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A Child of Addicts

This+drawing+by+the+author+reflects+the+turmoil+and+trauma+she+experienced+in+her+earlier+years.
Drawing courtesy of Tristen Sanders
This drawing by the author reflects the turmoil and trauma she experienced in her earlier years.

*Editor’s note: While this story is a reality for many, it may contain some information that others will consider triggering. Some names have been changed to protect the identity of some people involved.*

When I was little my childhood was fairly decent as far as having food, clothes, and things to play with goes. That was until my father worsened his and my mother’s addiction to pain pills. This led to me being at one of my dad’s friend’s ongoing house parties the majority of the time. My grandmother became worried about me after I had left her house in Michigan for a brief visit and she could no longer get ahold of me or my mother. She eventually flew down to where I was. I was then placed in her custody for about 5 months until I was placed back into my mother’s custody, due to her getting clean and doing everything the judge asked of her. My mother was always a strong woman and a good mother, but she was blinded by the idea of this loving family she so desperately wanted due to her own issues with her father. On top of that she was head over hills in love with my dad’s manipulation and what he wanted to claim was affection.

My parents relationship growing up always reminded me of two parasites feeding off of each other’s addiction and toxicity.

My parents relationship growing up always reminded me of two parasites feeding off of each other’s addiction and toxicity. The reason for me feeling this way since I was very young is because it was obvious to anyone that was looking from the outside that my father was abusive and the things he’d say and do were not things you’d do to someone you love or even have the tiniest shred of respect for.

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My dad was a carpenter although he usually worked at a job just long enough to collect the first paycheck. which he would then disappear with for a few days until all the money was spent. This would leave me and my mom sometimes without money for food, rent, or anything else we need and he’d have some lame excuse that most of the time didn’t even make any sense. My mom just went along with it for a while, otherwise, it would turn into an argument, which escalated to my dad laying his hands on my mom. My dad was in and out of jail most of my life for anything from domestic violence to petty theft charges.

Due to this we moved a lot because, my dad would usually have warrants out for his arrest. We moved into the country for a while at one point and my dad actually held a job down for a few months. This was the best things were going to get for a while…soon my dad had done something stupid and got yet another warrant put out for his arrest. We then moved to the city into a cheap hotel room where I ended up meeting my best friend of six years, Chasity.

We stayed there for about a year then, moved to an extended stay down the street. I didn’t see Chastity, but we spoke on the phone almost everyday until I was finally able to have her come spend the night.

I was so happy to see her since she had been my only friend in a couple years. Once Chasity got there I met her at the front of the hotel and walked her up to my room where I showed her where to put her things for the night. A few minutes go by and my parents dealer at the time, who went by the name Ray Ray, gave me and Chasity $3.00 each to leave the room and find something to do.

Chasity and I spent a dollar each on a vanilla ice cream cone at Dairy Queen. We then proceeded to walk next door to the Waffle House where I bought a Dr. Pepper and Chasity bought a cheeseburger with the remaining $2 we had. After Chasity was done eating we walked back to the hotel where Chasity and I watched TV until we heard someone screaming from downstairs outside the building.

I got up to look outside after my mom realized it was Ray Ray telling her to come downstairs. She didn’t, and because of the curious child I was, I ended up going downstairs, where I found my dad slumped over in the hot car during the dead of summer with a sonic milkshake spilt all over him. After multiple attempts to shake him awake, I went back upstairs to go exploring around the building with Chasity. I showed her the unused stairwell where we could hangout that I had found a couple days beforehand and we went back upstairs.

As we opened my room door I saw my mom on the bed passed out with a needle sticking out of her arm.

As we opened my room door I saw my mom on the bed passed out with a needle sticking out of her arm. I immediately turned around and shoved Chasity back, I  told her to stay outside due to the fact that I had confided in her about some things but I had never told her all the parts involving my parents’ drug use or any of my father’s abuse. I walk back into the room and close the door behind me, locking Chasity out I see my mom passed out on the left side of the bed and my dad slumped over sitting on the right side of the bed with a needle beside his foot and heroin spilt on the floor alongside the bed. I went up to my mother and checked her pulse to make sure she was still alive because I could not see her physically breathing, I then quickly turned around and grabbed the ice box.  That way Chastity and I had something to go do while I waited for my parents to hopefully regain consciousness.

It did not take us as long to get ice as my 8-year-old self had anticipated. So, Chasity and I just sat riding the elevator up and down watching YouTube for about 10 mins before I decided to go check on my parents. As soon as I stepped out of the elevator and into the hallway my stomach went to my feet as I heard a loud scream, my mother’s scream. I could see a shadow on the wall across from my room door of what looked like two people struggling. I dropped the ice bucket on the ground and took off running after my mom because I knew something was very wrong.

