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If You Love Me: A Mother's Journey Through Her Daughter's Addiction and Recovery

If You Love Me: A Mother's Journey Through Her Daughter's Addiction and Recovery

by Maureen Cavanagh


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Maureen Cavanagh’s gripping memoir If You Love Me is the story of a mother who suddenly finds herself on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic as her daughter battles—and ultimately confronts—substance use disorder.

Fast-paced and heartwarming, devastating and redemptive, Maureen’s incredible odyssey into the opioid crisis—first as a parent, then as an advocate—is ultimately a deeply moving mother-daughter story about love, strength, and hope. When Maureen and her ex-husband Mike see their daughter Katie’s needle track marks for the first time, it is a complete shock. But, slowly, the drug use explains everything—Katie’s constant exhaustion, erratic moods, and all those spoons that have gone missing from the house.

Like millions of parents and relatives all over the country—many of whom she has helped through her nonprofit organization—Maureen learns that recovery is neither straightforward nor brief. Over a roller-coaster two years, Maureen battles to save Katie’s life, and in telling this unforgettable story, she brings the opioid crisis out of the shadows and into the house next door.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250234544
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 01/07/2020
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 705,829
Product dimensions: 5.35(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.62(d)

About the Author

Maureen Cavanagh is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings, a nonprofit peer-support group for those living with or affected by substance use disorder. She has been recognized by The New York Times, CNN, and other outlets for her work fighting the opioid crisis and the stigma that surrounds it.

Read an Excerpt


Winter 2015

I am waiting. Snow falls. Over five feet in February, with a record-setting ninety inches between January 24 and February 15. Lucky for me that during several of those days I was happily soaking up some vitamin D with my boyfriend, Randy, in Puerto Rico. We love it down there, the sun as opposed to snow, but also the ocean, the way we can stare out at where the sky meets the sea. While I was gone, Katie and her boyfriend, Chad, had stayed at my house, since Liam's away at college, in exchange for keeping the driveway and steps shoveled.

But now it's March, and I am the one shoveling. Or trying to. I've put my layers back on. If I don't keep the driveway and stoops cleared of accumulation every few hours, it will ice over and require a pickax to get through. As it is, there's no opening the front door, and if not for the garage door that slides up on a hinge, I would've had to jump out the window and shovel my way back to the buried entrance. Time is not on my side.

I'm hoping that one of the four men who constitute my neighbors will offer some assistance, because they have two things I don't. They all have snow blowers, and they all have wives looking out the windows, warm and toasty in their houses, patiently waiting for them. I know I should go over to one of them and ask for help, but goddamn it, I shouldn't need to. What is wrong with the people in this small town northeast of Boston? Back in New York, specifically Long Island, where I grew up, this wouldn't happen. My girlfriends back home would be out here with a shovel, too, and no one would head back home until everyone was shoveled out. They can't possibly think I don't need their help?

Fuck them, I think, stepping deeper into the whiteness.

After an hour, I'm the only person out there in the dark. There is that stillness that occurs only when snow is falling. I can hear a plow scraping the road in the distance. I hold my breath each time it gets closer, knowing that eventually I'll be blocked in again and that the new barrier may be the thing that sends me screaming out into the road to throw myself under the next snowplow. Katie is snowed in by this time herself, a town away, with her boyfriend, so they can't help. With Randy buried in snow at his own house, twenty miles away, I'm it, I'm all I've got. Shoveling snow up and onto a fifteen-foot ridge at the side of the driveway. Every time I turn around, the spot I shoveled is covered again. I feel the tears freezing on my face as I rest my forehead on the handle of the shovel.

"Fuck me," I say, first quietly and then a little louder. Liam has often commented that this is what I should have written on my tombstone. It's appropriate that I am saying it now, because it'll directly precede the stroke I feel like I'm about to have.

I look up to see, in the distance, a young black man with a snow shovel. Shaking my head, I wonder if imagining diversity in this "couldn't get any whiter" town is a sign of hypothermia. He smiles, clearly having heard my outburst, and says the four most beautiful words in the English language:

"Do you need help?"

