PTSD in the Parents of Addicts

parents-ptsdAutumn didn’t realize she had PTSD when she found her daughter near death on the floor. She realized it when she tried to kill her daughter’s dealer.

“I think back to what I did and it’s so irrational. It sickens me.” Autumn (requested first name only) knows the exact moment she developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from her daughter’s drug addiction. It wasn’t heading upstairs to where her son and daughter shared a room, and seeing her daughter Sara* near death, lying on the carpet and making a rasping, gurgling noise. Autumn’s son had been lying in bed, trying to ignore his sister calling his name. He was inured to her random, erratic behaviors fueled by drugs, and wanted to sleep. It wasn’t until Sara, desperate and unable to speak, crawled out of her bed and began banging her head against the door that he leaped up and screamed for their mother.

It wasn’t calling 911 while she tried to wake her unresponsive daughter that sent Autumn over the edge. And it wasn’t pulling Sara down the stairs and knocking a can of paint over from an unfinished project, so that when she lay her daughter on the hard ground, the paint pooled around her body. It was after Autumn had done all of this, and could do nothing more.

“Just seeing her laying there on the floor, so lifeless, it made me just lose my mind,” Autumn says during a phone interview with The Fix. The ambulance arrived, and a paramedic told Autumn that 20 minutes longer and Sara wouldn’t have made it. Instead, Sara was revived by a shot of Narcan and sent home. She lay on the couch, her mother sitting with her, stroking her hair. “I thought I was going to lose her,” says Autumn.

Sitting on the couch while her daughter slept, Autumn heard Sara’s phone ping and checked the messages. Other drug users were texting, asking Sara for drug hookups, and then a dealer texted, demanding $300 that Sara owed him for drugs. Autumn was thinking of how to respond when the phone rang. She answered and impulsively pretended to be Sara. “I played it off as if I were her; I sound like her. I asked him to meet me at 5th street, outside of town.”

Autumn, a single mother in suburbia who worked full-time, picked up her two guns—a 35 and 380—took her phone and Sara’s, and drove her car to the designated meeting point on a dirt road to wait. Soon, a car pulled up noisily in front of her and parked. A young man got out of the driver’s side and came over to Autumn’s car, opened the passenger door, and looked in, startled. “You aren’t Sara,” he said.

Autumn leaned over, pumped full of adrenaline and cortisol, the hormones of rage and suffering, and asked, “Do you want your money or not?” The young man shrugged and leaned into the car, sat down.

Autumn says, voice shaking, “I pulled my 35 caliber out and put it in his face and said ‘My daughter almost died last night, and all you care about is your money.’ I jumped on him and bit him, scratched him, attacked him.” Autumn felt nothing but sheer rage.

“He got the gun from me and took the bullets out. I grabbed my 380 and put it in his face and it was another struggle. He disarmed me again, and then got out of my car and grabbed the bullets off the ground and threw them in the back of his truck. I jumped in the back of his truck to grab the bullets. He took off and I jumped out and threw the bullets at him.” The car spun off, shooting rocks at Autumn as she screamed toward him, and a life she no longer recognized. Read more “the fix”…

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