My mother was a great mother before she started drinking. We had mommy-daughter days where we’d get our hair or nails done together. We’d look in photo albums at old pictures of me, and we’d bake cookies.
My father was often in jail or in trouble so I never looked to him for anything. My stepfather came into our lives when I was 4. I was never fond of my stepfather coming in and acting as if he were my dad—but he did a better job than my father.
When I was 7 or 8, my mom started going into the bathroom with a drink and her cigarettes. It seemed like she was trying to escape from something, and there was no telling who she would be coming out.
Sometimes she’d go in mean and come out calm, or she’d go in mean and come out worse. Sometimes, she got so drunk she couldn’t pronounce her words.
I felt sad and upset every time she got like that. Worrying about how she’d be, my hands felt sweaty, my heart raced, and my body felt wobbly.
I now know that feeling is anxiety, and I’ve felt it ever since my mom started drinking.
My stepfather didn’t drink, and when my mother did, he looked at her with disgust. They’d often fight once she got drunk.
When my mother was sober she had all the power; she had a voice. But when she was drunk, he had the power and the voice.
Starting when I was 8 or so, their yelling turned into physical fighting.
No matter how much I disliked my mother drunk, I tried to stop my stepfather from putting his hands on her. When they fought, I’d come in the room and yell at the top of my lungs, “STOP IT! ENOUGH!”
I’m the oldest, seven years older than my little sister and nine years older than my brother. I tried to protect them from the drinking and especially the physical fighting. I was also trying to protect my mother.
Sometimes they’d stop fighting when I’d yell, but other times I couldn’t do anything. My stepfather never hit me.
One time, when I was 10 and my little brother was only a few months old, they came home late from a party, her drunk and him angry.
I was woken up by screaming and crying. I got out of my bed, went down the hall, and saw my mother crying loudly and holding her ear, which was bleeding.
“What happened?” I asked.
My mother pointed to the closed front door. I opened the door and saw my brother’s stroller turned over near the elevators with my brother lying on the floor nearby crying.
I was furious. Who in their right mind would do this to a baby? After I got my crying brother back in his stroller I asked my mom what happened. She was crying and trying to talk: “He … hit … me in my face.” Blood dripped through her hand onto the floor.
I took my brother, who was OK, to his room and ran back to help my mom. I yelled at my stepfather, “WHY? Why did you put your hands on my mother? Do you see her ear?”
“She was being disrespectful so I slapped her,” he said. I called the police.
They came 25 minutes later, and my mom told them it was a mistake. She didn’t want Child Protective Services (CPS) to take her kids.
Even though I tried to protect my mom, she still abused me when she was drinking. It felt like she was letting her anger at my stepfather out on me.
Once she grabbed me by my hair and swung me from left to right like a jump rope. I could feel every strand of hair loosen from my scalp.
Grandma’s Was a Haven
I spent most of my time at my grandma’s house in Harlem. She and Grandpa and I watched TV and ate junk food. My grandma didn’t drink or do drugs and that was nice. But my mom told me that it wasn’t always that way. My grandmother was a different person before I was born.
My mother told me that my grandmother was on drugs for most of my mom’s childhood. She neglected (but didn’t abuse) my mom and her little brother, my Uncle Shawn. I was the first grandchild, and my grandma got sober after I was born.
My mom’s abuse hit a new high one day when I was 12.
I came home late and my mother threw her hands up like a boxer. “Come on. Fight me,” she said. I was confused.
Even though she regularly beat me, I thought, “Mothers don’t fight their children like that.” She hit me in the face over and over.
I felt like I had no choice but to defend myself. So I did it. I punched my mother.
As we fought, my stepfather reached in and grabbed my phone out of my pocket. In bed that night I made a plan to steal my phone back and then tell someone at school about the abuse.
The next day, I told the school counselor. He asked me who I could stay with. I told him my grandma. He told me to go to her after school and stay with her so things could calm down at home.
But when I got to my grandmother’s house, she said sadly, “You can’t stay here. There’s not enough space in this one-room studio for me, you, and Grandpa.” So she called CPS.
I later learned from CPS that even if there was room, I couldn’t live with my grandmother because she had a criminal record.
She had shoplifted to feed my mom and uncle while she was on drugs. I was surprised when I learned that my grandma had been arrested. It really lowered my image of her.
I was placed in a group home while they found me a foster family. When I got to my foster mom’s house, I thought, “It’s nice,” but I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be with my grandma.
While I was in care, my mom and I had to go to therapy; we had some sessions separately and others together.
Our therapist wanted to get down to the root of the pain and anger on both sides. At first, being in therapy wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t like talking to people I didn’t know.
But once I started to talk to the therapist more, I started to really like her. Being able to talk to someone and not be judged or yelled at was the best.
In our sessions together, the therapist helped my mother and me talk and listen to each other.
In these sessions, I learned that my mother had been neglected by her mother. She inflicted so much pain on me because she never learned how to be loving and caring from her mom until she was an adult.
In therapy, I was also able to communicate that I was a sensitive child and that her yelling made me anxious.
After that, my mom tried harder to bring her voice down when she was loud with me.
Knowing that she was an abused child, not a monster, helped me feel safer crying in front of her, and she learned to respond more kindly to my tears.
When I was 14, after two years in foster homes, I was placed back home with my mother. She had cut way back on her drinking and was more of a mom and less of a crazy person. She and my stepfather didn’t argue or fight anymore, and she no longer hit me.
I was happy to be back with her, but scared and anxious about her recovery. She went to a several-day rehab and that seemed to help. She came home with more confidence. I felt like this was a start of a great opportunity for her.
But I didn’t feel welcomed back from foster care. My mother had many rules, while in foster care I did what I wanted. She put me to work doing most of the chores and was strict.
When I was 16, a friend gave me weed for the first time, and it eased my anxiety. When I was sad, weed made me happier and less fearful.
Soon I was doing it every day. My mother sat me down and said, “You are much more than weed. You can do so much in life.”
She was right, and it hurt to let her down. I wasn’t going to school, I stopped working, and I didn’t respect myself like I used to. I didn’t care how I looked. I wore the same clothes over and over.
Last year, my mom kicked me out of her house because I was coming home high every day. Maybe she saw herself in my addiction. She also saw her own mother, who was an addict up until my birth.
Soon after I moved out, my grandma died, which broke my heart. Mourning Grandma briefly brought my mom and me closer. I still miss my grandma, who accepted me and didn’t judge me for getting high. She said, “I was young once.”
I moved in with my girlfriend’s family and we still live there. We want to get our own place; I’m 18 now and not in foster care.
I have been getting high regularly for two years, and my mom has been sober for four years. I call her or visit every weekend.
She tells me to stay focused and gives me advice about school and work. Sometimes she nags me about smoking and it gets on my nerves, but I still feel proud of her for getting sober.
She has tried to help me with my addiction. She took me to an NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting for children of alcoholics and regular NA meetings for myself.
Seeing situations from other people’s point of view was helpful. I understand now that I smoke to calm my anxiety.
Some of my anxiety came from school. Twice now I’ve failed to graduate from high school. Each time, the closer I got to graduation, the more my anxiety increased. I ended up dropping out.
But then I realized that I really wanted to pursue my dreams and I couldn’t do that without my diploma. So I put myself back into a special high school that offers classes at night. I attend regularly and I don’t smoke before school because it throws off my focus.
But I get high every day after school and spend about $20 a week on weed. With that money, I could get training for the career I want (doing hair and nails).
I know I should stop. If I could control the anxiety some other way, I would stop smoking.
Talking about my feelings helps me from needing to get high, but I’ve never talked to a therapist about weed because I worry I’ll get in trouble.
Other things that ease my anxiety are listening to music, writing in my journal, and writing songs.
Succeeding at things helps too: Feeling self-confident helps ease my anxiety, and I hope that when I get my diploma, it’ll be easier to stop.
I’ve seen meetings help my mom, so I may go to an Alateen or Al-Anon meeting, which are support groups for people who have a loved one with a drinking problem (see “Something You Can’t Fix”) I noticed that my mom is more confident since she got sober.
Because I don’t have kids, addiction has had different effects on me than it did on previous generations.
My mom and grandma were abusive or neglectful to their children.
When I’m high, I mostly isolate myself. Weed is my safe place where I’m not hurting anyone. The only person I hurt, so far, is me.