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Addiction is a thief. It takes without warning or permission. Not only from the addict, but from those who love them.
Both of my parents were addicts. I was in sixth grade when I was able to give the behavior a name, but the effects of their addiction reached me long before that. As almost any addict will tell you, the drugs make you forget what is truly important in life, and more often than not the children are the ones who suffer.
One might assume that, with drug addicted parents, an outside force would intervene and help the children, taking them away if need be. In a lot of cases that is what happens, but in many others it is not. Some addicts are very good at hiding their afflictions. Other times, the adults who know about the addiction do not report the parents, leaving the children inside the home to witness an unchecked sickness spiraling out of control.
This is the situation that many children face with parents suffering from addiction. I spoke with five other adults who were in this position as children: Sean and Damon (brothers), Brandi, Sierrah, and Ashley. This is what they had to say.
Children face incredible hardships growing up with parents who suffer from addiction. When asked about these difficulties while growing up, many of the people I spoke to had a hard time opening up. Some cried, some completely shut down. The question brings back a flurry of emotions that have been purposefully buried away.
Sean and Damon, brothers born only a year apart, were interviewed separately. Yet, when asked about their hardships, both gave the same answer. They recount a time when they returned home from school to find that their bedroom was no longer theirs. It was declared a room for their father’s wood working tools, but, in truth, it was a room in which their parents would use as a private area for their meth addiction.
Meth gives you a substantial amount of energy. This effect is usually seen in what’s known as “tweaking”: making things, taking things apart, and fidgeting excessively.
For children with addict parents, their room is a place to escape. The younger sibling Damon says it bothered him, what once was his space was ripped away from him. He recounts how his parents would lock themselves in that room for hours on end doing “weird projects.” Often times, this resulted in the boys making their beds and sleeping on the couch.
Another time the siblings came home from school to find that their living room floor was completely missing. “You could see all the way down to the ground,” explained Sean. The boys, again booted from their bedroom, were forced to sleep on the kitchen floor for the night.
Brandi’s parents lost their home to foreclosure. Her mother and two sisters moved into a “tiny rundown two bedroom trailer.” Her mother was always gone and they were forced to live without electricity sometimes. “My mom wouldn’t be hungry because meth does that to you, so my sisters and I would eat food my mom made weeks ago, or canned fruit. I felt dirty, unworthy.”
Sierrah speaks of a time when her parents were using heavily and a physical altercation broke out. Her mother punched her in the face, and upon walking off her mother snatched her hair. The adults attempted to hold her down as her step-father swung at her with a belt. She says her living situation was “disgusting…the house was a mess. They only wanted to be gone, or be asleep. We lived in filth.”
Ashley recalls a time involving her mother who left her in a meth lab full of men in nothing but a diaper. The police and her father found her later after she was declared missing. She doesn’t remember this incident because she was only six months old, but the knowledge of this fact cuts her to the core.
Even though their experiences differ in a lot of ways, almost all can agree that they felt ignored and alone, unimportant, and unloved. They took a backseat to their parents’ addictions.
All of them spoke of an overwhelming lack of structure. In school, most of them saw their grades and attendance suffer. In the worst cases, the parents would forget to feed them (lack of appetite being a side effect of meth addiction). They knew hunger all too well.
When asked about the transition into adulthood, they shared stories that showed the many difficulties they had to face. In most cases, they described situations that were quite similar.
The transition to adulthood was sudden, extremely hard, and very long. Most left their living situation while still teenagers, and by force.
Ashley was kicked out her home by her father during her senior year of high school. She thought that she was going to have to drop out of school when she was taken in by her boyfriend’s parents. She was expected to contribute to the household expenses, but they made sure she was able to finish out the year and graduate.
Sierrah is brought to tears by this question. After getting pregnant in high school, she had to make a tough decision on what to do next. Ultimately, she decided to leave her parents’ home because she didn’t want her child growing up around the drug abuse and uncleanliness of the home she resided in. “I don’t regret getting pregnant” she says, “but I regret getting pregnant and having to leave my siblings in that house by themselves.”
Sean and Damon’s parents lost their house when they were fifteen and sixteen years old. Becoming homeless, they went off on their own. They bounced around. Sometimes staying with friends and family, sometimes with people whom they barely knew. Sean describes a period of time when he slept in his truck at rest stops. “It was lonely… very lonely” he recounts staring off.
They had to learn everything themselves. They were pushed out into the world with no prior guidance, no support, and no one to teach them how to live. They had to figure it out on their own, and at a young age.
Emotional and mental issues are a universally shared side-effect from their pasts. Anger issues, trust issues, anxiety: there are plenty to go around. Most say they have trouble truly letting people in. Trust is a big issue as a result of their traumatic childhood.
A child puts so much trust into their parents. When they are let down because of addiction, they learn from their parents that they can’t trust anyone.
They build walls. A habit that they have developed to protect themselves from being hurt by the people that are supposed to love them. They build walls to keep people out so that they will never know that betrayal, disappointment, or feel that unloved ever again.
The brothers Damon and Sean are clean now, but at one time they were both addicted to meth. Sean says that he isn’t ever tempted by it now that he is clean, but for Damon his addiction is an ongoing struggle. They both started using around seventeen or eighteen years old and feel as though their parents’ addiction played a role.
When asked about his struggles, Damon explained, “I know it’s my addiction and it wasn’t like I was raised to be a drug dealer or a drug addict, but my past definitely played a role.”
