Observing Addiction in My Parents

Editor’s Note: content warning for drug and alcohol addiction and child abuse

Addiction has not been an issue for me personally, though it has shaped my life. I don’t know if I won a genetic lottery or if it’s just another way that I’m a contrarian, but I don’t get hooked on drugs. Tried everything — weed, opiates, amphetamines, alcohol, nicotine. None of them held any sort of relief from daily life for me. Not even hallucinogens like peyote or LSD got a hold on me back when I was experimenting and I enjoyed those. The rest left me feeling stupid because I could feel my thought processes being short circuited.

On the other hand, when I was in high school my mother drank wine like it was going out of style and my father liked his pills. To this day I can’t figure out if he got hooked on pills because he became a respiratory therapist and thus having access got him hooked, or if he became a respiratory therapist for access because he was on his way to being hooked.

This had an impact on me because as I grew older my parents became more and more unstable. It was a slow and complicated process. Neither of them saw themselves as having a problem and it is only with the experience of hindsight that I have been able to come to understand what was going on. They both had jobs and were not only good at what they did, but good at identifying opportunities for advancement. My mother only drank in the evenings and went through an average of 4 bottles of wine a week when I was in high school. I don’t know how much she drank when I was in middle school because she went to the bar that was in the parking lot near our house with friends from work. When I was in elementary school she drank around 2 bottles a week.

My father had a lot of health problems. Bad luck, asthma, sinus polyps — he had been put on pain pills after his back surgery when I was 4, and just never quite got off them.

My parents were very codependent. My mother had undiagnosed mental health issues that was probably bipolar and my father facilitated and indulged my mother’s whims.

A lot of my family trauma centers around this dysfunctional dynamic. I never knew when my mother would tell my father to beat me for something she imagined I did. I worried most when my mother was clingy, complimenting, and seemingly content. This signaled that however good she felt, when the crash came that’s how depressed and angry she would be. But if she was already unhappy then it wasn’t going to get any worse. I still have trouble taking compliments. They always feel like delusional lies soon to be followed by getting yelled at. Not picking judgement I can handle, but tell me how good I am and I freak out.

Heavy footfalls, slammed doors, raised voices, all of these were precursors to getting beaten. Polite requests were actually orders to be followed or else. It was all so civilized. When my father would beat me, he would tell me how many times he was going to hit me before he would do it. There were a few occasions where I passed out or was knocked out and when I came to he would calmly inform me how many hit were left. If I fought back he would wrestle me into a submission hold as to not throw off the count.

To this day I subconsciously count everything as it happens and can usually say how far till 25, 50, or 100, without having to do math. I carry my scars, both literally and figuratively. I track patterns of interaction because I need to know when to flee before conflict happens.

I carried all of this into closed custody where I picked up more trauma around crowds and fights erupting in a matter of seconds with little or no warning. I’ve gone from being jumpy to being skiddish. On a good day my PTSD is usually triggered 3 – 4 times. On an average day, 5 – 7 times. I have grown skilled at functioning while experiencing irrational fear. This is something I can do because I’m really good at doublethink. It’s not just two different realities at once, it’s two complex emotional states.

The trauma I deal with every day can be traced back to my experiences as a child and has layers of later experiences blanketed on top of them. While this may sound quite negative, I have found resilience in my pain. There is a special self assurance which comes with knowing I will never experience anything worse than my childhood.

“The wounds have changed me. I am so soft with scars. My skin breathes and beats stars” — Nayyirah Waheed

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