My family was never a loving one. There were no hugs, no kisses, no “I love you’s” that I can remember. If someone was upset or traumatized and needed support, they weren’t going to find it in this family! Nobody ‘rallied around’ to support them. I never knew self-esteem or self-worth-not even briefly. Everywhere I turned, I found cruelty, sadness, fear and pain.
Any attention-seeking or moping around was usually met with something like-“Oh, for Christ’s sake! Get over it!” If I had friends over, she would scream and yell and completely humiliate me right in front of them. After a while, kids just stopped hanging around with me.
And, of course, my mother’s favorite: the wooden paddle! It was in the shape of a hand and had ‘Mother’s Helper’ written across it and when she got really mad-well-you knew you were getting smacked with that paddle.
I truly felt like my parents resented having to raise me. I was sort of born and left to figure life out on my own; to somehow instinctively learn right from wrong; how to be a perfect child. Of course, when mistakes were made, she made it perfectly clear what a failure and disappointment I was.
My childhood was over before it started
I took my first drug at age nine. One day, in 2nd grade, I had come home from school crying, probably from being bullied. My grandmother sat me down at the kitchen table and put a half of a little orange pill in front of me. “Don’t chew it” she said, “It looks like a baby aspirin but it’s not. Just swallow it with your milk”. So I did. And I loved it! It was a valium.
I started drinking at 12 years old. See, my parents had a fully stocked “liquor closet”; full of every kind of liquor imaginable. This puzzled me because I had never seen either of my parents drink alcohol-ever. But, there it was, so one Sunday, while both of my parents were working, my friend Pam and I filled BIG Styrofoam cups with a little bit of every type of liquor. We just mixed some from each bottle.
I blacked out that day, and when I ‘came to’, Pam and I were across town and hanging at the park with some boys from the other second grade class. I soon learned that kids wanted to hang out with me when I had drugs or alcohol. Heck, it beats not having any friends at all, right?
Within one year, I well on my way to becoming a full-blown addict and alcoholic. The first thing I remember noticing is that I was unable to go to sleep without a drink. I had to wait until everyone went to bed, then sneak downstairs for a big cup of alcohol.
Then I had an “AHA” moment. “This”, I thought, “must be why mom and dad keep a liquor closet!” I honestly thought all grownups had to drink to sleep! Since I never heard my parents talk about drinking, I assumed that it just wasn’t something to share. So, I kept it to myself.
I think it’s worth mentioning that, being so young and naïve, I had no idea what alcoholism was-even at age 14. I had never heard of an alcoholic, much less known one! I had no idea there was anything wrong with what I was doing!
By age 14, I physically couldn’t stop drinking. I suffered a couple of minor seizures, woke up with the shakes, developed insomnia unless I drank at night, got really nauseous when I couldn’t drink and all sorts of other hideous withdrawal symptoms. My depression was also worsening rapidly. I was beginning to think about suicide. I stayed in my room all day, every day reading books.
I remember sitting in my pediatrician’s office one morning (I think I was 13-years-old) and telling her-no, begging her–to give me some antidepressants. I told her I was so depressed, I didn’t care if I lived or not (and, in fact, only days ago I made a feeble attempt while I was walking to school. I could hear a heavy truck coming up the road behind me and without a second thought, I jumped in front of it. Fortunately, the driver was alert and stopped just in time).Anyhow, her response was a flat “I’m not prescribing many medicine for you as long as you’re drinking the way you do”. This was coming from my DOCTOR! Not a single adult in my life had ever had a discussion with me about getting help. Nobody had ever told me that there were places I could go for help, like detox.
Around age 19, I started dabbling with heavier drugs. At the time, I was working at a sports bar. Each night, after our shifts ended, the other waitresses and I would sit down at the bar and have a few drinks. When we got to feeling pretty good, one of them, Barbara, and I would go across town to another bar where we would buy cocaine from the bartender there. Then we would proceed to get majorly fucked up into the wee hours of the morning. Still, I didn’t see that a problem. To me, it was just the norm. After all, we ALL drank the same way. I had nothing else to compare my drinking to!
