My story is a long one, and often when I asked, it’s hard to know where to start and what to include or leave out. As I look back, I know it’s all important, even from my earliest memories. Addiction has always been a part of my life in some shape or form. My earliest experience with alcohol was seeing a beer on the counter of my childhood home and thinking I wanted to try it to see why my dad liked it so much.
I was about 4 at the time, and even from that young age I was able to understand that that can of beer on the counter was something special to my dad. Every Friday night meant my mom brought home a large case of beer and over the course of the next few hours my dad would become a different person. As I got older, the beer nights came more often and my dad’s emotions more intense. I remember praying to God, “Please don’t let my dad drink tonight”. And when he did drink I would pray “Please don’t let my dad be mean tonight.” Because not only would he become a different person, but I didn’t know if he was going to be the “nice drunk” or the “mean drunk”.
As much as I did not like the nice drunk and his talks about the past and people I didn’t know, and trying to offer the fatherly advise of “don’t ever drink” while blowing his beer breath in my face, I would much prefer this version of him to the mean drunk. Any time he drank it was a sign that I needed to stay hidden. I tried to be as quiet as I could and out of sight because if he had had a bad day at work you did not want to do anything to set him off. Sometimes, it was only a matter of time before he’d emerge from his room good and wasted and start harassing me or my mom for no reason whatsoever. For whatever reason my brother was pretty much left alone when he got into one of his “moods”.
There were many scary moments that still stick with me to this day, like the time he came into the bathroom where I was doing my make up hatchet in hand, chopping up my jewelry and whatever else happened to be on the counter. Or the time he went into my room and knocked all of my belongings off of my dressers and nightstands onto the floor, breaking sentimental items from my friends. Or the time that he sat on a chair in the middle of my room with a gun to his head saying he was going to kill himself. Then when I tried to run away, he said “bring Shelley back in here so she can watch.”
I could go on and on with other such stores, but the result of all of these events was that over time, I completely lost myself. My self-esteem went down the toilet as I kept asking myself “what is wrong with me? Why does he hate me so much? What did I do wrong?”. I went to school and I felt different, and I didn’t know why. When I wanted to hang out with my friends (the small handful I was allowed to hang out with) his response was a lot of the time “no”. So I spent a lot of time by myself trying to stay hidden and out of the way so I didn’t elicit any more abuse.
The more socially estranged I became the more different I felt, which killed my confidence even more. Finally I went off to college and for the first time in my life I had complete and total freedom. I felt like a bird that had been trapped in a cage for my whole life and had finally been let out and had no idea where to go. I felt like I had been so hidden away from the world that I wanted to experience everything I possibly could. I was so tired of trying to be perfect to keep my dad happy (or at least not angry at me) that I knew nothing I did was going to make him happy so I just stopped trying. I remember thinking “If you don’t appreciate me when I’m good, then I’ll just be bad. You won’t take me for granted anymore.”
From there I found alcohol and it felt like I had been awakened. I was able to be the me I always wanted to be and I finally felt like myself. I went to college and worked full time, but my mind was always on what I was going to do when I was done with work or school for the day. There was always a party going on and always someone to drink with, and if on the rare occasion I found myself with no one to drink with, I’d go to the bar alone and just chat it up with the other drunks. I got to the point where if I found myself alone and sober, all I would do was cry. I hated what had happened to me in the past and I hated who I had become.
I knew that I couldn’t do this forever, but I didn’t think there was anything else I COULD do. My self-esteem was so low that I thought I would never become anything and my life was going nowhere. Along with the alcohol came drugs as that was just a part of the partying lifestyle. For all of the highest highs, I felt the lowest lows as well, which sometimes felt like pure hell. The lows only fueled my need for more drugs and alcohol. There were so many rock bottoms I hit, but at the time, I just thought ‘who cares’.
Some mornings I’d wake up angry at the fact that I woke up that day. I was purposefully getting myself into scary and dangerous situations because I think deep down I just wanted to die. I was thrown out of a convertible that I had gotten into with a drunk driver, arrested twice, ended up in the hospital multiple times, took combinations of drugs and alcohol that have killed people and none of this woke me up. I also thought about suicide often. I had it all planned out in my mind exactly how I would do it and I would tell myself “I just need one really bad day, one good reason, and I’ll do it.”
Finally, I graduated college and couldn’t get a job, so I ended up back serving tables. The reason I went to college in the first place was so I’d never had to serve tables again, but here I was making barely enough money to get to and from work, eating canned soup every day, living in a house that was falling apart with a roommate that I couldn’t stand, and one day after coming home from another soul crushing day at work I finally said out loud in full frustration “God, you told me you’d only give me what I can handle and I cannot handle this anymore!”
For years, I was stuck in addiction, had mounds of debt from my DUI and the many times I had ended up in the hospital, had dealt with heartbreak after heartbreak, had a college degree that wasn’t getting me anywhere and jobs that I kept getting fired from and I had had enough. I had reached my breaking point. I had always known I wanted to be a mom, but I didn’t think it would ever happen. I thought that I had screwed my life and body up so much I probably wasn’t biologically able to have kids. I also thought how could God give me such an amazing blessing with everything I had done?
After that cry to God for help I got a phone call. I had been putting my resume every where I could think of for months and never got a single interview and finally someone called offering me a job. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, if I’m being honest. I had been offered a job and scammed in the past so I was still a bit jaded from that. This job didn’t pay much but it was definitely more than any job I previously had. It was also a 9-5 job which gave me structure and routine. I was dating a guy at the time and suddenly our relationship got more serious and I started spending my weekends at his house watching movies instead of going out getting hammered.
I found less and less time to drink and was starting to get my feet back on the ground. Within just a few short years, I was out of debt, got a promotion, married and pregnant, and it all started with that cry for help.
Once I was pregnant I got completely sober, and that’s when the real transformation began, because I was able to start seeing life in full color now. I can’t even tell you how much more joy you can experience when you go from being heavily addicted to completely sober. Just the smallest parts of my day I can find the beauty in and I cry because I never thought I would be where I am today.
In my limited perception I could have never possibly imagined how my life would have turned out. I had zero hope for my future and had never had any goals or dreams for my life and now they are abundant. There are so many things I want to do to help other people over come their struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. I want to scream “it doesn’t have to be this way! Life can be so much better!” But when you’re caught up in that feeling of worthlessness I understand how hard it can be to see.
I have dedicated the last few years to really understanding drug/alcohol abuse and why it happens and how to stop it. I’m sure there are other moms or dads out there that are struggling with addiction and trying to be a parent, but I’m here to tell you that your kids need all of you and they won’t get it if you’re still stuck in addiction. Your kids deserve more from you. They can teach you so much if you let them.
As someone who has experienced a childhood with an alcoholic parent, I know that I have even more responsibility to my kids to make sure I get the help I need so that I do not treat them the way I was treated. I still work on myself every day, trying to learn everything I can about addiction, why it happens and how to overcome it. If you or someone you know is struggling, please get help. Even those who are not addicted can get caught up in the drama of the addict and end up losing themselves and becoming co-dependent. We can all do better, we just have to have the right help and right tools.