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Finding Understanding and Acceptance: Meet Heather Ross

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  • Finding Understanding and Acceptance: Meet Heather Ross

    I’ve excited to share my interview with Parent Coach, Heather Ross! Welcome, Heather! Click below to watch the interview: Here is the written version of … Finding Understanding and Acceptance: Meet Heather Ross Read More

    I’ve excited to share my interview with Parent Coach, Heather Ross!

    Welcome, Heather!

    Click below to watch the interview:

    Here is the written version of the interview.

    Can you share a bit about yourself for those that don’t know you?

    My daughter struggled with substance use. It started when she was pretty young, around 12 years old. She started experimenting, but I didn’t know about it until she was in high school. I started getting calls from the school. It was a really rough couple of years because no matter what professional I took her to, no matter where I turned, we just weren’t getting the kind of help that I was looking for.

    A lot of it was a you’re going to have to wait till she hits rock bottom type of approach. That left me feeling hopeless and responding from a place of fear rather than a place of love or responding in ways that felt good to me. Looking back, I see that I pulled away from my values as a mom.

    Those years were really rough for everyone in the family, especially my daughter and me. I really started to struggle. When she was around 17, I decided to just stop doing all the things I’d been doing, which felt really wrong to me. But nothing I was doing was working. Things were just getting worse. I thought we all need a break.

    I was making her go to different doctors and I was tired. She was tired. Taking that break gave me some space to rest and find some new information. I started working with a coach. I also found the book Beyond Addiction, How Science and Kindness Help People Change. Working with the coach got me focused on myself, and then reading that book really spoke to my heart as a mom.

    It was what I’d been looking for as my daughter really didn’t want to quit using substances. I was able to repair my relationship with her. Reading the book and implementing what I was learning helped me show up for her in the way that she needed me to. So I was able to meet her where she was, practice acceptance, and repair our relationship. Her substance use was still escalating at the time.

    She started trying out some things and experimenting with getting into recovery. She eventually ended up going into treatment a couple of times and was doing well. Every time I saw her, her light was brighter. We were able to have the relationship that I really wanted to have with her.

    Once I got focused on the science and kindness approach, I was trying to have the best possible relationship with her. I was so happy to have her be fully available for the relationship and get to do all the mother-daughter stuff. Things were going really well. She was mostly in recovery for about 18 months. 

    But then some things started happening at the sober living house she was living in. She started feeling really unstable there. She ended up relapsing and called to tell me about it. We had a conversation that was very solution-focused. It was focused on trying to help her take her next steps regarding what she was going to do. She hadn’t used in a long time. Her tolerance was low. I thought we had covered all of our bases. But she ended up having another recurrence of use. She was given Fentanyl and she ended up passing away.

    I never know how I’m going to react when I say that. Sometimes I can say it without a lot of emotion, and other times it just hits me. It’s been about a year. No matter how hard we work at Family Recovery, you never know what’s going to happen. One thing that’s really important for me is that I was willing to work on myself. I felt really good about the way that I showed up, especially during that last conversation.

    It’s really important to know that you can repair your relationship no matter what has happened, even in active substance use. It’s possible to have healing happen. I thought we’d have to wait until she was in recovery to start healing. We really experienced a lot of healing in her active substance use. That’s how I ended up getting into this work. I didn’t know if I was going to be continuing it after she passed away. But I felt like I couldn’t go through all this and not continue to share it and help other families.

    What are some things that have helped you cope with the grief of losing your daughter?

    There’s so much grief in this experience. There’s the loss of the experience that we expected as parents, and the loss of the life we hoped our child would have. Things are not going to look like we expected them to. What I’m using to support myself through my grief applies to all of that. I mean, for me it’s a continuation of a lot of what I was doing while she was still struggling. It was a continuation of how I was living my life before. And part of that was just being really intentional with how I think about things.

    I don’t want to make this sound like it’s easy for me or that I haven’t really struggled. I don’t want to minimize, I don’t want somebody who’s going through a really rough time to hear that and feel like, oh, “Why am I not feeling that way?” Because I have my bad days. I’m sharing the things that help me the most. One thing is just being proud of how I showed up during those last five years. We hadn’t had an argument.