Then, one afternoon Barbara came back from break, crying, and told me she needed to go to a hospital. “Why?” I asked. She said “Because I’m an alcoholic”. I said to her, “No. You’re not. You drink the same as the rest of us!
Clinical Depression: Unrecognized & Untreated
People who suffer from untreated major depression (as well as other mental health issues) quite often end up turning to drugs and alcohol to cope. Children and young adults are especially vulnerable because they aren’t capable of understanding what is wrong and surely can’t find the right words to ask for help.
Any plant-even a flower-that grows where it is not wanted
I grew up feeling like the most unwanted, unlovable, worthless, homeliest child in the world. I was always afraid. Afraid of being bullied. Afraid of being humiliated. Afraid of making mistakes. Afraid of everything!
I had suffered many more instances of being berated, belittled and humiliated in front of anyone who was near at the time. By the age of twelve, I had become depressed and withdrawn. I couldn’t seem to make even one friend. I was verbally, emotionally and, quite often, physically, abused by my parents and I was bullied and tormented in school-by students and teachers alike. I would get physically ill at the thought of having to face the bullies at school.
I endured a lot of emotional and mental abuse at home. I’m not going to get into specific details because it still brings up strong feelings in me that I would rather forget. But, once I discovered how to self-medicate all that went away.
So, If my story sounds a little scattered and disjointed, it’s because my recall of the last 40 years of my life is a jumble of memories and blackouts that I’m still trying to piece together. I did my best to get the dates as right as I could. I guess my story, much like myself, will always be a work in progress.
1974-ish: I remember coming home from school one day, crying inconsolably over something (I had probably been harassed by the other kids again. Kids can be so cruel). Anyway, I was in 3rd grade, I think, so I was about 9 years old. My grandmother sat me down at the kitchen table and put a half of a little peach-colored pill in my hand. My grandmother told me “I know it looks like baby aspirin but it’s not. Don’t chew it, it will taste awful”, so I took it and remember falling in love with the feeling it gave me.
That pill was a Valium. From that day on, I went into my grandmother’s purse every time she turned her back on it and I looked for those pills. Actually, I would take a couple of any pills I found and I would eat them and see if it was something that made me feel good or bad. If I felt good-I went back for more.
1977-ish: At age 12, I discovered alcohol. See, my parents had a “liquor closet” stocked with every imaginable type of hard liquor-and they weren’t even drinkers! I never understood this. So, while both of them were working one Sunday, a friend and I proceeded to “taste test” everything. I just poured a little of everything into a big styrofoam cup and drank it down. I blacked out that first time and when I came out of the blackout, I found myself on the other side of town-hanging around a couple of kids I didn’t know. But, hey-at least I had friends now, right? From then on, I drank every chance I got.
I remember thinking how wonderful it was that I discovered these miraculous things called drugs and alcohol. These things that made my insecurities go away and made other kids want to hang out with me! I became one of the crowd. I had friends and a social life. I felt like I had been saved!
1978-ish: After maybe one year of drinking, I was unable to fall asleep without alcohol or drugs, so I would sneak to the “liquor closet” and steal a few drinks. That’s when it finally dawned on me… so THIS is why my parents kept all this alcohol! They must drink to go to sleep, too! Being just 13 and extremely naive I thought that everyone drank alcohol before bed.
Another incident I remember is standing in my pediatrician’s office and begging her for antidepressants. I kept telling her that I was so depressed all the time that I couldn’t eat, sleep and could barely make it to school in the morning. Her response? “I’m not prescribing you any pills as long as you keep drinking the way you do”.
I often (VERY often) wonder how my life would have turned out if someone, some grown-up in my life-had intervened. Instead, it just seemed like they all wanted to sweep it under the rug. I think about all the times I would be out babysitting and as soon as the parents left, I would go to the cabinet above the refrigerator (that’s where everyone kept their alcohol in those days) and I would get totally inebriated. I mean, there were times they took me home and almost had to pour me in my front door. Yet, nobody talked about it.
Okay, this is where my memories start getting a bit fuzzier.