Not giving it a second thought, he starts to shovel.

I can't stop thanking him. Martin is his name. It's nothing, Martin keeps telling me. He is young, maybe twenty, and strong. He makes more progress in ten minutes than I've made in an hour. Martin lives up the street and was heading over to help a friend dig out when he saw me. Martin is not as surprised as I am that my neighbors haven't helped me.

His phone rings, and he quickly answers it with a hurried "Yeah, yeah, yeah man," and he promises to come back and finish when he's done helping his friend. He tells me to go inside and leave the shovel on the steps because mine is better than the ragged one he has been using. Realizing that being a Good Samaritan in the moment is one thing but expecting him to return is another, I watch as Martin walks down the middle of the empty street. The curtain of snow falls after him.

"Good-bye, Martin," I whisper.

The driveway is covered in white again.

I head back into the house. I don't care anymore. I am beaten by the snow, the town, and life. I officially give up, throw down my snow shovel. Well, I leave it on the porch, convinced that it's more likely to be stolen by the end of the night than used again by me. Good, I've had enough. I'm never shoveling that white shit again. They can come and wheel me out in the spring.

At age nine, in 1972, when George McGovern was running for president, I wrote him letters and passed out leaflets in hopes of helping him get elected. I wrote to the Kennedys about saving the whales. I rescued animals: turtles, cats, and geese. I nursed a cat back to health that was half-dead when I found it. As I close the door on all that snow and shrug out of my parka, I try to think back to a time when I didn't feel overwhelmed and alone. I can't. A textbook child of an alcoholic, I typically feel it necessary to worry about and take care of everyone except myself.

Most of all, I worry about Katie. I love her so much. She had a bout with anorexia and depression in her mid-teens and had been doing well — until the most recent car accident in a series of minor accidents that always seem to rattle her and derail her progress. To put it mildly, she is a terrible driver who won't wear her glasses, which only makes her more terrible. The best drive of her life must have been during her driving test. She's hit two curbs, multiple parked cars, and clipped a few on the road. We blame it on depth perception.

Last year, when she stopped her college classes because she was worried she had been drinking too much and experimenting with drugs, we quietly found an outpatient program. She had been hanging around a local kid name Gabe Wright and I thought he was the cause, so she agreed to stay away from him. Knowing he is out of the picture, I feel reassured. She's now twenty-two, supposedly an adult, and she tells me she is doing well.

I miss Katie. I miss the long walks around Marblehead we took, the bits of gossip from school and her job in the local grocery store, and just watching bad television in bed with her. Katie has been staying with her boyfriend, who goes to a local college, while she completes classes to be an aesthetician, getting rides back and forth now that her car is out of commission. I tell myself that there are reasons she is never home: school, work, and the damn New England snow. So many different stories I tell myself. Deep down, I've noticed a change I don't like. I push it out of my head. I give her another chance to prove to me that she's okay. I watch and I wait.

The sound of scraping pulls me back into the present. I wonder if the plow has finally come to deal me its death blow, so I open the door.

"Don't worry," Martin says. "Stay inside."

The wind has picked up but the snow has stopped, and he promises to have it done before I know it.

"Martin, your mother raised a good man," I call out to him. "Please knock on the door when you're done."

I go back in and make myself a cup of tea and promise myself a hot bath as soon as he is finished shoveling. Always dieting, I decide to treat myself to a spoonful of honey but, once again, can't find any spoons, not one. I think of all those socks that disappear in the wash and imagine that there is a special place in heaven for them and the spoons.

In the secret stash of emergency cash in the back of my drawer, I'm somehow down to a single twenty. Emptying the bills out of my wallet, I count all the money I have in the house. Whatever it is, I'm giving it to Martin.

The moment when Martin saved me is the last happy one I can remember before everything changed.

