Addiction, Childhood Trauma, and Hope
Addiction- a word which conjures vivid scenes in a person’s mind of someone who is dirty, bruised and broken, doing drugs in a flop-house or an alleyway somewhere. But that isn’t the reality of addiction. The reality is a father of three who uses narcotics to escape, a well liked college student who uses Adderall to keep good grades, an elderly woman who has become addicted to her necessary pain medications due to irresponsible prescribing. Addiction is always ugly- but it doesn’t only affect the “ugly” people.
My mother was a drug addict. She died at the age of 51 due to long-term complications from drug use. She spent the last three years of her life in a long term care facility. And up until the day she died, all my mother cared about was getting her next Xanax. She knew what time her scheduled doses were- and she knew the time frame she was allowed to ask for her as-needed doses. No matter what plans we might try to make- to take her shopping, out to dinner, etc. it was always planned around the timing of her medications. She was never able to overcome her addiction- even though it literally put her in the ground.
I grew up mostly with my father. But as a child I experienced far more trauma than anyone could expect as a result of the addiction my mother suffered. I have spent years in therapy recovering from the effects another person’s addiction had on my own life. But I don’t hate my mother for it, and I don’t blame her- it’s a terrible disease, and not everyone is lucky enough to have the necessary tools to overcome their addiction and live a better life. Even if I went through a lot of hard times because of her addiction- I also learned from it. I saw first hand how devastating addiction could be, I saw first hand how it ruins lives, I saw first hand how it could kill someone.
There are some things a child should never know, never have to see, never have to experience. I couldn’t count how many of those things I as a result of my mother’s addiction. At the age of seven, I can remember going to her house for the weekends and her staying gone all night- leaving me to fend for myself, and when she got home, leaving me to take care of her. At the age of nine my mother took me for the weekend to stay with some friends of hers she did drugs with- and I witnessed a man rape my mother because she couldn’t pay for what she’d taken. By the age of thirteen, when people called her house, I knew the prices of pills and pot that she was selling. At the age of sixteen she was sharing her drugs with my friends under the guise of “if they do it here, at least I know they are safe”. I was eighteen years old when she found herself in a long term care facility.
Hepatitis-C, as a result of sharing needles when she was addicted to heroin, had destroyed her liver. Her addiction had left her bipolar disorder and schizophrenia untreated. She had hepatic encephalopathy, early onset dementia, and unchecked diabetes. She was a shell of the woman she once was. Forty-five years old and in a nursing home. All because of drug use. Up until the day she died (at the age of fifty-one), my mother’s only care and worry was when she got her next Xanax. Visiting her was scheduled around her as-needed doses- she might not know where she was or who she was that day, but she knew what time she was allowed to take her as-needed dose in comparison to her scheduled dose.
My childhood trauma was a direct result of my mother’s drug addiction habit. It took a long time to heal and to recover from it. But, in the end, it has made me a better person. Currently I work as a pharmacy technician for a government hospital which specializes in the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. I wish when I was younger that I knew about the resources this facility could have offered my mother. My goal, once I complete my degree, is to move into human services related position at the facility where I am currently at, to help people who had the same struggles my mother had. I wasn’t able to help my mother, but I have hope and determination to help someone else’s mother- someone else’s father, brother, sister, cousin, best friend… My experiences make me uniquely qualified to understand the needs of these individuals and their families. I intend to do just that.