There is a very sad truth today that many families are afraid of admitting – “my loved one has a disease called addiction.” Addiction does not just affect the addict. It is a family disease. It hurts everyone. The saddest part of this disease is that it affects nearly every family in America. Everyone knows of a person who has an addiction problem, which is a devastating thought. Much like many others, my family has been affected by this tragic disease.
Both my parents had addiction problems that brought me into a toxic environment. A few days after I was born, my father realized he was not cut out to play the father role, and he left me and my mom. He came in and out of my life along with his recovery. Most of my life, I did not know his whereabouts or even if he was alive. My childhood was not ideal like many others. I grew up with a single parent who was an addict. My mom struggled with alcohol, prescription pills, coke, heroin, and anything else.
At the age of five or six, I knew I was not normal. Kids were not allowed to come to my house, I was extremely behind in school due to rarely going and I didn’t sleep well due to spending nights watching after my mom. I hated going to school. Many of my teachers would get frustrated with me for being so behind academically. I was unkept and looked neglected. It was not out of the ordinary for me to go to school smelling like cigarettes and cat pee. I constantly had flea bites covering my entire body. My mom’s addiction leads her into denial; she thought this lifestyle was normal. At night, I would go on drug runs and have to lay down in the back seat with a blanket covering me. I watched my mom have sex with several men when she was high. I would monitor verbally abusive and physical fights between my mother and her boyfriends. I called 9-1-1 on the many occasions that my mom passed out high in the kitchen or in the bath tub. My life was not normal, and I knew this, but my mom was my world. I looked up to her even though I knew she was not perfect.
My mother loved me with all her heart. I was the center of her universe but, sadly, she lost sight of that through her addiction. She often left me randomly in the night, and I would wake up in the morning alone, with no food. My aunt would sneak me food and toilette paper through my bedroom window to help me get by. I was not allowed to ask for help. If I did, my mom would threaten me that I would never see my aunt or grandparents again. My mom’s addiction robbed her of her ethics and her morals. She was not the same person when she was high; she was mean and abusive. Drug abuse changes an individual’s behavior, causing hallucinations, impaired judgement, impulsiveness, aggression, paranoia and loss of self-control.
My mom often left me for weekend vacations with her boyfriend that would lead to months on end. I always felt a sense of sadness when she left me to use with her boyfriends. But, at the same time, when I stayed with my aunt, I was able to get on track academically and be ‘normal’ for a while. All my life I have been very close to my aunt and my grandparents. They knew they would eventually have to take me out of my toxic household, but they wanted me to be prepared and ready.
At the age of eight, I was already in survival mode. In 2002, I had been with my aunt for almost a year when my mom finally came back from vacation with one of her many boyfriends. This time was different; I was not going home. I was finally on track to being a normal kid. I finally told my aunt that no matter how much I loved my mom, I knew I could not keep fighting her battle. I needed to fight for myself. When I told my mom I did not want to come home she was high and angry. My aunt and grandparents feared that my mom would be high and try to kill them. It was a toxic situation that left my whole family in fear. My aunt eventually got guardianship of me when I was eight. The courts found my mom grossly unfit.
My mom was caught trying to bring one hundred pounds of marijuana over the Mexican border, and she went to jail for a month. As a preteen, I did not know how to process the fact that my mom was in jail. Not too much later, my mom’s heroin-using boyfriend and her partner in crime died due to an overdose. My mom’s addiction was at its peak, and she was going to be homeless, which left my family feeling uneasy. My grandparents told my mom she was able to live with them as long as she stopped using drugs. My mom stopped using street drugs, but this lead to another problem: prescription drugs. My mom living with my grandparents was bittersweet. I did not have to worry if she was using on the streets of Santa Ana and I knew she was not being harmed, but it made it hard for my grandparents to live their lives. They constantly had to walk on eggshells with my mom around. We still spent every holiday, birthday and big event together, but we never knew how my mom would act. Her addiction made her nice one moment and terribly abusive the next. So many birthdays and holidays were ruined by tension and fighting.
My mom was always in the hospital due to overdose or for sepsis infections from dirty needles. My mom would take the prescription pills, burn them in a spoon, and inject them with a dirty needle. In 2013, my mom was told that she was undergoing heart failure due to all of the abuses she subjected her body to. I was terrified! My family and I begged doctors to give her the open heart surgery she needed, but sadly, most just said no because she was an addict. In October, we were given some amazing news. A doctor was willing to give my mom the open heart surgery she needed. My mom was so excited, she even talked about getting clean and starting her life over. I finally had hope that one day my mom and I could have a normal healthy relationship. The day of her surgery I sat in the waiting room eagerly for sixteen hours with my family. When I was finally able to see my mom in ICU she looked awful; she looked dead. I broke down and burst into tears, which was weird for me because I never really showed my emotions. I always felt like I needed to be the strong one. I sprinted down the hall and found myself balled up in the corner of the hospital sobbing. I swore to myself that was the worst day of my life. Seeing my mom look dead, having to have this surgery all because she could not stop her addiction.
