After the Suffering, there is Joy

picture of Our LadyUp until five years ago I was a heart-broken mother with no hope and a future filled with only darkness and despair.  Now, I am filled with a new and indescribable peace and have learned the true meaning of faith which will no doubt, in the future sustain me and my family.

Being a mother has always filled me with great pride and joy. I have always believed that children and family are one of the greatest gifts we can ever receive.  However, sometimes our lives can be turned upside down and our joys turn into the worst kind of nightmare you can ever imagine.

My own personal nightmare began fourteen years ago when I learned that my daughter was suffering from drug addiction.  I cannot describe the shock, the pain. . . my ignorance of what drug addiction is all about – even worse, “why me?”  This could not be happening to me! After all, I had the most well-balanced, honest and loving children one could ever wish for.

I have a son happily married with a lovely wife and, at that time, with one child.  He is self-employed, owns his own home; doesn’t drink, smoke or gamble. He lives and breathes for his beautiful family.  Then there is my beautiful, vivacious daughter who had a good job in a bank with everything going for her and everything to live for. So, what happened to my almost perfect little world? DRUGS happened!

It is so easy for us to condemn those who are suffering from drug addiction, or indeed any addiction.  Drug addicts are the ones people fear the most and quite rightly so.  Who would want to have a son or daughter addicted to drugs?  It does not really matter what type of addiction it is; an addiction is an addiction.

I am often asked how I felt when I discovered that my daughter was a drug addict.  I have to be honest and say that my reaction was of an indescribable feeling of shock, horror, total disbelief and absolute denial.  I mean, how dare anyone say or even think that my daughter took drugs? How could she be a drug addict? She had a good job in a bank, a decent upbringing and was well-loved by everyone.

Then, reality set in and slowly it started to hit me.  At first, I thought it was like a bad bout of flu or something – nothing a little bit of home nursing and love couldn’t cure.  Of course, it was much more serious than that, it was a self-destructive cancer not wanting a cure.  It makes you feel like a helpless onlooker and, probably for the first time, I had very little or no control over the problem.

In time, I learned that it was not something that will just go away; it was not like having a social drink where the person can stop any time.

This was an addiction, and an addiction of the worst kind. It turns our beautiful children into the worst kind of monsters, people we don’t even recognise anymore.  They become like the devil’s disciples – lying, cheating, stealing and sometimes much more.

My life was turned upside down and I reached a point where I was oblivious to everything around me.  My son’s family was growing; the number of my beautiful grandchildren was increasing and for just a few hours each week I had time to concentrate on being a grandmother and enjoy being with my grandchildren.

Each time I was presented with the joy of new life, my mind was filled with thoughts of my daughter and her addiction.  I lay awake most nights or sat smoking and thinking of what she was missing in life.  Would she ever live to see her nephews and nieces grow up?  Would she ever become a mother herself?  Night after night, day after day, worry, always worrying and blaming myself. I never considered how it was affecting the rest of my family. My only thought was about how I felt and how I could help her overcome the drug addiction.  I was her mother and I am supposed to be able to fix things.  Well, I soon learned that this is one thing I couldn’t fix alone.

I was fortunate I had lots of support from my husband and family.  I always thank God for my family; they are my riches here on earth.  But I have to admit that this problem put a huge strain on our marriage, yet at the same time made us stronger.  Sadly, drugs have no conscience and no concern for whichever home they invade and indeed sometimes destroy.

It is dreadful to admit that sometimes the whole thing just made me feel sick and fed up: the ongoing drug abuse, lies, the empty promises, the feelings of being hopeless, helpless and sometimes isolated, along with being ashamed and embarrassed about the problem.

With love, wisdom and support from my husband, we decided that we had to do something about this horrific situation before it killed one of us. We went to a drug centre for help and advice. They were very helpful and showed us some of the drugs to look out for and so on.  We went everywhere and tried everything to help our daughter recover.  Nothing seemed to work, so I decided to pray.  Prayer is something that my mother always believed in, but I hadn’t been consistent for a long time. It was the only thing I hadn’t tried except for the occasional, “Oh! God help us!”

In 1995, not long after my mum had passed away, I was talking to a friend one day about how much my mother loved Our Lady and how I felt a little guilty about not attending church with her very often. Although I was virtually non-practicing, I still believed in God.

