My mom always had dinner done by 4pm, just as my dad would be coming home from work. He’d always help me with math homework, while history was more of Mom’s thing. It was an idyllic and happy home. There was no forewarning that soon, this American dream would turn into a catastrophic nightmare, created by yours truly.
It all happened very quickly. At 14, I was drinking regularly, laughing in the face of statistics. They told me drinking before the age of 18 would put me at a higher risk for alcoholism. However, my endeavors with alcohol made me much more socially acceptable than my collection of polished rocks and Shakira pop-star impressions. This was also the early days of social networking. I could post all of my antics online and get likes — which made me feel like a rock star.
When I was 16, my cousin Krystal died of an overdose. Watching her struggle was heartbreaking. Nevertheless, that same year, I started heavily using anything I could get my hands on. My mom would find something out of place, like an empty bottle or a straw. I would just brush it off, blaming it on one of my friends.
Suddenly, “Daddy’s little princess” was gone. Everyone had thought it was just a phase. Little did they know I’d found comfort in being numb and confused. I was confidently, arrogantly on my way to what people would call my “rock bottom.”
Dinner together and homework sessions turned into fights and slamming the door as I ran out. My dad started adding parenting books to his reading list. My mom started to pry as deep as she possibly could into my life. I couldn’t communicate well enough to even begin to explain what was actually going on with me. I just told them whatever they would want to hear. Whatever conscience I once had was now bound and tucked away into the deepest corners of my mind.
Nothing was the same. My family and even my own self began to believe I was just a morally corrupt person. My dad gave me “tough love”; he’d try to “cure” me with an impressive vocabulary and keeping his distance. My sister had her own young children — my two nieces — whom she kept away from me. My extended family thought I had gone insane. Meanwhile, amidst all the chaos, my mom latched on to her shell of a daughter with heartfelt pleas, screaming that she wished all of my confusion and pain were hers instead. And, of course, my confusion and pain did become hers, too.
Years of agony had gone by. I was sitting in a chair waiting to be seen by a psychiatrist for the third time that year. I could fill an entire bus with my best friends who had died from this disease, and I truly didn’t care if I joined them at that point. The doctor came in and I thought I already knew the spiel as I recited it in my head: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety. But this time was different.
“You’re not crazy, Jessica. You’re an alcoholic.”
No prescription written, none of the medical diagnoses I had been imagining. This was the first time that I realized that all of the aspects I hated about myself, the chaos I had caused my family, the pain within my brain — it was all because of the chemicals that I’d loved so dearly. My thinking was my own handicap.
From there, I swallowed my ego. I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t move forward doing anything even remotely similar to what I used to. I got treatment and moved into a three-quarter house. I went to every 12-step meeting possible. Got a sponsor to help me through it. Met with a therapist often. Deleted social media. After all that, I started rebuilding a bond with my family. However, it took a long time for me to find and be comfortable with remembering the little girl who collected polished rocks and asked for help — and to be comfortable with what had happened to our relationship. My parents had to almost completely cut me off while I lived in the three-quarter house for this to happen.
But I soon found that after all the chaos disappeared, the love remained. A different, stronger love. At my one-year celebration of being substance-free, my parents, sister, and nieces were all there. I was nervous. As I spoke about my accomplishments, I looked at my dad. My once “tough love” dad had tears of joy rolling down his face. In that moment, I knew for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, he was proud that I was his daughter.
I share my story with a heavy heart. I’m just one survivor in a world of kids like me. I share this story to bring hope. Just because someone you love is struggling does not mean you did something wrong or you didn’t love them enough. Addiction’s best friends are insecurities and secrets. Yet the stigma of addiction keeps us from talking about it. Having honest, open conversations about it takes away some of its power.
It’s normal to feel sad, hurt and mad at your loved one. But keep in mind, the person you’re arguing with is sick. It’s not your precious child you’re arguing with — it’s the disease. The precious one is still in there, tied up by the cunning, baffling, powerful nature of the disease. It’s an allergic reaction; the chemicals take your brain and tweak it to highlight the darkest corners of your mind. Even just one taste can ignite it.
I commend you for reading my story. It means you’re trying to be informed. Always keep being informed. Try different treatment options out there, and be patient with your child. I know from personal experience that two sure things that help put addiction into remission is knowledge paired with hope. Don’t give up.