At the age of 19-my little 13-year-old brother-Anthony-was hit and killed by a drunk driver in front of 4 of his friends. He was crossing the street to go to the movies and a drunk driver blew the one red light on that stretch of road and killed him. At the time, I was in charge of my 2 younger brothers and 2 younger sisters (for the FIRST time) while my parents vacationed in Italy. That was a nightmare! We had to have the American Embassy find my parents, we asked the American Red Cross to find my brother who was in the service (thank God he was still in the US).
I remember that only the day before, I had picked up a full prescription of Valium-120 of them-from my friend’s brother (he was a paraplegic, but didn’t like the way Valium made him feel, so he would give them to me) and within the next 3 days, while we tracked down my parents and brother, I had eaten them all. I didn’t want to lay down because I couldn’t fall asleep. All I could do was cry for my little brother. And I didn’t like being awake because all I could do was think about my little brother. So, I drank coffee and ate Valiums for 3 days until I was so exhausted that I could finally sleep without thinking or dreaming.
By this time, I had already been taking painkillers for years, but after my little brother’s death, someone urged me to try cocaine (when I wasn’t in the process of getting shit-faced). To be honest, I didn’t really care for it the first few times. Then I realized that if I did coke while I was drinking, I could drink longer without much effect. Yeah. I was up for that. After that, I never went out drinking without my cocaine.
1988 through the late 90sIn 1988, at age 22, I found out I was pregnant-and I quit everything.
By this time, I had lost about 15 years of my life to drugs and alcohol. 15 years of wandering through my childhood in a drug-induced haze of humiliation. 15 years of losing jobs, apartments and relationships. So it still mystifies me how I was able to put everything down so easily then, but could never do it before.
When I held my son for the first time and looked at this tiny, perfect little human being, my heart swelled with a love so strong that I thought it would burst. I didn’t know I could feel anything so powerful and so wonderful! I had finally done something right and good. I had found my true calling! I managed to stay clean for almost 4 ½ years. My son was the only thing that made me want to get better; to live.
Then, when my baby was 5 or 6 years old, I relapsed. I don’t know why, or even when, I took the first drink. But it quickly took control of my life again. And ruined it. I tried my best to hide it, but it was hopeless. I was back in the throes of addiction again.
When I tried to stop, I became so physically ill that I couldn’t get out of bed. The only thing that took away the severe withdrawals was more alcohol. And if I did get up, the feelings of shame, guilt and humiliation were so overwhelming that all I could do was numb them with-you guessed it-more alcohol.
By the time my sweet boy was 10 years old, it became obvious to everyone, including myself, that I was in no shape to be taking care of a child. I couldn’t even take care of myself. My family was pressuring me to go into treatment. I had thought about it, too, but I had my 10-year-old son to think about. I was terrified that if I left for a week of treatment, my ex would take my son away from me. My family assured me, repeatedly, that they would never let that hap
2000-So, I finally agreed to go to detox. If I wanted any kind of a normal life, I needed to get clean and sober. Again. My family was pressuring me to do something, but I was still afraid of losing my son and I COULDN’T bear that! “He wouldn’t do that!” they said. “We wouldn’t let him do that”
So, I went. And I stayed for 12 days and left feeling, for the first time in my life, that there was hope, after all. I couldn’t wait to go home and see my son. When I walked into my house, I saw a document on my kitchen table. It was a court document stating that my family had gone to court to support my baby’s father in taking custody of my son away from me. “Tough Love” at it’s finest.
I felt a sudden, stabbing pain. It was unlike anything I have ever felt in my life-like someone sticking knives into an open wound in my soul. It was the deepest, most hideous sorrow I’d ever known; a heartache; an emotional deadness so raw and deep that it made me want to throw up or claw my own heart out. I wanted to scream; to let out a glass-shattering, gut-wrenching, guttural roar of pain, but I didn’t know how. How do you express that level of pure, unadulterated agony? How do you express so much heartbreak and grief that your heart and soul is turning black as it slowly dies? What does that much anguish and despair sound like? What if I couldn’t stop the scream once I started?
A part of me died that day and, when my attempts to get my son back failed, I finally stopped treading water and let myself drown in a life of drugs, alcohol, despair and homelessness. My heart hurt so bad every day over my boy. I cried myself to sleep for years after that. I felt like my soul had turned black and died.
I had little will to live. The only reason why I DIDN”T kill myself was the thought of someday being reunited with my son.
