Among mothers who have survived severe trauma and subsequent drug addiction, I’d like to know the percentage of them who stay clean, who don’t go on to abuse or fail to protect their own children and who find their way out of horrifying circumstance to a life beyond. This might sound bold, because it is, but I must be in the very rare minority of women who has escaped not only with her life but with a habitable one at that.
Transitioning from 15 years of psychological, sexual, and physical abuse into a life of self-inflicted abuse was not even noticeable. You could say seamless, even. To leave the barbarousness of my father’s home and step into my own unsteady independence, would mean only that the daily beatings turned into daily heroin use, that the ongoing sexual attacks would mean interminable binging and purging, cutting, and suicide attempts, and that the emotional violence of my father’s words would only just change hands with my own inner dialogue.
Heroin took me every bad place a person can go but it kept me alive long enough to become a mother. Heroin allowed me to incubate myself from the rest of the world, and from my own feelings. It fit my need to disappear. It allowed me to sublimate my emotions, bide my time, stave off feelings of utter despair, until I could find the help that would ultimately save me. It would take me 10 years to untangle my pain from the stuff that helped it, but if I could live through it, I was to be so much better for it.
It sounds romantic to say that my son saved my life. But he didn’t. If I would have used him as my salvation, I may have destroyed his life before I saved my own. I was clean almost a year before I became pregnant with him. This does not mean, however, that I do not see my son as a way to stay clean, as a way to bridge the unlivable, going-nowhereness of my past into the intense hopefulness of my future. He does give me hope, and purpose, and all that feel-good stuff; enough to keep my head down when I need to get the work done and up, when I need to stop, smile and enjoy what I’ve created.
People ask me:
How did you do it?
How did you get clean?
My son is on drugs he’s going to die I can’t sleep at night what do I do how do I help him?
I find myself saying one of two things: “I don’t know” or equally true, “You can’t, not really. Love him. Love yourself. Secure the shutters, wait it out. Never give up.”.
Quitting a longtime addiction to a physically addicting drug is not for the faint of heart. It’s not a popular opinion, but if you’re using drugs for the right reasons, getting sober isn’t going to be immediately achievable, if at all feasible. And by the right reasons, I mean pain so deep as to render a person non-operational, completely paralyzed, unable to function in any capacity – poor or otherwise. I’m not talking about angst, or sadness from general bad parenting or even isolated traumatic incidents that occur within the safety of an otherwise healthy, shock-absorbing childhood. Some people develop addiction accidentally, socially, or haphazardly. I am NOT talking about these people. I am talking about women and men who seek the shelter of addiction, the hole in the wall that it is, because it is better, in almost every way, than the horror that is their life.
For me, overcoming an addiction to heroin was nothing compared to overcoming my childhood. Until I could do that, well, I wouldn’t be able to do anything, especially not get off drugs. For me, this meant finding a highly competent therapist, one with extensive experience in treating people like me, a veritable saint too, deft in compassion and swift in aid, with a Ph.D to back it all up. Getting clean meant going twice weekly and doing the toughest work of my life there. For others, their help might lie in a different form, but high-quality therapy (i.e. treatment supported by scientific evidence) saved my life.
For now, a new transition has taken place, one from addiction into motherhood. And I got especially lucky with a baby who is as demanding as he is remarkable. Parenting is my new high, in which I get all strung-out on baby kisses and crash in a fog of sleep-deprivation and an eternal pile of dishes. Honestly, it gives me just enough of that ultra-desirable contrast of intensely high highs, followed by long periods of frustration and stress, during which you go to great lengths to find your way back to that sofa and that kiss.