This is not just a story about drug addiction, but about a need and desire for a relationship that offers little reciprocity.
Let me back up…..
I haven’t written in almost two years. TWO. YEARS. I guess I’ve been out of words, although my husband would probably disagree. The truth is, it’s been a weird few years. A lot has been going on in my personal life and I’m writing here again because not only do I want to offer you some encouragement through my own experiences, but equally, I’m here to receive it. Now that I can finally put a few thoughts together, I want to share more of my story so you know you aren’t alone. We women these days are so covered up in insecurity and comparison that letting someone see our junk is just too exposing. But I have found that letting some light in is a healer, and I’m here to mend and help you do the same. That said, I’m going to continue to word-vomit right here and hope that something sticks to the wall. If ”word vomit” sounds like a phrase you’d like to get down with, let us continue.
Like I said, a lot has happened in my personal life during, well…the entirety of my personal life and I’ve touched on some of it here and there – divorce, single-motherhood, miscarriages, the death of someone closest to me, bad dating choices in my 40’s, love, marriage and as of late, peri-menopause. Not to mention all the juicy little details that y’all know nothing about – bad business dealings with a side of lost relationships over these past few years that have caused me many tears and self-reflection. Jenn, my counselor tells me I’m making great progress. Even with such a long way to go, I still think I’m ready to let you in.
We are all going through our fair share of “issues”. It’s important to me that you know – I don’t think mine aren’t more meaningful or note-worthy just because you’re reading them. Also, I am 100% unqualified to give direction to anyone about anything – just to be clear. But I know this – talking about our crap matters. Whatever your crap is, It can’t stay bottled up inside or swept under the rug. One day you are gonna bust like a can of biscuits or the button on your too-tight jeans and it ain’t gonna be pretty. I know because I have come to this place. My biscuits busted, y’all. The layered ones. So many layers, I don’t even know where to begin. I’m so grateful for all of the beautiful things in my life, and there are a lot! But over the past few years I finally hit a point where not dealing with all the bad ones nearly took me down.
While it seems like everybody else has been facing hard things surrounding Covid and the overall state of our world, my challenge has been internal. My brain is on overload but it’s not from all the news outlets, statistics, or CDC guidelines. It’s from the constant chatter and inner-workings of my own psyche. My fight isn’t with my neighbor who disagrees with me about the vaccine.
My fight is with, and FOR, myself.
Something that you may not know is that I have struggled over these past few years in coming to terms with an issue that has attached itself to me since I was born (and I’m not talking about the fat on my thighs). Against every bit of my will it has made its home inside my heart, helped shape my personality, walked with me all throughout my childhood, haunted me into my adult years and created more dysfunction in my family than you can shake a stick at. It has effected me so much that every choice I make and every thought I think until recent months has been filtered through the destruction that this subject has caused.
It has been hard for me to talk about because in no way, shape or form do I ever want to cause hurt or harm to any human being, including those who have not withheld either of those things from me. But my trauma-brain is finally understanding that my intentions matter and when it comes to this difficult subject my intentions are pure – to heal, move forward and to take you with me. This is my objective. I am sick to death of hiding my story for fear of hurting those who had a hand in creating it. My need and burning-desire to use my voice to help my community of sisters feel more understood and less alone has finally won the battle in my mind. If my reality benefits you in any way – if it empowers you to tell your story that will inevitably help others, then THAT is worth the rub and the backlash that any of the words on this page may bring me. So, here we go.
MY MOTHER SUFFERS FROM ADDICTION.
I grew up an only child in a small town in Tennessee. From when I was a little girl (up until middle-school, maybe) I have a few really sweet memories of my mother – her bringing cupcakes to my kindergarten class, helping me with projects, letting me go to work with her when I faked being sick on school days, making sure Christmas morning was magical. She was the prettiest lady I had ever seen. When I got sick she was a good caretaker – always letting me sleep in her bed so she could tend to me. I remember my parents taking me and my friends to the lake on the weekends. I remember them always getting together with their own group of church friends and even though I never felt a bond with my mother, she seemed so happy and full of life back then…until she didn’t.
I do have some good experiences worth hanging onto, but as I sit here flipping through my mental records for more happy memories, the ink on those pages seems to have faded. I’m sure somewhere on the bottom shelf of my intellect sits another book-full, but new narratives written-by-the-volume have stacked up and kept that old ledger buried deep, if it even exists at all. Maybe as my emotional work progresses I can blow the dust off of some hidden keepsakes that my mind has forgotten about. But for now, these are the remnants of nostalgia concerning my mother.
I see parts of her in me that let me know there is so much goodness there. If you have any kind of need whatsoever I will fix you and your entire household a pot of chili that will keep you fed until Jesus comes back. I’ll host your baby shower, let you borrow my clothes and I’ll visit your dying mother in the hospital quicker than you can say HOSPITALITY because that’s what she always did. When it came to others in need, she modeled an unselfish generosity, and I have tried to follow suit. Those beautiful attributes that she has passed on to me are not overlooked, and I am grateful for every good gift that has spilled over from her cup to mine. But in full disclosure I have to tell you, the love and affection she has shown to others is not something that has been given quite so freely to me. In truth, the grief and torment my heart and mind have felt from this relationship so deeply over all these years far overshadows any virtuous features I may have acquired from her. Because in the midst of drug-addicted chaos, my mother never stopped baking those casseroles for people in need, but she did stop nurturing me somewhere along the way. That is one memory that will never leave me no matter how much I try and wish it away, mostly because it is still my reality. This is not just a story about drug addiction, but about a need and desire for a relationship that offers little reciprocity.
