Addiction is Not a Choice | a Mom and Dad Share Their Daughter’s Story

Addiction is Not a Choice | a Mom and Dad Share Their Daughter’s Story

Addiction is NOT a choice, contrary to the common belief and presumption “it” is a moral weakness, a shameful lack of willpower. I have been working in this field for over a decade, now, and that has NEVER been the case. With every person I’ve met or worked with, who either struggles with the chronic, often relapsing brain disease of addiction, or loves someone who does, there is always, what I call, a “back-story.”

A back-story is the presence of one or more of the five key risk factors for developing addiction: childhood trauma, mental illness, social environment, early use (which especially makes sense when you understand brain development, ages 12-25) and genetics.

Today’s post by guest authors, Cindy and Nick K., will touch your heart and help you better understand how it is that a wonderful, vibrant, healthy young girl could develop an addiction to heroin. They’ve written this post as a letter addressed To Whom It May Concern.

In a later post, you will be able to read an essay their daughter, Athena Kay, wrote for a college scholarship application. “Athena Kay” is the pseudonym their daughter has chosen in order to advocate for the change she so profoundly outlines in her essay, while at the same time, protecting her identity for obvious reasons.

To Whom It May Concern

How does a parent prepare to write a statement regarding who their daughter is? A statement informing a Judge and a Prosecutor, the deck of cards dealt to our child. A life where we as a family have lived, a life they have no basis to understand.

Our daughter, Athena

Our daughter, Athena Kay

How do you put into words the day your daughter, 15, told you she was raped, by a man 8 years older? How do you express finding a brown paper bag hidden in a friend’s closet containing the clothes from that night? How do you put into words the anger the day the grand jury found no cause to charge statutory rape? How do put into the words the continued stalking, harassment and fear as this man followed her, sat outside her school, in her place of employment and drove by our house. How do you expect a parent to respond when waiting in the court room for the misdemeanor sentencing, and they are told, “There has been an error, Ron was mistakenly released from jail yesterday and we do not know where he is?” To find out later he fled the state and there was nothing anyone would or could do about it. Five years later after years of searching and following this rapist, we had him arrested at our area airport where he finally served his 6 month sentence for contributing to the unruliness of a minor. Was our daughter unruly or raped?

How does a parent react when they are told their daughter is self-mutilating, cutting and burning themselves in order to “feel alive?” And then was voted the Homecoming Queen by her classmates and her peers. A week later celebrated her Sweet 16 Birthday Party and a week after is rushed to the ER with a suicide attempt by taking an overdose of Ambien? How does a parent react while taking the elevator to the top floor of Children’s Hospital, Psych Ward, reading the documentation, Suicide Attempt? And she is 16 years old.

AwardofExcellenceToddlerHow should a parent react when “feeling alive” becomes “self-medicating?” Through high school she became an advocate for rape, for rape survivors and awareness. Her love for photography became her voice for words not spoken. Her self-portrait, seen to the right, received the Ohio Governors Show Award and hung in the Governor’s House Educational building for 6 months. It is called, “Constitutional Rape.” Her photography would award a full ride scholarship to Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC. Her passion was to become a photo-journalist, capturing the pain of others as she was able to do for herself. It was there she was introduced to heroin, her means of self-medicating. The solution to her pain. The prescription for PTSD, rape trauma syndrome, Dissociative behaviors, depression, flashbacks, panic attacks and anxiety. And like many other rape survivors, heroin worked. It made her feel the best she had in years, until it took everything and made her feel the worst.

KentStateWe brought her home that first year. Her scholarship gone. Her passion for photography taken. But her drive to graduate from college lived on. She enrolled at Kent State with a dream of a bachelor’s degree.

She wanted to become involved with children, those suffering trauma, abuse and addiction. Throughout the years attending Kent State she battled her addiction, was on academic suspension for one year, but her willingness and perseverance gained her the title of Kent State Advocate. She represented the college in events, tours and greeted the new freshmen and guests with a smile and grace. She was also selected to be a research assistant with one of her Professors. She decided through this opportunity she also wanted to pursue a Master’s Degree in Michigan studying trauma and addiction. How they correlate and effect young people, especially women and children. Our daughter never lost sight of her goals and wanted to help others. She graduated from Kent State, addicted to heroin, with honors, in Family Studies and Family Education. She finally was able to pursue her goals in life. But once again, Heroin and a dual diagnosis have now taken this opportunity away as well.


Addiction is NOT a choice…

The years from 2003 till present have brought much pain, anger and judgment to our family. Athena has been in counseling since 2003, treating PTSD, Rape trauma syndrome, dissociative behavior and all other symptoms; fears, panic attacks, anxiety and flashbacks. They seem unending. Athena has been in treatment, numerous IOP programs, inpatient, outpatient, AA, NA and everything in-between.

