For this month – National Addiction and Recovery Month, I am going to share Dani’s struggle with “dual diagnosis.“ Dani, as you all know, is the reason behind 33 Forever and the reason we do what we do. 

I am Donna, Dani’s mom. So few people, including some family, know about this particular event in Dani’s life.  This is a story of Addiction, Hope, Strength, Recovery and Resilience. 

Many people who suffer from depression often also have some ties to addiction and vice versa. They look for any way they can to numb the pain of the bad memories, sadness, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress and other mental health challenges that alter their lives. Whether the drug of choice is alcohol, prescription pain medication or street drugs, addiction and mental illness often are interlinked and, when treated, are termed as a “dual diagnosis.” 

Dani was no exception to this in her late teens and early 20s. It’s very hard to be transparent about this but it is her story and we vowed to share her entire story if it helps save people’s lives. Before I begin, for those who already aren’t already familiar with Dani’s story, let me share this. In the early morning hours after Dani’s passing by suicide in February of 2019, Dani’s sister asked us what we were going to tell people. She understandably wanted to protect us as Dani’s parents, protect her siblings and protect Dani’s reputation and memory. It was exactly at that moment I told her we would tell them the truth. “Dani took her life today as a result of years and years of battling depression, PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders and general self worth issues.”

How can such a beautiful successful woman such as Dani suffer with so many mental health symptoms and so few knew it? Dani wore her mask very well for many years and rarely removed it. In those last minutes of her life, she was just too tired to fight any more. In that moment, a perfect storm came together and Dani was a casualty of her disease and we would suffer the pain of that loss forever. 

In 2007, as her grandmother was fighting for her life from ovarian cancer in Ohio, Dani was fighting for hers in Florida. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Dani attempted to end her life by taking any medication she could find in her house. Fortunately, her sister was there and able to call for help. This began another nightmare for all of us as our family joined forces to help Dani survive that weekend and beyond. We had thought after counseling, antidepressant meds and a happy and successful career as a paralegal in Florida, suicide attempts were behind her. We were wrong. This is a disease that lies to the person battling it and Dani was no exception.

Dani had called me on Thanksgiving Day, the day before her attempt, to wish me a happy Thanksgiving, to thank me and to tell me what a happy life she had and what a wonderful mommy I was. “You know that, right?” She’d had some wine with dinner so I attributed the call to that. Two days later, as Jeff and I arrived in Florida from California (we had been on our own get-away) to an unconscious daughter on the brink of death, we received the news of all the drugs and medication that was in her system from her attempt. Alcohol, over the counter meds, prescription drugs she had at home and, much to my horror, traces of cocaine. How? Why? She was not a drug addict? Or was she? What we learned from notes she had written and as she recovered was that Dani would use that drug to numb her pain and keep her weight under control. Her body image at that time was so low that she was willing to try anything she said. 

For me, as her mother, it was one thing to know that she was so depressed that she had tried to take her life but when I was told there was cocaine in her system at the time, I wondered where and how I had failed (of course it is not and was not about me) and how did she hide something like that? Were there more drugs I needed to know about? Where did she get them and how would we help her recover?

That weekend began a nightmare of a journey as we looked for adult rehabilitation facilities for her depression and addiction. “Dual Diagnosis” is what we were told, a term I learned about the hard way. “Nightmare” is the word I used for several reasons. Not only would there be all the work she had to be willing to do to heal and the fractured relationships that came out of this that would need mended but, once again, the nightmare of moving through the maze surrounding health insurance and finding a facility to get Dani help with no guidance at all from any professionals. 

Indeed, when told of Dani’s attempt, her psychiatrist at the time immediately dropped her as a patient because, as she said, Dani had “broken her trust” by attempting to take her life. What kind of doctor was this? I actually wrote a story of that weekend years ago and outlined how surreal it all was. Perhaps, one day, I will share all the “feelings” we encountered at that time as we didn’t know how to process or deal with any of this. 

The struggle and fight that ensued within Dani was nothing short of miraculous. She came home in 2008 for my mom’s funeral and told me that I needed to hide her grandmother’s leftover narcotic pain meds so she could avoid temptation and continue to fight her battle. Hearing that terrified me but I also can’t imagine what her fear must have been at that point, attending her beloved grandma’s funeral, an absolute “trigger” for anyone with depression, let alone having just recently moved out of the halfway house where she had been staying. Yet, Dani was able to endure that time without the use of any alcohol or drugs or anything but her own willpower and a sponsor to make it through. We were so proud of her resilience. 

After a journey of both inpatient and outpatient care, Dani was able to beat the addiction, recover and begin her new journey of hating the drugs but loving the users that she began to help. She became a case manager and then an administrator at a large drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Florida and she also worked as intake clinician at a famous eating disorder clinic in California. This was part of the new journey for Dani – helping those struggling with the diseases of depression, addiction, eating disorders, anxiety, self worth issues and suicidal thoughts. Dani’s incredible strength and determination in that particular battle was the basis for her vow to never use illegal drugs again. She couldn’t fight it alone at that time. She had our love and support always but she also worked hard at it – attending meetings and surrounding herself with those who could help her with her recovery. 

Here are pictures of Dani in 2009 and 2010 as she received her one and two year coin from NA. The pride evident on her face says it all. Her mantra for those few years whenever we talked was, “Coffee and a meeting, Mom, that’s my life!” 

If you struggle, there is hope, there is life after addiction and there can be recovery. Don’t travel the road alone. They say it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community of love, belief and support to beat addiction. We are here to help, however we can. 

#ReachOut is not just a saying for us, it is our passion. 

National Suicide PreventionLifeline: 1-800 -273-8255 (TALK)

#danileedy #Fight4Dani #33forever #resilience #suicideprevention #addiction #recovery #mentalhealthawareness #anxiety #depression #PTSD #breakthestigma #youmatter #reachout #takeabreathnotyourlife #nationaladdictionandrecoverymonth

Donna Heck