Accidentally Appropriate

I was going to write this post today, about addiction and forgiveness, before my twitter feed filled up with judgements about Amy Winehouse and unfortunate "Rehab" jokes, and now it's unfortunately apropos and obviously my annoyance with twitter is going to seep in but I'm still going to write it, because I think it's important.

There's a point I reach in any new friendship when some important life details come out. Generally they come out when I vaguely mention being raised by my grandparents or sometimes when people ask why I have a hyphenated last name. Some of these things have been bluntly stated and constantly rehashed on this blog and some have been vaguely referred to, but so we're all on the same page:

  • My parents were never married. They were 19 and 21 years of age when I was born. Obviously, I was not an intentional pregnancy.
  • My mom has 15 years clean and sober (crack, in case you were wondering), I'm 25. You do the math.
  • My grandparents raised both me and my little brother. I was in 1st grade when I went to live with them, we picked him up from a foster home when he was around 6 months old. My mom used while she was pregnant.
  • My father died when I was 16. In a motorcycle accident. If you told me he was either stoned or coked up, I wouldn't even be the slightest bit shocked. (Oh hey, is it suddenly not tragic because he used drugs? I probably should've expected it and shouldn't miss him so much, right?)

At the end of explaning all of these things, the questions I get most often are either "So how is your relationship with your mom now?" or "How have you forgiven your mom?" and I confuse the hell out of people by saying "I have a pretty good relationship with my mom, it's not typical but neither are my relationships with anyone in my family". It's true, though. I love my mom. (Hi mom! Love you!!) She even has her own tab at the top of the blog for her guest post. As for the forgiveness? I guess I never thought I needed to.

Addiction is a complicated thing. The language of rehab and twelve step programs has been part of my vocabulary for as long as I can remember. There are plenty of people in recovery in my family and when almost everyone has a hand in raising you, that means from time to time you're going to be that kid with a coloring book in the back of a meeting. And as a child, when somebody tell you that your mother is "sick" or "has a disease" you take that pretty fucking literally, so I don't think it ever occured to me that my mother's addiction was something I was supposed to forgive her for or somewhere to place blame.

In middle school and high school when these questions would come up I always said that I wouldn't wish my childhood on anyone, but I wouldn't be who I was without it. And that's true. I don't think I would have half the personal strength or compassion that I do. And maybe the flip side of that is that I wouldn't struggle with codependency and abandonment issues, but I like knowing that if three year old me could get myself dressed and fed, twenty five year old me sure as hell can deal with most things life throws at her.

And as I got older, my father told me more about my mom as a teenager and told me she had told him when he was visiting that she was struggling with drugs again and needed help taking care of me. And I guess that helped me know that my mother always loved me and that she wanted what was best for me.

And now, I'm adult and I've taken the psych classes, I've worked in a group home with teenage addicts and I can't pretend to know what it's like to be an addict but I can tell you that the reasons people become addicts are myriad, as are the reasons people stay addicts and the reasons people get clean. Do I know exactly why my mom or dad started using? No. I know the lives they had. I know that I'm a statistic. Child of addicts that isn't an addict, there's not too many of us around. And I know that I've been so deep inside the bell jar for weeks that I've made a conscious effort to not drink because I felt the urge to start and never stop, so I'm not entirely unable to relate.

And it never occurred to me that I needed to forgive my mother, because I've heard my mother apologize and watched my mother cry and mostly I just love her and am thankful, so thankful that she had the strength to get clean, because not everyone does and sometimes I wonder if I would be if I were out both my parents.

Just, don't jump to conclusions. Don't decide somebody is a bad person because they had or have a drug problem. You don't know the choices they've had to make or the regrets they have. You don't know the abuses they've suffered or the mental illness they're coping with. You don't know if it was their parents, their pimp or their best friend who started them using and you don't know whether or not there was anyone there to help them stop. And chances are, there's somebody who loves them fiercely, no matter what and when you stigmatize addiction, you kind of stigmatize the non addicts who still love them, so please, educate yourself and maybe try some compassion.