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Part 4: Restoring a Family

It’s hard to wrap your head around what’s going on in another person’s mind, let alone if that person has mental illness. But this month, Mental Health Awareness Month—and every day at Big Sister League of San Diego—we try. To shed light on these efforts, we’re sharing one residents’ journey in four candid perspectives. In the final installment, Deb’s mother opens up about how the nonprofit helped turned her heartbreak into gratitude—and brought her daughter back to her again.

“When you live with mental health problems, you’re in it for the long haul,” Deb says. There’s no escaping the ups and downs. “You can have good days, good months, good years, good several years.”

And for some fortunate enough, their family is there every step of the way to bear the pain of their trials and the pride of their triumphs.

As Deb’s mother, Susan* has traversed that emotional spectrum for 25 years and counting. In her eyes, the battles steepened when Deb moved out as a teen. “She always wanted to live independently.”

But in doing so, she didn’t have the support to resist her addictions. With almost every relapse would come a family intervention, and sometimes a welcome home until Deb felt she could be independent again, then another relapse, and so the cycle continued.

In retrospect, Deb acknowledges, that cycle broke her family’s trust to a point they “didn’t want anything to do with it.”

Instead, they steered their energy into encouraging Deb into treatment centers. But even from there, the cycle persisted to the extent Deb was somewhat estranged.

For her mom, that was the utmost heartbreaking.

“Imagine going 25 years not knowing if you’ll get a call one day to hear your daughter is dead on the street,” she says. “I don’t think anybody can. You have to have been a mother that’s gone through that struggle.”

There’s one memory she’ll never forget, the tipping point of her daughter’s addiction and illness working in tandem—the time she had to report Deb as missing.

“I went to the police, and we found her about five days later in a hotel room with a gash in her head. She had fallen,” she says. “As a mom, my heart was broken. I couldn’t help her. There was no way I, her mother, could be of help.”

Maybe it was seeing the pain in her mother’s eyes when that hotel door opened or realizing the gravity of the situation as she left the room, but that was the moment Deb chose to make a change and reverse the domino effect of her mental health journey. She checked into a treatment center with links to Big Sister League of San Diego, and the rest has been, as Susan describes it, “a godsend.”

“It’s an answer to a prayer I’ve been struggling with over 25 years.”

The prayer? Stability, safety, and support for Deb, which is precisely the mission of BSL.

“BSL provides an accountability that living alone doesn’t. She has been able to get her treatments, to see her care team. To know it’s a safe environment, that’s the big thing for me.”

And, because BSL provides that accountability, Susan doesn’t have to. Instead, she can focus on what’s most important: Love.

"Since BSL, there’s no fear between us. There’s no bad judgments or baggage. We’ve worked past that. It’s plain love.”

With that reinstated trust, has also come new memories made—seeing movies together, going to church, and having lunch every Sunday—and, to an extent, some reacquainting.

“Deb is a great, outgoing smart gal and very giving, very kind. To be able to see that side of her again is worth everything. I have my daughter back. Bottom line, BSL has allowed us to be a family again.”

To give Deb herself the last word, “My family is restored.”

(*Name changed for anonymity)

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