Then Mary and her husband Paul started telling us about their spiritual experience in Medugorje; how Our Lady, the Mother of God was still appearing there.  Mary did most of the talking and she explained about the peace and joy they both felt, not only while they were there but also since their return, I needed some of this.  Right there and then I felt a longing to go. Maybe I could feel the way they did.  Both Mary and her husband, together with other pilgrims, visited a place called The Cenacolo.  “What is the Cenacolo?” I asked.  I thought this was a strange-sounding name.  “Oh,” she said, quite casually, “where drug addicts go to recover”.

You could have blown me over because she didn’t even know about my daughter’s addiction. We had kept it silent out of shame and embarrassment. I asked so many questions about the Cenacolo – how do you get there, what do you have to do while you are there and so on.  By the time we finished talking I think she had guessed, but never tried to intrude on my thoughts.  As ever, my quiet strength, my husband, was there with me.  And, as if reading my mind, he said, “It’s worth a try”.

I was desperate. I prayed in the best way I knew how to that one day I would get to Medugorje to seek help and to visit this special place.  I was curious about The Cenacolo, but I really wanted to go because I was intrigued by the fact that the Mother of God was there! I hoped that maybe if I learned how to pray properly, she would save my daughter’s life.

A few months passed then, lo and behold the opportunity arose to visit Medugorje.  I could not believe it!  My friend Mary told me that there was another pilgrimage in September and she and her husband were going again. Would we like to join them?  We could only afford for one of us to go, so I booked to go to this special place. Never did I realise at the time that it was Our Lady who had invited us there.

September came and I went off not knowing anything, but instantly feeling as if I belonged.  Once the plane was in the air and we had settled down, they started to pray a decade of the Rosary. I still remembered how to say the Hail Mary and the Our Father, however, I couldn’t quite remember the Glory Be. I was determined to learn and get the old cobwebs out of my brain.

When we arrived in Medugorje, it was a lovely feeling. Yet, somehow I sensed that I was there to learn.  There was a kind young man named Peter who seemed to know everything and who had the most wonderful patience.  I was drawn to him because he had amazing faith. I had never witnessed anything like this before and, on one particular occasion, I remember saying to him, “I will never get to grips with the Rosary. I cannot remember it”.  He very kindly assured me and gently said, “Yes you will, I was like that twelve months ago”.  Well, I couldn’t believe what I heard. He seemed so knowledgeable, I thought he must have been studying the faith for years.  He told me about his conversion and I knew I was with the right person at the right time. From then on, things started to happen for me and I was truly on the road back to church and wanting, for the first time, to really learn about God and my faith. This hunger to learn seemed quite natural.

Peter and I became friends and we still see each other frequently. He now has a Divine Mercy shop in the City Centre, Liverpool.  He is always there listening and helping others.  I will always be grateful to Peter and I still marvel at the way he has this natural gift to help people who are in doubt, lapsed, or unaware of God’s existence.

I also went to visit the Cenacolo with my secret tucked away firmly in my heart and mind, and I prayed that one day my daughter would at least visit this special place.  At that time, I didn’t pin any hopes on my daughter ever entering the Cenacolo because it appeared to be for young men only.

I arrived home a week later feeling very much a different person – stronger and more determined than ever. My quiet strength was at the airport to meet me along with one of my brothers. They knew instantly that something had changed me.

As I said earlier, drugs have no boundaries and you do not realize how it affects the whole family. This was when I realized how much stress they also had been under watching me making myself ill with worry. Even though they did not go to Medugorje with me, they felt the benefit of my being there because they could see the difference.

A few years went by and my faith increased. I was receiving lots of blessings and graces which I didn’t realise or understand, well, not at that particular time, I didn’t.  I was still new at all of this.  I continued to pray for my daughter. It seemed like a lifetime since I had first set off to Medugorje.

Often when I thought of heaven, I would think of my mum and quietly talk to her.  I would say things like, “what can I do, you know how much she is suffering? All the masses you had said for her, and all the prayers I have been saying – still she doesn’t want the help”.  Then I realised that I should be talking to my Heavenly Mother in the same way. I began to pray from the heart.  I would pray and pray that one day my little girl would find something or someone to love instead of this evil addiction.

A little more time went by and she came home and said that she had met a young man.  Well, I didn’t know what to say or do.  I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or sigh a sigh of relief.  And, as if she had read my thoughts, she pulled me to one side and said, “No, mother he doesn’t do drugs.” It was the first time I believed what she told me for a long, long time. I said, “Thank you God, thank you Heavenly Mother, thank you Jesus and all your Angels and Saints.” For a while, at least, everything seemed to go really well. There were a few slip ups now and again, but nothing compared to what we had endured previously.