I burst through the cracked open hotel door to be met with my mom on the bed screaming while my dad was over her with a knife, saying he was going to kill her. Without hesitation I lunged towards him, tackling him to the ground. I was so scared once the reality of what I just did hit me, that I quickly grabbed the knife and threw it underneath the other bed as I got up to run and grab the only phone I had to call the police.

He ran after me yelling about how he’s going to do the same thing to me as he did to my mother. As I ran out of the room into the hallway, I immediately told Chasity to run once we got downstairs I ran to the front desk that way I could get the address to tell the operator on the phone. The operator told me and Chasity to sit outside in front of the building’s lobby until they had an officer there.

I had never called the police when things like this happened until now and all I could think of was how things could get worse because of me doing that. I hear sirens and look up to see the fire department pull into the parking lot, following them was an ambulance and what seemed like all of the squad cars they had at the station. All the police officers moved into the lobby where they had us sit. they asked me basic questions about what happened as well as characteristics of what my dad looked like. My father ended up making it out of the hotel before the police arrived so he wasn’t arrested, my mom refused to go to the hospital even though she had at least two fractured ribs, a black eye, busted lip, broken nose and several bruises all over her body. The next day due to all of the commotion we got kicked out of the hotel even though we had just paid over $500 to have that room for another week and of course we didn’t get any of our money back in return. We had already got Chasity a ride home while we packed our belongings onto one of those hotel carts.

We drove to my grandmother’s house on my dad’s side, where my mom continued to lay in bed for weeks with me taking care of her until her injuries eventually healed. About a week after my mother had been laying in the bed in pain my dad took my mom’s suburban to the scrap yard with a lot of mine and my mother’s belongings inside.

A couple years later after being in and out of hotels and sleeping in the car we finally got a trailer out in the middle of nowhere. My father had really bad health from years of smoking and drug abuse. One night my dad woke all of us up because he couldn’t breathe and he was going into shock. I had to get him in the shower and run water over him so he would stop shaking, my mom then drove him to the nearest hospital with a collapsed lung. He only  stayed in the hospital for about a day and a half due to the fact my mom refused to bring him heroin to the hospital so he wouldn’t start to withdraw. He even cut the tube out of his side that was draining the liquid from his lung so he could come bang on our door at 7AM until my mom gave him what he wanted.

My father would also force my mom to do other things for money. This one time he set her up to talk to a guy who turned out to be a cop. Long story short, both my parents had been arrested and I was placed into the custody of the only family member I had who would come get me: my dad’s cousin. I remember waking up the next morning in the living room of my dad’s cousin’s house to see the whole thing on the news. I was so embarrassed even though the report said nothing about who I was; all it included was my presence at the scene.

My dad’s cousin put me into school for the first time because my mother homeschooled me all the way up to 3rd grade. Due to this they put me into 4th grade, at first I didn’t know a lot of things the other kids did such as my multiplication tables, how to divide, etc. My grandmother helped get me a tutor, which got me caught back up to where I was supposed to be academically.

All these feelings of hatred, unworthiness, and constantly feeling like I’ll never be anything just got shoved down deep inside…

Although I was always grateful that he did provide me with a place to stay and put me in school, my dad’s cousin always treated me poorly because of who my parents were and old grudges he still held towards my father. Because of this, a few days after me being there, my uncle made me move into his 3-year-old son’s room and sleep in his toddler bed the entire year I was there.

My mom got released from jail and sent to a rehab. After about a year, my mother moved into my dad’s cousin’s house in an attempt to get on her feet financially while she was working multiple jobs at restaurants. My cousin used to make comments about how my mom was nothing but a waitress or a busboy insinuating that she was less than them.

As a 9-year-old kid hearing things like that from people you are constantly forced to be around and act nice to eventually starts to mess with your head. All these feelings of hatred, unworthiness, and constantly feeling like I’ll never be anything just got shoved down deep inside because I wasn’t sure how to deal with them nor was I ever in an environment where I had time to be sad and deal with my feelings. A lot of the time I’d channel those feelings into my school work and trying to get somewhere academically since I had no other way of ever being anything better than my parents.

That summer my uncle kicked  my mom and me out. With no where to go and her not having the money for an apartment, my mom turned to my grandma for help since they had recently got back in touch. She said she was unable to help even after just selling her house in Michigan. Although my uncle did end up letting me move in with his ex wife, which I was grateful for since it was a place to stay while my mom stayed at a half way house. My mom got out around the same time we were going on fall break, she picked me up early from school and I didn’t go back to school until the following August.

As each day went on more and more anxiety, depression, and hopelessness piled up inside me.

