Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Guest Post: Having a Parent with an Addiction

Today's guest post is by Stephanie Green. This is the third post in which a writer recounts his or her own experience in a family with a problematic history, as well as its aftermath. She describes the fear and the sense of needing to protect family members in a household dominated by an unstable drug addicted father.

Growing up with an addicted parent is not easy. In my case it was my father. When I was a teenager he decided that he had enough of responsibility and wanted out. He left my mother, my younger brother and me for a few months. But then he suddenly wanted back in. I, of course, was hurt and angry with him for his actions but my mother wanted to give him a second chance -even after my expressions of disapproval. What she and I did not know, however, was that during his time away from home he had fallen back into bad habits.

When my mother first met my father he had been out of jail for a few years and had turned his life around. She knew he had gone to jail for drug use but she thought that he was rehabilitated. And in a way he was, for a little while at least. However after almost twenty years of being drug free he turned to drugs once again to solve his problems.

When he came back home he was using several different drugs including crack, marijuana, and excessive amounts of strong liquor like Jagermeister. We found out he had come back because he had lost his job due to his drug and alcohol abuse.

It was a very hard time in all our lives. While he was on these substances he was verbally abusive and emotionally erratic. He pawned everything in the home that was of value to get money for his drugs. He also got in several car accidents, totaling the family vehicles. When pawning no longer covered his debts he started harassing my mother for her paycheck, took out a loan on the house, and even pawned my mother’s wedding ring.

My younger brother was about ten at the time and did not quite understand what was going on. Our father had never been the most loving person but my brother had always wanted his attention and affection. Now he still wanted the attention but was afraid of the person our father had become. My brother stayed in his room most of the time to cope and relied on his video games and computer to distract himself from reality. He also clung to me as I was more stable than our distraught mother. 

The two of us created our own little world as much as was possible away from the influence of our father. It was a very hard time in my life as I was old enough to understand what was happening and yet too young to really do anything about it. I tried to help my mother and brother as much as I could. We all slept together in the same room for protection because my father got very bad at night especially and would become irrational. We were afraid to let him get any one of us alone.

“Why didn’t your mother leave or kick him out? When you were old enough, why didn’t you leave?” I can hear you thinking. Well, part of the problem was that my mother had herself grown up with an alcoholic father. Through her experiences she did not see a lot of the damage this was causing to our family. Hiding in the bedroom at night was perfectly normal to her, as was avoiding someone in your own home and living with verbal abuse. Like I said, I was not old enough to do anything about the situation besides leave, and I would not leave them in this disaster!

However I did offer a form of protection for them in ways I don’t really understand. Because of my anger and refusal to coddle or ‘help’ my father, I was the only one he respected. Time and time again he would start to hassle one of them and I would get between them and threaten to call the police on him. My mother knew she could not stop me from doing that if he pushed me too far. He would always back down, although sometimes I would also arm myself with a baseball bat just in case he snapped. It was not a pretty picture. A six foot two man so high he’s insane versus a five foot nothing spindly teenager. Needless to say, logic was not my strong point in the heat of the moment.

Even my brother grew to the point where he would stand up to him. One time when I was not home my father reared up to strike my mother when she would not give him money. My brother stepped in and yelled at him, “Don’t you hit my mother!” He may have been a tiny ten or eleven year old and shaking like a leaf, but he meant it. Thankfully that situation resolved without physical violence, but if it is brought up my brother still get pale and refuses to talk about it even now.

Needless to say, this period of time was very hurtful to all of us. In my case I formed trust issues that last to this day. I have problems - especially with men - and am very fearful in situations that feel out of my control.  Just hearing about anyone’s drug or alcohol use makes my stomach churn.

My brother has gone the opposite way, to some extent. I do not know why, but he felt the need to try everything his father had done. Perhaps through imitation, or, as he once said, “I wanted to see what he loved more than us.” His troubles with drug use have only compounded his problems with responsibility and anxiety. As an adult he is starting to break free of the bonds of addiction but it is something he will struggle with the rest of his life.