Then one day, out of the blue, she came to my house in a flood of tears. She told me that someone had told her partner about her not too distant past with drugs.  She was really upset that he left her because he was definitely not into drugs.  They patched things up with her promising never to touch drugs again.   But, despite her convincing denials, I suspected she was well and truly using again.  My heart sank, but this time everyone, including my family, thought I was being paranoid. “Give her some credit,” they said.  “She has a good job; she is back with her partner. . . what else do you want?”  Deep down I knew and thought, “what next?”

My suspicions remained.  She knew that I knew she was at it again.   Which mother doesn’t know when her child is lying?  A few months later she was in floods of tears again.  She told me that she was pregnant and didn’t know what to do. “What do you mean?” I said.  “This child is a gift and it has been given to you as a source of medicine to cure you from your addiction.” Where did the thought come from, God only knows.  She looked at me and said, “You are not angry then?”  I wasn’t angry at all. Somehow I knew that this child was an answer to prayer.

When the baby was about eight months old, I decided to go back to Medugorje.  I had been arguing with my daughter about the usual things – drugs. Once again, I was sick to death of her lies and still no one believed me except her partner, who by this time, was also fed up with the lies and false promises.  Even though I was angry and disgusted with her, I still couldn’t give up on her.  I didn’t fully understand what hell she was going through; all I could see was this pathetic excuse of being addicted to drugs.

Well it isn’t easy looking at a drug addict, especially when she is one your own.  I would get so angry sometimes, especially when I looked at the beautiful little child, and I’d think, “what future does this little girl have with a mother who is addicted to drugs?”. But then I’d think she has got to be part of God’s plan, otherwise this does not make sense!  Why would he answer a prayer only to give me even more worries?  My mother’s words were in the back of my mind, “God works in mysterious ways and not always in your time but in his time”.  I knew I had to trust him.

One day I just could not be bothered to go down to their house, and my husband said, “What about the baby?”  I replied, “You go. I really don’t think I can face it today.” As soon as he left, I started crying and crying – something which hadn’t happened in a long time.  I went into my bedroom and got down on my knees in front of the crucifix I had bought in Medugorje, deciding there and then, that “enough is enough”.   I began talking to the Lord, not in the usual prayers; more like a conversation. “This can’t go on Lord,” I prayed, and I even begged for forgiveness for my sins. I felt I had to say this, in case she was suffering for my sins. Then I went on to say, “Just like you said, Lord, now I am knocking, I am seeking and I am hoping to find”.  And I asked Him, “What else am I supposed to do?”  I went on and on. Then I went to St Faustina, and I said, “Come on, now. You are secretary to the Lord, do your stuff and please beg for His mercy on behalf of my daughter”.   I talked the legs off them, and then proceeded to pray the 3 o’clock prayer and the Divine Mercy chaplet.

Exhausted, I lay on the bed. Then I began to worry – had I been a bit heavy?  I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, but maybe it was too demanding talking to the Lord in this way.  But the Lord had heard my cries, because at 3.30 pm my daughter phoned a friend and told her that she had felt something strange come over her, and for the first time she really did want help to be free from drugs.  Her friend said she believed her because she sounded sincere. “Phone your mum,” she said, but my daughter was hesitant.  She said, “Oh! She’s not really talking to me”, and her friend then said, “Go on, just tell her exactly what you told me”.

Needless to say, my first reaction was one of doubt, but I decided to listen to her.  I was half listening until she said, “Mum, I don’t really know what’s happened to me, but something just came over me and I really have had enough of living like this.  I can’t go on like this anymore. It’s not fair on the baby or anyone else”.  Then it hit me. Oh my God! The 3 o’clock prayer and the Divine Mercy chaplet!  I knew it must have been the prayer.  I couldn’t contain myself. God had been listening!  I was like someone deranged and I couldn’t shut up.  Off I went to her house, she looked quite surprised to see me so soon.  I was not in the mood for waiting; I wanted everything done there and then.

Her partner was home from work, so we started to discuss what sort of help we could get for her. We had already tried everything from detox centres and methadone to taking her to Australia and Greece.  You name it, and we had tried it.  Her partner even suggested paying for private treatment but my daughter knew that wasn’t going to work.  We talked and talked.

