People often wonder and ask where I stand on the topic of addiction. My past is full of addiction from my extended biological family all the way down to me. Because of my own experiences, I obviously have formed my own “opinion” on the issue, but I am never so naive as to believe that my opinions are the set standard, should be accepted by all, or reflect your circumstances. I form my own conclusions based on my experiences and my direct observations of addiction and its effect on my life and the lives of the addicts I have been exposed to. The following is my own conclusion, and I completely respect that your conclusion based upon your experiences or research might differ. It’s all perspective, life experience, personal convictions and personal truths if you ask me. I’m not a doctor, scientist, neurologist, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. I am also NOT an addict. My “opinion” is simply that….one opinion of one person based upon life experience. The following isn’t meant to influence, disregard, hurt, demean, argue or offend. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, I plead that you make the decision to seek help. Don’t ever lose hope!
I had just started 5th grade at a new school in a new state. I was pretty used to always being the “new kid” at this point because we never stayed anywhere for long. In fact, there was only one year, 3rd grade, when I started the year and finished the year in the same school. We moved a lot. I was in kindergarten the first time I can clearly remember watching Debbie and Jerry (my biological mother and her spouse) use drugs, and by first grade, I was going on most drug runs with them. By second grade, the runs were not only to buy drugs for themselves but this was the first year I remember them selling. It wasn’t a major transition, but life became a bit turbulent at this point. They were in a constant state of paranoia and I rarely remember a time when they weren’t on the outs with at least a few clients or dealers. This kept life interesting and kept us constantly relocating. They were always very forthcoming with me, and for this I am appreciative. I wasn’t confused or scared, as I imagine a child would be in these situations if they weren’t fully aware of what was happening. My parents showed me what drugs were, talked to me about different types of drugs and showed me all of the paraphernalia that accompanied them. They told me what drugs did, how different ones made you feel, and different standards among dealers. I knew about cheating the scale, cheating the buyer, and always knew the cardinal rule: keep the best cuts for yourself. D and J were proud of my vast knowledge on these things. I was always very observant and inquisitive, and I absorbed their information like a sponge. I always knew the real reason I was allowed to know so much. The 90s were the “D.A.R.E.” years, at least in every elementary I attended. There were speakers, police officers and assembly’s revolving around drug awareness and reporting. They were constantly encouraging us to “tell someone” if a parent, relative, or anyone you suspected was using drugs. As if D and J weren’t paranoid enough, now they had the school bombarding me with an anti-drug agenda, so it was time to implement their own conditioning. I loved them, they were my parents, and to be honest I was pretty darn afraid of what would happen to me if they were ever caught. For years and years, the police would frequent our home for domestic disturbances (literally every 2 weeks on the dot) and it became my job to run through the house and clean up all of the drugs and paraphernalia and hide it in my room. D and J were pretty confident that no officer would ever check there and they were correct. Even as a small child, I was their enabler.
Back to 5th grade. As I mentioned, it was a new school in a new town in a new state. I had made a friend, but other than my one friend life was pretty lonely. I was clearly an outcast, and struggled to find things in common with “kids” my age. I always felt as though I was quite a bit ahead of them life wise, and I clearly had street smarts that few, if any, of them had ever cultivated. I was just in a different place, physically and figuratively. I was becoming increasingly curious about drugs, and I was confident that using was my next step. I approached Debbie with my request first, and she couldn’t have been more proud. She was downright happy at the thought of us using together, but Jerry was a little bit of a harder sell. It didn’t take much (if anything) to convince him and before I knew it, we were all three sitting around the kitchen table of our 1 bedroom apartment over the Laundromat. My first hit was easy, I had been watching for so many years it just came naturally. D and J were proud of my ability to hold it down, and we all sat there around the kitchen table getting high. D and J were kind to me this day, there was no fighting, no arguing, no hitting….just family bonding in our own strange and twisted way. It’s literally one of the days that I remember feeling quite loved. I was 10 years old. By the time I left their home, I was regularly smoking crack cocaine and daily smoking marijuana. As I write this, even all these years and a whole lifetime later, it’s still somewhat painful and shocking. I never considered myself a child then, but looking at it now from the lens of an adult and a mother, it just sickens me.