Father:DaughterOur system has little to offer when treating dual-diagnosis.  We have constantly heard, “Come back when you are sober” or “We only treat drug addiction, but you will have to wait a month or so. Call back then.” Nikole knows people on a first name basis at the Crisis Center. If not there for overdose or detox, she is there for suicide ideation once off heroin. Her symptoms magnify and there is little treatment for the ongoing depression and anxiety/panic attacks. We have all learned the rules, Yell her name as we walk up to her room, never come up from behind without making noise, do not touch from behind and never surprise her. And unfortunately, the medications used to treat these symptoms are not prescribed; she is a substance user, an addict.

We know our daughter. She was admired and loved by her teachers and her peers. She is loved dearly by her family, her Grandmothers, her siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, nephews and Godson.  She is respected by fellow co-workers and friends. She was raised in church, danced with the Greek Dance group at our area church for thirteen years. We taught our children values, morals, self-respect, love and loyalty. She is kind and passionate. She loves to read and write. She has stamina, determination and a “never quit attitude.” athena2

One day, in a matter of hours, her life changed. My daughter left for a Fourth of July picnic with friends and she never came home.

As she stated in one of her writings:

Garden:Rabbit“It was on July 4, 2003 that my childhood innocence was so abruptly and unrepentantly ripped away. Every breath of my childish dreams and imagination had been seized, and my dolls were silently placed back into their toy chest, never again to reappear.  Following this act of rape, my childish cheerfulness was suffocated.  That was the last day I laughed with innocence, and no one would be able to comprehend my muted silence and secrets.  I was unable to talk about the experience.  No one until recently was ever told about this man who ripped apart my soul with his perverted hands and never attempted to piece it back together again.  No one had ever told me what defined rape, as I searched for ways to cope and heal, or to blank the experience from my mind altogether.  I mistakenly believed it was somehow my fault.”

How do we explain, knowing what we know today? Addiction is no one’s fault. It is not a choice, but a disease.  Addiction has one of three outcomes, jail, recovery or death. Please help keep our daughter alive.


Cindy and Nick K


Added 12/21/14

To read Athena’s essay, please click here, Dual Diagnosis Treatment – A System Broken | Guest Author Athena Kay.


11 Responses to Addiction is Not a Choice | a Mom and Dad Share Their Daughter’s Story

  1. Thank you for sharing this power story, Lisa. I was heartbroken when I reached the end and realized this would not have a happy ending. I appreciate you sharing Cindy and Nick’s story and for keeping their beautiful daughter’s legacy alive. What any parent knows is this could be anyone’s story. What I know is that this could have been my daughter’s story. Addiction puts our kids at such risk. Let’s keep these stories alive, so that other families can be aware of the dangers. Thank you!

  2. Cindy K says:

    Cathy Taughinbaugh, Thank you so much for your kind words. In writing this article it is our goal that those suffering from dual diagnosis may find hope and that by sharing gives my daughter’s life a purpose. So many living with substance use disorder have the pre-existing conditions leading them to self medicate. Athena is a lucky one as she will begin another attempt at recovery and in-house treatment, including trauma counseling. The Judge has done everything in her power to give her a lengthy program including long-term out patient follow-up. It is a success story of treatment in lieu of conviction.

  3. debbie humphrey says:

    Thank you Athena’s parents for sharing your daughter’s story. I worked for over 25 years as an advocate and counselor for victims of sexual and domestic violence. Through the years I met with many people, mostly women and children.Trauma changes brain chemistry and the emotional pain is often unbearable leading many people to need relief. My 19 year old grandson experience a different trauma at age 4. My daughter,Owen’s mom and I believe that this was the beginning of his anxiety. As he aged his anxiety increased and when he started using drugs life got more and more chaotic and painful for him and all of us, his family. My daughter got all and whatever help she could get for him. He was in 5 different long term rehabs. After each of these his addiction disease got worse. Drug use began with marijuana, over the counter meds. opiate meds. and eventually heroin.We found that there wasn’t adequate programs for adolescents who are dual-diagnosed. Owen was a real good kid. He was loved by so many. He was generous and kind. He loved animals and his little sister and brother. He was artistic, drawing, painting.taught himself how to play guitar. took trumpet lessons. He played baseball, ran track. snow boarding skate boarding. He was funny and gave the best hugs. It was so frustrating to hear that he had to want recovery to get better and that hitting rock bottom would make him want it. Owen did want recovery. He also had great empathy for others who have this terrible disease and talked about wanting to help others when he got better. Owen overdosed on heroin and died last year at the age of 19. Our system failed him as it has so many. The stigma causes so much shame and pain. I believe that more brain research and better medical and Mental health treatment is necessary to “rewire” the brain. Until the shaming and blaming of those with this disease and their families changes more of our children will die. I am so sad and heart broken for you and all of us left to grieve our precious children.

    • Cindy K says:

      Debbie, First I am so sorry for the loss of your grandson. It has been our biggest fear and are grateful to have one more day as treatment is sought. My daughter was in court yesterday and the Judge did the best she could and our daughter will be placed into long term treatment at 2 facilities offering intense counseling including trauma. It has been our search for years and we can only hope. Unfortunately the panic and anxiety only worsens once off heroin and the medications typically given are not prescribed for those with substance use. The stigma is doubled when dealing with rape and followed by addiction. Our purpose in writing this is to help those who have been hiding behind both of these doors and speak out demanding change and adequate treatment both with mental health and substance use. Again, thank you for sharing your story.