    I started getting angry and frustrated. And instead of taking that out on her and texting her, and accusing her of anything, I ended up writing everything down and working through my feelings. I realized that anger and frustration were mine to deal with. And I decided that I wanted to show up intentionally with love.

     I sent her a text and told her that I was really proud of her and I loved her. This did not diminish all of her hard work. So that helps me a lot, just focusing on how I did show up. There are of course regrets that I have. For those things, I practice a lot of self-forgiveness. I refuse to traumatize and torture myself more with those things.

     I was just doing the best I could with the information that I had at the time. I loved her unconditionally during that time. And another thing besides self-forgiveness is carrying my grief and not resisting it. When my daughter’s substance use first showed up, I was resisting it instead of working with it.

    And the same thing with my grief. I’ve had to learn to live with it. I’ve got this heavy bag that I’m carrying around. I can still live my life with intention even though this has happened. I can focus on living a life that’s fulfilling. I miss my daughter every day and my life is completely different than it would have been.

    What can I do today to be in the present moment and enjoy the people that are still in my life? How can I allow myself to experience the joy that’s happening right now in front of me? Staying in the present moment has been really important. I have to stay out of the future because that gets overwhelming.

    And the last thing is all those what-ifs that come up. My biggest one is that I should have gone there that night when she told me she had to move out of her sober living home. I should have gone and stayed at the hotel with her. As far as the what-ifs go, limiting them has really helped me. But the other part of that is when we go through what-if scenarios, we have a tendency to believe that they would always turn out the way we wanted them to.

    I stay open to the idea that it might not have turned out that way, I might not have been able to save her had I gone down there. If I had gone down there and fallen asleep and she had used and passed away, after I fell asleep, I would just have a whole new set of what ifs. I don’t torture myself by thinking I could have fixed it or saved her. So again, it just goes back to being really intentional with how I look at this whole situation.

    What do you like about the CRAFT and the Invitation to Change that you feel is beneficial? And what are you seeing with families that are using this approach?

    The biggest thing that I see is what I felt when I found it initially too. And that’s hope. I felt so hopeless before. I kept waiting for this horrible thing that was going to happen that was finally going to make her want to get into recovery. I didn’t have any tools for how to help myself during that time or how to help her when she wasn’t ready for help. 

    I think it really gives people a sense of hope that things can be different and that you can be in a relationship with somebody even while they’re struggling. With Helena, I maximized the time that I had with her. The tools are available to everybody to repair their relationships and maximize that time. Like going back to being in the present moment. It gives them a chance to love their kids right where they are without all of the stigmatizing judgment and shame that we feel before we find Craft or Invitation to Change.

    It gives parents something to do while they’re waiting for their child to get into recovery or even a way to live if their child never does get into recovery. There’s nothing else that gives you this opportunity to live your life focused on your values and how you show up as a parent. The programs give you tools that help you support your child, help you support change and help you open up your child’s mind to change.

    The biggest thing I’ve noticed in my in ITC group meetings is this sense of a combination of gratitude and grief. There’s the gratitude that they found this approach and the excitement about having something that they can do to help their child. It feels good. And then there’s the grief for the time that was lost looking for something like this and the damage that was done to their relationship during that time. It’s a combination of both gratitude and grief. Overall it’s this sense of hope that things can be different.

    So even though addiction has affected you and your family, what keeps you motivated? If you can tell a bit about how your coaching works. What would parents expect if they wanted to sign up for coaching with you?

    I stay motivated to do this work because I can’t imagine keeping all that I’ve learned to myself. For other parents like me who have been looking for help for years, I want to help so they don’t have to wait any longer to find it. That’s really what motivates me. I hope I can reach more families and get them the help they need sooner. Of course, it feels good to me to honor my daughter’s memory in that way.

    I had her blessing in doing this work. She loved my doing this work; taking our pain and helping other people. And so that’s what motivates me. Seeing my clients reengage with their kids, reconnect with them, and then really just focus on themselves again. So a big part of the work that we do together is getting them refocused on themselves. Then they can start living that life that they feel that they couldn’t live because of their child’s substance use.

