Thursday, March 2, 2017
She's Not Just an Addict; She's My Mom
Recovery facilities often say, “Addiction is Not a Spectator Sport. Eventually, the Whole Family Gets to Play.” As a mom of an addict, I know first-hand the unimaginable pain, but when someone is a child of an addict, they find themselves loving a person who is incapable of building a healthy relationship because of their addiction. It is not that they don’t love the child; they simply don’t have the ability to love their drug of choice any less.
Esther Mooney experienced the perils and pain of being a child of an addict. During my interview with her, I saw her capacity to look deep into her mother’s past to understand her addiction and to recognize the personal struggles plaguing her most of her own life because of her mother’s substance abuse.
Unveiling the Past
Imagine a parent abandoning her children in the jungles of Guam. Esther’s mother experienced this horrific event, and her only source of protection was her older sister, who wasn’t much older than herself. A Mormon, missionary family with twelve children of their own, eventually saw these invisible children, adopted them, and brought them home to Washington state. It’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief knowing they found safety within a loving, spiritual home. Unfortunately, they were not. Esther’s mother and sister experienced verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse while in the care of this supposedly upright and principled family.
At the age of 15, her mother ran away to California. It was the beginning of her history of running. From Hawaii to New York, she moved from place to place trying to remain visible, yet as invisible as she was in the jungle. It was also the start of her drug use and the long years of recovery and relapse.
The Elephant in the Room
Esther’s mom used when she was pregnant. She used when she wasn’t. Eventually, they took her children away. During one of her longer times of recovery, she met and married Esther’s stepfather. Ironically, Esther’s mom began working as a secretary for drug and alcohol counseling at a local school. It’s ironic because she never quite had total control over her addiction.
It is hard to ignore the elephant in the room when you have a parent with a substance abuse. It sits there staring at you in the face, and yet nobody wants to talk about it. In “Living with an Elephant: Growing up with Parental Substance Abuse,” Brynna Kroll developed the metaphor of the elephant in the room. She suggests the elephant becomes “a huge, significant, but secret presence which takes up a lot of space, uses considerable resources and requires a great deal of attention and the adjustment of those in its vicinity” (Kroll 132). When Esther was in tenth grade, her mother had rotator cuff surgery, and the doctor prescribed her Oxycontin for the pain. It started a six-month journey through the hell of addiction again. She left her husband. She chose to forget and walk away from her identity as a mother. She opted to nurture her addiction since she believed her children no longer needed nurturing. Kroll suggests that “the elephant can also obscure the child, rendering them ‘invisible’ to those whose job it is to care for them (132). It’s back to the idea of the invisible child. Addiction fights against normalcy and the child sits with the elephant waiting for the next shoe to drop, which is what happened with Esther. Even when her mother started recovery again, and they moved into an apartment, the appreciation of family did not last long. She left Esther alone at 14, not just for few hours; she left her to live alone so she could move in with her new boyfriend.
Esther's Struggle to Develop a Healthy Self
After a six-month process, Esther was legally emancipated at 17 and graduated from high school. Medaille College accepted her, and she thought everything was falling into place. She and her mother were starting to build a relationship again, but on Sept. 7, shortly after school started, her mother moved to Florida without even saying goodbye. While at Medaille, her mother’s abrupt departure along with a bad breakup with her boyfriend, sent Esther into a tailspin. She lived in the dorms but never went to class. The school wiped away her first semester from record due to her mental health, but she ended up messing up her second semester as well. Her coping mechanisms were never fully developed. She didn’t know how to live outside the confines of her mother's addiction.
Esther became pregnant at 19 by a brother of a friend who lived in her house. They knew each other for four months and slept with each other only once. When pregnancy became the elephant in their apartment, he moved out. Esther shares with tears how she could no longer handle life and all its ups and downs, especially after developing a relationship with an abusive man she moved in with when her son was one month old. She felt like a stray dog who had been captured. She wasn’t crazy. She only acted like it. She attempted suicide and ended up with 18 stitches in her wrist.The visible scars remain today.
Powerless to Change the Addict
Esther eventually worked on making her life better for her and her son. She met a man whom she has been with for six years now. She searched for her mom and eventually found her in jail. After her release, Esther bought her a ticket to New York and placed her in rehab. After receiving her eleven-month chip, she picked up where she left off with her drug of choice. Esther found her mom’s life consumed her own; she felt heavily involved in her mother’s sobriety and even did the 12-step program, while her mother chose to take her 12 steps backward. Esther believes she did not have the fundamentals to fight her battle. While Esther relied on her higher power, her mother didn’t even try. Esther didn’t have the heart to kick her out, but, admittedly, she hoped she would leave. She did.
Her mother would take drugs to help her detox until her next fix. She put herself in a psyche ward at Strong for two and half weeks. She went to a domestic violence shelter for two and a half weeks. After she finished her programs, she simply left. Programs were like a band-aid for her, but she never truly healed.
Esther has overcome her fear of her mother’s substance abuse. She is numb to it after years of watching her mother’s descent into the abyss of addiction. It no longer consumes her. Esther recognizes how we only get one life. She prays when her mother leaves this earth someday, she will leave knowing she overcame her addiction, but for now, it is only a prayer.