Both of my parents struggled with substance use; those genes passed on to me. I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to alter how I feel, needing to change how I think. Often I write pieces from the perspective of a person who has used substances. But, another aspect of my truth is that of a child who grew up with two parents who were incapable, or unwilling to be sober. My experiences helped me to become the person that I am today. I view others who are using substances with empathy and compassion, I feel that it is essential to reflect on the pain caused as a result of being a child of substance users.
As a child, I thought they chose drugs over me
In some regards, they did. Each of my parents had a history of trauma and pain. The reality, however, is that their lack of coping skills directly impacted their ability to parent. Often you hear people say they were poor, so let me put that into context for what that meant for me. We would live in homes with no electricity. It was not uncommon to go days without food. In elementary school, I became aware of the ‘Book-it’ program. The program by Pizza Hut promoted literacy in elementary children through the use of incentives. For every star received, a child received a voucher for a free personal pan pizza. That pan pizza would feed my mother and me.
During school, I could rely on receiving food at school. I can remember sitting in class and counting the time down on the clock for when we would eat. My stomach had gotten to a point where it felt like it was eating itself, and it would make noise. It made me an easy target for bullying and the other kids, who would laugh or make fun. While this was cruel, I acted like I did not care. I just knew that I needed food. For the better part of each day, I was sick. It was such a normal feeling that I believed everyone must always feel sick. Food or dope, it is not a choice when you are dope-sick. I was ill from hunger; my mom was sick from not having dope.
My parent’s relationship best explained like a rollercoaster that involved domestic violence, decades of drug use, and predictable collateral devastation. While things were hard when my father was not around, they were stable and seemingly peaceful. It was my mom and me, and I loved her. The truth, however, is that she loved my father and needed opioids more.