I had been resisting going to residential treatment. Somewhere in my damaged mind, I really thought that I could do it on my own. If only I could have my son back. If only I wasn’t living in a shelter. If only, If only, If only…
As much as I didn’t want treatment, but my family was not going to allow me to return home after detox. They had had enough. So it was either treatment or the streets. In fact, it was there, in my first halfway house, that I met the man who introduced me to heroin. I became an alcoholic and an addict-and I didn’t care.
My life was so messed up right now, that the pain of staying sober and having to face the train wreck that was my childhood was greater than the pain of getting high. Plus, with my family essentially shutting their doors to me, I felt more alone, more scared and more unwanted than ever before. So I continued to get high.
Over the years, I lost everything. My son, money, homes, jobs, any self-respect I had left, and most of all, hope. The debilitating guilt and shame was overwhelming. I had a police record for the first time in my life. I was homeless-sleeping in shelters or outside if it felt safe enough. My family turned their backs on me. I wanted to die.
It has now been 21 years since I lost my son. I’d been in and out of multiple rehabs over the years, failing time and time again. I had reached a point in time where everyone, including myself, had lost hope that I would ever join the living again. As addiction does, I became a slave to a drug. I went to jail more than once and stopped trying to find ways to get better. Instead, I just struggled to get through another day. How would I eat, where could I go to get out of the cold, where would I lay down my head that night? Day after day. Strangers and shoppers walking by avoided making eye contact with me, for fear that I might try to beg some change or a cigarette. Store employees, doctors… everyone treated me like I was just another junkie, polluting their world and living off the system.
Then, one morning in 2007, I suddenly woke up one morning and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to get sober or die. I had been sleeping on a floor in a cockroach-infested rooming house in Fall River. The room belonged to some gross, scrubby guy who was always trying to get my pants down while I was asleep.
I felt a little flicker of hope inside me that maybe my life was worth saving, after all. I don’t know where that hope came from, but I realized that if I didn’t get clean, this was going to be my legacy to my family and my son. I didn’t want to die where I was, sleeping on some dirty man’s floor in a rooming house infested with cockroaches and smelling of old smoke and dirty people. I would become just another nameless, faceless, worthless nobody found dead on some transient’s floor and the world would breathe a sigh of relief and say “good riddance. That’s one less leech on the community”
Just that previous night I asked God to never wake me up again. Just let me close my eyes and be gone from this world.
But, on this particular morning, I asked him “God, please! I didn’t want to die like this!”
I don’t know where the will and the strength came from, but I decided I would go into treatment one last time. I would try as hard as I could to stick with it this time, but if I relapsed again, I would take my own life. I reached a decision to try one more time. And ONLY one more time.
It was in May of 2009 that I went to detox for what would be my last time. I asked them to set me up at a methadone clinic because it was the only thing I had never tried… and I was desperate. They sent me to a shelter in Worcester and I went to that clinic every day and every day for one and a half years. Eventually, I got connected with some community resources for the homeless and they helped me get my first apartment in years.
Looking back on my broken years, I now know God had his hand on my back. By His grace, I’m not six-feet under. It was divine intervention that steered me to my last cry for help. Not a day passes that I don’t remember the ugly past and find gratitude that God helped save me. And, while the pain of what I lost in my life to addiction is always there, I still want to believe that someday God might see fit to allow me the happy ending I never believed I deserved and let me touch my son one more time before I die.
In my 3nd year in recovery, I took a one-year course for my CADAC (Certified Alcohol And Drug Abuse Counselor) certification, so I could become a substance abuse counselor and I interned at a Detox that would eventually hire me once my classes ended. I stayed there for eight years.
Today, I’m taking care of me and I think I’m starting to like this thing called life. I have a job I am fiercely dedicated to. I have a home and a cat. I can’t say I’m truly happy, because I never really got over losing my son. But my heart is so full of gratitude-to God and to my mother, who never gave up on me even when the rest of the world (including myself) had. I am consumed with wanting to be better every day than I was the day before-a better person to others. I have learned that I love learning things. Any things. I love random knowledge. I love knowing how to do anything I have to do to the absolute best of my ability. I love volunteering. In short, I just love paying it forward.