My mother was present but she wasn’t. She loved me but she couldn’t. She hates being an addict, but she doesn’t. She tries so hard…sometimes, but it just always seems to get the best of her and our entire family, for that matter. It never ends. It never has. There is so much more to say here. So many memories of confusion and loneliness over the years. So much rejection and feelings of abandonment.
My younger years were not all bad, though. They were good, in fact! I have so many great memories of big family get-togethers, of living next to my grandparents, of friends and dances and shenanigans. Outside the walls of my home I had a near-perfect childhood but behind closed doors the struggle often times overwhelmed me. And because we were not aware that drug addiction was a big part of the problem until later, there were no family discussions – only questions. So many questions – Where has she been? Why is she so angry? What did I do wrong? Why doesn’t she like me? Why do her words and this buttoned-up little middle-class life feel like a lie?
Why don’t I matter?
Over the course of my adolescent years my mother became disengaged, despondent, angry and hollow, and I became anxious, worried and depressed. It wasn’t until early into my senior year of high school that we cracked the code and found out she had been addicted to pills for years. Knowing it and naming it helped, but the gnawing awareness that my mother’s relationship with pills always seemed to be more important to her than her relationship with me was, and is, a gut-wrenching absolute. And I’m not sure why, except that Henry Cloud says ”Nobody changes until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.” Maybe it’s that simple. Maybe it’s not.
I remember pastors and friends being at our house at various times trying to help sort through the trauma and the drama – looking into rehabs, praying, delivering, yelling, screaming, sorting through the tears and the lies. This was a scene that I would soon be brought into somewhere around age 16. Most of my high school memories at home are of me questioning my mother about drugs, deceit, strange behaviors, missing money, or her unknown whereabouts. This role I played as Parent and Interrogator would become my reality as the decades passed, and eventually included a new role – my father’s Savior and Confidant.
I’m not sure this one blog entry has the bandwidth to handle all of the things I’ve experienced. There are memories that plague my mind in abundance and there has yet to be any amount of clarity or distraction that erases them from my brain. There are so many ways I’ve been affected by a life not only wrapped up in drug abuse, but one affected by the lack of relationship that a girl needs, and should have, with her mother. As I try and move forward and push these words out onto this paper I am forced to stop and sit, once again, with the fear of hurting my family by my words. But this is part of my work – to realize that this thought pattern is a repercussion of being raised in an environment where others’ feelings and experiences mattered way more than mine. And this has been a lie that has been forced upon me my entire life, until I recently chose to finally resist it.
If you know you know…
And if you do, then it’s you I’m writing for.
Let’s keep going.
Throughout the course of my life I have been taught a lot of things. Most of the good things worth hanging onto were taught to me mostly by my paternal grandmother. Thankfully, she lived next door to me until I left home at 18. She was my best friend and confidant and she knew what I was going through. My dad understood it too, from his spousal perspective. He was a really great dad growing up and most of my little-girl memories include him. He coached t-ball, took me fishing, taught me to drive, and when I was little, every night after work I would sit in his lap while he watched Sanford and Son. Eventually the light in his eyes dimmed as his every thought was, and remains, consumed by my mother’s destruction.
Thankfully, my grandmother filled the gaps for me along the way. We had an unbreakable bond and actually, it was her death three years ago that eventually gave me the nudge I needed to finally see a counselor. The loss of her as my center and the glue that held our broken family together caused every crack to be exposed and every fracture more vivid than ever before. So much so, that I could no longer pretend that our family dynamic had not left me devastated. She did a wonderful job making me feel as loved and secure as possible. And while I know that any nurturing, loving attributes I have came straight from her, so many more dysfunctional traits came from being raised in addiction right next door.
The things I’ve seen and the lies I’ve been told could be made into a seven part docu-series. I’ve lived with my mother being in and out of rehabs for as long as I can remember and I’ve seen my dad get her out early just as many times. I’ve lived in a world where my reality is continually denied, my anger suppressed and my wounds unattended for longer than should be allowed. I have been taught to always try and fix others because that’s what matters most. I have waited for the other shoe to drop my entire life because inevitably it always has. There have been naysayers, guilt-givers and scripture-speakers who, many with all-be-it good intentions, have done their best to direct my focus back to “being there for my family” with no regard whatsoever for my heart or my mental health. I have inadvertently been taught that Christianity and the love of Jesus means that we let others walk all over us as we continue to “turn the other cheek” and give people a free pass to abuse us. These days, I know better and am a firm believer that God cares just as much for my mental state as He does my mother’s.