My mom graduated from her recovery program the same night she relapsed again, everything was down hill from there. I was hurt and angry at my mom that she finally got me back just to do the same exact thing. My mom got more strung out than ever before, she started doing ICE along with her usual drug of choice. She had managed to get us an apartment through a client of hers, she paid $500 a week, sometimes more depending on how the landlord was acting. My mother ran her “occupation” out of the apartment, which caused me to walk around the neighborhood a lot. As each day went on more and more anxiety, depression, and hopelessness piled up inside me.

At just 11 years old I had reached my lowest point. I was so depressed that I began harming myself because even as young as I was I didn’t want to live another day feeling like there was 1,000 pounds steadily sitting on my chest, making it feel as if  my heart was was slowly breaking piece by piece. My sleep schedule was basically non existent since I would wake up at 9AM until 6AM the following day, that is if I was able to sleep at all. I was constantly thinking about everything in my life, everything anyone ever said to me about how I’m not good enough; I’ll never amount to anything replayed on a constant loop.

I knew that every day I wasn’t able to be in school to get an education was just pushing the successful life I so badly wanted that much further away.

I felt so helpless, like a waste of space because even though I was in a bad position I was still a kid, I had time to make something of myself. But I knew that every day I wasn’t able to be in school to get an education was just pushing the successful life I so badly wanted that much further away. It began to feel impossible, like I would never be able to get out of the hole I’ve been born into. I felt as if my life was already over before it ever really began since the way my life was going I was headed towards being exactly like my parents, which made me that much more disgusted with my entire life. My father had gotten released from jail that’s when I begged him to stay clean to help my mom and me get out of this situation, of course he let me down once again by going back to making things worse for us. We lost our apartment shortly after, putting us back in a car.

One day they didn’t have enough money for their fix so my father pulled beside a construction worker’s van in a grocery store parking lot. He slid the back door open and started handing me power drills through the back window of our car, he pawned them which is how the police later linked the stolen tools to him. My parents had just got done shooting up when the police knocked on the door. After putting all the paraphernalia away, my mom reluctantly opened the door.

The officers handcuffed my father at the door and took him to jail. Shortly after he was arrested we had to leave our hotel room since we didn’t have the money to pay. My mom and I rode around the majority of the day, she talked to herself the entire time about things that didn’t even make sense.

The next morning I had her drive me to Chasity’s house which was horrible because she was barely alert while she was driving. The first 2 weeks I was at her house I only came out of her room to eat and shower, I talked to her mom about everything that had happened after a few months of being there. DCF showed up for a welfare check which was when Chastity’s mom started the process of getting custody of me. At the time it was the best thing for both me and my mother.

After the second year of me staying there I began to warm up to Chasity’s step dad and began to see him as a father figure. I was so used to moving around constantly that it really bothered me and made me anxious when I was at the house all the time. Chasity’s step-dad was a tow truck driver, we had a lot in common as far as past traumas go, so he would do me a favor by taking me along with him so I could get out of the house. He quickly became the only person I could really confide in that I felt myself slipping into that same dark place from 2 years ago, but it came at the cost of my relationship with both Chastity and her mom. They grew suspicious and said hateful things about me. Things got so bad that I eventually lost the one adult I thought I could trust along with my best friend: Chastity.

During the 4 years that Chasity’s mother had custody of me, my mom had met her fiancé. He taught her the things she’d need to know to go into an IT career, which she excelled in despite her struggle to stay clean. Things were getting so bad with Chastity, my mom finally came back for me. She took a break from traveling for work and unfortunately she also fell into some bad habits again and broke her sobriety. It was her fiancé who convinced her to get clean again and come down to Florida with him. I was left behind once again, but not for long. I finished that school year staying with another friend from elementary school.

Now my mother and I are closer and happier than we have ever been… 

Once school let out I was able to fly down to Florida where we then filed for the custody of me to be placed back into my mom’s care. Things have gone smoothly and now my mother and I are closer and happier than we have ever been, still trying to continue to do better everyday. I am so grateful for how far my mom has come and how  our relationship has gotten so much better over the years, especially since as a kid I always figured that if I was to graduate high school my mom wouldn’t be there to see it. It means the world to me that I not only got to have my mom back but we have built a family along the way with her fiancé.

It’s true that things are sometimes hard and to anyone that has problems like I did at home, you are not alone. Yes your family may not be perfect, but you don’t have to be like your family. Be the change you want to see in your life; it’s the only thing you can do to change the outcome of your situation. I thought I was going to remain behind in school, but I worked very hard and was able to be skipped up 4 grades in 2 years just to be where I was supposed to be to begin with. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend or someone you trust if you are in a really bad situation or are depressed. It can make a world of difference just to have someone to talk to. 

This story was originally published on The Tribe on March 6, 2023.