As I was about to leave, she said, “Mum hasn’t that holy place that you are going to got something to help addicts?”  I couldn’t believe she remembered.  I said, “Well, it has, but I’m sure it’s only for young men and not girls.”  She said, “It doesn’t matter, I would love to go and see for myself if it works.”  I said, “Do you really mean this?” “Yes!” she replied with a different sort of determination, and then asked, “What about the baby?” Without thinking I said, “Oh, she’s coming with us.” She asked if I was sure it was possible. I thought to myself, “I don’t know, but no matter”, we were not leaving her behind.  I said goodnight and gave everyone a kiss, especially my little treasure, Mummy’s medicine!  I waited till they had closed the door, then I put my hands up in the air and shouted, “Yes!” just like footballers do when they score a goal. What a day!

The next day I phoned Derek and asked about my daughter and granddaughter joining us on the pilgrimage. He found it quite amusing that my granddaughter would be one of the youngest pilgrims to go with Peace Tours.  I was ecstatic – everything was in motion and wondered if there was a Cenacolo for young women or any sort of help there that was similar.  I had to swallow my pride and forget about the shame to ask Derek if he knew anything.  I was quite surprised when he said, “No”.  I think he could almost feel my heart sinking.  Then he remembered this bloke called Phil who worked helping young boys who were suffering not just drug addiction but also alcohol addiction.  He gave me Phil’s phone number.

I had never spoken to Phil before, but I immediately felt at ease.  I told him about my problem. He asked some questions and gave me some advice, then asked if I had been the one to suggest that my daughter should go to Medugorje. I told him that it had all been her own idea.  He said that was a great blessing, adding that God always answers a mother’s prayer.  I will never forget those words.

A few days went by and then Phil rang me. There was going to be mass that coming Sunday where he worked. It was for those who were suffering from addiction who lived and worked in the ‘House’, and among those who had been invited were two ladies who helped his nephew get to the Cenacolo. The young man’s mother would also be there, and he asked if I would like to meet them.  Of course, I said, “Yes”.  I asked my daughter if she would she like to come with me and she said “Yes”. I couldn’t have been happier. Both of us couldn’t wait till Sunday.

That Sunday my daughter seemed excited at the prospect of the two ladies being able to help her.  At the end of the mass we mingled, I met Phil and then waited for the ladies to approach us. We waited and waited.  I thought, “Where are they?”  I could see the man was terribly busy.  I approached Phil and he apologised. “I will have a word with them now,” he said.  In a little while the ladies introduced themselves, “Hi! I am Mary and this is Margaret.  How can we help you?”  I wondered what Phil had told her or how much.  I started to explain but my daughter jumped in, asking me to keep an eye on the baby. She wanted to discuss it with the ladies herself – fine by me!  A little while later they told me that they hadn’t any experience in helping young women. In fact, the young man they had helped was their first.  I was disappointed, to say the least, but they promised to try and find some information for us.  I remember Mary suggesting that maybe they should talk to someone called Paula.  Margaret then asked for my phone number.  As I gave it to her, I prayed that they would be able to help us. Again, I felt calmness and that everything was going to be just fine.  I sensed something special about these ladies and knew they would do all they could to help us.

A few days later, Margaret phoned me. She had been talking to Paula who just recently returned from Italy and knew someone named Susy who lived in Milan.  Paula had asked Susy if there were any young women’s ‘houses’ in the Cenacolo. We were all flabbergasted when she said, “Yes”.  Margaret promised to find out more and said they were going to speak, if possible, to Susy and would call us back.  They did get some brilliant news from Susy and invited us to Margaret’s house to discuss it.  We were made very welcome and they proceeded to tell us what they had discovered.  They were both very excited and told us not only were there girls houses in Italy but my daughter had been offered a place in one of them and could we go there more or less right away.

We told them that we had booked for Medugorje and we were travelling in a few days’ time. They then asked if we could we go within a few days of our return from Medugorje, and we said “Yes”.  When I say ‘we’ it is because a parent or both need to accompany the man or woman joining the Cenacolo.  We thanked them and agreed to see them on our return.

My daughter was overwhelmed by their kindness and expressed how special she felt that strangers could be so caring and genuinely nice to her.  She was even more amazed that they trusted her in their home.  I think this little bit of kindness and trust gave her great motivation and it is something she still appreciates to this day.