* * *

Everywhere across Massachusetts people are almost giddy that it hasn't snowed in several days. Snow is piled high above my head on both sides of the driveway, a narrow ravine cut in the mountainous snowbank so that I can pull the car in and out. I'm excited to be going out tonight after way too much time alone lately.

I am the sort of person who puts on earrings and a necklace on Tuesday and a month and half later, I'm wearing the same jewelry. I just don't think about it. It's not that I don't like accessories, it just never crosses my mind to change them. When I was younger, I had a friend who owned more costume jewelry than Macy's. At that point in my life, I had none.

"Put some earrings and a necklace on, for Christ's sake," she said one day. "You look like I just picked you up from prison."

Lacking a desire to look like I'd done a stint at Rikers, I tried to get hip, but I still rarely think to change anything unless I'm going somewhere special. Tonight, assuming the roads are okay, I am going somewhere special. Randy and I are going out on a real date.

On the center of my dresser for many years there has been a cloth-covered jewelry box filled with a few nice things. The box is falling apart, but I can't bear to replace it. Looking at it, I remember the Christmas shopping trip when Katie and Liam purchased it. At seven and four, they had scraped up a little bit of money from doing chores that didn't really need to be done and asked if they could go shopping alone to buy me a present. But since I was divorced with four kids in a state where I knew few people, I had no one else who could take them. So, I drove them to Target, which we fondly pronounced with a French accent, and trailed behind them, promising I wasn't looking. Katie watched carefully so that her brother didn't fall behind or break anything.

I can still see the adorable little scene as if it happened yesterday. Finally, and I do mean finally, because we circle the store approximately nine hundred times, they make it to the cash register. The woman in line behind them sees that I'm watching them and catches on, winking at me. There's a little commotion. As Liam attempts to put a packet of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on the conveyor, panic sets across Katie's face. She doesn't have enough money. The woman behind them in line whispers something to Katie, taking two dollars out of her wallet, then extracts another single and pushes the candy toward the cashier. She turns to me and shakes her head as I try to approach with my wallet open.

Still shaking her head, she mouths the words "My pleasure."

I mouth back my thanks and slip through an empty cashier aisle so that I can catch up with the two of them, both beaming with pride. I turn and wave to the woman now paying for her own purchases and am so filled with gratitude for my life and the kindness of people I don't even know that I'm sure I'll never forget her gesture.

So, I keep the things that are important to me in this little box covered with flowers and sequins, even though it is slowly disintegrating, because I like knowing that whatever is inside the box could never be as important as the box itself.

I decide to put on my good earrings, because if I don't do it while I'm thinking about it, I won't remember later. I open my little box and look for the one really nice pair of diamond earrings I own. Semicircles just big enough but not too big and covered with little diamonds. Grown-up jewelry mixed in with dime-store things the kids have given me over the years. I pick up the top compartment and search underneath, not seeing them where they normally sit.

They're not here.

I look again in the same spot and then again. I take everything out and lay it on the dresser. It is at first a mild disbelief, something like how, when I do the dishes, I keep wondering where all my spoons have gone. My hands are starting to shake, and I feel nauseous. I notice the absence of the few other pieces of jewelry worth something. My great-grandmother's teardrop pearl necklace, which I wore when I got married. A necklace from an old boyfriend who had good taste in jewelry, that being his only redeeming quality.

A thought like a black cloud sweeps over me. Standing at my dresser, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces spread out across the wooden surface, I bow my head and pray for something awful: "Please, God, please let me have been robbed by a stranger." If I've been robbed by a stranger, then across the small bedroom in a dresser where I keep papers and bits of nothing, in the third drawer from the bottom, where no one would look unless they knew where to look, all the way in the back of that drawer, there will still be the family jewelry that I never wear. My mother's engagement ring, which I was given after she died. The rings my father took off and handed to me the night he passed away. The engagement ring my ex-husband had spent months saving for, running to the jeweler near the bar where he worked anytime he had extra money, to build up his deposit.

