“I sat on the porch swing rocking back and forth watching the kids run around. They were laughing and so full of joy that my heart skipped a beat. Isn’t it amazing how your kids can fill you with so much joy in one instantaneous moment? That was me at that very moment…until it wasn’t. Next thing I know my heart was overwhelmingly sad and all I could think of was how much she was missing.
Who is she? She’s my mom.
Growing up I have been no stranger to addiction. My father was not a part of my life for most of my early years because him and my mom had a falling out before I was born. He was successful at that time and wasn’t ready for a kid, so I have been told. I spent the first three years of my life in and out of different family member’s homes as my mom was training for the military. Most of these memories are foggy and I don’t know the exact time line, but eventually I ended up reunited with my mom.
My mom was an alcoholic. I spent many hours in AA meetings with her watching them drop items in a jar and hearing them recite words I didn’t even know the meaning of. I remember outbursts from an intoxicated mom and many other things my tiny brain blurred out for survival. I remember visiting her in rehab and hearing promises and apologies I never could truly comprehend at such a young age. Most of my childhood is a blur full of counseling meetings, a mom who didn’t know how to raise her troubled child, and medication that did nothing but seem to make matters worse. I was explained to be ‘the poster problem child who struggled with disobedience’… so I went to live with my dad.
By this time of my life, he had been in and out. But he was supposed to be a successful businessman and one of the best places for me to live. He could give me what my mom couldn’t. So many years were spent with my dad and I remember so many wonderful things in the beginning. My mind is full of happy memories of going to work with my dad, learning the tools, planting a garden, exploring the beaches, and a little girl falling in love with her daddy. Until he changed too.
Old friends came back into his life, and old habits came too. Next thing you know, drugs were a big part of our home. Not just here and there. But drugs that were taking over his entire life. Many nights I laid awake in bed wondering when he would return home at night. When he was home, he was often not present. He would be in a room getting high or too drunk to even be awake. I often didn’t think twice of what was going on in the home, it just became my new normal. Soon being home was lonely and I found comfort in friends becoming my family. I spent hours online chatting, on the phone, or sitting outside with neighborhood kids. At some point things really took a turn for the worse. My dad began boarding up all the windows in his room for fear of people watching him. Spending nights in our attic filming neighbors in the backyard that he was certain were watching him. Putting me in front of a TV screen insisting there was hours of footage of a red laser being shined into his room. In fact, one night while I was sleeping, he shot at the house behind us, the police came, and my uncle dealt with the situation and I had no idea what had happened until I walked out of my room the next morning to a gun in our dining room that I didn’t even know my dad owned. I never thought twice about these moments. My normal was cleaning up beer cans across the kitchen counters and waking up to vomit in the bathroom sink. My normal was yelling fights and fists being thrown from his girlfriend to him. My normal was talking to police officers and recounting my story again and again. I never once thought this wasn’t how life should be, I just took care of myself and kept my friends close.
When things began to get worse, whatever worse was at that point, a family member removed me from the home and sent me back to live with my mom who was doing much better at this stage of life. She had found her faith in Jesus and was clean and sober. Her life was different. She was different. She instilled faith in each of her children and set us on a path of loving Jesus. The story for our family changed here and restoration was brought in ways that one would never have thought possible. This is where I began to cling to my mom as the only parent I had left, which makes the loss of her that much more painful.
Life wasn’t perfect though. It was messy, but messy was to be expected. I didn’t know anything differently. I just believed this was the best that could have been because it was the best I had in a long time. But what I had endured these years with my mom, though different in form, was no better than what I was experiencing living with my dad. Although my mom was clean and sober, her past had led her to be very controlling. My freedom was extremely restricted, no movies with friends, no mall with friends, no going out as I had been used to for so long. It pushed me to feel confined and like I never truly could have space to breathe.
My mom was very involved in church and loved the Lord, so why would I have ever thought what I was enduring in her home was not right? She and my Stepdad would be a constant circle of problems. Beginning with him being abusive and addicted to pornography, us leaving and staying at other people’s houses, him begging for her back, her going back, months of things being okay, and then the cycle would repeat. My mom would lock herself in her room when things would go wrong and it could be days before we could approach her. My stepdad would lash out in anger and there would be moments where his hands would be around my neck. There would be moments he would hold me so tight that I was afraid. He would yell, she would yell, and the cycle would never end. Life was about waiting on the edge for something to go wrong again.
I would never approach my stepdad and lived in constant fear of him. If anything required asking him, it wasn’t important enough for me to follow through with. My mom would never defend me and always took his side. I vividly remember sitting in their room sobbing because I had gotten in trouble for dating someone behind their back. My stepdad slapped me and she went to grab him, and he knocked her to the ground. In a moment of bravery, she actually ended up calling the police and a meeting with family services was called. I stood across from her in her room and was told I held the power of my stepdad’s life in my hands. If I ‘lied’ to the social worker and told him I was being abused, he would lose his job and we would lose everything. But if I told him it had never happened before, and this was just a one-time thing, that my stepdad had PTSD from the military, then I could change everything. I could be the one to protect him. Like it was my responsibility what happened to our family next.
That meant the times he had his hands around my neck didn’t matter. That meant the times he grabbed me didn’t matter. That meant that anytime he had hurt me didn’t matter. For a split second I wondered if she had forgotten about all those times, or if she really was choosing to protect him over me. But I did just that, I protected him. But nothing changed. It would happen again, and the cycle would continue.
I grew up controlling my environment as best I could. My room was always clean, my school work was always done, and things were kept in its place. Nothing in my life was safe for me, so I created my own safety. I protected my mom and would step in for my siblings when she was absent. I was never given room to be a child and felt the weight of responsibility to hold everything and everyone together. I blamed myself for many of the fights that broke out and felt as if I had caused the problems because I just couldn’t get things right. I wasn’t the poster perfect child that I should have been.