That was just an additional hurt to an already sore spot in our lives. When my brother became a user as well my mother and I could not believe it. We tried to help him in many of the same ways as we tried to help my father. Repeating the same cycle again was terrifying and disheartening. However once we got him to graduate high school, by the skin of his teeth, things changed. We stopped enabling his drug use and threatened to kick him out of the house if he did not comply with the rules. Unlike my father he actually cared about normal things like having a roof over his head and having a family that loved him. 

He turned his life around slowly but surely. Thankfully he is doing much better but he has yet to become an independent and responsible adult.

It hurts me that he chose to continue his father’s legacy but I am thankful he did not go to the extremes his father did. Hopefully he can learn to cope with his pain and addictive tendencies in a healthy way and mature into a self-sufficient adult.

My mother did not come through unscathed either. Her anxiety levels are through the roof and she has trouble ever leaving the house. Although my father is long gone and remarried now she still has nightmares about that time in our lives. She is continually apologizing for her part in the situation and keeping us around him for so long.

For a long time I was angry with her despite her apologies. After all, she was the responsible adult in the situation and should have been the one that was the voice of reason. Instead that task fell on me as once I got old enough I found a new home for us and made us move, leaving my father behind in an empty and foreclosed home. The fact that I had to practically carry her out of the house always irritated me and made me resentful of my continued responsibilities of taking care of our new dwelling, my brother’s fragile emotions, and my mother’s day to day life. Becoming a caretaker as a teen is not something that anyone is prepared for.

As time passed and I got older I grew to better understand the reasons behind my mother’s breakdown. That kind of abuse and hurt from someone you chose to love is life shattering. My mother and I have very different reactions and emotional makeup, so it was not easy for me to understand her for quite a while. Now that I am an adult we have a better relationship and I am able to help her without carrying her. It has been and continues to be a long struggle against fear, hurt and dependency. 

As far as my father goes, like I said he is off of drugs and remarried now. He lives in the same town as us still but I do not see him except for his birthday and major holidays. My brother tries to visit him more often as he still wants him in his life. As for me, I had a very hard time even thinking about seeing him for years after the abuse. However this anger and hate towards him only hurt me. Through much prayer and effort I finally forgave him for his abuse. However that does not mean I have to be around him or have a relationship with him. He has clearly shown that he can’t be trusted, so although I try to honor him and include him in my life for the sake of my brother, I do not make a big effort to be around him routinely.

Having a parent with an addiction can leave you with issues that go far beyond the time you move out or get away from the situation. It is not easy to deal with that kind of abuse in your life. However it is possible to still be a happy and productive person despite your past. Moving on and learning to deal with the hurt and emotional scarring is a long process that I am still working on to this day.

Author Bio:

Stephanie has many years of experience as a nanny. She has always loved children and has continuously been involved in childcare activities. Currently she is one of the writers for If you want to get in touch with her, you can email her at stephanie. Houstonnanny @ gmail. com.


  1. Two things spring to mind, why children follow their addict parents? Wish i knew.

    And we can have our addict ex or otherwise in our lives, but on our terms. Most people i know still will not understand why i have the almost non relationship with my mother that i do.

  2. I wonder if Stephanie is like me, does she need to maintain some kind of level of stress in her life in order to feel "normal"? I don't like "external" drama, things like fights or getting evicted, not having food, (but I have dealt with those things as a single parent, and before that as a young wife to a drug addict/alcoholic). After I got out of the high "external" drama situations and got myself a very calm life, I still create tension in my head. Some of it is real, life is difficult for everyone in some manner, but I know I create dramas in my head so that I can create and internal dramas that I have some control over. It feels like I am "dosing" myself with adrenaline and cortisol in order to maintain the feelings I am used to (rejection, etc) .... though they really are unpleasant, and it seems like life would be better without the fear and pain.

  3. In Stephanie’s case, having fear is really understandable. Living with a parent on such situation can bring social trauma, which can make the children inside the household feel a certain kind of insecurity, which in turn will lessen their confidence. Imagine, they’re innocent of the “crime,” but they will always be part of the shame. I can say that the easiest way to overcome it is to leave; however, what good would that bring? There’s no assurance that Stephanie’s father would change. He might even come to worse. There’s absolutely no easy way to deal with it, but there’s also no one who could give full support than the family.

    Scott McKinney