"Please, God, please don't let this be true," I beg as I make my way across the room.

I pause for a moment to gaze at the painting hanging over the slim white dresser, the dresser that holds the answer to my question. Hundreds of tiny yellow flowers with mountains in the background. Katie painted it in her senior year of high school. I want so badly to go back in time. Back to when I took for granted that Katie would finish college, marry her high school boyfriend, and raise a family, or some version of that story. Back to when I sat on the edge of the bed and showed her the jewelry I would eventually pass on to her.

Cautiously, I open the drawer, moving the paperwork aside. I fall to my knees, lifting the lids of boxes, and look at the emptiness over and over until my brain processes exactly what has happened.

The only valuable items left in the drawer are the things Randy has given me over the last few years. Only one person in my world would know which were which.

* * *

When I explain Katie to people, I always tell the story of her reaction to my mother's death. My mother and I were never close, to put it kindly, and her death, not long after I moved back east from Utah, was not a surprise. Still, it was unsettling to have the person who brought me into the world gone, and I gave myself some time before I told my children. First, I told the older set, Melody, sixteen, and her brother Ryan, fourteen. They took it pretty well. I was less sure about my younger two kids. I bought a book by Maria Shriver about explaining death to children and told them Nanny had gone to heaven, not completely believing that myself. Liam, at five years old, had very little reaction to the news of her passing, but Katie, at eight, immediately gasped.

I thought she was about to burst into tears, but instead she said, "Oh no, if I'm this upset, imagine how sad you must be."

That is Katie.

Now, as I stand in front of the dresser, my thoughts go back to the long weekend in February when I'd left Katie and Chad at my house to keep the driveway clear of snow while I was away. After I'd returned, while waiting for Martin to finish shoveling me out, I had found a spoon at the bottom of the dishwasher. It was bent and burnt. I had chalked its condition up to its having been used to fix something I wasn't supposed to know had broken. As I recall all of this, a wave of sickness comes over me.

I pick up the phone and call Katie.

"Hi, Mommy," she says happily.

Even then, I realize that this is the last time I will ever hear her sound so innocent. This conversation will change everything between us. I am going to accuse her of stealing my jewelry, and it will be true, and there will be an excuse that neither one of us will like.

"My jewelry is gone, and I know that you took it."

Katie breaks down sobbing. "I'm so sorry, it was killing me. I am so sorry. I'm trying to get it back. I love you."

"Come home right now," I tell her.

I honestly can't think of anything else to say. I hang up and call her father and tell him the same thing.

It's not the missing jewelry that breaks my heart. It's knowing that her life has spiraled so far out of control that she would need to do this to me and to herself. I have no idea what her life has become, which means I have no idea how bad this will get. Over the next few months, I'll find other things missing as I go to use them. A spare television I had given her, her computer, silver flatware, medication, a punching bag of her brother's. The empty spaces where these things were stand as reminders of the destruction.

Katie arrives before long and sits on the couch in her too-large coat looking small, vulnerable, dirty, and sick. She was dropped off by Chad, and he waits for her, like a coward, slightly down the street.

She starts to cry and apologize, and the words float over me. She took everything the weekend I was in Puerto Rico. Two separate visits to the pawnshop. She got a couple hundred bucks for over thirty thousand dollars' worth of my lifetime of treasures and memories. I'm not even sure what to say. I'm not angry, I'm stunned. Did this happen overnight, or did I somehow not see what was in front of me?


Excerpted from "If You Love Me"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Maureen Cavanagh.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue Winter 2017 xi

1 Winter 2015 1

2 Spring 17

3 Early Summer (Part One) 34

4 Late Summer (Part Two) 53

5 Fall 76

6 Winter 2016 94

7 Spring 2016 105

8 Summer 2016 120

9 Late Summer & Fall 2016 143

10 Winter 2017 161

11 Spring 2017 174

Epilogue The End of Summer 2017 187

Afterword 199

Photographs 209

Resources 211

Acknowledgments 213

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