  4. This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing 🙂 My name is Stephanie, and I’m a recovering heroin addict. One thing most people say but don’t necessarily want to argue about is that addiction is a choice; they should have never used drugs in the first place. Because they did get high, it was their choice to become an addict. This story absolutely captures the essence of why I enjoyed it; nothingness, no pain, no memories, just a warm feeling that left me feeling safe. Even though I knew my life was falling apart in every department, I didn’t know how to deal with the emotional pain of life’s trauma, the way it shaped who I had become, and the mental illness that I didn’t understand. More so, little did I know my mother had been an addict. I lacked the coping skills I needed, and the only one I had was heroin.
    When those people tell me it was my choice to become an addict, I try and remember how good it must feel to have never experienced it themselves, how lucky they are. I too, was lucky. I found a doctor who had watched her brother’s heroin addiction for 10 years, which resulted in his death, and she helped me get clean. She understood I had an option to get out alive. She also understood what I’d feel physically and emotionally for the next couple months while my body got used to functioning without the drugs, and would see me in her office when I felt ready to explode the same day, within a couple hours of calling.
    Once I was clean for awhile, I took on the task of working through the pain in therapy, and learning how to cope with all the challenges life will undoubtedly bring. I’m still in therapy, actually, because it helps me cope by talking to someone who has an objective view, a view I have a hard time understanding because my emotions are so intense.
    Again, thank you so very much for sharing this. It brought me to tears. Its nice to see someone who understands from a parental view that addiction isn’t anyone’s dream, its simply a way of coping with something you don’t know how to cope with. I’m so sorry for your loss, but so grateful you’re using it to do something good. I’m positive your daughter is so proud of you <3

    • Cindy K says:

      Stephanie, thank you for sharing your story. It gives me more hope than you realize. Our daughter will be placed in long term treatment offering her trauma counseling while safe behind protected walls. Her biggest fear is facing that which she has hidden from for years. Heroin provided her that safe refuge, but in order to move forward, she needs to face her demons and prevail. The unknown frightens her, but her continued use frightens her more. Again, thank you for sharing your story and for giving us hope in tomorrow knowing this too can be a victory and change is possible.

      • Carrie says:

        Wow.. Thank you do much for writing this story. My brother was a heroin addict for a 3rd of his life. We grew up in a loving household with both of our parents(they’re coming up on 43 years of marriage). We went to church, played sports, and took family vacations. Nothing in our family dynamic would ever say “someone in your family is going to be a heroin addict.” My brother clearly had some behavioral and mental illness when he was an adolescent. Adhd and bipolar were just not well known or understood. My brother was also a very stubborn mule. I believe he may have had a trauma he never told us about. A girlfriend told me that he told her something happened but never said what. He went through treatment many times. As you said though, dual diagnosis just doesn’t get the support that’s needed. He could get sober but he could only maintain it around two years. It always took a similar cycle. He would get clean than he started working out. He would get as strong and bulked up as he could than it was a downhill slide. He would eventually relapse because he just wouldn’t and couldn’t deal with his mental illness. December 27th 2013 would have been his 2 years sober. He unfortunately didn’t make it. November 17th he passed away from an overdose of heroin. He relapsed that night. He never intended to die or to hurt us. He just didn’t have the support he needed. I believe God has a bigger plan for him that I hope to understand someday. I love him and miss him everyday. I hope to see (in my lifetime) a major change in how we treat mental illness and addiction. Thank you again and God bless your family.

  5. Cindy K says:

    Carrie I first want to say how sorry I am for the loss of your brother. Trauma is the unseen, unheard condition where those affected do not speak out. The heroin “emergency” continues to rob a generation at the hands of stigma and ignorance. Finally many are realizing addiction is not a choice, but rather a disease needed extensive treatment and continued maintenance. Until our Addiction Specialists and our Mental Health boards can walk hand in hand with one common goal, our children and family members continue to suffer. I have fought for years now trying to find one place to treat both conditions or the very least, both agencies sing the same song. Slowly they are hearing, slower yet they are making changes. Bringing about awareness is the least I can do and I will continue not only for our daughter, but for the many lost and those not yet gone.

  6. Thank you, Lisa, for bringing us this story. And thank you, Cindy and Nick, for allowing her to do so. A mighty tale, with a mighty point. This sort of forced lost innocence is so hard, so wrong. I’m outraged, yet feel much love for child and parents. What more can I say?

  7. Such a powerful story and thank you for sharing you pain, but also your hope. Addiction ruins lives yet so many people still assume it is down to will-power or lack of self-control. I know it is neither. Wishing you much love and strength in all your journeys to recovery.

  8. Bevin says:

    I know full to well a lot of what you went through. Not a 100% but close. Thank you fire sharing it.

Leave a reply