    Most people have this thing they feel is keeping them from the life they would have if substance use wasn’t happening in their life. That belief keeps them from having the life they want. We focus on creating the life they want no matter what’s happening in their life. That involves figuring out what matters to you and how you want to show up as a parent. How do you want to show up for yourself in your own life? It’s bringing that focus back inside ourselves.

    We get so focused outside of ourselves when our kids are struggling. We’re focused on them and what they’re doing and how what they’re doing is affecting us. I work with my clients to shift the focus back on themselves, what matters to them, how they feel about things, and how the most long-lasting sense of safety and security comes from inside of themselves.

    It never comes from the things that you can get your child to change. That’s only very temporary at best and frustrating. The other thing is really being intentional with how they move forward instead of just reacting to everything their child does, which really makes parents feel powerless.

    Instead, decide for yourself how you want to respond ahead of time and then take back that power by focusing on yourself and not always just waiting to see what they do. Many people consume so much information and it just turns into this overwhelming information overload. When I work with someone, part of the process is considering all that information, deciding what they like, and then putting that to use in their life instead of being completely overwhelmed with all of these different opinions from different people. Parents are the best people to make decisions for their family, not somebody outside of the family.

    Guiding them to process the fear, the confusion, and the overwhelm helps them get in touch with what they really think is important for their family.

    What are some final thoughts, and ideas that you have for parents concerned about their son or daughter?

    I’ll start with compassion. Having compassion for yourself is so important throughout this process because this really is a difficult journey. Most parents struggle through it and we’re all just doing the best we can at any time. Having compassion for yourself when you feel like you’re so far behind by the time you realize what’s going on with their addiction. It feels like you’re constantly having to catch up.

    Have compassion for yourself through the whole process and take care of yourself. Putting your own oxygen mask on first is so important because it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If we don’t take care of ourselves, there’s no way that we’re going to be able to sustain that for very long.

    That was one of the mistakes I made. My health really suffered because I was so focused on my daughter. I wasn’t even doing the basics. I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t sleeping, and I wasn’t even drinking enough water. If you can make sure that you’re doing the basics, you’re going to have the energy and reserves that you need to make it through. You’ll be able to make better decisions and tap into the resources that you have available.

    The other thing that’s really important is just acceptance of where you are. Earlier I mentioned resistance and how much harder it made everything. Eventually, I got to the place where I could really just accept that this is where we were.

    My daughter was struggling with addiction. She was very different from how I had expected her to be. Our lives were different than I expected. Nothing was where I expected it was going to be at that point. Reaching that point of acceptance meant loving my daughter, exactly who she was at that moment. Not who she was before, not who I wanted her to be, but just loving her exactly who she was at that moment. Getting to that point of not needing her to change so that I could feel better was huge for me.

    If you can just focus on those three things: self-compassion, taking care of yourself, and acceptance, that will give you a good framework for moving forward. It’s something to go back to if things get worse and you start to struggle. You can go back to those basics of self-care.

    There’s that hope in the beginning that you’re going to be able to take care of it as fast as you can, right? Like it’s going to be over magically. When you’re approaching it like that and that doesn’t happen, it’s so defeating and exhausting. Giving it time and not trying to rush it is so important.

    How to Connect with Heather:

    Heather Ross is a mother who was willing to do whatever it took to have a healthy relationship with her daughter who struggled with Substance Use Disorder.  She is a family recovery coach who is CRAFT trained, Invitation to Change Certified, and hosts the popular podcast Living With Your Child’s Addiction.

    Supporting her daughter taught her to focus on their similarities instead of their differences, be present as a mother, and love her daughter unconditionally for the 21 short years she had on this earth. After her daughter lost her life to a fentanyl overdose, Heather became even more dedicated to helping families heal.  She helps her clients create peace of mind, space for change, and loving connections in their families.   

    When Heather is not helping other parents she enjoys spending time in nature with her dogs, going to sound baths on the beach, traveling, and creating beautiful memories with friends and family. You can learn more about Heather on her website, She can be found on social media at Instagram and Facebook.