By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Four Points has excellent schools, a strong economy and family-friendly neighborhoods but it also has its share of all-too-common stories of human struggle, including addiction.
In an effort to shed light on addiction, this is the first of a two part series on drug and alcohol addition, its effects, treatment and recovery. Two Four Points residents agreed to share their stories in the hope that others might learn from their journeys.
Their stories are unique and yet they share a common thread of vulnerability and strength, chaos and choice.
Anne, a Four Points resident, lives daily with the after-effects of having been raised by an alcoholic mother. The first she mentions is one that might not be obvious to most people.
“One of the long-term effects of (growing up with an alcoholic mother) is that I am a terrible homemaker. I have no idea how to put meals together. When it comes to planning meals and doing that thing that families do, I don’t have that skill,” she said.
Anne grew up, along with her siblings, eating a lot of cereal. While their dad did not drink, he worked days, and when he returned at night, he coped with the situation at home by shutting down. Anne remembers her parents, “each in their spot,” like nests from which the babies had already been kicked out to fend for themselves. Every couple of weeks, dad might make a big meal, but otherwise it was whatever the kids could find to eat, she said.
Mom would come home from work, she added, and, “isolate herself until the next morning essentially. She was really disassociated from the family for my entire youth.”
Besides the effects on her youth, the consequences of having an alcoholic parent continue to affect Anne as an adult. One brother committed suicide, while another also became an alcoholic, the result of which is that Anne is now raising his two children.
She is careful to explain to her brother’s children–whose mother is also an addict–their own risk factors. “I tell them, ‘If you choose to drink–and I hope you don’t–you have to be super-aware that you might have an addictive personality.”
As for Anne, she did not drink alcohol herself for years. She attended Al-Anon meetings. (Al-Anon is a support group for friends and families of alcoholics.) She went to therapy. When she did try alcohol, she did so knowing the symptoms of abuse and with a healthy respect for the dangers of drinking.
While alcoholism has meant many losses for Anne, she can also see the gains. “I was and am extremely self-sufficient. I traveled around Europe, I went to school in France and I paid for it all myself. I’m a supervisor at work and have developed a leader personality.” And, she adds, “I’m very good at identifying and relating to dysfunction.”
As for Anne’s mother, she is still an alcoholic. The difference is that Anne has, “made peace with it.” Now in her forties, Anne credits her father in part for the fact that she has thrived despite her struggles. “I think part of what helped me make it through all of that craziness was the love from my father. He hugged me often and told me he loved me every day. So, despite all of the craziness with everything else, having the love of one parent–even though he also was part of the craziness–was probably what helped keep me on the right path.”
For Susan, also a Four Points resident, her journey down the path of addiction started in her 20s. Her story is a stark reminder of how environment can play a strong role in addictive behaviors.
Living in Los Angeles and running with a partying crowd, drug and alcohol use were commonplace. Susan started with pills–benzodiazepine, also known as benzos, drugs prescribed for anxiety such as xanax, valium, ativan, and klonopin–and eventually branched into cocaine and ultimately crystal meth. Methamphetamine is frequently prescribed in small doses as treatment for ADHD, but when used recreationally in its pure form, it is highly addictive and can have disabling, disfiguring and even deadly consequences.
Susan does not like to go into detail about those years, but she does acknowledge that she is one of the lucky ones. “I looked horrible when I was an addict. Drugs took me over fast and hard. I was so lucky for the people who loved me through it and didn’t judge me.” Furthermore, Susan never got “meth mouth,” a common side effect of methamphetamine abuse that causes addicts’ teeth to rot and which can, even after recovery, mark former addicts and limit their social and professional opportunities.
The child of an alcoholic father, Susan feels that her family history, “played a part,” in her addiction. Once in recovery, though, she came to realize that she was using pills and meth because of an eating disorder. Her recovery started when she realized that, “(the drugs) didn’t work anymore. I needed help so badly.”
She approached friends first, friends who she had avoided while using since,“you distance yourself from anyone who’s healthy,” she explains. Their response was overwhelming. “When I had to come clean to family, clients, everyone–it was amazing to me.They said: ‘We love you.’ ‘Come back to work when you’re ready.’”
Thanks to her health insurance, Susan was able to go to an outpatient clinic for her addiction, and she drove herself to treatment week after week, relearning how to live her life. “Your brain is so jumbled from using. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t think straight. I literally had to practice talking. It was a whole new beginning for me.”
For six or seven years, Susan attended Alcoholics Anonymous and identified herself as an alcoholic. Gradually, though, she came to recognize the nature of her addiction as it related to her eating disorder. Her life now as a mom and member of her community is wholesome and healthy, but she knows, too, that, “I’ll always be addicted to drugs. I can never take a diet pill again.”
Though hard-earned, the lessons of her addiction are gifts she carries with her daily. Susan is thankful, not only for her recovery, but for the restored faith the experience gave her. She now considers the experience to be a kind of blessing, and she is eager to share her message with others.
“It’s hard not to judge people. They’re dirty drug addicts. If there’s anything I would like people to know, it’s not to judge people (who are addicts). Have an open mind and an open heart. Those are the people who need your love the most.” And to those struggling with addiction, she adds, “You can come back from this.”
Next week in Part II, read about treatment options available to Four Points residents from local mental health professionals. Names in this article have been changed to protect privacy.