I’m not a drug addict or an alcoholic but my life has been greatly affected by several. I don’t speak from the view of an addict. I speak from the view of a child (adult child) of an addict. My mother was what I call a hard core, very low functioning addict. Over her lifetime she lost most everything. She was unable to work and was completely dependent on others for most all of her needs. I hated being pulled into the world of addiction. I hadn’t made a choice to participate. I was simply born into the ugliness. But none the less I was a participant. I was a child. Her child. I loved my mother. She was supposed to take care of me. But instead, I spent most of my life time either watching others try to take care of her or trying to take care of her myself. It was devastating. Heart breaking. But as difficult as it was for me…I can’t even begin to imagine her tremendous pain.
It’s not a choice. Not like you think anyway. People don’t just wake up one day and say…”I think I’ll become an addict today” or “I think I want to be an alcoholic…that sounds exciting and fun.” “Oh and I think I’ll just throw away everything or make my life extremely difficult while I’m at it.” No one does that! Not one person would ever consciously make a decision to become an addict – to become so dependent, powerless and controlled by a substance they lose their mother, father, wife, husband, son, daughter, job, house, money and sometimes everything. Because of addiction, moms and dads are stolen from their babies and babies are stolen from their moms and dads. It is a very ugly, devastating, heart wrenching disease. Yes, they make a decision to take a drink or use the drug but they never make a conscious decision to become an addict. Sometimes one drink or one use is all it takes to put a person on a devastating path. Just one. It is not a life anyone would consciously choose.
Mother was only fourteen when she took her first drink. She writes about it in her papers I found after her death. She found some beers and she and a friend hid them. They went back later and drank them. This was the beginning of her life long war with addiction. There is no way she could have known the steps she took that day would put her on the most difficult path she could have stepped on to. How could she possibly know drinking a couple of beers at fourteen would lead her to a life of abuse of pills, use of cocaine and heroin, shooting up, snorting…not being able to care for me – her only daughter, spending time in the penitentiary, losing her nursing license, 5 unhealthy marriages, destruction of relationships, being surrounded by corrupt and evil people, darkness like most of us could never imagine…and on and on and on. No. Mother didn’t consciously choose to be an addict. Her sweet dreams and hopes got shattered somewhere along the way. She traded a life full of sweetness for a life of survival, broken dreams and devastation.
Mother had a tumultuous relationship with her own mother. They fought A LOT. Physically fought. Verbally fought. I remember witnessing those fights and seeing Mother cry a lot. I think Mother wanted her mother’s (Nanny) approval and wanted to feel her love. I think Nanny wanted Mother to make better choices and get on a different less destructive path and she didn’t know how to show Mother she loved her.
Mother suffered from anxiety. I didn’t really understand this until I was an adult and had someone very close to me who has had to deal with severe anxiety. I’m not sure Mother or anyone else understood her anxiety in her younger years. By the time she did understand, it was much later in life and she had already been treating it in a very unhealthy way for years. Mother had self-medicated and treated her anxiety through the use of drugs and alcohol for most of her life. Her unhealthy relationship with her mother and others, lack of coping skills, lack of self-esteem, the stress of becoming pregnant at sixteen, and an addictive gene all contributed to her recipe for disaster. Some prosper and come out stronger and better in spite of their challenges. Mother did not. It defeated her. I can’t tell you exactly what caused mother to become who she became. But I know these things contributed to her journey. I know she was controlled and powerless because I witnessed it. I watched the devastation. I tried to stop it many times. I suffered the broken promises my mother made to me and the heartbreak I lived with on a daily basis.
One of the most difficult times for me regarding mother’s addiction was about 10 years ago. Mother was living close. Close enough that I was witness to more than I ever wanted to witness. Her cute little apartment was soon a very scary place. I would stop by to find her place destroyed and she would be drunk. Once, Madden (who was about 6 at the time) and I were driving to get a movie and as we approached the street to her house we saw an ambulance with the sirens and lights on turn down her street. I had a bad feeling and figured they were probably going to Mother’s apartment. Sure enough, they were. I followed. Mother was drunk and belligerent. Her head was covered in blood. She told the EMS guys that some guy had knocked her over her head. The scene was all too familiar to me. Mother was a mean drunk and would look for a fight. She would spew her hatefulness and some other jerk or addict would hit or push her usually resulting in a broken bone or head injury and an ER visit. My sweet Madden was just a young blonde headed little boy. He witnessed the event. I think most normal mothers would have sheltered their kids from something like this but I’m not normal and I felt like these tragedies could be a life lesson for my boys. I have no doubt there is something genetic about this terrible tragic disease and I wanted my boys to be aware of the path they could be on if they chose to use or drink. Besides, mother needed love. We all do. We could love her and show her love while keeping healthy boundaries. I wanted them to know – deep down…she was a scared, heartbroken, lost young girl. She was more than what she had become. I tried to separate myself from her as much as I could. It was too painful to watch and be a part of. I tried to focus on being the mom my boys deserved.