I have been a protector, people-pleaser, a peacemaker, and a private investigator. I have been taught to live in fear, to mistrust and always proceed with caution. If I had a suspicion it was always right. And if I had a need, it probably wasn’t a good time. Just step aside and take care of yourself. Go play while we figure out what to do with your mother. The adult version of that narrative still reads the same but with grown-up nuance, in case you’re wondering.
All along the way, I have known deep down that this weight was too heavy to carry. The weight of never being able to say the right thing, to be good enough, love hard enough, pretend well enough. The weight of co-dependency. I’ve tried to lay it down at various times in my life but either toxic habits or manipulation has caused me to lug it around and take every single bit of this fear-based craziness into my adult life. It has affected all of me, including my parenting and every relationship I have ever had. I even inadvertently sought out adult relationships that resembled my wounded childhood because sadly, it felt familiar and fixing people was my M.O. And although worth every penny, it has cost me thousands of dollars in therapy. I’m not just talking about how drugs have affected me, but about how the choices of someone whose sole purpose was to love and protect me has.
I’m not writing this to gain your sympathy. What I do need, however, is greater understanding for why we become so hyper-focused on the chaos itself that we forget about the victims of it. We forget to look at the little girl and ask her if she’s ok, if she needs a hug or a counselor. Maybe we forget because we are too busy trying to save face or fix broken people who can’t be fixed or don’t want to be, instead of mending the fractured sufferers who are begging to be put back together. Maybe we forget because we are too busy enabling the persecutor all in the name of Jesus or love or “doing the right thing” – so much so that we forget to do the right thing! We somehow forget to be Jesus to the ones who have been persecuted.
I don’t understand. Why can’t we be Jesus to both?
If I sound fed up, I am.
If I could go back and do it differently, I would.
If I can help somebody in my shoes stand up for truth and justice and themselves, I will.
Even though my upbringing has been full of trauma and constant undoings and even though I have brought a lot of little-girl wounds into my big-girl life, I have also brought a plethora of beautiful attributes with me as well.
Untangling myself is a constant work in progress. My feelings still overwhelm me at times as I get caught up in the remnants of my past dysfunction. I’m still working it out, learning to hope as I continue to dip my toe in the waters of trust. I have a ways to go, but I’ll tell you this – the empathy and compassion I’ve developed for others has been a gift I may not have ever received had I not been raised inside of my story. Knowing where I came from keeps me grounded and gives me a continual supply of reality (and content) that helps me navigate my line of work. Remembering the life I’ve lived makes me put in overtime to be a loving, trustworthy partner. And working through my false-beliefs of inadequacy and acknowledging my little-girl-need for love and direction has made me a better parent. My adolescent emotions of insecurity and uncertainty have made sure I created a grown-up world where above everything on living earth, my children know they are safe and secure in my presence. I fail constantly, but my heart feels right. I am a living testimony that you are not your circumstances. My backbone and my faith are stronger and my call to justice is louder than ever before. And deep in my knower I am fully aware that in spite of everything I’ve gone through God is still good…and so am I.
For the record, I love my family very much. My parents are good people. They are just tangled up in a toxic cycle. Being a part of this cycle requires more from me than I can give these days, so I’ve chosen to no longer participate. It hurts me beyond words, but not nearly as much as my previous alternative.
I am on a continual road to restoration. I don’t know what I’m doing or how to do it, but I’m walking it out the best I can. Sometimes I handle it with grace and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m full of compassion and sometimes I’m madder than a hornet. Sometimes I pull in close. Currently I’ve stepped away. “Won’t you regret that one day?” Maybe. I don’t know. I just know that I’m doing the best I can right now with what I’ve been given. I’m always aware of my need for help and support and even more aware of my need to continually forgive and extend grace, even from afar.
Please hear me when I say – I know that addiction is a disease I didn’t give quite enough credit to in this story. I know there are studies and facts and facets that I didn’t touch or know nothing about. This is just a sharing-of-my-life and a look inside my brain and heart as I’ve navigated addiction and devastated relationships from a daughter’s perspective.
If you are in recovery of any kind and you are doing your dead-level best to walk in humility, be a good human and change the narrative for the people you’ve effected including yourself, you should be proud of yourself! You are doing good work and making your story count.
If you’ continue to be a victim of other peoples’ choices, whatever that may look like, I hope you will love yourself enough to tend to your own heart, give yourself some attention and get the help you need, whether from a pastor, counselor or friend.
For those of you who are staying in a toxic environment out of any guilt or fear, let me offer my humble opinion: You can love people from a distance – it’s still love. You just get to choose what your heart can withstand and when your grace period is up. That’s between you and God. If you need a breather, just know that removing yourself doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human. Making those changes won’t be easy, but pouring into yourself the way you’ve poured into others is worth it. Your life is just that – yours.
I’ll be offering resources on these subjects in the coming days.
For now, if you need help breaking co-dependent/addictive cycles in your life, here a few of my own personal reading suggestions to start with:
-How To Do The Work by Nicole LePera –
-Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. David Townsend –
-You’re Not Crazy, You’re CoDependent by Jeanette Elisabeth Menter