At first it was just for fun and then it became an addiction they say. The fact their parents were using made it easier to do because it didn’t seem like it was that big of a deal. Their parents were using so why can’t they? This is how they rationalized it. Sean says he will never touch it again. “It’s a poison in my eyes.” They both recovered before having their own children.
Sierrah says that in her teens she drank heavily and abused prescription medication, using it to numb herself. When she found out she was pregnant with her son, she turned over a new leaf and did very well for a time. Following a permanent separation from her son’s father, the alcohol use came back with a vengeance.
Sierrah believes the emotional issues she was still struggling with contributed to the falling out of the relationship. Feeling lost, she began to drink again. She refused to turn to drugs because of the effect it had on her past, not realizing her alcohol use was an issue of the same color. “I chose to drink over my son, I was just as bad as her [her mother]. It was a different thing. It wasn’t meth, but it was an addiction and I let it take control of me for almost a year.”
She describes this time period as the worst time of her life. Sierrah will never forgive herself and is very remorseful for that year, but she is also happy that she realized the mistake she was making and was able to recover and turn her life around. Her son was too young to remember that year of life, and she takes comfort in the fact that he will not be impacted by it.
Ashley says she never used any drugs other than marijuana her entire life, and she is proud of that fact. It is Ashley’s opinion that marijuana isn’t a drug. She is very supportive of the current attempt to make it legal and feels as though the drug is better suited to treat sickness and disease than most of the prescription drugs on the market. Most of the others that were interviewed share this same view on marijuana and would like to see it legalized nationwide.
All of the interviewees have their own children now. It seems to be the main factor in their goals for the future. Each of them when faced with the prospect of having a child in their care were able to turn their lives around rather quickly. They refused to burden their children with that lifestyle.
If their experiences have assured one thing, it is that their children are their main priority. They want to give their kids everything they never had.
Brandi is a mom to a two-year-old boy, and is currently pregnant with a daughter. One of her goals in life is “to be the best mother I possibly can.” Her mother had a way of making her feel limited in what she could accomplish. Though she doesn’t think it was intentional, she doesn’t want her kids to feel that way.
She wants her children to dream big and to set their own boundaries for what they think they can achieve. She wants to provide the encouragement and support to her children that her own life lacked. Due to the fact Brandi had no rules or restrictions as a child, she is taking the opposite approach with her own children. She plans to be a strict parent and become much more involved in her children’s lives than her mother was. She worries, though, that she might make her children “feel smothered.”
Ashley is a full-time mom of two children: a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old little boy. The lack of affection and love growing up has made her want to make sure her children know how loved and appreciated they are every single day. She hopes to be the mother that her mother never was. Ashley thinks back to how negative her surroundings were, how she felt and how unhappy she was, and she wants to use that heartache to improve her children’s childhood. “I try to be positive and tell them positive things. I want them to know every day they are cherished and great.”
Sierrah is the mom of a seven-year-old boy. Growing up, she lived in a household with no money to get the things they needed. The house was dirty and there was an overwhelming feeling of being unloved. She is focused on making sure that her child has everything he could want and need, and that he never goes without. “I would rather spend my last dollar on a candy bar for him than something for myself.” Her son has more clothes than she does, and of better quality.
Keeping her house clean is very high on her priority list. “I am able to give my son a life untouched by the things I went through. He will never know that pain and sorrow, filth and hunger, or the need for love like I did.” This is the driving factor behind her intention to further her education. She wants to make better money to ensure that her son will have everything he needs and more.
Sean is the father of a five-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. Growing up, he was accustomed to having very little, from hand-me-down clothing to holidays that rarely involved festivities and gifts. He wants his children to have everything he didn’t. Nice clothes, Christmas presents, and birthday parties to name a few, but above all else, he wants to be there for his kids in every way. “I hope they don’t follow in my old footsteps” Sean says, “but instead follow the ones I’m making now.”
Their children is another area in which the brothers agree. Damon believes his one-year-old daughter will benefit in all aspects from a life without addicted parents. They hope their past will help them to keep their children on the right track in life. That is, the track of life without addiction. They feel as though their experience with addiction will help them when it comes time to talk to their children about the dangers of drug use.
Sean and Damon’s parents are divorced, but they both have good relationships with their mother and father now. Their mother is clean and has been for some time. Their father cleaned up very recently, and they see him on occasion. They say that they harbored their anger for what happened for a long time but have since been able to let go and move on. They are all close now, and they are all very happy.
Ashley has not had a relationship with her mother and doesn’t want one, but says she has no ill feelings towards her. She thinks the knowledge of what she had done is punishment enough and has left the past in the past.
Sierrah describes her relationship with her parents as “rocky” but that it’s much better now. Her parents have recently cleaned up their act and their relationship is on the mend.
Brandi says she has a wonderful relationship with her mother now and describes it as “one she will always cherish.” Her mother has been clean for years now.
All things considered, their reaction to their past in relation to where they are now is very humbling. They have taken so much from their experiences and used it to better themselves. They know what not to do, and know that their parents’ lives aren’t for them. They hold no grudges and do their best to not let their past get in the way of their future. They want nothing more than to give their children the things in life that they never had: stability, support, and a sense of being loved.
Ashley says, “you have to dig deep to find your own courage, to find the goodness in the terrible times.”
The truth in this in overwhelming. There are people worse off in the world and these people want no sympathy. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or who your parents were. Whatever hand you are dealt, it is up to you to make something out of it.
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