During this same period, I received multiple phone calls from Jeff (one of my lifelong friends) because of different events related to mother. He was a police officer in the town mother lived in. One time, he called sometime in the wee hours of the night or morning. He told me he was at Mother’s and they needed to get in. There were complaints from neighbors that she was inside screaming but they couldn’t get her to answer the door. He wanted to know if I had a key so they didn’t have to break down the door. I told him I didn’t have a key but would be right over and maybe I could get her to open the door. I rolled out of bed and drove over to her apartment. When I pulled up, there were policemen, firefighters and EMS personnel. They were all standing by a window. I was thankful for my friend. It was comforting to me for him to be there because he knew some of my story and always went the extra mile to help me and make me feel loved. My friend told me, they were talking to her trying to get her to open the window. But so far, she wouldn’t. I stepped by the window and tried to speak to Mother. She responded. I asked her to please open the window and let us in. She was so confused and much of what she was saying didn’t make much sense. She finally managed to unlock the window but it was an obvious struggle. The police were able to get inside. What we found was heart wrenching. Mother was completely naked lying on a mound of dirty clothes. Her bedding was off her bed. Her apartment was destroyed. There was no food in the apartment. Drug paraphernalia was everywhere. There were roaches and the house was a complete mess. Mother was completely psychotic. This was the worst my mother’s house had ever been. This wass the worst I had ever seen my mother. She had always taken pride in keeping a clean and tidy house. I have no idea how long she had been laying in that mess. She was taken to the ER and then went inpatient. I was convinced her psychosis was permanent.
I learned drug dealers where coming to mother’s apartment. They would give her drugs and while she was messed up, they would take possession of her place. They would set up and deal out of her apartment. This makes it very difficult for police to catch these criminals because they are always on the move going from victim to victim or addict to addict. There are some evil people in this world.
It was obvious those bad people had camped out in her apartment for a while. My guess is – when she became psychotic they split and left her there to die. They had ran out of toilet paper so they had used towels to wipe their bottoms and just thrown them all over the apartment, we found a crack pipe, a butcher knife lying by her bed. At one time, someone had sprayed a fire extinguisher all through the living room so there was white fire extinguisher powder all over everything in the living room.
While mother was in the hospital, I had to go by her apartment to get something for her. I was scared. I knew those bad people had access to her apartment. My husband told me not to go but I’m hard headed and don’t always listen. I parked down the street a bit so I could see the front door to Mother’s apartment. I dialed her number. The phone rang and the answering machine picked up. I said something like…this is Judy’s daughter and I need to come in and get some things for my mother. She is in the hospital. If you are in there…please leave. I hung up. A few seconds later I saw two big old scary guys walk out of her apartment. Then they pointed at me. Which scared me. Who were they? Pictures of myself, my boys and my husband were in her apartment. Do they know where I live? They know what kind of car I drive. Now, I was scared. I called the police station and asked for a police escort into mother’s apartment. They were kind to come and help me. I was able to get in and gather the things I needed. It seems like it was several weeks before her psychosis cleared up.
As a young mother trying to pave a different way for myself and be a different kind of mom for my boys…these events almost broke me. Incidents like these happened frequently. I cried a lot which was completely out of character for me. I started feeling depressed. I felt hopeless and helpless for mother and her situation. I had no idea how to help her. Everything I tried was unsuccessful…she always went right back to the drugs. It was like they were a very strong large magnet and she was a tiny piece of metal that couldn’t escape the grip of the magnet. No matter how hard she pulled or tried to break away – the magnet was so much stronger than she was. I had to back away even more. I knew I couldn’t save her. She had to do the really hard work to save herself. I tried to set healthy boundaries and take her food and toiletries. But I knew I had to have healthy boundaries otherwise my boys might be robbed of their mom too.
Mother had used for over 40 years. During that time, she had behaved in ways that caused her so many regrets, embarrassment and guilt. As long as she was using she could numb those feelings but as soon as she started getting clean or sober she had to deal with all of those feelings. That was hard. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it would be. In 40 years, she didn’t deal with many of her feelings. She just kept running and numbing. So every time she got clean her mind and heart were flooded with bad feelings and guilt. She didn’t process things as they occurred so she had to deal with them while she was sober. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to deal with so many years of disappointment all at one time. It’s hard enough to deal with things and feelings as they occur.
Mother wanted to do good things in this world. She truly did. She was controlled and powerless. I share my story for Mother and others who are affected by the terrible disease of addiction. I couldn’t share when I was in the middle of it because it was too hurtful and I was still completely powerless to Mother’s addiction. I share so minds can be opened, people will know addicts and alcoholics aren’t just weak people. There are good decent loving people who struggle with addiction. They don’t need our judgment. They need love. I couldn’t save Mother. Some can’t be saved. You try everything you can think of but we still lose them. Addiction is tragic and affects the whole family. It is a disease that is generally met with judgment and ugliness. It’s a disease we have to hide. We can’t openly discuss it. We can’t openly say…”Hey, I’m dying over here….help!” It’s devastating. I never got a choice. I was just placed into the life of an addict and then pulled deeper and deeper as she was pulled deeper and deeper. It’s not a choice…not like you think.
Show love. Do love. Set healthy boundaries. Show compassion and forgiveness. Take care of yourself. Make informed decisions…sometimes all it takes is one use or one drink to put you on a tragic path.
Finding the sweet side of crazy!