Mother and Daughter Encourage Dialogue about Addiction

Avery Delahanty and her mother Sally Larson hope thier experiences can offer a lifeline to others. (Make up by Jessica Mae WarPaint International Creative Director)

May 20 is the 140th day of the calendar year. But it also marks an important anniversary—the fourth anniversary of the first day of Avery Delahanty’s sobriety. Since 2013, Delahanty has honored May 20 from a space of gratitude and reflection. “Personally, it’s a really important day because it marks a totally different part of my life,” she says.

This November will bring another milestone—the first anniversary of, which Delahanty launched in 2016 with her mother, Sally Larson. Initial plans were to create a retail website, featuring specialized gift items to send to people with addiction who are going through treatment. But the mother-daughter team soon realized there were other features their website could offer, including providing solace and community.

Larson and Delahanty share their stories in hopes of providing a lifeline to others facing similar circumstances. “For both of us, we felt so alone going through this,” says Larson, who found it difficult to determine who was “safe to talk to without judgment.” As Delahanty’s life went adrift, Larson recalls, “Avery was swept out to sea, and miraculously returned. It is our hope that in sharing our story, we can bring comfort and waves of joy to others who have been affected by the disease of addiction.” Their website also supports an atmosphere of more compassion and less judgment, Larson says—with no shame and guilt, “so [people] can get the help that they need,” she says.

Delahanty was 15 or 16 years old when she began drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. It didn’t end there. “I was always into trying new things, new drugs,” she says. As a student at Edina High School, she began to notice that she didn’t “drink normally. ‘I never had enough’ is how I’d describe it,” Delahanty says.

After graduating in 2009, Delahanty took a gap year before attending college at the University of Colorado, Boulder. During that period, her addictions intensified, and she decided it was time to come home. “I think I could tell things were going down,” Delahanty says, but she wasn’t ready to recognize that it was alcohol and drugs that were clouding her life. Her parents, however, saw it differently and staged an unsuccessful intervention after her return to Minnesota. “I wasn’t ready to hear what they were saying,” Delahanty says.

“Eventually, she said, ‘O.K., I’ll go to recovery,’” Larson recalls. Delahanty went into treatment in 2012, followed by a period in a sober living home. What she didn’t do, at that time, was believe she was an alcoholic or substance abuser. What followed were relapses and two more rounds of treatment in California. Still not fully committed to her recovery, Delahanty and a friend went out for a night of drinking in 2013. That was the night Larson got a call, which she thought was “the call” she’d long feared, telling her that Delahanty was dead. Luckily, Delahanty was alive, but had been badly injured in a car accident. That call ended up being a lifeline.
The car accident left Delahanty with two broken arms, a punctured lung, and multiple cuts and bruises. As frightening as it was, Larson viewed it as a reprieve, a respite from maternal worry, knowing her daughter wouldn’t be able to use drugs while she recovered in the hospital. For Delahanty, it was the last low point of her life. She remained in California to heal—not only her physical wounds, but her addictions as well. “I stayed out there and really dug into recovery,” she says. Tending to relationship damage that developed over the years of chemical abuse would come later, after returning to Minnesota later in 2013.

Today, Avery has come full circle in more than one way. She works as a manager with a sober living organization in St. Paul—the same one she worked with at the beginning of her search for sobriety. “It’s been so cool,” she says. “It’s amazing to see the other side of it.” After receiving a psychology degree from St. Catherine University, Delahanty is pursuing a graduate degree in counseling from St. Catherine and has decided to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC).

Delahanty stresses the importance of providing a forum for both addicts and their loved ones, shedding light on the dual perspectives. Additionally, her mission includes launching a broader conversation about addiction, making it a more approachable topic of discussion. Her hope is that increasing public discourse will encourage more programs and services that treat addictions.

Humanizing the people behind addiction through dialogue is critical, Larson says, pointing to the way the national conversation around HIV/AIDS created a groundswell of awareness and support. “When you bring things out in the open and destigmatize it, people can get the help they need,” she says. Addiction, Delahanty says, is an equal-opportunity disease.

To keep the conversation fresh, the women’s goal is weekly blog posts. While laying bare their stories creates vulnerability, Larson says it’s worth it to reach out to others. She hopes more people will share their addiction and recovery stories and other people will join the Hope and Joy conversation.

The website also serves a practical purpose, offering recovery kits ($40) for those entering treatment. “You don’t know what you need until you’re already there,” Larson says. The kits feature items to keep “mind, mouth and hands busy to de-stress,” she says. A drawstring backpack, which is helpful to have to carry to the host of recovery meetings and appointments, is filled with an Italian UltraHyde journal with a contacts page, calendar and privacy closure, gel pen, 64-page crossword and puzzle book, water bottle, lip balm, tissues, all-natural lavender lotion, postcards, Serenity Prayer bookmark and lollipops. T-shirts available on the website include one that says “I was addicted to the Hokey Pokey then I turned myself around” ($23).

Another features their logo ($20), an image of an anchor surrounded by olive branches. “It took me a long time to design,” Larson says. The reason for the anchor: “You’ve found your grounding,” she says. The branches serve as a reminder of the giving and receiving that takes place during recovery.

The response to the website has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Larson says, but there’s more work to do. Phase II could include networking information, and posts on pending legislation-related substance abuse research and treatment.

While Delahanty and Larson had the wellbeing of others in mind when they launched the website, the process has had a positive effect on their personal lives and relationship. “To put it all out into the world was very cathartic,” Larson says. “Truly, I was almost undone by the whole thing,” she says of the years of her daughter’s chemical abuse and search for recovery.

Delahanty uses words like “revelations” and “reconciliation” to describe what it’s been like working with her mother. “It helped us both understand where each other is coming from,” she says. Before that could happen, the mother and daughter needed to reconcile where their lives had gone.

While tending to her academic and career aspirations are important, Delahanty remains committed to helping other people with addiction and their loved ones. “I was given the opportunity to live and recover, and my life is”—she pauses in reflection—“such a blessing to be alive, and I hope they can find it, too.”