My mother was the center of my world when I was young. When I was seven years old I watched her fall apart before my own eyes and redefine the only solid foundation my family knew. My dad did his best, worked hard to provide for the family, but my mom was supposed to be the bind that keeps it all together. Her addiction to pain medication due to a medical condition changed everything. A reality that no one could see coming before it was too late and it seemed as though there was no turning back.
Even then, I wished for something better for my mom and my family. Unfortunately, the anger and shame I felt about her addiction and the effect it had on my entire family took us in another direction.
Play it Forward to Here and Now
My name is Dana and I am a recovering addict with six years of sobriety. I walked the same destructive path of addiction as my mom in my own time. I experienced the same powerlessness that my mom felt with choosing drugs and alcohol over the biggest loves of your life. The text definition of this disease has a hard time conveying the ripple effect that one person’s addiction has not only on themselves spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally, but for the family and loved ones that are along for the ride, too. Today looks different, but I did not get here without a fight.
Rewind and Connect the Experience to my Own
My mom struggled with an addiction to narcotic pain killers for years. In junior high I remember her leaving to get help and my initial reaction was one of anger and embarrassment. Living in a small northern Arizona town, word spread quickly. I vowed to never be like her. But in reality, my older brother and I were headed in the same direction at a much younger age.
Fresh out of treatment, my mom’s first shot at recovery opened up the dialogue no one wanted to face about the disease that runs on both sides of my family. No one liked hearing this…not even my dad. As a family, we did not support her in her recovery and I was not going to let her label me as an alcoholic.
The teen years were a defining moment in my life. I began using alcohol and marijuana not realizing then how effective it was in covering up my raw emotions. Using lit a fire inside me the very first time as I experienced my first buzz. It felt amazing; I was funny and felt at ease with myself and others. I was not worried about becoming an alcoholic. I just liked the way it felt.
In high school I attended school regularly and made good grades. I managed to function with occasional drug and alcohol use without too many consequences. That was up until I tried Meth my sophomore year. Immediately I became addicted. While I was going down deeper, my brother was falling apart, too. My mother also relapsed soon after. Fortunately my sister lived above this influence and chose a brighter path.
Just like so many people who start using drugs at an early age, I know I was at the tipping point. I could have made the choice to ask for help, overcome the peer pressure, find something else to be passionate about and focus on my future. It was all there waiting for me. I managed to keep those grades good enough for a full scholarship to Northern Arizona University. I brought my addiction to Meth with me and within a few months, everything started to spiral out of control. I ended up pregnant, dropped out, and moved back home.
Life Now on Pause
Now a mom myself at the age of 19, my son was my sole motivation for staying clean. I got into a nursing program at a community college, a job on the side to pay my bills, and my own apartment. It was my plan for a fresh start with my baby.
Lured back again to wanting a social life, I started going out with friends and drinking. My parents were helping to take care of my son and following a long day, I chose to go out instead of going home to care for my son. Soon enough, my addiction was out of control. I was scared to tell my parents what was really going on and I could not stop using. The downward spiral cycle was again, quick and destructive. I was also pregnant with my second child.
I tried so hard to stay sober but I just could not do it. My parents were keeping a close eye on me but I would run off and get high any chance I got. I hated myself for that. I lied all the time and I was so afraid of what my parents would say or do. I managed to clean up as much as I could and had my son. He was so beautiful and I loved him immediately. This time around, however, my addiction had progressed to the point where I was not able to stop using the way I was able to with my first baby.
My mother tried to help even though it was both of us who still needed it. She took me to a 30-day program for treatment but I just wasn’t “done” yet and clearly not ready to stop using. As a result, my parents let me know they were willing to take care of my children but I had to go. Out of money and stuck on pause, I started stealing to support my habit. I ached for my children but never went to see them.
I ended up going to jail and did not comply with probation or anything else when I was released. I continued to use and went down deeper. This was beyond what I could ever imagine and I looked as horrible as I felt. Every time I started to sober up I would start feeling sad and cry for my children. I just wanted to die. I did not want to kill myself but I did not want to live anymore. I was fleeing an abusive relationship and just started praying for God to lead me in the right direction. Finally I had hit rock bottom.
I found out that I was pregnant with my third child when I ended up back in jail. I did not know how I was going to change my life but this time I desperately wanted to. I prayed a lot and vividly remember describing to God the place that I would like to go if I was sent to treatment. Soon after, I was court ordered to six months of treatment but the challenge was finding a treatment program that would take a pregnant woman.
Starting to Believe in Miracles
I was connected to a program at Community Bridges, Inc. (CBI) called Center for Hope. When I got there, I could not believe my eyes. It looked like the place that I had described in my prayer. I was tired and broken. I don’t know how long it had been since someone had looked at me like I was worth a chance, but the staff at Center for Hope did. I was ashamed of myself for getting pregnant again and did not feel like I deserved to have another baby. But those incredible women looked at me like I was worth it and taught me I did deserve not only this baby, but all of my children.
It took several months for my head to clear up from all the drugs I had taken but I started learning about my addiction and how to live a life in recovery. Soon after I entered the Center for Hope, my two-year-old son moved into the Center with me. I am grateful that I was given the chance to be sober and bond with him. I had a healthy baby girl while I was there and I learned how to be a better parent and manage two young children. I was a participant for one year and felt strong and healthy when I left. My older son then moved in with me and I was finally able to be the mother I was meant to be.
Moving forward in Recovery
In my transition from the Center for Hope, there was still a lot to do in becoming completely self-sufficient and caring for my family. I focused on staying connected to outpatient services and needed to address my former legal issues that were major barriers to finding employment. The next sign of hope came through an employment opportunity that opened up at Community Bridges answering phones in their crisis unit. The job stability gave me the chance to work on building my new life and also opened new doors at the company.
During this time in my recovery, my mother’s addiction had taken a turn for the worse. With both my brother and I out of the picture, my mother was forced to address her own addiction. She was not doing well and I was able to help her guide her through the process of getting help at a CBI detox program called Arizona Bridge to Recovery (ABR). This was a big change for the better and she has remained sober. I started realizing that our family dynamic was changing simply by me living a life of recovery and not playing the same role that I used to. This was the first time that I truly understood the importance of family support rather than judgment.
My brother was also working on his recovery while in prison. Yes, his drug use led him down the wrong path but it finally gave him a chance at sobriety, too. I told him about the Peer Support Program at CBI and soon after he was released, he started his new life on the right path and now works for the company doing great things for others who need help.
So Here We Are
Our family has experienced a healing. Addiction had ravaged our lives but it does not have a hold on us now. This is the first time since I was a young child that my mother, brother, and I have been sober together.
Seven years ago I was unemployed, homeless, and addicted. I have worked very hard to transition off of state assistance programs, clean up my credit, and purchase my first home. Today I am married; I have three beautiful children, a successful career, and a desire to impact the community. My brother and I also help to run a Chicano/Chicana support group through Community Bridges.
My oldest son is now sixteen years old and a source of inspiration in his own special way. He is active with a youth peer leadership group for the Mesa Prevention Alliance and openly shares his personal life experience of having an addicted mom. He had to endure the ups and downs but together we have rebuilt a family that celebrates recovery and embrace all that life has to offer. Today, he is helping to educate other youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and how to focus on living above the influence.
Together, we are celebrating the gifts of recovery and family is the strongest piece of that. Miracles do come true. Recovery is Possible.