As weeks passed after the surgery, my mom was doing great. I was high on life. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I was excelling in college, had built great friendships, had a boyfriend, and to top it off my mom, and I had a normal relationship. I spent more time with my mom than ever, whether it was on the phone or taking her out to spend the day together. She even promised me that she would live a sober life so that we could rebuild our relationship.
Unfortunately by Thanksgiving Day, I realized something was not right. My mom randomly lashed out at me. She called me worthless and told me that I was an awful person. At that point, I knew she was abusing her prescription drugs again. That week, she left me a voice mail calling me ugly, stupid, and worthless. She told me I would never amount to anything. Her words stung and I completely lost hope again.
By December 18th, three days before my 20th birthday, my mom was found in her bed unconscious covered in her feces. There were dirty needles and blood all over her room my grandparents immediately called 9-1-1. She went into the hospital, missing my birthday and Christmas. She spent a month in the hospital. The doctors told her that she was once again undergoing heart failure, along with kidney and liver failure. This was the result of her addiction. Her abuse not only altered her behavior, but it altered her immune system, cardiovascular health, and significantly damaged her liver.
When I asked my mom why she broke our promise, she simply just told me I was not worth staying sober. Those words still sting when I think about it. Long-term abuse causes changes to the chemical systems in the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Together, these changes can drive an abuser to seek out and take drugs compulsively despite adverse, even devastating consequences—that is the nature of addiction.
As January 2014 came, my mom was being transferred to a more long term hospital. She was supposed to be getting antibiotics for her sepsis infection for two weeks and then she would be released. On January 12, 2014 I went to visit my mom. I went to beg her to stop, beg her to go to rehab after she was released. Out of anger, I told her that if she didn’t stop using she was dead to me. At that time, I was so hurt I didn’t understand the repercussions of my words. My aunt received a call the next evening that my mom was not doing well. She had found a dirty needle in the hospital and was shooting up.
On the way to the hospital, I was agitated that I had to waste yet another night in the hospital. When I got there and saw my mom, I realized this time was different. The second I looked into my mother’s eyes I knew my mom was really sick. I spent the whole night by her side with my grandparents and my aunt. My grandmother was forced to sign a DNR. The doctors had told us that there was no way to treat my mom; she was too far gone. My grandma signed the DNR so that they could give my mom the pain medication that she needed to stay comfortable. My mom’s tolerance to the medication was so high from abusing drugs for so long that they could barely get her comfortable. My mom spent the whole night crying in agonizing pain on life support. Her eyes were bright yellow. She was still coherent when we spoke, she would squeeze our hands and she would shed tears when we spoke to her. I spent the whole night reminding her how much I loved her, despite everything she had put me through.
The next morning, my mom was doing about the same. She was weak, lost her vision, and was suffering. My grandma and I needed a break, so we went to get food. While we went to get food, my grandfather went home to take a nap. My aunt stayed with my mom to comfort her. By the time we came back my aunt had told my mom she was dying. I sat by my mom’s bedside and told her that I forgave her for everything that she had done. I told her that I loved her unconditionally. I knew she understood because tears were streaming down her cheek. My aunt and I then began to reminisce on old happy memories we shared with my mom. Without even looking at my mom, I blurted out, “My mom is dying right now.” I didn’t need to look at her. I just felt it in my heart. My aunt told me that she was not in fact dying. Right after she said that, my mom’s breathing began to labor. Within a few minutes, she was gone. The rest of that day is a blur.
Prescription pills took my mom’s life. Through the years, my family and I begged doctors to stop overprescribing her medications, and they did not listen. My mom was not just an addict, she was not just a number, she was a mom, daughter, sister, and she was loved tremendously. My mom’s life was taken at the age of 47; she should still be here. Watching my mom take her last breath was the hardest thing I have ever experienced.
My mom’s struggle with addiction has been my motivation to help others. A few months after my mom passed I wanted to get involved in helping others who share similar heartbreak or who were even fighting addiction themselves. Since then, I have been speaking all across Orange County sharing my story, and I have had the privilege to be working with Christine Brant and Jodi Barber as my mentors. I was also a part of the documentary The Other Side, which is shown at high schools and middle schools to help inspire teens never to use a drug.
Although my life has had a lot of heartaches, I feel so blessed to be where I am today. I have chosen to live a completely different lifestyle from my parents. I am twenty-one years old, and I have never touched a drug. I saw the terrifying effect of addiction, and I never want to go down that path. When they say pills kill, believe them. Abusing Prescription pills robbed my mom of her ethics, happiness, relationships, and most importantly her life.
Through all of the hardship, I feel so extremely blessed for the positive people in my life. I’m thankful for my aunt, grandparents, friends and teachers who supported me and never gave up on me.Click to view my message from the 4/1 Stand Against Addiction And Drugs.