Years later, I was married and had my second child, my first daughter. Six months later I faced my first panic attack. You see, my daughter was the trigger that ignited the fear of my life becoming hers. Her birth brought the little girl within me that had been hiding for so long to the surface, and everything I had tried to forget came flooding back. Everything I had tried to pretend never happened was staring straight at me in the eyes of my daughter. I didn’t know it yet, but her little life is what opened the door to healing in my own.
Six months after my first panic attack I sat across from a counselor with tears streaming down my face as I went in expecting to be taught how to manage Postpartum Anxiety and instead found out I was suffering PTSD from years and years of childhood trauma and abuse. That was when the connection was made. My daughter was a picture of who I was as a little girl. My daughter was the window that lead me back to myself as a little girl. A little girl who should have been protected. A little girl who should have been loved. A little girl who should have been the most important thing in the lives of her parents, but instead was second to addiction and abuse. And when I looked at her, it all came flooding back and all I could think of was how much I wanted something different for her. I wanted her life to be different. I wanted her to know she was loved. I wanted her to know I would always choose her, over and over.
I spent months crying in that office as truth after truth unfolded and the years of trauma in my life were brought into the open. We spent months working on getting me to speak the truth. I couldn’t even label my experiences as abuse. It was just ‘not the best life.’ Speaking anything else out loud was not even possible. I tried. The words abuse could never come out of my mouth before I was overtaken with uncontrollable sobbing. Then, when I could finally verbalize it, we spent months working on me accepting the truth. I could say it, but did I actually believe it? Did I actually stop excusing it? It took months for me to state the facts and accept that abuse was a part of my story. And now, I’m on a journey of grieving and accepting the pieces of my story that make me who I am today.
As we exposed more pieces of my story, we uncovered years of neglect, years of abuse, and years of trauma. My life was unraveling before my eyes as the picture I built in my head to survive was torn down little by little. I had built a life with so many lies so I didn’t have to see it for what it was. I gave excuses, I blamed things on myself, and I just thought, ‘it could have been worse.’ Children who grow up in trauma have to do this. They have to take pieces of their life and create this false reality that blocks out all the bad. If they don’t, they won’t survive. Life will hurt too much. To survive, they hold onto what is good, sometimes their stories even turn to create what doesn’t exist in reality. My survival depended on ignoring the reality of abuse and neglect in my life.
I had to come to terms that not only was the life I lived with my dad not how a child should grow up, neither was the life I lived with my mom afterwards. There was abuse in the home. There was fear in the home. There was so much that still had to stay hidden behind closed doors that created a little girl who never felt safe.
As I began facing each truth head on, things began to change. I began to find freedom in areas I had never even known to need the freedom. I started to find the voice of a little girl who was never given a voice before. I started to discover things about myself I didn’t even know were there. Who I was began to come out and I began to taste what true freedom was like.
Then, my mom’s life spiraled out of control again. Her mom passed away and she began to pick up a few drinks. And before I knew it, my mom slipped into the depths of addiction again and she became a person I didn’t know. A person that was more of a stranger. And that little girl within me came running back to the surface in fear. I lost her to addiction again. And for whatever reason, it affected me more to see my mom, the only parent I felt I had left to cling to, spiral into addiction that she had conquered for so long. Even though, at the time, I felt distant from her as I confronted years of abuse and neglect, I still felt so incredibly lost. Here was my mom choosing addiction over her children.
To watch your parents choose addiction over you is a hard thing to cope with. It leaves this painful hole in your life of a wound that can never be full. When you need advice, your heart longs for a parent to call. When you have had a hard day, your heart longs for a parent to call. When you just want to share good news, your heart longs for a parent to call. When both of your parents struggle with addiction, there is no one there to answer your call. You find yourself thinking, it would be easier to have lost both my parents to death than to cope with them being alive and choosing not to be a part of my life. That truth is a hard one to mutter and it brings me to tears every time I do.
In this season of life, I find myself sitting on the porch swing watching my kids playing and my heart aches for what she is missing. My heart aches that she chose addiction over this. I literally break inside thinking of the fact she will never know my kids. I have tears running down my face when they ask me who my mom is. It tears me to pieces when my oldest son recalls vague memories of her because that person no longer exists. How do you share that with an innocent child? I wish I could understand how a mother could choose anything over her child, but I can’t. And as a child of trauma, not understanding something means I can’t control it. And realizing I can’t control things is supposed to be an important step in my journey.
There is a side of the story that often goes untold when it comes to addiction. We hear of those who overcome addiction, we hear of those who are lost because of addiction, but we don’t often hear the stories of the people who love an addict. This group of people often sit in silence because for so long they were taught to protect the addict, so in fear of hurting them, they remain silent. They never speak out the feelings deep within their heart. They never find the courage to speak the words that need to be said so they can find themselves too.
Being the loved one of an addict is a hard road to walk. There is no map how we should navigate this. We don’t have a step by step process. We just walk it, day by day. Somewhere during the journey of loving an addict we find the courage to admit the truth. Somewhere in the middle of the chaos we find the bravery to speak the words we never could before.
Yes, I am a loved one of an addict.
Yes, addiction has touched my life and it wasn’t my choice.
Yes, I have a story that includes addiction.
Yes, I love an addict.
Yes, this is the hardest road I have ever had to walk.
But this isn’t where my story ends. This is where my fight begins. My fight for freedom. My fight for a healing. My fight for my children. This is where addiction ends.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alessandra Ferguson of Festus, Missouri. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more powerful stories from people who love addicts: