from addict 2 advocate

Casualties of Addiction: Our Children

By: Marilyn L. Davis


Who Gets Harmed in our Addiction? Our Children

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from addict 2 advocateWe state that there’s a “war on drugs” but if using this analogy, who are the casualties? Who still bears the scars of our use? Who cannot heal from the damage from our actions? Who and where are the wounded? The casualties are not left on some battlefield; they stay in our homes; they are our children. 
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Did I realize that I’d taken up arms against my children when I started using? No, I did not set out to harm them; however, that was the result.  And just as the history books record the injustices done, each of my children recollects the harm from her perspective. 
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But I Never Meant to . . .

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My self-serving choices in my addiction cost me, my children. There was not enough room in my life to use and be a mother; therefore, my children went to live with their father.
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Oh, I felt embarrassed, sad, and disappointed in myself; however, I was unable to make my actions the reason for their move. 
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I could not take personal responsibility for my choices. I created the illusion that my children were better off with their Dad and step-mother to some people. 
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To others, I presented it as though my kids were shallow, self-centered, and materialistic, and that was why they went to live with their Dad. Once again, blaming someone else for my shortcomings and my addiction.

Motherhood in the South: You Can’t Be a Mother without your Children

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Trying to escape my addiction, I moved to Georgia. At the time, I did not realize that regardless of where we are, our addiction is right there with us.
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The south puts motherhood second only to Jesus. I am not denouncing Christian morality – love thy neighbor, do unto others, and you are your brother’s keeper are all valuable qualities that have intrinsic worth. It is more a comment on the unrealistic demands placed on women within a particular culture. 
Women are supposed to be virtuous at all times, rather like the imposing figure on the cross prominently displayed in churches.
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I did not meet expectations at all. I tried to avoid the subject of children, knowing I would lack the requisite Southern mother attributes. Since I ran away in March, I had a reprieve until the school year ended. Surely, I could come up with some plausible excuse for why my children were not with me by June. It did not happen.

I’ve Got to Blame Someone or Something – Just Not Me!

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Just as running away solves little, I didn’t put much effort into figuring out why my life had spiraled out of control.  I initially blamed cocaine, and vowed not to do that drug. It had cost me a marriage and foreclosure on my house. Of course, I rationalized that if I didn’t use cocaine and moved 600 miles away, I would be okay. 
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There’s that faulty thinking again; yes, I left a certain drug behind, but only substituted others when I arrived in Georgia.  I hung out with adult children of my parents’ friends; all of us lost, broken, and committing the crime of buying drugs. Not some teenagers that we might make allowances for; after all, they are just learning to make right decisions. No, we were all in our thirties, only looking for the next high. For our actions, we were eligible for arrest: developmentally, we were arrested, immature, self-centered, and only thinking of ourselves. 
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Growing up in Silence, Children Do Not Learn to Communicate

Living at home with my mother and father, I experienced my failures. My mom rarely found anything of value in my behaviors even growing up; she had obsessive-compulsive disorder and believed that people must be doing something at all times – preferably something that involved crafts and hands. I have five thumbs. It works well for typing and texting. However, those were not available outlets in 1984.
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It was almost impossible for my mother to simply sit and have a conversation. She was uncomfortable in ways I didn’t understand growing up. I only knew that she seemed distant, distracted, and detached.  As if there was something else more important to do. 
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Living with her again brought up all the old, unresolved feelings from childhood.  When children, even the chronological adult children do not perceive the love from parents, there will be self-esteem issues. I struggled with reconciling how unloved I felt. I often wanted to blame my mother for my feelings. 
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As I started writing a life history, I saw patterns to the times that she did not speak. She would fix our meals, and then retreat to the basement with her hobbies. My sister and I would eat the food she prepared in silence at the table.
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These episodes of distancing herself and silence seemed to follow arguments with my father. Since he traveled most of the week, there was the lingering unsaid and unresolved disagreements after he left. 
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Anger, resentments, and disappointments hung in the house; echoes of arguments, then silence. Do I blame my mother’s lack of demonstrated love for the reason I became a drug addict? 
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No, however, I do recognize that the silent household that I grew up in, influenced me to create incredibly negative messages about myself.   
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Those messages, created in response to the silent looks of disapproval or the seemingly greater interest in her hobbies, fell into the following categories:
  • If my Mom doesn’t talk to me, I must be bad.
  • I think she loves my sister more than me; they are both artistic.
  • My Mom tells me how accomplished my sister is and I feel inadequate.
  • Why can’t I please my Mom? 

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Recovery  Gave my Inner Child Some Answers

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When I risked questioning my mother about these episodes of silence, I genuinely heard her love when she told me that she was afraid to say anything to us after an argument with Dad. She thought that she would say something harmful to us because of her anger at him.
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I had no idea that this was the reason for the silence – she did not want to hurt us and loved us. This difficult, but necessary conversation, let me know how wrong I had been to judge her actions and how desperately she wanted to prevent harming us, and used the only alternative behavior she understood. 
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But if I blamed her for my feelings, then I would have to assume responsibility for how my daughters felt – abandoned and neglected and probably, unloved. And if I took the blame, then in effect, I would be no different from my mother. Sitting in meetings, hearing others share about their childhood, often fraught with sexual abuse, neglect, and violence, I began to form a different concept of my childhood. Not directly comparing, only looking at it in ways that did not include blaming my mother. I knew that I would have to forgive her to begin to gain forgiveness from my children. 
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“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” ― Lewis B. Smedes

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Forgiveness and Amends

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When I got into recovery in 1988, one of my goals was to make amends to my daughters. Making amends to children means that we have to acknowledge how wrong we were, what was going on with us at the time, and then ask what the injured party needs to continue the relationship. It is not, “I’m sorry.”
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My daughters are two distinct people; they are the product of nature and nurture, and each processes differently. I did not get forgiveness in equal measure. I do not know why I expected them to forgive me in the same way any more than I would expect them to select the same dress, given a choice. I’ve always like the way that Darnell Lamont Walker puts it, ““There’s a small window of opportunity to apologize sometimes after you’ve terribly wronged someone. It closes. Sometimes forever, but it never opens wide enough again for a good breeze.” ― Darnell Lamont Walker
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My daughter’s forgiveness is as different as they are, and I was shortsighted to expect anything different. For one child, the conversations are still, even after twenty-seven years in recovery, a matter of carefully chosen words. She listens for inflections and subtle nuances, and some conversations are not comfortable. Still, there are conversations and for that, I am grateful.
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The silent, unsaid is always under the surface rather like the echoes from my childhood. I do not know and may never know what if anything can heal this wound. Although I’ve asked, I get no concrete directions for how to mend these hurts. I only know not to add to the pain today.

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Second Chances with our Children

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Regardless of the differences, each of my daughters has given me the privilege of a second chance, as a grandmother. Nana has never been high or drunk; Nana does not take off and not show up for important events like soccer, football, chorus, ROTC, PTA, or grandparents lunches.
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These children in turn let me be a silly child. They listen to stories; they tell me about their day at school or their first crush or their goals in life, and I marvel that they see me through eyes not jaded by my past actions, and I appreciate these opportunities that aren’t clouded and stained by my past harmful actions.
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“It’s like this old patchwork quilt my Momma used to have…Each piece on that quilt meant something. And some of those pieces were the damn ugliest things you’ve ever seen. But some of the pieces were so beautiful they almost hurt my eyes to look at when I was a kid…That’s the best you can hope for, Danny. That your life turns out like that patchwork quilt. That you can add some bright, sparkling pieces to the dirty, stained ones you have so far. That in the end, the bright patches might take up more space on your quilt than the dark ones.” ― Brooke McKinley, Shades of Gray

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So, even if the people you most desperately want forgiveness from in your life cannot give it at this time, or do not give it in a way that you think is fair; do not blame them and fall victim to self-pity.
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Some parts of our lives will always carry a stain; others are valuable; but all make up the whole of who we are.
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Rejoice in your second chances at life in recovery and learn to forgive yourself and be able to move forward in your life.

 Writing, and recovery heals the heart

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