I walked down the basement stairs, I saw it. The needles, the rubber bands, my daughter and her friend pricking themselves like pin cushions. I think a part of my heart sunk to the bottom of the sea.
Without the mask of mystery, my daughter was free to act the way the disease demanded. There was nothing left to hide. She became more violent with my husband and me, her actions became more erratic. We tried putting her in rehab again and again, but she didn’t want to be helped.
Seven times. My daughter signed herself out as soon as a sign of escape sat on the horizon. Even at 16 years old, she was legally allowed to do so. And each time we’d take her back to the hospital, doctors would release her after five days since she wasn’t suicidal—at least, not in the traditional sense. With her armored by the technicality, I watched my daughter slowly drain her own life with each relapse. She did this for years.
What is a mother but a human first? I questioned my faith, my strength, even my love for my own child, if I am being truly transparent. I had devoted so many years of my life to being a good mother, and yet, I had no control over my child. Most days, I wanted to be a crazy lady crying in the corner, but for everyone’s sake, I couldn’t be. To get through, I went onto autopilot. Through the hardest moments, I willed myself to make sure that my other kids felt loved and important. Chaos has a way of taking the leading role, and there was no doubt my younger children felt like stage crew at times. I had a nanny during the week and made time to go on one-on-one lunch dates with my children to make them all feel special and loved.
When my oldest was 17, she signed herself out of a rehabilitation facility that was located in Miami, Florida—hours away from our day-to-day survival in New Jersey. We weren’t even notified upon her departure, in fact, it was several days later until we knew. In all the wreckage of trying to locate my missing child, in knowing that she was so far away and in such a drug-filled city, I was unable to pry the anxiety from every crack in my life.
I started writing down my feelings. I’d always liked writing, but it was never done in desperation. But when I was in the pit of helplessness, it became a way to add breath back into my lungs. First, it was more like journaling then it changed to poetry. These small wishes that held tight to notebooks and phone screens were all I could do.
While we got my daughter back, I kept turning to writing over the next five years. I did my best to survive. What else was there to do. I began by submitting to writing and poetry groups on Instagram. In 2013, I joined in and began sharing updates about my daughter through my poetry. We had a little communication and I’d write about how she was doing at the time, whether that be better or worse.
And then, something changed in my daughter’s life, and it wasn’t anything I did or willed to happen.
When she turned 22, my daughter called me to tell me about a guy. He wasn’t a drug addict, but he wanted to change his life and made the commitment to my daughter to help her change hers too. Just like that, they moved to Arizona, got jobs, and she got sober. After years of hell, I could breathe.
I was happy to report through my poetry that my daughter was doing better and with that my heart felt lighter. And from my following on Instagram, I got the courage to publish a collection of my poetry about my daughter’s journey through addiction and my experiences as her mother. In response, I said, why not?
Thus, Beyond Horizon Fall by Maureen Fitzpatrick entered the world, more like a bang than a whimper. And with that, healing. Healing in ways I had never thought possible.
Since then, I have gone on to write other works, including a curriculum for a school based in China and craft beer guides, you know, the things that I am passionate about. The avenues I can claim now that my children are happy and healthy and strong. I’m finishing a children’s novel that I can’t wait to be completed.
And as far as the ins and outs of my daughter’s personal experience with her recovery—well, that’s another story, and it should come from her mouth, not mine. But know this, she is a beautiful 27-year-old businesswoman who runs a dog grooming shop, who is brave and kind and still sober.
Horizons fall. Spirits rise. Today’s suffering will eventually become the wind on your back. So, through it all, make small choices that will make for your happy ending.
This is the story of Maureen Fitzpatrick
Maureen, 53, still calls New Jersey her home but she is often traveling now that she has the chance to. Most recently, she is on a three-month trip in Spain. Maureen loved being a mom and there for her kids. When her oldest becomes a drug addict for seven years, Maureen is forced to her wit’s end as she tries to help. In the end, she discovers that one cannot help and save everyone. People have to want that for themselves and discovering that has brought her peace. She has a special message for all the women out there. She went through hell to save her daughter when she could have just given up. But she didn’t and she is proud of it. Maureen loves being a writer and loves her work and the feeling of independence. Aside from her other publications, Maureen also wrote a guide book on the “Adult Beer” industry in New Jersey. This book opened opportunities for Maureen to do radio and podcasts and one TV show. In her free time, Maureen loves to travel and explore. She’s also been known to randomly sing weird songs with little to no warning. You can follow her work on Instagram at @scarletspoem, and check out Beyond Horizons Fall here.
This story first touched our hearts on October 7, 2019.
| Written by: Kristen Petronio, Colleen Walker | Special thanks to Noor Pasha and Maureen Fitzpatrick |