We arrived in Medugorje late in the evening and I was quite tired but happy to be back in this special place.  The first few days turned out to be really gruelling, her withdrawals started, she was bad-tempered and didn’t think much of the peaceful little village.  There was a priest with our group, Fr Michael, who was very helpful and very understanding about our situation.  He would take my granddaughter for little walks and play with her to give me a break whenever he had time, but almost like clockwork every evening when he had finished what he had to do, he would go up to my daughter’s room and pray and talk with her.  I think he was, in some way, part of the beginning of the road to the change in her beliefs.  He certainly had his work cut out.  To this day she is still very fond of him and considers him a good friend.

After a few days, I got really fed up with my daughter’s attitude. I said to her, “Look, just let me go to Mass and do what I have got to do and then, you, Madam can do what you want.”  I was so frustrated with her; I walked down the main road, went past the church of St James and went into a café on my own. I sat there for a while, and who should pass by, only Peter. We had a cup of tea together and a chat, and I felt a lot better.

I was walking back towards the church when I heard, “Mum, I’ve been looking for you. The priest, Fr Svet, said if you come with me I can visit the young men’s house and they will give me the number for Italy and explain the Cenacolo.  Hurry, he’s got a car waiting to take us”.

We arrived at the Cenacolo and the young men were very helpful, honest and told her about life in the Community.  They were all affectionately referred to by Sister Elvira as ‘boys’.  By the time we left, my daughter seemed more relaxed and happy about everything.

Later on that evening, I was sitting outside Joseph’s house and my daughter walks up with the baby in her buggy.  I said, “Give her to me.  You look at the sun and see if you can see anything.”  She did this and after a few minutes I could see by her reaction that she was having a wonderful spiritual experience.

From that moment everything changed.  By the end of that week, she attended Mass on Sunday which was Divine Mercy Sunday; she had prostrated herself at the image of the Divine Mercy which was in front of the altar.

A day or so after we arrived home, we planned to speak with Margaret and Mary who were very excited to hear about our trip, especially the bit about the ‘boys’ Cenacolo.  They had been busy making contact and arrangements for us to travel to Italy.  Susy had phoned from Milan with the arrangements. Only weeks after meeting Mary and Margaret, we were on our way to Italy.

It was a very tearful and sad day for the baby’s daddy, my husband, my son and family as they all knew it would be a long time before we could make any contact with my daughter in order to aid recovery.  I felt the same deep wrench when it was time for me to leave, but I always knew that there were sacrifices to be made to save my little girl’s life.  That, I am pleased to say, is an understatement.

It has now been over ten years since my daughter has been drug-free.  She still lives in Italy with my beautiful granddaughter who at the age of six was speaking three languages.  My daughter is happy to ‘give back’ the help and love she received during her recovery.  Do I miss them?  Absolutely! Her life now has a purpose; she is happy and spiritually strong.  She battled with the evil one and with the grace of Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother she has been truly resurrected both physically and spiritually.  I have met some of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet and I am still meeting them.  I now have some lovely friends.

Margaret and Mary are very special people, their love and kindness have no boundaries and I thank them from my heart.  We have all met some lovely people from all over the country and also from different parts of the world. They all have the same love and drive to help the addicted and their families.  We are not, as my friend Margaret says, counsellors. We are people who have had horrific experiences with those whom we love, who have been addicted to some form of substance or other. We have been to hell and back.  I have since made more new friends through the Cenacolo Community.  We meet weekly to help other addicts and their parents. We are like an extended family, all full of love and respect for each other because we have all suffered.

I am thankful for the love and patience of those around me, my husband, son, daughter-in-law, family and friends.  It has been a bad experience which I would never like to go through again, but it has brought me joy in learning how to help others and that you can still love even through the bad times.  Unity brings faith, hope and comfort.  Over a period of time we have witnessed many addicts recover, and I thank God every day.

I am so proud of my daughter. She is now a beautiful, caring, young woman who doesn’t think twice about helping others and an absolutely great Mum!  Sister Elvira, the founder of the Cenaloco is truly a great and wonderful instrument of God.  We give thanks every day for her love and devotion that has helped our sons and daughters to recover from addictions through her tireless effort and the healing she has brought to families.

My greatest gratitude goes to Our Lord, Jesus Christ and Our Blessed Mother Mary for listening to and answering my prayers and most of all for loving me.  Thank you.

I know it is a miracle that saved my daughter’s life – divine intervention, of that I am sure.  The key is TRUST IN THE LORD.