When I was placed in my second foster placement (for the privacy of this person I will call them U) I was placed with a user. U would frequently use with D and J, and I knew U very very well. U and I had used when I was still living with D and J, and it just seemed natural that I would continue. U (an adult with a family and now a foster child) offered to let me use and I did. We would do drugs in the basement while U’s family would walk around above us upstairs. I had a good relationship with U and I know U cared for me very much…U wanted me to be safe and happy, but I don’t think that U could see that this situation wasn’t appropriate. I don’t harbor ill feelings, in fact quite the opposite, for U. U is someone I hold a special place in my heart for and I’m thankful for the attempt at providing me with stability and safety. It was me that finally understood the situation, and made the decision to change. I was 13. I knew that being with U would enable me to continue using and I knew that the vision of the future I wanted was NOT going to come with drugs in my life. Period. It’s taken me many years to consider myself a “victim” in any way, and although it’s easy to accept that I was a victim of physical abuse and assault, it’s really hard to consider myself a victim of the drug use. I chose to use the drugs….every.single.time. I was never forced, it was never imposed on me. I did it because I wanted to. I did it when I wanted to. I used as much as I wanted to. I had a choice, and I made decisions based on my wants and desires. I didn’t “need” to use, I wanted to and I liked being accepted in those circles and life was more tolerable high. What I saw being constantly surrounded with drugs and drug users was people putting themselves in an environment where they could obtain and entertain their addictions. The people I would see day in and day out were controlled by their addictions because they wanted to be controlled by them. They put their want for the high above anyone and anything else in life. Its harsh I suppose, but I saw people that WANTED to get high, be high and stay high.
Here is my conclusion: using drugs (in my experience) began with a choice. D and J and even U made the decision to use the first time, and many times after that. Did they become addicted? Yes. Could they (and they alone) have prevented that? Yes. Did they have a choice to walk away, seek help or change? Yes. Now I am no medical professional, so I don’t know how it all works, addiction and the brain and all. What I do know is that I decided to use drugs for years because I wanted to and I liked it. Every single time I used, I CHOSE to do it. I COULD have walked away, but when I was in the environment where it was available and I was exposed to it, I not only lacked the willpower to say no, I also craved it. If I wanted to stay “clean” then I had to KEEP MYSELF CLEAN by keeping my life clean. I didn’t put myself in situations where “it” would be available to me. I removed myself from any and all environments where drugs or drug users were, including my home with D and J, my foster placement with U, and many other circumstances in High school, college and adulthood. I have the CHOICE to be present in an environment like that, or I have the CHOICE to build the clean life I currently have. I didn’t/don’t befriend people that use drugs because I CHOSE/CHOOSE not to. I know how lucky I am that the despair of addiction is not something that I have to deal with, so I don’t for a second pretend that my situation is similar or the same as another. I can say that I have struggled with accepting D and J’s behaviors and excuses. Once they allowed themselves the excuse of “addiction”, suddenly they no longer became responsible for their actions or behavior. After all, their “addiction” was their “disease” and they certainly couldn’t be responsible for anything a disease made them do right? In my OPINION, that’s bologna. From my perspective, I never, in my 17 years of knowing D and 25 years of knowing J, saw them (or any other addict I’ve encountered) INCAPABLE of saying no. At any time, they could have chosen differently, but they WANTED it more than they wanted a better life for themselves, or for me. I saw people that always had an answer for everything, and that answer would never place any blame or responsibility on their shoulders. In another post about FORGIVENESS, I wrote about Jerry and his inability to take responsibility for his addiction, alcoholism, abusiveness and more. I will not place judgment on him or Debbie (or any user), but I will also not enable them by accepting (or making) excuses or free passes for their behaviors and actions. The user uses everything and everyone around them for their own gratification and agenda. They (like any USER) make decisions and there are consequences, repercussions and casualties along their path of destruction. The difference between me and them was that I accept responsibility for my own choices; I want better, I want to leave a different legacy, I want a different future and I am/was willing to make the hard decisions (and take action) every day to live a life free of that bondage.