September is National Recovery Month, and in honor of this, I jumped on the opportunity to speak with the kind folks over at the Mountainside Treatment Center in Connecticut. Being the daughter of an addict, I was very interested to hear alternative perspectives on drug and alcohol abuse, as well as any stories that might resonate with some of my own experiences.
I spoke with Family Wellness Manager, Tina Muller, who told me the story of an anonymous family who had to endure their mother’s alcohol abuse, her attempt at recovery, and all of the ups and downs in between. After speaking with Tina and hearing about how these children were affected by their alcoholic mother, I reflected on my own life.
Tina’s story in conjunction with my own, led me to think about the underlying reasons as to why those of us who grew up with an addict may never feel a sense of normalcy in our entire lives:
1. We never knew what we were coming home to.
Would it be chaos? Would it be silence? Would mom or dad be high or drunk? Would they even be home? Would they even be alive, or did the drugs final consume them? We just never knew. And living with that level of uncertainty day in and day out creates so much turmoil in a person’s mind.
2. We never knew how to appropriately handle or react to whatever we might come home to.
Is it okay to be angry even though addiction is a disease? What if I make dad upset and he drinks more because of me? Is it okay to cry, is it okay to yell? Not ever knowing how to react or feel is so mentally exhausting, and as an adult, it stays with you. You tend to overthink your actions and responses to others, and you overanalyze the way others respond to you. You second-guess yourself. You brace yourself for the worst possible outcomes, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.
3. We always wondered, “Were other families like this, or are we the only fucked up ones?”
Did those other kids get to have a “normal” childhood? Were their parents always there for them? From years of comparing our lives to the “normal” lives of other families we knew, we now have low self-esteem as adults, with hardly any confidence. We doubt ourselves, and we are in need of reassurance.
4. We never knew who was picking us up from school.
Will mom remember to pick me up today, or will she be busy getting messed up somewhere instead? If she is coming to get me, is she driving drunk or high? Life constantly felt unstable and uneasy. And these feelings don’t just disappear in adulthood. They remain within us, causing major trust issues and an inability to fully depend on anyone besides ourselves.
5. We were always nervous to have friends over for fear of our addict parent getting high or drunk in front of them.
Friendship is such an amazing part of childhood, but it’s something that can be affected by a parent’s addiction. Tina mentioned this in our conversation, and it actually reminded me of that sense of caution I always had as a kid when inviting friends over – because honestly – who would want their friends to come over while their mom was high or their dad was drunk? Or if mom was coming down from her high and friends would wonder why she was sleeping in the middle of the day. I felt like the weird one among friends. Everyone else’s parents were so “normal,” and I felt like I had no stories to share about heart-warming family vacations or quality time spent together, because I didn’t have that. I carried with me the secret of my mom’s habit, and it always made me feel like the black sheep of any friend circle.
6. We always had to take on the role of the parent… we parented our parents.
All too often, children of addicts are forced to take care of their parent. This makes us grow up too fast. We may be more responsible as adults, but we’re also more susceptible to depression and anxious thoughts, especially about lost time spent taking care of our parents, and being deprived of having a real childhood.
7. We saw way too much at such a young age.
We saw things a kid should never see, and the memories haunt us as we get older. We are traumatized, unable to forget the awful parts of our past that our addict parent created for us.
8. We’ve been let down so many times, how do we know we won’t be let down again?
We hardly ever let our guards down. We were so used to clinging to moments of happiness whenever mom or dad would be sober, until that was destroyed by their habit starting all over again. We were always let down, our hopes crushed. As a result, we rarely knew how to just be happy because it was constantly being taken away from us. We just never felt normal.
And we never really will feel “normal.” And although that term is subjective, we often wonder how life might’ve been different if our parent took care of us, instead of us taking care of them and their addiction. We often wonder how different life might’ve been if our parent wasn’t an addict. We will always wonder what it’s like to feel “normal.”
Don’t forget September is National Recovery Month. Use this month to raise awareness about the pain and heartache that those suffering from addiction inflict on themselves, and those who love them most. There are many resources out there like Mountainside Treatment Center in Connecticut, Al-ateen, schools and college campus support systems, other family members, and even parents of friends – so fight the stigma and get the help that you and your family deserve.