Phoenix House: When did you first notice that your daughter, Sofia, was struggling with drug use?
Britt: We had caught her drinking a couple of times in her early teens, but we kind of just chalked it up to the usual teenage behavior. The initial major problem was that Sofia had developed anorexia and while we were dealing with her eating issues she just flat out confessed her drug use to us. We were flabbergasted at the time; we had no clue at all.
PH: Did you immediately seek treatment for her?
Tom: It was a process. She was already in treatment for her eating disorder, and later began outpatient drug counseling. However, her increasing dependency on drugs made this treatment ineffective. The impact of her drug use escalated and led to dangerous behavior and we then started the process to get her into Phoenix House.
Britt: At that time there were just so many things going on at once with Sofia—it all seems like a blur now. She kept getting in trouble in school, with the police, and with us of course. It was definitely time for treatment.
PH: We’ve heard Sofia talk about her treatment experience. What were those three months like for you?
Tom: In the very beginning, it was extremely difficult for us, especially from the standpoint of letting go. The family counselor helped us realize that we couldn’t force Sofia into recovery, and that the best thing we could do for her was to keep living our own lives. So we did what we needed to do while still visiting Sofia and working on our relationship with her. It was very frustrating and sad at first; we had never been away from her for that long.
Britt: It was a lot of self-examination. Phoenix House is a fantastic program because of all the support you get as a family, but that also means that you as a parent have to really look at yourself and your own actions and deal with them accordingly.
PH: When did you start to notice a positive change in Sofia?
Britt: After those first weeks her anger and resentment started to fade. She slowly started opening up to us, offering to speak, sharing with us in general.
Tom: To Sofia the mental turning-point was probably much more noticeable than to us; what we saw were gradual changes, she started thanking us for little things, and eventually she got to the point where she said, “I’m really happy that you brought me here.”
PH: Reflecting back, what did Sofia’s treatment experience teach you as parents?
Britt: We came to realize how many times we had “rescued” her back when she was using. She had been digging herself deeper and deeper, and to a certain degree we had enabled her by protecting her from the consequences of her actions. Every time she got in trouble, we used to think, “Well, surely now she’ll get her act together. She has hit rock bottom.” It was naive of us to think that, because we didn’t realize the pull that the drugs had over her.
PH: Did Sofia have a hard time returning home and to her old school after treatment?
Britt: Not at all. She had already switched to an alternative high school before she left for treatment. It was very creative and suited her personality; everyone welcomed her back with open arms. To this day, she doesn’t like to interact with people from her first high school—the people with whom she used to do drugs.
Tom: She was excited but apprehensive at the same time about coming home, but she did after-care at Phoenix House for a number of weeks and found that very helpful.
PH: How did Sofia maintain her sobriety while in early recovery?
Britt: She was going to meetings quite frequently with people she had met at Phoenix House. She was very careful about socializing, and she’s the same way now. She threw herself into her schoolwork in her typical all-or-nothing mode, applied for college and got into George Mason University, and started volunteering at Phoenix House…it’s been a busy but happy couple of years for her.
Tom: At first we were nervous about her being around other people in recovery, because we knew the relapse rate in early recovery is high. We thought, “What if she’s hanging out with these people and one of them breaks down and starts using, and then she follows suit?” That didn’t
happen. Sure, over the years some of her friends have relapsed, and some have reentered treatment—but not Sofia.
PH: What are the most profound changes you have noticed in Sofia since treatment?
Tom: She’s extremely aware of her actions and the impact they have on other people, including us.
Britt: Another thing is her confidence—it’s changed drastically since before Phoenix House; she’s so poised, and a lot happier. It’s a huge difference overall. She’s very motivated, she knows what she wants, and she has plans and goals now.
PH: What are your hopes for her future, in recovery as well as in life?
Britt: For us, when it comes to Sofia’s future, we just want her to be happy and successful in anything she wants to do. And it’s wonderful because she’s already doing so well on that path, all we hope is for her to continue to succeed. It’s not always going to be easy, but now she has the tools and strengths she needs to move forward on her way. Sofia’s strong enough now to accomplish anything.